Interested in building futures?
If you want to immerse yourself in the laidback Costa Rican culture while making a real difference to the lives of local people, this project is just the thing. You’ll have the chance to work closely with Costa Rican families as you help them to build a home that will really improve their quality of life. Hundreds of thousands of people in Costa Rica live in sub-standard housing that doesn't have adequate sanitation or safe weather protection. By working with our partner project you could help our ongoing efforts to help improve this situation and make friends for life in the process.
When you book this trip US$75 of your fee is used to purchase resources for the project through our Big Giving scheme.
Fancy learning some Spanish to give you a good start in country? Why not add on two weeks Spanish Language school before you start your volunteering. Call us now to find out more.
- Working alongside the community making a significant and noticeable immediate impact
- Getting a real work out in the sun, and for a good cause too
- Staying with a homestay family - the best way to get to understand a country
- Exploring Costa Rica - you can see the sunrise over the Caribbean and set over the Pacific if you fancy!
What's not included
Day 1 (Sunday) – Arrival into San Jose International Airport (airport code SJO)
You will be met at the airport by a member of our friendly i-to-i Costa Rica team, and taken to the Alajuela Backpackers hostel, where you’ll be spending your first 2 nights in Costa Rica. If you arrive before 6:30pm a tasty welcome dinner is provided, and the rest of your time is yours to spend as you chose – exploring Alajuela’s bars and shops, getting to know your fellow volunteers or catching up on some sleep!
Day 2 (Monday) – Orientation
At 8:30am a member of the in-country team will pick you up from the hostel and take you to the i-to-i office for orientation. This will give you a good insight into Costa Rica - the culture, things to do and see, what to do in case of an emergency and much more! It can also be a good way to meet other i-to-i travellers and ask any questions you may have. You’ll then be given some lunch and will have the afternoon free to explore or relax.
Day 3 (Tuesday) – Transfer to the project
Transfer from Alajuela to San Ramón takes approximately 1 hour, and will normally be on public transport. When you arrive you will be able to settle into your homestay accommodation and get to know your host family. Spending time with a Costa Rican “tico” family will be a great chance to experience a different culture and lifestyle, and a fantastic opportunity to practice your Spanish!
Next an i-to-i representative will accompany you to the building project to meet the builders that you will be working with. You will jump straight into work – so make sure you are ready to get dirty! If you have a particular skill then don’t hide it; any ideas or suggestions are welcome here. You will finish work at approx 4pm (depending on work load and weather!) and head home to your new family for a well deserved shower and dinner!
Day 4 – 6 (Wednesday to Friday) – Get your hands dirty!
Now is the time to get stuck into work at your building project! Your work schedule is from 8am to 4pm and you will get involved in all aspects of the building, although this will depend on the stage building is at when you arrive and how long you are staying. You could help build septic tanks (empty tanks, don’t worry!) lay floors, dig trenches, put on roofs, prepare metal ties and metal framework for the foundations, mix cement and concrete and carry materials to the building site. No building experience is needed, although any specific skills you might have would be greatly appreciated! We only ask that you are adaptable and hard working.
Day 7 to 8 (Saturday and Sunday) – Tico Time!
It’s the weekend and time to explore! San Ramón is incredibly beautiful and full of things to do. It is also conveniently located to beaches and other tourist-friendly areas. You might like to spend some time on one of the many hiking trails around San Ramón, explore the Farmer’s Market, visit a museum or Butterfly Garden or sign up for an exhilarating, zip-line canopy tour! During the evenings you can let your hair down at a local bar or disco, relax in a restaurant or the park. You don’t need to worry about being bored in San Ramón!
If you are booked for a 1 week placement, Day 8 will be your final day with i-to-i.
Your week days will be spent working at the project from 8am until 4pm, and your hard work will really make a difference to the local community. If you’re lucky you may be there to see the family move in to their new home which you helped to build! Weekends are yours to spend as you chose, and there are plenty of activities to keep you busy.
Your last day
It’s time to bid a fond farewell to your new friends and host family and head back to Alajuela or off for further adventures! On departure day you will make your own way back to the hostel in Alajuela. Directions for this are given inside the welcome pack you’ll be given in Costa Rica.
We offer one free night in the hostel, Alajuela Backpackers, before departure if you require (e.g. if your flight leaves early Sunday morning, you can stay in Alajuela on the Saturday night). Alajuela Backpackers also offers transfers back to the airport.
What does the project do?
Our building projects in Costa Rica work with The Fundación para la Vivienda Rural Costa Rica-Canadá. This foundation was established in 1989 when the Costa Rican - Canadian Rural Housing Programme was founded thanks to a contribution from the Canadian Government. The people from Fundación have become specialised in rural housing and they operate with a network of rural organisations, which are responsible for proposing families for a house, to help them fulfill the established requirements, advise them during the construction process and to collect the monthly loan payments. Therefore it is not a charity giving away homes but a foundation. Each project is a cooperative effort incorporating the home recipient, volunteers from inside and outside the immediate community and the foundation. The labour contributed by homeowners and volunteers, which we call "sweat equity", keeps house costs affordable.
What’s the project like?
This is the perfect environment for anyone with a love of the outdoors and hands-on work, who wants to immerse themselves in the local community and really make a difference. You’ll be working alongside local people as well as other volunteers, giving you a great chance to experience a different culture and way of life and practice your Spanish!
The work can be very physical and demanding but is 100% worthwhile in the long term. The project does expect you to have a reasonable level of fitness so that you are able to get involved in all areas. Building sites also might not be what you’re used to seeing back home! Sometimes hands are used in the absence of machinery, you’ll be getting hot and sweaty every day but it's all good fun and for a good cause so leave the ball gowns at home! No building experience is necessary and you'll be under the supervision of a qualified engineer approved by the Costa Rica Architect and Engineer College.
There is a good team spirit whilst working on a building project, the pace of life is slower than what you might be used to and it gets too hot to build around noon so work stops for a long lunch. May to November is the rainy season, so expect interruptions and take a rain coat!
Why does the project need volunteers?
25% of the world lives in inhuman conditions and more than 100 million do not have a house. Sign up for building homes in Costa Rica alongside fellow i-to-i volunteers and the Fundación para la Vivienda Rural Costa Rica-Canadá in order to carry on this work and help to provide homes to the communities where it is most needed. Without the support and hard work of volunteers, work on the new houses would be very slow and laborious.
Beneficiaries are in great need of simple, decent houses but can’t afford extra help to build them. By volunteering at the project you help families provide stability for their children and give them an increased sense of pride and dignity as well as providing a safe, secure home for them.
Activities and schedule
Your working hours are Monday to Friday, 8am until 4pm with a leisurely break for lunch. It’s a very hands-on project and you will have the opportunity to get involved in all aspects of the building. You could be helping to build septic tanks, digging trenches, mixing cement and concrete, carrying materials to the building site, helping to put on roofs and lay floors or preparing the foundations.
It is important to note that you might not necessarily see a house finished during your time here (but if you do it’ll be a great feeling of satisfaction and pride!) but you can return home or travel onwards on your journey knowing that you’ve contributed your part of an ongoing process; you’re part of something big here.
Evenings and weekends are your free time to spend as you chose. There is plenty to do in San Ramón and our in-country team and your host family will be happy to help and advise you, and make plenty of suggestions as to how you and your fellow volunteers might like to spend your free time.
Project resources and advice
You should bring some sturdy footwear (Bring wellies/ gum boots in the rainy season. You can purchase these locally for approx $7), and clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty! A hat and sun cream is also advisable as you will spend most of your days outside, as is a rain jacket in case of impromptu showers! The project is fairly well resourced but if you would like to bring some donations from home like work gloves or small tools they would be very much appreciated. These things are available to buy locally too, so if you prefer to wait until you get to Costa Rica to purchase them you will also be benefiting the Costa Rican economy.
What type of accommodation will I be in?
During your time with i-to-i you will be staying with a Costa Rican family in home stay accommodation. Most of our home stays are located within a short walking distance of each other and are operated on a shared basis of two people sharing. We have been sending volunteers to these families for many years and all provide clean and safe accommodation whilst being extremely friendly. You will not only be welcomed into their home, but also their family. Although your new family will speak some English, you will find you enjoy your time and get more out of the experience if you try to speak as much Spanish as you can during your time with them. So remember your phrasebook and don’t be nervous about giving it a try!
Depending on the house, you'll have a shared bedroom with another building project participant of the same gender as you. If we aren’t able to place two people together, we’ll make sure you’re as close together as you can be. Each bedroom has two single beds and storage space for your luggage. Basic bedding will be provided but you are welcome to bring a sleeping bag if you plan to go travelling at the weekends. We’d recommend that you bring your own padlock to keep your valuables secure.
There is a shared family living space so you might like to take items such as playing cards or books to bring in to the family space. Your new family will be keen to spend time chatting and getting to know you and we’d encourage you to get as involved in family life as much as possible. The bathrooms will be on a shared basis with the family and have running water, shower and Western style toilet. There isn’t a huge demand for hot water because the weather is already hot, and you’ll find that you won’t miss hot showers all that much!
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included; expect traditional Costa Rican basic food such as: rice, beans, salad, meat, poultry, pasta, fish, etc.
Things to bring from home
- Sleeping bag (if you plan on going travelling in your spare time)
- Mosquito net
- A re-sealable plastic bag will come in handy for keeping items dry in rainy seasons!
- Basic phrases in Spanish will help you settle in quicker, the more Spanish you know, the better!
Where is the accommodation?
Set in a scenic basin, San Ramón is one of the larger Central Valley coffee towns of Costa Rica. Rolling mountains surround this unique, close-knit town. San Ramón is located in the province of Alajuela, 30 miles north of San José and 28 miles inland from the Central Pacific beaches. This town is ideally located for travel in Costa Rica. So, the distance to other popular tourist locations from San Ramón is relatively short. Apart from its central location, you will find that San Ramón's people are one of the friendliest subpopulations in Costa Rica. The proud people of San Ramón are eager to extend a warm welcome to travelers through casual conversation and a helping hand if necessary. One of the campuses of the University of Costa Rica's is located in town ensuring a vibrant nightlife in San Ramón. You will find numerous cafés, restaurants and traditional bars in town that still serve free bocas (small meals!) when you order.
How far is it from my project?
Depending on which house you are working on, your commute in the morning could take up to 1 hour by public bus. You will be travelling with other participants on the building project and we’d recommend that you budget around $15 per week for this cost.
What you get
What exactly do i to i Volunteering provide?
It may seem like a strange concept to pay for your volunteer experience. You'd be right if you think you shouldn't and the truth is you actually don't! Your placement is free; it's the benefits around it that you pay for. It's important to note that i to i Volunteering is a travel company and not a charity. We provide a professional travel service. We are responsible for finding and assessing worthwhile projects across the world, preparing you for the volunteering experience and supporting you whilst you're there.
Project sourcing and assessment
We work with hundreds of locally run partner projects around the world and are constantly sourcing new opportunities. We visit all projects to check that they are worthwhile and legitimate and we also conduct a thorough safety assessment before we'll send volunteers there.
Almost everyone who works for i to i Volunteering has traveled extensively or worked overseas. This means we're a goldmine of information; we're always available to offer support and guidance before, during and after your trip.
Thorough project briefing materials
Once you book on to a project you'll receive an online account that contains loads of general information about volunteering, about your chosen country and how to have fun and stay safe. We'll also give you advice on visas and inoculations.
It can be pretty daunting arriving in a different country for the first time - especially after a long flight! If you arrive on your project start date, there'll be a welcoming face at the airport to pick you up and take you to your accommodation.
Soon after you arrive you will attend a thorough orientation with our in-country team. This is to cover important safety and security information. You'll also get some tips about sight-seeing options for your time off and maybe even learn some of the local lingo!
Accommodation and meals
Accommodation is included with all projects and meals are even included with some. We only use locally-owned and operated accommodation so that part of your placement fee is filtering back into the local economy. Most projects offer homestay, guesthouse or shared volunteer houses as standard accommodation, but some offer the chance to upgrade to a more comfortable living standard.
Local in-country coordinators
Your in-country team will arrange a pick-up for you at the airport and will conduct your orientation upon arrival. All coordination teams are English speaking and are locals of your destination country. They won't be at your project every day, but will be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week if you need them.
24/7 emergency support
Aside from the local support from your in-country team you'll be given access to a 24/7 emergency phone line manned by our response team in case any problem should arise while you're overseas. We also hire crisis management professionals to be on hand in case of a situation that requires additional expert support.
The safety and security of our volunteers is paramount. For this reason we provide ongoing crisis management and emergency response training to our local teams around the world. We also fly in our in-country coordinators to the UK regularly for thorough training to help them offer the best safety to the thousands of volunteers they support each year.
Supporting our projects
We don't fund our projects directly from the project fee that you pay us. Instead we choose to support a number of projects through our Helping Hands Foundation to provide resources to those projects that really need it.
Recruiting people like you
We make no secrets of the fact that part of your placement fee is reinvested in to recruiting volunteers just like you! The volunteers recruited in one week will typically deliver over 2000 man-days of service. The difference this makes to projects overseas is immeasurable. Many of our overseas projects rely on assistance from international volunteers, so it's necessary for us to put together brochures and websites to find the people who can support them. This recruitment process is vital to ensure programs have a constant stream of reliable volunteers.
Please note: You may be the only volunteer at your chosen project at any one time. If you have any questions about this, please feel free to contact us.
What we will do after you've booked:
- Once booked on you will instantly receive a welcome email confirming your booking with access to your online account
- Community Development and Teaching customers will be requested to complete a police check (where relevant)
- We will contact you if we require anything else e.g. CV/resume for some projects, doctors note for medical conditions etc.
- We will prepare for your trip and you will receive all information required to prepare yourself in your online account
- We will ask you to complete personal information and pay your final balance if they are still due when required
- We are available for any questions you may have on firstname.lastname@example.org
What you need to do after booking your place with us:
- Book your flights
- Arrange suitable travel insurance
- Fill out your personal details through your online account
- Complete your police check if requested
- Make final payment at least 90 days before you go
- Make sure you have a visa for your trip if it's needed
- Visit a nurse or travel clinic for advice on inoculations and malaria prevention
- Read all details and prepare as much as you can for your trip
- Take contact details of the in country team and where you're going in your hand luggage - just in case!
- Get on the plane!
Flights & insurance
It's important that you get adequate travel insurance for your i to i Volunteering experience and as many of you will be working this often means standard policies won’t work. The good news is that no matter where you're coming from we have already found a policy to suit you.
The best time to get your insurance is when you book your project as this means you can get a fully tailored policy exclusive to i to i Volunteering, just ask your consultant for further details at the time of booking.
For prices, policies and key facts click here
As with insurance we advise you get these booked as early as possible to avoid high prices and to make sure you arrive on the right day. The i to i Volunteering team is right up to date with the best deals no matter where you’re flying from; their insider knowledge could save you some time and money.