Resting in the heart of South America, Bolivia is one of the most ecologically, linguistically, and culturally diverse countries in the world. Due to its landlocked position and tumultuous history, it is also one of the poorest countries in South America, and welcomes volunteers from all over the world with open arms. If you are seeking a vibrant cultural experience and the chance to improve your Spanish speaking ability while contributing to a people in need, then look no further than volunteer programs in Bolivia.
With nearly 1.5 million inhabitants, Santa Cruz de la Sierra is Bolivia’s largest city. Rich in history and natural beauty, it is also the most important business center in Bolivia and attracts migrant workers from all over the country. Volunteer programs in Santa de la Sierra allow volunteers to explore a plethora of national museums, art galleries, and beautiful architectural structures as they supply various forms of aid to local communities.
La Paz is Bolivia’s third largest city and the seat of the nation’s government (although the smaller city of Sucre is technically the capital). Located at an altitude of 12,000 feet in the western region of the Andean plateau, La Paz is an educational and political capital which, because of its pristine setting high in the Andes and beautiful colonial architecture, is quite a popular destination among travelers interested in volunteering in Bolivia.
Cochabamba, nicknamed the City of Eternal Spring because of its beautiful climate year-round, is also quite a popular place to volunteer in Bolivia. It is often considered Bolivia’s most progressive city, and was host to the very first World People’s Conference on Climate Change. If you are looking to volunteer in the field of environmental conservation, then Cochabamba is quite an ideal backdrop.
Placements are available throughout other major cities of Bolivia, as well as in rural areas where volunteers can live amongst locals in a Bolivian village.
Projects & Placements
Over 50 percent of Bolivia’s population lives in poverty, and the country has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world due to a lack of consistent access to healthcare. This immense burden of poverty is faced by many of the country’s poorer citizens, so volunteers will find many placements available in the areas of community development, social rights, and health care. Bolivia actually has one of the highest literacy rates of South America, but volunteer teachers are also highly sought after to help teach English and other subjects at primary schools or daycares.
Since Bolivia is a megadiverse country, you will also find many volunteer opportunities involving animal work or environmental preservation projects. With its tremendous diversity of natural habitats, including towering mountain ranges, lowland rainforests, and tropical plateaus, Bolivia is the home of over 17,000 species of plants and nearly 3,000 species of animals. There are few countries on earth which can boast similar levels of biodiversity, making Bolivia a paradise for volunteers who are passionate about zoological sciences or environmental conservation.
Most volunteer programs in Bolivia are available year round and can last anywhere from two weeks up to six months. Although there are a large variety of indigenous languages still spoken in Bolivia, Spanish is the national language and most locals speak it fluently. Some volunteer placements in Bolivia will expect volunteers to speak at least intermediate Spanish, while others are freely open to non-speakers who are eager to learn a little Spanish. Often programs will combine volunteering in Bolivia with language study, creating the perfect opportunity to enhance your Spanish speaking ability while positively impacting local communities or the environment.
Costs & Affordability
Everyday costs of living are quite cheap in Bolivia, even relative to other countries in South America. This makes it an affordable place to volunteer abroad, even for participants of all income levels.
Most daily expenses during a volunteer program in Bolivia, such as accommodation, transportation, and some meals, are likely to be included in the upfront program fees, which will be the most expensive part of volunteering in Bolivia. It is always possible to fundraise to help soften these costs, and many scholarships are also available for volunteering abroad (For more information on available financial aid opportunities for volunteering in Bolivia, check out GoAbroad’s Scholarships Directory).
Accommodations & Visas
Depending on the duration of your volunteer program in Bolivia you are likely to be offered either apartment living or a homestay as accommodation. Many volunteers choose a homestay because of the culturally immersive experience this option offers living with a Bolivian family. If you are planning on living in Bolivia for an extended period of time however, then it may be more feasible to find an apartment. Many program providers will help you find accommodation and link you up with other volunteers as potential roommates if you go this route.
Depending on your nationality you may have to obtain a visa to volunteer abroad in Bolivia. Citizens of most countries can obtain a visa upon arrival, with prices varying between home nations. A 90 day visa for volunteering in Bolivia, for Americans, will cost $135 and must be supplemented by either proof of a hotel reservation or a letter of invitation. Consult your program about the best options for obtaining the visa you need, and check out GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory for more information on the Bolivian visa policy for your home country.
Benefits & Challenges
Volunteering abroad in Bolivia will be a life changing experience. Bolivia is a beautiful and diverse country with a fascinating blend of indigenous and colonial cultural influences. Volunteers will have the opportunity to explore all of this tremendous diversity of life while contributing positively to communities in need or to environmental preservation efforts. Volunteering in Bolivia is your chance to give back while undergoing tremendous personal development in a magnificently beautiful country which few others will ever get to visit. Are you ready to take the leap?