How To Choose The Best Volunteering Destination: San Jose vs Tamarindo

When you volunteer abroad with MEDLIFE in Costa Rica, you have the option between visiting San Jose and Tamarindo. If you are unfamiliar with Costa Rica as a whole and are having trouble deciding which city you should choose, here are some things to consider first.

1. Location and Surroundings:

San Jose is the capital city of Costa Rica, offering a vibrant urban experience with a mix of historical sites, cultural attractions, and modern amenities. It serves as a hub for various volunteer programs and organizations. Tamarindo, on the other hand, is a beach town located on the Pacific coast. It provides access to beautiful beaches, surfing opportunities, and a more relaxed coastal lifestyle. Consider whether you prefer an urban or coastal setting.

2. Culture and Lifestyle:

San Jose is the cultural and economic center of Costa Rica, with a diverse population and a range of cultural activities, museums, and festivals. It offers a cosmopolitan experience with a blend of traditional and modern influences. Tamarindo, being a popular tourist destination, has a more laid-back vibe and is known for its surfing culture and beach tourism. Consider the type of lifestyle and cultural experiences you are looking for.

3. Accessibility:

San Jose is the main international gateway to Costa Rica, with a well-connected airport and transportation networks. It offers easy access to other parts of the country and various transportation options for exploring different regions. Tamarindo also has its own airport, but it may have fewer flight options and could require connecting through San Jose. Consider your preference for accessibility and transportation convenience.

4. Language Considerations:

If you have a preference for learning or practicing Spanish, both San Jose and Tamarindo offer opportunities to immerse yourself in the language. San Jose may have more English-speaking residents and businesses due to its status as the capital and its cosmopolitan nature. Tamarindo, being a tourist destination, may have more exposure to English as well.

5. Budget:

Consider your budget for traveling with MEDLIFE. Accommodation, food, and travel fees can vary between San Jose and Tamarindo. San Jose, being a larger city, may generally have a higher cost of living, while Tamarindo, as a tourist destination, may have higher prices for certain amenities and accommodations.

6. Personal Preferences:

Think about your personal preferences and what you hope to gain from your SLT experience. Do you prefer an urban environment with cultural attractions and a bustling city life, or do you prefer a more relaxed beach town with access to water activities and natural beauty? Consider your comfort level in different environments and the type of experience you are seeking.

It is important to note that while you are on your Service Learning Trip, a majority of your time will be spent in the field in our partner communities. The time you will be spending in the city is when you are off-duty and on your own personal time.

Ultimately, the choice between San Jose and Tamarindo as a volunteering destination depends on your individual priorities and preferences. It may be helpful to read reviews from past volunteers as well as reach out to the MEDLIFE team to book an appointment and discuss your choice with them. You can also research the Service Learning Trip experience in San Jose and Tamarindo on our website.


Hear it From MEDLIFErs

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Reya Seby
Western University

This trip motivated me more to pursue a career in the healthcare field so that I can use my resources to help those who need it the most, similar to MEDLIFE’s mission.

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Victoria DiCanio
University of Connecticut

It was most enjoyable to finish the hard work and see how big a difference a group of individuals can make. It was such an amazing experience.

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Anita Woo
University of Toronto

I enjoyed the mobile clinics the most, especially the dental and triage portions. I would definitely recommend a MEDLIFE trip, it was a great experience.

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David Saff
Maclay High School

The most enjoyable part of my trip was hanging out with the amazing group of kids I was with. I would highly recommend a MEDLIFE volunteer trip to others.

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Sydney Sansone
Nova Southeastern University

This trip made everything that I was learning in my public health courses come to life and immersed me in a new culture while also learning about medicine.

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Abygail Youmans
College of Charleston

Being involved with MEDLIFE is not like joining another club - its bigger than that. It is about joining a movement that seeks to help change people’s quality of life for forever.

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Emi Hofmann
University of Central Florida

Not only was I able to participate in a week long Mobile Clinic, shadowing doctors of all types of specialties including pharmacy, dentistry, gynecology, and more, but I was also able to learn about the culture and visit incredible places.

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Julian Takagi-Stewart
University of Toronto

One thing that I really loved about this trip was that MEDLIFE made sure that the volunteers got an understanding of the complexity of issues that lead to underprivileged people in communities outside of the main city

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Hannah Van Hofwegen
University of Ottawa

Whether it was basketball with the local kids, assisting the doctors, talking with families, building washrooms, holding babies, or spending time with the people who were on the SLT with me, this was an amazing opportunity that I would do over and over again.

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Isabelle Holt
Cornell University

I loved learning about the patients MEDLIFE has followed and how they offer real help to people with chronic/urgent conditions. It is amazing how the organization formed real connections with the communities.

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Valerie Lindeborg

Our family had the privilege of participating in multiple trips with Nick [founder] and his amazing staff. Their expertise made the trips unforgettable while instilling in my boys the fundamentals of good character: selflessness, compassion, and empathy.

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Harry Vildibill
University of Georgia

As an aspiring physician, MEDLIFE motivated me to further continue my goal of becoming a doctor. In fact, I enjoyed the Tanzania Service Learning Trip so much that I decided to go on another trip to Cusco, Peru.