Coming to work at Toucan Rescue Ranch? We are so excited to have you! My name is Emma and I was an intern March-September 2022 at our Headquarters in San Isidro de Heredia!
It can be tricky to prepare to live in a place you’ve never been before, especially if the culture and climate are different than what you’re used to. Here are a few things to expect about living and working in Costa Rica:
Weather & Climate:
Costa Rica is a small country, but it is home to many different microclimates! In San Isidro de Heredia, the home of our headquarters, days are often on the cooler side. Mornings tend to be warm and sunny, providing perfect tank tops and shorts weather, while afternoons can become overcast and rainy, especially during the rainy season. Temperature-wise, I never really need more than pants and a sweater on cold days; it’s generally pretty enjoyable!
That being said, long pants are required for work days and a rain jacket or poncho and waterproof boots are a must! The wet season boasts heavy rains that can begin in an instant and as a volunteer or intern, you will need to work outside rain or shine! The sun in this area is also a force to be reckoned with. Exposure to UV rays is high and depending on where you’re coming from, it is a lot easier to get a sunburn than you may be used to! Consider bringing a good hat for shade and don’t go to the beach without plenty of sunscreen!
TRR headquarters is located in the Central Valley of Costa Rica near the capital of San Jose. The Ranch is located in a friendly neighborhood near the small town of San Josecito but is not secluded by any means. You can walk less than five minutes to the local market, indoor soccer fields, and a traditional cafe, with the town plaza only 10 minutes away. There are a few nice restaurants only a 15-20 minute walk. There aren’t too many mosquitos here, but you will definitely have other insects roaming around including spiders and leaf-cutter ants. My advice is to store your shoes off of the ground and shake them out before putting them on. Also, keep your house and room free of food residue and crumbs because the smaller ants will find everything.
Sarapiqui, the home of our Release Site, is completely different! It is located on the Caribbean slope where days are hotter and more humid. Bugs flourish here and mosquitoes are definitely present. Be sure to wear moisture-wicking clothing and consider lightweight longer clothes to protect from bug bites.
The Release Site is also far more rural than TRR headquarters. Coming into town is a bit of a journey, but in return, you will find yourself living in peace among wild monkeys, sloths, and toucans!
The sun sets in Costa Rica consistently throughout the year, usually between 5:30 and 6:30 pm. If you are sensitive to seasonal depression, I recommend making the most of the sun in the morning and to consider taking some vitamin D and other vitamin supplements. The rainy season can get a little dreary, so finding ways to prevent seasonal depression will help you in the long run!
Things to Do at our Headquarters Location:
When I came here, I thought Toucan Rescue Ranch would be more secluded. However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it was only a 20-30 minute Uber ride to the capital of San Jose and that Uber is far more affordable than it is in the U.S.!
In addition to group activities like movie nights, game nights, team dinners, and the weekly soccer match put on by the Ranch (Make sure to join our exclusive Intern and Volunteer Facebook Group for questions, updates, and events!), my fellow interns and volunteers and I loved to go salsa dancing, visit fairs and farmers markets, go on day hikes or weekend trips to the beach, watch futbol matches, go to the movies, and discover new restaurants. I debated on bringing my nicer going-out clothes because I knew I would be working at a wildlife rescue, but I’m glad I brought them in the end. Many of my roommates said they wished they had brought dressy clothes for nights on the town!
Things to do in the Capital San Jose, Costa Rica:
- Check out the bars and restaurants in Barrio Escalante! It is a hip part of town that feels safer than the main downtown. Specifically, I love Apotecario, which has live jazz on Thursdays and Saturdays, as well as Casa Roja which is a foodcourt with multiple great food options.
- Feria Verde: Saturday mornings 6 am-12 pm there is an organic farmers market near the zoo! It has music, food, art, and good vibes, including hot traditional breakfast, gluten-free pastries, and espresso drinks!
- Sabana Park: Go for a walk, watch people roller skate, play soccer, and do all the usual park things! If you are gluten-free, there is also an amazing GF pastry restaurant nearby, Don Luis Panaderia, which also has a few vegan options.
- Museums: Check out the contemporary art museum, the museum of gold, and more!
- The Central Market: There are two markets, one feels more touristy and one is more local. It seems to be a hit for people, but I honestly think all of the shops feel the same after a while and all sell the same touristy things.
- Spirogyra Butterfly Garden: This is a really cool garden full of… butterflies! It also has a little hike down to the river that makes you feel like you are deep in the jungle, rather than in the middle of San Jose! It’s close to the zoo and you might even see some spider monkeys! The cost of entry is around $6.
- Lincoln Plaza Mall: If you are looking to do some shopping and go to the movies, then Lincoln Plaza is a great close mall to visit. Movies are very affordable and you can always go to a SUB movie that will be in English with Spanish subtitles. There are several theaters and malls you can visit.
Heredia Central, Heredia, Costa Rica:
- Tipico Latino: If you want to dance the Bachata, Salsa, Merengue, and Costa Rican Swing, this is the place for you! A loud bar with cheap drinks and lots of dancing.
- La Fortina Gastronomica: A hip food court with lots of different local restaurants all sharing one dining area. A great place to go with a group of friends who want to eat different things!
- Club Sport Herediano: Go support your local football club by watching their games! They’re really fun and a pretty good team! Heads up that you can’t bring coins into games, so they will confiscate your colones (coins) if you have them.
- Miraflores: A club with Karaoke on the second floor and dancing on the third floor! You need your ID to get in and they have a dress code. It’s not super strict, but I think that men need to wear pants.
San Isidro, Heredia, Costa Rica:
This is the town closer to Heredia that is larger than San Josecito.
- Sunday Market: On Sundays, there is a little farmer’s market in the town plaza!
- Mas x Menos: This is where we do more of our shopping for items that you can’t find at the mini super! There is also a crepe place across the street as well as a nice clinic where you can go if you ever feel sick.
- POPS: A great place for milkshakes! There are POPS everywhere, but the closest is San Isidro.
San Josecito, Heredia – The Local Town of Toucan Rescue Ranch:
- Bar Yucas: A lot of older farmers and locals go here and might look at you strangely when you walk in, but we went here for Karaoke on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays! They have a limited selection of drinks and some decent bar food.
- Riverside Pizzeria: Don’t worry, you will go here plenty during your time at TRR because it is definitely the nicest/closest place for good food and drinks with a great atmosphere! They like to keep it cool inside, so bring a sweater! Maybe you’ll even be volunteering or interning during our Annual Charity Concert at Riverside called Tunes for Toucans!
- There is a small “soda” right up the road that sells traditional breakfast and smoothies that is delicious!
Getting Around in Costa Rica:
When you come to the airport for the first time, you can arrange for Oscar, a driver we commonly work with, to pick you up. I preferred this for my first time arriving in Costa Rica because Oscar can hold a TRR sign for you to find and he knows exactly where to take you. My cell service stopped working as soon as I landed and the airport wifi didn’t carry outside of the airport and I couldn’t message him, so the sign really helped! He speaks English, is super friendly, and will help you avoid the headache that the buses/Ubers/taxis can be. They will probably swarm you when you step outside so you can just say you already have a ride.
You can email Oscar here: [email protected]
Buses to San Jose from the ranch are pretty cheap and the stop is really close to the Intern House. This bus comes pretty regularly, however trying to catch the bus in other places can be hit and miss. They can arrive later or earlier than scheduled, so be prepared for that!
There are a few really reliable buses that travel to other parts of the country, like Jaco and other beaches! The 7-10 station in downtown San Jose is where you will take some of these buses! It is best to buy your tickets ahead of time online if possible or to show up to the station early just in case the time slot you want to leave gets sold out. Weekends can get pretty busy and you don’t want to miss the last bus! There are several other buses that take you to places like Manuel Antonio, Dominical, and Uvita, for that I recommend going on Tracopa Buses.
Another option for traveling to further destinations in comfort is the Caribe Shuttle. I took this all the way to Panama when I visited Bocas del Toro and it was so worth it. It costs $80 or $90 each way but was way more comfortable than a larger bus. It has wifi onboard, includes a rest stop at a beach resort in Puerto Viejo, includes lunch, and helps you cross the border into Panama. You may also get a discount when you book a round trip up front, which I should have done. I highly recommend this option, because you can even ask the driver to drop you off directly at Riverside on your way home so you can avoid going back into San Jose!
Ubers are pretty affordable, however, prices vary depending on busy times. Uber drivers work under the radar because it is technically illegal in Costa Rica, so they prefer you to sit in the front seat to avoid being questioned. I never had any trouble with Uber drivers, but my advice would be to make sure that wherever you Uber, you have cell service and data so that you can a) be safe and b) Uber back!
VISA (Border Runs) Renewals:
Because everyone who stays for an extended amount of time in Costa Rica is on a tourist visa, you will have to renew that visa by leaving the country every 90 days. To properly renew, you will need to leave the country for 72 hours. Toucan Rescue Ranch gives you five days for your VISA run.
I took my border run to Bocas del Toro in Panama to stay at the hostel Bambuda Lodge which was super easy and fun. I would recommend that trip for anyone who is staying alone because Caribe Shuttle can get you all the way to Bocas Town safely and the folks at Bambuda are super friendly. It’s a hostel on its own island, with a bar, waterslide, jungle hike, snorkeling beach, and more!
An important thing to look into before taking a border run: My friend did this trip a month after I did and Panama had started to go on strike. They started closing roads, halting all transportation, and even lighting things on fire. It was difficult for tourists to get in and out. She thinks she was able to re-enter Costa Rica only because she had already booked tickets with Caribe Shuttle, who helped them get out of Panama safely. So stay up to date on the local news if you’re going to leave the country, especially if you are traveling alone!
It is very likely that you will be taking your border run alone. Interns and volunteers don’t often have the same days off because enough people need to stay to take care of the animals. That being said, if you are not comfortable traveling alone it would be a good idea to plan/budget for a guided trip or to have a friend come to visit and travel with you for the five days you are required to leave Costa Rica. Other people fly to Mexico, Miami, and Colombia, or bus to Nicaragua for their border runs.
Toucan Rescue Ranch’s Intern & Volunteer House:
Food and housing are provided, free for interns or for a daily fee for volunteers, but toiletries like soap, shampoo, and toilet paper you will have to pay for and share with your roommates. You will be sharing a bedroom, at times with one person and others perhaps more. Volunteers and interns are constantly arriving at the Ranch or leaving, so usually when rooms are full it doesn’t last too long. The dry season tends to be more full than during the rainy season!
I would recommend bringing a bag of earplugs, a sleep mask, and perhaps your own pillow if you are a sensitive sleeper. You won’t want to get woken up on your day off when everyone else is waking up at 6 am! Bedding is provided, but I ended up buying my own pillow in Costa Rica so I could get a better night’s rest. I would also add that there are stores in Heredia where you can purchase a foam pad to put on top of your mattress (roughly $20) which was worth it! The better you sleep, the better you will feel at work!
The house is really beautiful and basically two doors down from headquarters. However, there are a few things to be prepared for!
- The neighborhood frequently turns off the water and/or power for maintenance reasons. This thankfully tends to be resolved quickly.
- The WIFI can be inconsistent and can shut off when the power does. Some rooms have better wifi than others.
- Finding privacy/enough WIFI to talk and video call with friends and family back home can sometimes be tricky when living in a full house.
- The hot water can also be inconsistent, but there are a few tricks that might help. Perhaps checking the breaker or adjusting the water pressure could help.
- Don’t be afraid to ask someone from the house to help you!
Living in Costa Rica and working at Toucan Rescue Ranch is a great experience where you will make lifelong friends! I hope this information helps you be as prepared as you can be for your time abroad!
About the writer: Emma Covill was born and raised in Montana, United States, and is the marketing and communications intern for Toucan Rescue Ranch in 2022. With a background in graphic design and biology, she supported the marketing manager with carrying out the marketing, awareness, and fundraising activities of the rescue center and sanctuary.