Volunteer in South America
Home > South America > | Written by Mei Li Johnson | Last updated on 11th Jan, 2023.
So you want to volunteer in South America for your next trip? South America’s 12 countries feature incredible cultural and geographical diversity -- get ready for a memorable and rewarding experience.
South America has a lot to offer, so use this guide as a springboard to help you get started!
Steps to volunteering in South America
Why volunteer abroad in South America?
If you’re on the fence, here are 5 reasons you should move this continent to the top of your destination list.
9 of the 12 South American countries share the same language, meaning you can learn Spanish and use it throughout your trip if you’re visiting multiple destinations.
From natural parks to famous statues, there’s incredible views and sites to visit, such as Machu Picchu, Patagonia and more.
Volunteering opportunities abound: the top 3 themes are hospitality opportunities, environmental opportunities, and teaching & language.
Traveling around South America is much cheaper than traveling in Europe or North America. The initial investment of getting here might be a bit pricier, but you’ll make up for it with a cheaper daily budget. That being said, luxurious experiences also start at a more accessible price point if that’s your preference.
Hospitable culture: there’s a significant tourism industry in the region and with it, a warm welcome for visitors who’d like to get to know local culture.
South America - Quick Facts
Some quick facts about the continent to help you get started!.
12 countries to choose from, meaning you can experience both cultural and geographical diversity during your trip.
The most popular destinations are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Perú and Colombia. 9 of the 12 countries speak Spanish.
Each country has its own currency, so be prepared to evaluate exchange rates! Currencies include US Dollar, Argentine peso, Brazilian real, Chilean Peso and Peruvian sol for instance.
Summer and high season is December - February. Travel during this window for excellent weather albeit higher prices. Spring (October - December) and Fall (March - May) are prime times if you’d like to avoid crowds while still enjoying nice weather.
Who can volunteer?
People of all ages can volunteer - we strongly believe that the most important factor is attitude. If you’re up for new experiences and learning new things, volunteering is for you.
Opportunities on our HelpStay platform include stays that accept families with kids, singles and couples! Whether your group is big or small, you’ll be able to volunteer.
For those of us looking for a budget option, there are also lots of free opportunities available. Remember that this means you don’t have to pay to volunteer but there may be some costs you should cover such as travel or meals. It’s always a good idea to clarify responsibilities (monetary and otherwise) with your host before you travel!
Types of volunteering opportunities
Teaching & Language: these opportunities are for English teachers and those who are interested in being language partners! Some opportunities prefer a TEFL certificate while others don’t, so make sure you check out the requirements to find the best opportunity for you.
Backpacker hostels & hospitality: this category of volunteering projects is very popular and a great way to visit your destination of choice while saving on accommodation. Our recommendation is to coordinate your schedule and discuss tasks before you commit!
Farming & homesteads: for those of us who want to reconnect with nature! Try out the gaucho lifestyle riding horses in Argentina, visit eco farms in Colombia and Guyana or learn about wine making in Chile.
Unique destination: a continent of superlatives
When we talk about South America being a unique destination, you may think we’re exaggerating! But this continent is truly remarkable and home to an impressive list of superlatives. You could visit:
The longest mountain range: The Andes, spanning 7 countries.
The driest desert: the Atacama Desert in Chile.
The largest rainforest: the Amazon Rainforest, spanning 8 countries.
The tallest waterfall and the largest waterfall: Angel Falls and Iguazú Falls.
The biggest party in the world: Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The highest city in the world at 3,500+ meters: La Paz, Bolivia.
The longest country: Chile.
Not to mention Machu Picchu and the Christ the Redeemer statue, 2 of the 7 new wonders of the world. And of course, Patagonia!
My advice is to choose 2-3 must sees for your trip and structure your itinerary around those. Trying to fit too many might make you feel rushed, and it’s always a good idea to leave some time for spontaneous adventures.
Some of my favorite days/expeditions have been following recommendations from other travelers or the reception desk at the hostel I’ve stayed at.
Food and accomodation
One of the best parts about my travels throughout South America is that I’ve had the opportunity to stay in budget accommodations like hostels as well as unique accommodations, like a gorgeous hotel with an oceanfront view from my room. My recommendation is to try out both of these options if you can.
Hostels are fantastic for meeting new friends and making connections with other travelers. I’ve even met people who create new traveling partnerships by teaming up with other hostel guests! Hostels also offer a great opportunity to get local recommendations about nearby sights.
On the other hand, luxury hotels come in at far more accessible prices than their European or North American counterparts. It can be a nice treat to splurge on a few days in a more luxe accommodation; opt for unique views you can only get from stargazing domes in Elqui, Chile or a salt hotel in Bolivia for example.
Restaurants follow a similar pattern. The region has a rich culinary tradition featuring iconic dishes such as Ceviche from Perú, Asados from Argentina, Feijoada in Brazil, empanadas that vary throughout the continent, and so much more. Lima features the best value Michelin star restaurant, and yet, friends who have visited Perú say the ceviche they’ve bought on the street is the best they’ve ever had! So we recommend trying a bit of everything. One thing is for sure though -- you’ll have plenty of options.
When to start planning
Planning ahead of time is great (4-6 months perhaps), but make sure you check in with your hosts again as the date approaches (think 1-2 weeks before you travel).
Culturally, plans tend to be a bit more flexible and last minute changes are normal, so it’s a good idea to double check everything is all set up with your hosts. For instance, when I first started looking at volunteering opportunities 8 months before I traveled, most hostels I contacted said they weren’t ready to commit yet.
Similarly, I’ve been able to book same day bus tickets from Chile to Argentina. If you’re the planning type, it’s possible, but if that’s not your traveling style, there’s also space to be a bit more flexible and “last minute”.
Have a back up plan
The first hostel I planned to stay at didn’t work out. Luckily, I’d talked to a second host and was ready and able to manage the situation!
Definitely have a few options on hand, whether that is some money put away to pay for a hotel for a couple nights or a few other leads on volunteering opportunities. This will also give you some more flexibility and independence.
Visas when volunteering in South America
No matter where you’re going, it’s always a good idea to make sure your passport is valid for at least another 6 months after your arrival date. Since you might want to visit a few different countries on your trip to South America, do your research and look into visa requirements beforehand.
Plan this part of your trip in advance since visa procedures may have varying processing times. Be sure to check out our volunteering visa guide to backpacking in South America.
Health, Safety and Covid-19
Regulations about borders and sanitary measures are changing very frequently. Check out this convenient map tracker from Kayak to keep an eye on travel restrictions. Select your country of origin and review restrictions in an easy 3 color code of red, yellow and green.
And of course, we recommend traveling with health and travel insurance to give you peace of mind and the care you need should something happen. Read more about our recommendations in our journal post on health insurance:
In terms of safety, keep a close eye on your belongings! In many countries, petty theft and pickpockets are very common. A general rule that’s good to follow is to be careful at night and avoid dark, remote areas such as parks. Beyond this, I recommend talking to locals about the city you’re staying in or the area since it will vary depending on your destination.
I first came to Chile as a student and then returned as a volunteer and have had the chance to travel throughout South America. Writing about such a large and diverse continent is a tall order, but we hope this guide helps you get started on planning your trip to South America!
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