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Volunteering Abroad in Barranquilla

The Golden Gate to Colombia, Barranquilla is a hotspot for volunteering (and not just because of that Caribbean heat). Lying on the coast next to the delta of the Magdalena river, Barranquilla is a sprawling metropolis of palm trees and white bungalows. It’s colorful and outrageous. Moving to Caribbean influenced rhythms, locals here love to throw around the phrase cojelo suave (take it easy!). Around the fringes of town though, there is still plenty of evidence of people struggling. Poverty is very present, opening up plenty of opportunities for volunteers in Colombia. Make this the year you volunteer in Barranquilla!

Volunteer Work in Barranquilla

Barranquilla is Colombia’s fourth largest city, and the largest on the coast. It is still developing in many ways though, and you may not find as wide an array of volunteer programs as in Bogota or Cartagena.

The most common placement for volunteering in Barranquilla is teaching English. This is an effective way to make an impact, and for native English speakers to contribute an important skill to the community. Improving the English language skills of youth in Barranquilla is part of a nationwide effort to improve the education and career prospects of young Colombians. By teaching English in Barranquilla, you might be able to help your students get better jobs, pursue university educations, and head towards brighter futures.

There are also placements available in areas of community development, childcare, and health. These types of placements are great for individuals who wish to pursue careers in these areas. Faced with problems developed countries don’t often deal with, volunteers will be able to get practical experience in specialized areas.

The length of individual placements to volunteer in Colombia ranges from two weeks to a full academic year for some teaching positions. The longer you are able to stay in Barranquilla, the more you progress you will see in your chosen project, and the more you will be able to adapt to Colombian life. 

Life in Barranquilla

Barranquilla, or ‘Quilla as it is affectionately known by locals, is hot, energetic, and never still. The beats of vallenato, salsa, bachata, merengue, and champeta will the soundtrack to your time volunteering here, and an absence of music will start to sound strange.

Located on the Caribbean coast, there is no shortage of beaches near Barranquilla, and free time can be spent lounging under tiki huts, watching the sun drop into the sea while you sip pina coladas. After dark, there are countless bars where you can sip cerveza (Aguila of course) and try out some salsa moves. The most famous place to rumba is La Troja, a cultural institution that has been blaring salsa music for decades. This is the ultimate place to people watch: if you are too shy to dance, just look around in awe as Barranquilleros show you how it’s done.

Colombia Volunteers can visit the Museo del Caribe, or sip wine at La Cueva, the restaurant where Gabriel Garcia Marquez used to hang out. Further south, the Iglesia San Nicholas is a striking dark pink against the blue Caribbean sky. It is bordered by the messy chaos of Centro, the gritty marketplace where you can buy everything from exotic fruit to a new cellphone. Just out of town is the pretty Castillo de Salgar: the best sunset spot on the coast, and the ideal place to sip a limonada de coco.

Accommodation & Visas

Your digs during your volunteer program in Barranquilla will most likely be in a homestay. Most programs provide accommodation, or at least assitance in finding a place, but either way host families are by far the most popular option. Many families in Barranquilla rent out their spare room for some extra cash. As well as being extremely affordable (as little as $100 a month) they are also conveniently flexible: you won’t need a contract or guarantors, both necessary to rent an apartment. You will have your own room, with air-conditioning or a fan, and will share the kitchen, living, and bathroom areas with the rest of the family. They will quickly adopt you and your new mama will make sure that you are well-fed at all times, while your host hermanos can teach you all the essential words of costeno Spanish.

As for visas, for volunteer placements less than three months, you will be able to volunteer in Barranquilla as a tourist. Nationals from many countries, including the U.S., Canada, and Australia, do not require a visa to enter Colombia, and can stay for up to 90 days visa-free. For longer placements, program providers will be able to help you with the necessary visa application process. For further details, and to verify entry requirements for your nationality, visit the GoAbroad Embassy Directory.

Benefits & Challenges

While Barranquilla might not feel all that liveable at times, it is overflowing with an infectious zest for life. There are always plenty of exciting cultural activities to participate in, whether it is dancing wildly during the annual carnival, a UNESCO World Heritage event, screaming your lungs out at a Junior (the local soccer team) game in the famous El Metro stadium, or trying to catch a glimpse of Shakira on one of her visits to her hometown.

Many volunteers in Barranquilla find it a challenging city to live in. It can be stiflingly hot and humid, and on top of that there are frequent flash floods (arroyos) that turn the streets into swollen, impassable rivers in the rainy seasons. All of these factors can leave Colombia volunteers feeling a little trapped in the safety and comfort of air-conditioned buildings. The secret is to hop on a bus to one of the beaches just out of town, or explore the many cafés and cake shops around town.

You won’t be able to help but fall in love with Barranquilla, and it won’t take long before you understand why Joe Arroyo sang the famous salsa balad “En Barranquilla Me Quedo:” In Barranquilla I Stay.

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