It takes barely 1 hour to go from Manuel Antonio to Uvita. The road has a speed limit of 80/60 km although it is really good. It is a beautiful road with palm trees and forest visible throughout the trip. Arriving at Uvita is especially nice since one starts seeing the green mountains in the backdrop.
The center of Uvita is quite compact. It spreads from the Costanera Sur motorway towards the beach. It has at least two large supermarkets that I could see (the BM and El Pacifico Sur).
In front of the supermarket Pacific Sur, one can find the Uvita information center with extremely friendly and useful staff, providing very detailed information about virtually everything I asked, from accommodation options to volunteer opportunities in the area. With regards to accommodation, there are different facebook (again!) pages which they recommend: Costa Ballena Bulletin Board; Costa Ballena Se vende se compra; Ojochal for sale and we love dominical
My impression is that one needs a car in Uvita. It is not so much about the size of Uvita but the fact that the roads are too dangerous to ride a bike- accesses to houses are usually through very steep dirt roads and riding a bike in the Costanera Sur motorway is suicidal…which explains why I couldn’t see anybody riding a bike.
Veterinary: there are three vets in town
Health care: there is a primary care facility in Uvita and a hospital one hour away.
Internet: The town of Uvita has optic fiber. It only extends like 2 km outside the center of Uvita, towards Costa Negra. But there are shared offices in Uvita in which one can rent a work station if one needs a very reliable internet connection.
The most amazing activity to do around Uvita is to go whale watching. We were lucky! Whales had not been spotted for some days but that beautiful morning we saw a humpback whale and her cub lingering on the sea surface. No picture can convey the emotion of being close to such an amazing animal!! It was very very special!
The most important national park in the vicinity is the Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, with its landmark whale-tale beaches, which can only be visited in low tide. But the Sierpe reserve (Mangroves) and Manuel Antonio are not far away (a bit more than an hour) so offering a wide variety of options when it comes to natural protected areas to visit and volunteer.
And the famous Reserva Biológica Hacienda Barú, is also close by and worth a visit. Apropos, we wholeheartedly recommend reading Jack Ewing’s book “Monkeys are Made of Chocolate” in which he recounts how the Hacienda Barú became a world-renown conservation site.
Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary
Before arriving at Uvita is the Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary. The wildlife sanctuary is located within the premises of the Hotel Villas Alturas, which is a high-end hotel, with an absolutely amazing view over the pacific (Sunsets must be breathtaking from there). The road to the hotel & sanctuary is a very steep dirt road. So steep that only 4WD vehicles are allowed to get in.
The visit to the sanctuary is relatively short since they do not have too many resident animals (February 2019): 3 white-faced monkeys; 2 spider monkeys, 1 tucan, 2 peccaries, 3 green macaws, 2 sloths, 2 squirrels and a couple of nocturnal animals which we couldn’t see. Most of the animals come from illegal trade or came as babies after their mother was killed. They have more animals that are in a different zone to avoid contact with humans since they are about to be released. The guide indicated that they have around 70 animals. Interestingly, they need to be put in their cages at night since there are pumas and ocelots that visit regularly the center (they have been captured by the cameras in the center at night).
The sanctuary has two forms of volunteering. Full time in-site and part-time. The full-time in-site volunteers stay in the special accommodation in the center. The routine for the volunteer program is as follows: from 7:00 to 0930 am volunteers work on preparing the food and feeding the animals and cleaning their enclosures. Then they have a short break to eat something and after that, they work on one of the ongoing projects at the center. Afternoons are for maintenance tasks. They have some educational programs in schools but only in the low season, which is from mid-august, when both the European/US holidays and the Tico holidays are over.
The center has on average 10 volunteers (15 max), plus some interns doing their research in the center (for example our guide for the tour is doing research on snakes). The length of the volunteer program is a minimum of one week. Usually, people stay max for 3 months. They need volunteers mostly during the wet season (mid-august onwards).
When to apply? About one year before the date that one wants to start working at the center. The only requirement for being a volunteer is to be older than 18 and that there is a place at the center at the time/period requested in the application.
Oro Verde biological reserve
We made an absolutely wonderful bird-watching tour at the Refugio Biológico Oro Verde. The refugio is a 20 hectares land which has been managed by the same family for three generations. The land is located about 3 km up the mountain. They are interested in and have the capacity to host one or two volunteers to help to develop their bird-watching tour.
Reserva Playa Tortuga
Reserva playa tortuga was recommended by the Lonely planet for volunteering possibilities. RPT was the result of the efforts by a local conservationist to protect the beach of Playa Tortuga- since there were some turtles nesting there. He got the land and the funding to create the center from an American donor who continues funding the center and its staff. Of the 4 people working in the center, two work on animal monitoring and two on education. Interestingly, the maintenance of the butterfly garden is part of the education program.
The center does two types of works: education and the monitoring of different animals and their habitats like turtles, caimans, and crocs, monkeys, birds and bats. They welcome volunteers with ANY profile for either task. For the first one, the volunteers work as field assistants, helping the biologists collecting the data of the different specimens. For the second, they can help developing activities for educational purposes or training.
Volunteers can work full time and stay on the premises at the center or work part-time and stay somewhere in the area. Part-time volunteers can work some days a week and the time and duration will vary since it depends on the activities that they have that day. For example, if it is bird monitoring (identifying and counting birds) the volunteer will start at 6 am and finish around 0930. Monkey monitoring is at different hours; caimans and crocs are at night and usually takes 8 hours; turtles would be night shifts when they are nesting and just morning work when the nests are hatching. Part-time volunteers and volunteers not staying in the center, do not need to pay a contribution to the center.
The procedure of application: one does not need to apply with a lot of time in advance. June is usually a month in which they book up very fast, but most of the time they have space. They only take 5 volunteers max per activity. The minimum amount of time to work as a volunteer is one week- maximum as much as one wants (the normal is one month).
All in all, Uvita was really appealing, both as a place to live as well as a place to volunteer. The place is surrounded by nature, on the one hand the lush of the tropical forest and on the other, the sea and the magnificent Marine National Park Ballena.