It has been ARCAS’s experience - both in its volunteer program at the Rescue Center in Petén and its Sea Turtle Conservation Program in Hawaii - that the best way to avoid misunderstandings and ensure that the volunteer experience is rewarding for both parties is to adhere to several general guidelines.
The ARCAS volunteer guidebook, available in the Publicaciones section goes into further detail about the responsibilities and expectations of volunteers, but the following are guidelines for the Rescue Center:
The volunteer fee in Peten includes food and lodging. But please keep in mind that the soils of Peten are poor, and most food needs to be imported. Therefore, food costs are high and the cook has to work miracles with a very limited selection. Meals at the Rescue Center are delicious and healthy, making full use of the Guatemalan staples of hand-made corn tortillas, black beans and eggs, as well as vegetables, meats and fruits. Many of the volunteers we receive are vegetarians so we are used to meeting their needs. PLEASE don’t bring food into your rooms as it attracts rats, ants and other critters which then destroy mattresses, screening and furniture, and in general, make things unpleasant for all concerned. Bottled water is available for drinking.
What you can do on your off time
Drugs and liquor are prohibited on the Rescue Center! The ARCAS boat makes special trips into Flores twice per week for volunteers that want to get dinner, drink a few beers or go to the internet cafe. You are welcomed to get modestly tipsy there, but please do not bring any alcohol back with you. We’ve had too many problems in the past.
About personal hygiene
In the past, we have had certain volunteers who - perhaps feeling that their unique body odor would allow them to more closely commune with their friends in the animal kingdom - have gone days without bathing. However that unique odor sometimes becomes offensive to certain members of the species Homo sapiens (especially the sub-species latinus) since everyone must use the same facilities and work and live together closely. Please try to keep yourself and your clothes as clean as possible. If you find washing your clothes at the “pila” too bothersome, there is laundry service available at the Rescue Center.
Depending on how full we get, you will be sharing your dorm room with up to three other volunteers. It is very important that you keep your part of the dorm room clean.
Don’t waste water! The Volunteer House is equipped with full “western” bathrooms with showers, sinks and flush toilets. Please try not to waste water as it is a scarce commodity in Peten and part of the ARCAS experience is learning to live sustainably within limits.
Critters and itchy plants
There is mosquito netting on the walls, but many volunteers bring individual nets for added protection. Apart from those sunny afternoons on the swimming docks, we recommend long-sleeved, light cotton clothing and sneakers, light hiking boots or rubber boots. Keep an eye out for snakes while you are walking on the trails. Shake your clothes out before putting them on in case of scorpions. Be careful of the Chechen negro tree which can produce a very painful rash much like poison ivy or poison oak. Check with Rescue Center staff about these precautions.
ARCAS Peten Volunteers are expected to wash their own dishes at the dining hall. If you have spare time, you might ask the cook if she needs any help. Learn how to make hand-made Guatemalan tortillas!
Make sure you put the tools and equipment you used back in their proper place after each use. It is a hassle to constantly have to look for tools strewn throughout the compound.
Volunteer work is a two way street: the project and the wild animals it supports benefits from the assistance of the volunteer, while the volunteer gains valuable knowledge and technical skills. At the Rescue Center, you will have an opportunity to see first-hand the difficulties of conserving endangered species in a developing country and this will help you understand the immensity of the work still to be done. The Center may encourage your imagination and creativity in coming up with ideas for better caring for the animals in the resource-poor conditions that exist in Guatemala.
Learning by working with Guatemalans (and practice your Spanish too!)
You will also spend time working with Guatemalans. Not only will there be an exchange of ideas and culture but also an understanding of how to better communicate with another culture that is in the process of defining what conservation means for them.
For Veterinary Students
If you are a student of veterinary medicine, it is important to remember that your stay at the Rescue Center will involve more than just veterinary work. You will be expected to perform the same types of chores as everyone else, including house cleaning, cleaning cages, manual labor and washing dishes. . We accept interns, but truth-be-told there is not much difference between an intern and a regular volunteer. We are a team so all volunteers get the chance to learn a lot about tropical wildlife medicine and conservation.
The majority of the animals received at the Rescue Center are in poor condition having been confiscated from illegal traffickers who cram them into small boxes without food or water, and who sometimes drug them. As a result, much of the veterinary work we carry out involves emergency and trauma medicine at our quarantine clinic. Before coming to the Rescue Center, it is important to familiarize yourself with techniques of avian trauma and pediatric medicine. It will also help if you understand concepts of avian and wildlife nutrition. While the majority of the cases are birds (psittacines), there are also reptiles and mammals. Please check the animal inventory above and in our annual reports for a complete list of species received at the Rescue Center.
Please note that although we do perform medical procedures on the animals, opportunities to take part in such procedures waxes and wanes with the number of animals we receive and their conditions, and we cannot guarantee beforehand that you will be able to participate in such procedures. Generally, our most active period is during the months May-July. However, even during the slow times it is still possible to have a meaningful veterinary learning experience at the Rescue Center by focusing on practical physicals, prevention, cage design, enrichment options, project design or becoming involved with outside community programs with ARCAS. Remember, it’s up to you to create your experience.
Participation & costs
The fees paid by volunteers are used to support ARCAS’s conservation activities.
The volunteer cuota (dues) in Peten is $150 per week which includes food and lodging. There is an additional deposit of Q300 (About $40) for your room key and bed sheets, which will be returned upon your departure.
For volunteers who want to participate under Plan Completo, an additional non-refundable deposit of $250 is charged which includes a reservation at the Rescue Center, airport pick-up and drop-off at the Flores airport and a two-day trip to Tikal.
Although we are posting these prices, they are also subject to change, so please contact us at
for up-to-date information or questions.
How to get there
When you have made your travel plans, please send us a short e-mail letting us know your itinerary.
To get to Peten, take a bus (Linea Dorada, Tel: 2232-9658, 2220-7990, 8hrs, very comfortable luxury buses!) or plane (TACA airlines) Tel: 2470-8222, 2279-8222, 45 minutes) from Guatemala City to Flores.
The free ARCAS boat leaves for the Rescue Center from the arch on the causeway that connects Santa Elena with Flores at 8 AM & 3:30 PM, but we recommend that you confirm with the staff in Peten as times may change. Call Fernando (5208-0968) or Alejandro (5555-1722) or check in at the Café at the arch for boat confirmations.
Apart from the free ARCAS boat, you can rent a a taxi boat on the shores of Flores. If you bargain a bit the fare should be between Q20-40.
Please note that the local boatmen will sometimes claim that there is no ARCAS boat that day just to get your business, so it’s best to ask around and check with ARCAS staff first.!
The Rescue Center is also accessible by car taking the dirt road 18kms past the Villa Maya Hotel.