Why Volunteer at Proyecto Asis?
Let’s start with the broader question: why should you volunteer during your travels (aka voluntourism)?
I was recently watching a documentary about happiness and it turns out that volunteering your time for a cause you believe in is one of the best ways of boosting happiness. That’s a win, win! Just like a community connection, exercise, and meditation, acts of kindness toward others have lasting, positive effects on your mental state.
We live in an age where tourism is getting a negative reputation. Search “overtourism” and you will get a multitude of articles that’ll make you question why you ever leave your house.
But I’m a firm believer that socially and environmentally conscious travelers like you can change that. Travel can and should be a mechanism for good.
By finding ways to volunteer your time in the destinations you visit, you help local communities and make memories that you will cherish long after your tan has faded!
But it’s important to do your research and volunteer at a reputable place like Proyecto Asis Wildlife Rescue Center. Proyecto Asis is one of Costa Rica’s most reputable voluntourism opportunities.
Their mission statement:
“At Proyecto Asis Wildlife Rescue Center, we are on a mission to make a difference in the lives of the animals we rescue and in the lives of the people who visit and who volunteer with us.”
They also disclose where the animals come from and why they require intervention:
“We take in animals that are injured, sick, abandoned, or abused. Many of our animals were confiscated by local authorities, as poachers or individuals have tried to restrain these animals illegally as house pets, or have tried to buy, sell, or transport them out of the country. We are constantly receiving new animals that were hit by cars, abandoned by their mother, or confiscated by authorities. We have an on-site veterinarian and do our best to care for the animals and restore them to the wild.”
Proyeco Asis employees understand that sometimes animals can’t be released back into the wild. This occurs when the animal has been raised in captivity, is permanently injured, or is otherwise unable to survive in the wild. In these cases, Proyeco Asis still works to create an environment where these animals can thrive.
If an animal can be released into a larger reserve, Proyeco Asis rehabilitates and releases the animal into The Children’s Eternal Conservation Center.
If you love animals and are passionate about wildlife protection and environmental conservation, this is your ideal voluntourism opportunity!
Proyecto Asis cares for monkeys, sloths, coatimundi, peccaries, caimans, turtles, parrots, herons, toucans, and an ocelot (just to name a few!).
Whatever amount of time you have to volunteer while in Costa Rica, Proyecto Asis has an opportunity that’ll work with your schedule (detailed below).
Background Info and Voluntourism Opportunities at Proyecto Asis
Proyecto Asis is located at 141 Provincia de Alajuela in the town of San Carlos (in central Costa Rica). I stayed in this town for part of my Costa Rican adventure and love the location which is in close proximity to rainforests, hot springs, incredible hikes, Arenal Volcano and beautiful Lake Arenal.
Proyecto Asis is open Monday to Saturday 8:30am until around 4:30pm when the last volunteering activity ends (closed Sunday).
Volunteering requires a reservation (48 hrs in advance). I reserved my spot by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you forgot to get a reservation, it’s worth calling before 1pm and seeing if there is room in the afternoon options. You can use WhatsApp or dial +506 8679-5867 directly.
Proyecto Asis asks volunteers to arrive at least 15 minutes early to check-in. I recommend bringing bug repellant especially if the lil buggers love you as much as they love me!
Proyecto Asis offers the following voluntourism opportunities:
Tour – If you have little time to spare, this 1.5 hr. tour is a great choice. You’ll learn about Proyecto Asis and you’ll see the wide variety of animals under their care. Plus, your paid admission will help fund Proyecto Asis’s efforts!
This option is available Monday to Saturday at 8:30am and 1pm, and a reservation is required.
The price is $31 (kids ages 4-9 get a $13 discount!)
Tour + Volunteering – This was the option I chose (see my experience below), and it was a fantastic. Over the course of 3.5 hours I learned about the dangers that certain humans pose to these amazing animals, the harm that has come from animal trafficking, and what it takes to care for and rehabilitate the animals at Proyecto Asis.
This option is available Monday to Saturday at 8:30am and 1pm, and a reservation is required.
The price is $54 (kids ages 5-9 get a $23 discount!)
Full Day Activity – When I get back to Costa Rica, I’m definitely going for this more immersive option next! By coming for a full day you’ll do everything described above plus you’ll get to spend time making toys for the animals, taking care of the enclosures, or even helping build a new enclosure!
This option is available Monday to Saturday at 8:30am and 3:30pm (there is a coffee break from 12-1pm!), and a reservation is required.
The price is $85 (kids ages 5-9 get a $20 discount!)
Full Day + Homestay – If you want the ultimate Costa Rican experience coupled with a half day of volunteering, staying with a host family is a wonderful option. It’ll deepen your understanding and awareness of Costa Rican culture while letting you practice (or learn) some Spanish. The host family has been carefully selected and will spoil you with authentic Costa Rican meals and hospitality!
The price is $133 (kids ages 5-9 get a $39 discount!)
Please note that the minimum age for the “Tour” is 4 years old and the minimum age for all the other options is 5 years old.
My Experience Volunteering at Proyecto Asis
When my husband and I arrived for the 1pm Tour + Volunteering option we were instantly impressed by the clean, welcoming grounds and friendly staff. We were introduced to our guide, Carlos, who gave us a rundown of the plans for the afternoon, starting with a tour of the rescue center.
Carlos told us about the history of Proyecto Asis and the animals, reptiles, and birds rehabilitating here. We were introduced to Scarlet Macaws, a toucan, coatimundi (gentle, coon-like mammals), peccaries (pig-like hoofed mammals), turtles, sloths, and monkeys!
Several animals had been injured by cars and even more had been rescued from people and businesses that bought wild species that should never have been “pets” or “entertainment.”
Carlos explained that even well-intentioned people may not realize that so many of the species that we in the US consider “pets” are actually wild.
I had parrots as a child and was shocked to learn that parrots should not be pets! Carlos told us that the US and many other countries have normalized having wild animals as pets. But if you understand these amazing beings and their needs, you’ll realize how difficult it is to have healthy, happy birds, reptiles, rodents, and other small mammals in captivity.
He explained that these animals have a variety of health and emotional problems in captivity because they are deprived of their natural environment and the complex social networks that they have in the wild.
Carlos also noted that if you already have a parrot, reptile or rodent as a pet, you should get informed about what they need and provide it as best as you can. Releasing them is no longer an option since they are far from their natural habitats and don’t have the instincts and behaviors needed to survive.
I learned some hard truths from Carlos. Loving animals means respecting them and their needs over our desire to “have” them. It means respecting and protecting their habitats.
If we do the above, we can observe them from a distance and love them from afar for many generations to come!
Wildlife Chefs for the Day
After learning about the importance of conservation and wildlife protection, we were ready for the hands-on portion of volunteering — preparing food for and feeding the animals!
I wish my life was as organized as the meal plans at Proyecto Asis!
We prepped and cut up fruits and veggies. Then Carlos helped us dole out the proper allotments. While we were busy chopping and separating, this cheeky little Agouti came by to steal a few pineapple pieces from the bowl!
Proyecto Asis works to maintain animals’ wild instincts if they can be rehabilitated and released into the wild. These animals, we fed from afar.
But some animals were captured and kept by humans. These animals no longer have the necessary instincts to live in the wild (and many would not be accepted by their own kind because they don’t exhibit the necessary behaviors).
Proyecto Asis takes care of these animals as well and many of them initiate human contact — like these sweet Spider Monkeys that we fed by hand. They loved the fruits but (just like many humans) were much pickier with the veggies!
The feisty White-faced Monkeys also loved grabbing food out of our hands. At one point, my man had to distract the bigger monkey with his favorite fruit (surprisingly not banana, but rather papaya!) so I could feed the little ones.
We finished by feeding the parrots. I entered the giant cages to spread fruit onto the feeding platforms. I had to move quickly and watch my digits!
At one point, I was in a cage feeding a dozen or so Red-Lored Parrots when Carlos threw some food into the air and scared the bee-gee-zus out of me. It was like a scene out of Birds. He and my husband had a good laugh as I yelped and ducked!
The whole experience was incredible — informative and touching. Carlos’s dedication to these animals and passion for wildlife protection came through in every conversation.
I would volunteer at Proyecto Asis again in a heartbeat! It was a highlight of my time in Costa Rica. I can’t wait to return so I can do the full day volunteering option.
Have you volunteered at Proyecto Asis? Or otherwise engaged in voluntourism? Let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear if you’ve done this (or are planning to)!
You can also tweet at me @CourseCharted on Twitter or get in touch on Instagram @AlanaInWanderland!