Volunteer Your Way Through Central America

Though Central America is regarded as a cheap area to travel around some countries are more expensive than others and volunteering can be a good way to save funds and stick around for longer. Other benefits of becoming a volunteer English teacher, helping out at orphanages or conservation work include improving your Spanish and seeing sides to Central America that perhaps would otherwise be missed.

Along with its beaches and biodiversity, Central America is particularly rich in grassroots volunteer organisations looking for volunteers to lend a helping hand. Skilled hands are particularly welcome but often the only requirement is enthusiasm and a willingness to get those helping hands dirty.

Belize
Belize Audubon Society

BAS cares for nine protected areas in Belize including a jaguar preserve, Mayan human sacrificial remains, coral reefs and the famous dive spot, the Blue Hole. Volunteers should preferably have experience and qualifications matching their requirements. This can include tourism or small business development and, for marine park volunteers, dive and marine research experience. Volunteers should be self funding and able to commit for at least one to three months.

Guatemala
EntreMundos

Itzapa 59

Itzapa 59 by Lisa Accadia

Meaning “between worlds”, EntreMundos works to connect local community projects with skilled foreign and local volunteers. Based in Quetzaltenango, also known as Xela, EntreMundos publishes a free bi monthly magazine where local NGOs often advertise for volunteers. Over 100 Guatemalan organisations willing to accept volunteers are featured on their website.

Honduras
Conservation Project Utila Iguana

Utila, one of the Bay Islands that is a continuation of the Belize Barrier Reef, is regarded as one of the cheapest places in the world to get a diving qualification. The island is also the habitat of an endangered Iguana that could use a helping hand to survive. Volunteers stay for a minimum of three weeks and pay US$55 per week to live at the Iguana Station. Meals are not included.

El Salvador
Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad

language school

language school by jennifer rose sacks

A politically orientated language school in San Salvador, CIS teaches Spanish to tourists and offers inexpensive English classes to local activists. During elections CIS seeks volunteer election observers but generally are looking for English teachers.

Nicaragua
Quetzal Trekkers

Music and Learning

Music and Learning by Wylie Maercklein

Volunteers, with a first aid certificate and intermediate Spanish, can make a difference to street children in Leon by working as a volunteer guide. Alongside leading trekkers to the smoking crater of a volcano, duties include recruiting customers, making promotional materials and cleaning the equipment. Volunteers pay a US$50 refundable deposit returned after a three month commitment.

Costa Rica
The Ara Project

Macaw, Costa Rica

Macaw, Costa Rica by Optical Allusion

The Ara Project dedicates itself to the conservation of a red parrot and a green parrot. Volunteer work includes feeding and handling the two types of bird at a refuge, scrubbing perches, making toys and observing behaviour. Volunteers pay US$4 a day fee to get involved and homestays are available for around US$18 a day.

Panama
Purple House International Backpackers Hostel

After staying as a paying guest for two nights in this David City hostel, volunteers can get a free dorm bed and meals of rice and beans for working eight hours a day. Jobs that need doing include washing sheets, sweeping floors, meeting guests or any of the other many things that have to done around a busy hostel. Volunteers must have seen a bit of Panama already, be able to commit to a minimum of two weeks and speak an intermediate level of Spanish.

Have you volunteered in Central America or anywhere around the world? How was your experience?

43 Comments

  1. Globetrooper Todd on June 20, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Great post Shane. It’s one thing wanting to volunteer, and another thing working out a way to be more help than hinderance. This post also piqued my interest because we just had a trip added to Globetrooper by someone who wants to volunteer across South America. We’ll be sure to cross-reference this post on that trip. For anyone interested in joining the trip, you can see it here: http://globetrooper.com/volunteer-abroad-chile-orphanage-and-school-teaching-2010

  2. Globetrooper Todd on June 20, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Great post Shane. It’s one thing wanting to volunteer, and another thing working out a way to be more help than hinderance. This post also piqued my interest because we just had a trip added to Globetrooper by someone who wants to volunteer across South America. We’ll be sure to cross-reference this post on that trip. For anyone interested in joining the trip, you can see it here: http://globetrooper.com/volunteer-abroad-chile-orphanage-and-school-teaching-2010

  3. Stephen on June 22, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Great post. Volunteering is awesome way to get beyond the backpacker’s scene and have a more valuable travel experience.

  4. Stephen on June 22, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Great post. Volunteering is awesome way to get beyond the backpacker’s scene and have a more valuable travel experience.

  5. Ayngelina on June 23, 2010 at 9:54 am

    What a great post, any chance there’s something similar for South America?

    • Shane on June 24, 2010 at 11:56 am

      Funny you should ask that. I am working on a piece covering the ten South American countries (excluding Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana – so far I can’t find any volunteer projects, at least not cheap ones, in those countries). I’m not sure when it’ll be finished as the World Cup is rather eating into my writing time.

  6. Ayngelina on June 23, 2010 at 10:54 am

    What a great post, any chance there’s something similar for South America?

    • Shane on June 24, 2010 at 12:56 pm

      Funny you should ask that. I am working on a piece covering the ten South American countries (excluding Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana – so far I can’t find any volunteer projects, at least not cheap ones, in those countries). I’m not sure when it’ll be finished as the World Cup is rather eating into my writing time.

  7. Kasha on June 24, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Hey Shane, thanks for this. I am travelling around Central America at the moment and am looking for voluntary projects where you dont have to pay a fortune to help out. I have found an awesome international school in Montezuma (the famous hippy hideout on the west coast of Costa Rica). It´s called Escuela Futuro Verde (www.futuro-verde.org)and they offer plenty of opportunities for keen volunteers for just $200 per month rent in cool house with other volunteers. Totally worth checking out!

  8. Kasha on June 24, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Hey Shane, thanks for this. I am travelling around Central America at the moment and am looking for voluntary projects where you dont have to pay a fortune to help out. I have found an awesome international school in Montezuma (the famous hippy hideout on the west coast of Costa Rica). It´s called Escuela Futuro Verde (www.futuro-verde.org)and they offer plenty of opportunities for keen volunteers for just $200 per month rent in cool house with other volunteers. Totally worth checking out!

  9. Rudi on February 12, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Lost and Found Hostel in Panama is fantastic for volunteering too, stay a couple of weeks and help out running the place, maintaining trails and having a great time!
    Highly recommended…

    • Michael on February 16, 2011 at 6:16 am

      Thanks for the tip!

  10. Rudi on February 12, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Lost and Found Hostel in Panama is fantastic for volunteering too, stay a couple of weeks and help out running the place, maintaining trails and having a great time!
    Highly recommended…

    • Michael on February 16, 2011 at 7:16 am

      Thanks for the tip!

  11. Selene mathew on April 25, 2011 at 1:53 am

    Traveling America is a dream of many people and even wants to explore it. It is the best known place recommended for holiday destinations. Canyoning in Costa Rica is another interesting sport not a lot of people experience everyday.

  12. Selene mathew on April 25, 2011 at 2:53 am

    Traveling America is a dream of many people and even wants to explore it. It is the best known place recommended for holiday destinations. Canyoning in Costa Rica is another interesting sport not a lot of people experience everyday.

  13. Katja on May 16, 2011 at 4:27 am

    8 hours work for a hostel bed and a meal of rice and beans?  in panama that must work out to an hourly wage of a dollar. I#d have to be pretty desparate. otherwise good info here, thank for sharing!

  14. Katja on May 16, 2011 at 5:27 am

    8 hours work for a hostel bed and a meal of rice and beans?  in panama that must work out to an hourly wage of a dollar. I#d have to be pretty desparate. otherwise good info here, thank for sharing!

  15. MdAmor on August 27, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Thanks for coming up with this list.  what are the basic requirements to stay in a hostel? I never have.

    Also, I would really like to know about  South America.

    • Michael on August 28, 2011 at 4:13 pm

      There are no requirements to stay in a hostel. Just money. 🙂

  16. MdAmor on August 27, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Thanks for coming up with this list.  what are the basic requirements to stay in a hostel? I never have.

    Also, I would really like to know about  South America.

    • Michael on August 28, 2011 at 5:13 pm

      There are no requirements to stay in a hostel. Just money. 🙂

  17. Buck on September 30, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Hi all, just curious if any of you North Americans do any volunteering in North America? Obviously you all come from higher end families, are there no Rotary Clubs? Shrine? Masons? Kiwanas? Optimists? etc etc, I know there are so wondering if any of you are involved with local service clubs?

    • Richele on October 21, 2011 at 10:47 pm

      Why do you assume all these people are from “higher end families?” I agree, they are probably middle class or higher, but this is nothing more than an assumption, definitely not “obvious.” While I am very fortunate, I am not wealthy.
      Anyway, I am from the United States and I have done lots of volunteering, and most of my friends and family have, too. Clubs like the ones you mentioned aren’t necessarily the most popular way to go about it here – people often go straight to the organization they’d like to help. It’s definitely important to help out in our own home, but seeing the world is an added benefit that I wouldn’t want to pass up!

  18. Buck on September 30, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Hi all, just curious if any of you North Americans do any volunteering in North America? Obviously you all come from higher end families, are there no Rotary Clubs? Shrine? Masons? Kiwanas? Optimists? etc etc, I know there are so wondering if any of you are involved with local service clubs?

    • Richele on October 21, 2011 at 11:47 pm

      Why do you assume all these people are from “higher end families?” I agree, they are probably middle class or higher, but this is nothing more than an assumption, definitely not “obvious.” While I am very fortunate, I am not wealthy.
      Anyway, I am from the United States and I have done lots of volunteering, and most of my friends and family have, too. Clubs like the ones you mentioned aren’t necessarily the most popular way to go about it here – people often go straight to the organization they’d like to help. It’s definitely important to help out in our own home, but seeing the world is an added benefit that I wouldn’t want to pass up!

  19. Buck on November 6, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Just be careful, some of you “volunteers” who think you are saving the world end up getting yourselves into something that the Canadian or American taxpayer has to bail you out. While it is obvious that most of you global volunteers come from wealthy families, who support you financially, just be careful. Most wealthy families who have children who just don’t follow the academic needs of their parents, have to show they are ready for succession of the family fortune through global travel and global aid. But again, why not just join your local service clubs, these also add value to those in need. The very little bit you are doing abroad is more for you than those you are helping. So much aid goes to these places, your little aid actually sets the whole objective back a bit. Back packing is one thing, but trying to save the world single handedly isn’t the answer, it is all about you. Sure you can make some little girl smile, but when you have to leave, to return to your family fortune and nest, that little girl’s smile goes away and back to normal. Be careful both for your own safety and that you don’t disrupt the live styles of so many less fortunate. It is really a mixed blessing, sometimes you do do more harm than good. Tough one.

    • Michael on November 15, 2011 at 5:13 pm

      Just my opinion but I think this is quite an ignorant comment to assume that all who volunteer are from wealthy families.

      To add this this, I do think Canadians and Americans are generally more wealthy than many other parts of the world but I have never met a backpacker that did not support his own travels through his own hard work. I’m sure there are backpackers using family money but you’re making a rough statement to say that most are traveling from family money.

      Internationally or locally does not matter. It’s the service itself you’re providing. Local service might be harmful as well.

      What very little bit are you speaking of? What counts as little bit? Do you really think money is the only thing that’s needed? While it is true some aid like painting a school is not really needed as much as having an actual teacher, there are plenty of good organizations that provide help. I know quite a few that actually require you to stay for months or even years (like PeaceCorps). I think what’s needed are volunteers that are willing to stay for a few weeks or months to provide help.

      It’s also very discouraging to tell people that what they are doing single handedly will not help. One is better than none as long as it’s responsible volunteering.

    • Jmick019 on August 8, 2012 at 3:54 pm

      You truly are ignorant, and are either spiteful due to the fact that you do not like to volunteer and/or think that your “vacation” should be spent relaxing and getting drunk on a beach. Which you probably believe will do more for the local community because you’re paying a ton of money to stay at a resort where you sit on your ass like a TOURIST, not a TRAVELER. I happen to be a Farm Hand, I do not have a lot of money, when I do not have a job in the winter time I travel to places such as Central and South America to volunteer and help people in lesser developed countries and with less education opportunities. I share my knowledge with the local people to help them further their lives by helping them implement new farming techniques, helping them fix broken equipment, or anything else they need. If you think that this will simply affect the people while I am physically there then think again. People who travel and are committed to volunteering have accepted the fact that they will not be able to change everything by volunteering at a place for a week, which is why we spend MONTHS or even years volunteering at places and even returning to places to which we have volunteered at before. And the volunteering doesn’t simply end after the time you spent there. Those who are involved with volunteering continue their efforts after they leave, by creating websites such as this one to help the places get more volunteers, by raising money for the place they volunteered at, by collecting goods (clothes, food, anything useful) and bringing it back to the place. I’m confused how you became such an expert on everyone who volunteers when you seem to be completely against it, and at the same time you must have been searching for places to volunteer in order to find this post, why would you be doing such a thing if you are so against it? Unless you are truly so bitter a perturbed by people who do good in this world that you had to come on here and put forth your snide comments which are completely false. Find something that makes you happy and start doing it, maybe you will realize how rude and unhappy you are sitting on your high horse in a first world country while billions of people will never have any of the opportunities that you have.

  20. Buck on November 6, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Just be careful, some of you “volunteers” who think you are saving the world end up getting yourselves into something that the Canadian or American taxpayer has to bail you out. While it is obvious that most of you global volunteers come from wealthy families, who support you financially, just be careful. Most wealthy families who have children who just don’t follow the academic needs of their parents, have to show they are ready for succession of the family fortune through global travel and global aid. But again, why not just join your local service clubs, these also add value to those in need. The very little bit you are doing abroad is more for you than those you are helping. So much aid goes to these places, your little aid actually sets the whole objective back a bit. Back packing is one thing, but trying to save the world single handedly isn’t the answer, it is all about you. Sure you can make some little girl smile, but when you have to leave, to return to your family fortune and nest, that little girl’s smile goes away and back to normal. Be careful both for your own safety and that you don’t disrupt the live styles of so many less fortunate. It is really a mixed blessing, sometimes you do do more harm than good. Tough one.

    • Michael on November 15, 2011 at 6:13 pm

      Just my opinion but I think this is quite an ignorant comment to assume that all who volunteer are from wealthy families.

      To add this this, I do think Canadians and Americans are generally more wealthy than many other parts of the world but I have never met a backpacker that did not support his own travels through his own hard work. I’m sure there are backpackers using family money but you’re making a rough statement to say that most are traveling from family money.

      Internationally or locally does not matter. It’s the service itself you’re providing. Local service might be harmful as well.

      What very little bit are you speaking of? What counts as little bit? Do you really think money is the only thing that’s needed? While it is true some aid like painting a school is not really needed as much as having an actual teacher, there are plenty of good organizations that provide help. I know quite a few that actually require you to stay for months or even years (like PeaceCorps). I think what’s needed are volunteers that are willing to stay for a few weeks or months to provide help.

      It’s also very discouraging to tell people that what they are doing single handedly will not help. One is better than none as long as it’s responsible volunteering.

    • Jmick019 on August 8, 2012 at 4:54 pm

      You truly are ignorant, and are either spiteful due to the fact that you do not like to volunteer and/or think that your “vacation” should be spent relaxing and getting drunk on a beach. Which you probably believe will do more for the local community because you’re paying a ton of money to stay at a resort where you sit on your ass like a TOURIST, not a TRAVELER. I happen to be a Farm Hand, I do not have a lot of money, when I do not have a job in the winter time I travel to places such as Central and South America to volunteer and help people in lesser developed countries and with less education opportunities. I share my knowledge with the local people to help them further their lives by helping them implement new farming techniques, helping them fix broken equipment, or anything else they need. If you think that this will simply affect the people while I am physically there then think again. People who travel and are committed to volunteering have accepted the fact that they will not be able to change everything by volunteering at a place for a week, which is why we spend MONTHS or even years volunteering at places and even returning to places to which we have volunteered at before. And the volunteering doesn’t simply end after the time you spent there. Those who are involved with volunteering continue their efforts after they leave, by creating websites such as this one to help the places get more volunteers, by raising money for the place they volunteered at, by collecting goods (clothes, food, anything useful) and bringing it back to the place. I’m confused how you became such an expert on everyone who volunteers when you seem to be completely against it, and at the same time you must have been searching for places to volunteer in order to find this post, why would you be doing such a thing if you are so against it? Unless you are truly so bitter a perturbed by people who do good in this world that you had to come on here and put forth your snide comments which are completely false. Find something that makes you happy and start doing it, maybe you will realize how rude and unhappy you are sitting on your high horse in a first world country while billions of people will never have any of the opportunities that you have.

  21. South America traveler on January 12, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    I’m trying to compare advantages between volunteering in Central America VS South America and I guess that despite there are a lot of possibilities to help in south america with children in poverty projects, environmental care,  helping in schools and so on. I think the main disadvantage is that most of south american countries are getting so expensive in their cost of life and also for traveling! 

  22. South America traveler on January 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    I’m trying to compare advantages between volunteering in Central America VS South America and I guess that despite there are a lot of possibilities to help in south america with children in poverty projects, environmental care,  helping in schools and so on. I think the main disadvantage is that most of south american countries are getting so expensive in their cost of life and also for traveling! 

  23. spent lots of time in Panama on February 10, 2012 at 8:23 am

    I’d be interested in all the others but Purple House is horrible. I highly recommend avoiding it completely. Plus, there is nothing fulfilling about helping a grouchy woman who doesn’t like people run her hostel.  There are other, much better places to volunteer in Panama.

  24. spent lots of time in Panama on February 10, 2012 at 9:23 am

    I’d be interested in all the others but Purple House is horrible. I highly recommend avoiding it completely. Plus, there is nothing fulfilling about helping a grouchy woman who doesn’t like people run her hostel.  There are other, much better places to volunteer in Panama.

  25. Guest on May 31, 2012 at 12:47 am

    I have to admit the concept of paying to volunteer eludes me.  It completely eliminates those who have skills and time to offer but not $$ to pay for the privilege. It’s sad.

    • Shane on June 7, 2012 at 9:26 am

      Somewhat surprisingly I’m coming around to the idea. Though those with in-demand skills or enough time to make a real difference shouldn’t ever have to pay why shouldn’t those that are just essentially tourists not have to stump up for their experiences? Though the money doesn’t always end up in the right hands a lot of worthwhile projects are financed this way.

  26. Guest on May 31, 2012 at 1:47 am

    I have to admit the concept of paying to volunteer eludes me.  It completely eliminates those who have skills and time to offer but not $$ to pay for the privilege. It’s sad.

    • Shane on June 7, 2012 at 10:26 am

      Somewhat surprisingly I’m coming around to the idea. Though those with in-demand skills or enough time to make a real difference shouldn’t ever have to pay why shouldn’t those that are just essentially tourists not have to stump up for their experiences? Though the money doesn’t always end up in the right hands a lot of worthwhile projects are financed this way.

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