A cosmopolitan city with a colonial heart, Bogota has a certain allure for international volunteers. Set among Andean peaks, Bogota has an occasionally chilly climate, but a perpetually warm and welcoming atmosphere. While it has all of the urban sophistication of a capital city, Bogota still faces issues of poverty, unemployment, and poor education, meaning there is a demand for volunteers in a range of projects. This is one of the most exciting cities in Latin America, and as Colombia makes huge strides towards building a peaceful future, to volunteer in Colombia’s Bogota means you get to be right in the middle of it.
Volunteer Programs in Bogota
In its urban environment, the most common volunteer placements in Bogota are in the areas of education, social work, and health. As well as helping communities in need, volunteering in Bogota is a great way to get real-world experience in your chosen field.
As an English teacher, you can find volunteer placements working in public schools, or in families. No problema if you don’t have teaching experience: the volunteer’s job is usually to improve conversational English skills, so as long as you can hold a conversation you can do this. Health placements are best suited to individuals who either already have a background in medicine, or are studying for a career in healthcare. In the community development sector, there are lots of opportunities for volunteers who want to work with children, with women, and with youth.
Volunteer projects in Bogota range in length from two weeks to three months. Because they are almost all people-focused, it is recommended that you stay with your project for at least one month. This will let you connect more with the people you work with, help give stability to the project, and allow you to get more out of the experience. Speaking at least basic Spanish is also helpful, but not usually not a requirement. Making a little effort goes a long way though, so you should at least attempt a few phrases - it will be worth it for all the smiles you will get in return.
Life in Bogota
Bogota is every inch an international capital city. As well as the historical center, there are museums, art galleries, world-class restaurants, and more bars than you will ever be able to hop through.
La Candelaria is where most volunteers kick off their exploration of Bogota. A cobblestoned area steeped in history, this is where many notable attractions can be found, including the Botero Museum and Bolivar Square. Just east of the enter lies Cerro Monserrate, a spectacular mountain that offers a green escape from the city, as well as unbeatable views. Zona Rosa and Zona G are the famous entertainment districts, where well-dressed locals step out after dark. There are an endless number of barrios for volunteers to explore, so you will never have the chance to get bored.
One of the coolest things about Bogota is how it close off miles of roads on Sundays. Ciclovia is the world’s most successful mass recreation event. Cars are replaced with bicycles, skateboards, skates, and people out enjoying an active afternoon with their families. Freed from traffic, this is a great time to walk, cycle, or run around the city, and soak up the community spirit of what can sometimes be an overwhelmingly large city.
Accommodation & Visas
Volunteering abroad in Bogota is all about seeing a different side of Colombia, and getting deeper into the culture than you would as a tourist. Your living situation will be a crucial part of this immersion.
Participating in a volunteer program in Bogota usually means your accommodation will be prearranges. Housing for volunteers is typically a homestay. Program providers place participants with local families, where they can benefit from language practice and true cultural immersion. You are usually given your own room, and because of the urban setting, most homestays will have all of the amenities you are used to, including hot water and wifi.
Volunteers in Bogota can enter Colombia on a visitor’s permit. There are only a few nationalities that will be required to obtain a visa to get into Colombia as a tourist. To find out if that includes you, check in with your nearest Colombian embassy. Once in Colombia, you will be entitled to stay for up to 90 days. After three months you will either need to ask for an extension at an immigration office, or cross the border and pop back to be eligible to stay for a further three months. Six months is the maximum that volunteers can stay in Colombia for, which should be more than enough to complete your volunteer project. Don’t overstay your welcome: offenders are handed a hefty fine when they try to leave if it is discovered they have stayed longer than the allotted time.
Benefits & Challenges
Ah si, los beneficios y desafíos. A sprawling juggernaut of a city, Bogota is not always a walk in the park. Sometimes it is also a walk in crime-ridden and poverty-stricken neighborhoods. As a volunteer, you may sometimes need to venture into the more troubled areas of Bogota. Many areas in Bogota suffer from deplorable living conditions. Robberies are frequent, and as a foreigner you will be an obvious target. While you shouldn't believe hysteria about Colombia being extremely dangerous, you should keep your wits about you at all times in Bogota. Follow all the basic safety rules: don’t flash your phone or expensive jewellery, only carry the cash you need for the day, and don’t walk around alone late at night.
The challenges of volunteering in Bogota are by far outweighed by the benefits. One of the best parts of volunteering in Bogota is the chance to build meaningful relationships with Colombians. The landscapes of Colombia are jaw-dropping, but it is the people you will remember, their unfailing warmth, welcoming nature, and vivacious love of life. Colombia is one of the happiest countries in the world, and you will be inspired to see people in Bogota singing and dancing through the toughest of times. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself drawn back time and again to Bogota and all of your amigos there.
Bogota is also a great place to brush up on (or learn) Spanish. Colombian Spanish is regarded as being clear and easier to pick up than other accents. On top of that, the friendly nature of Colombians means you will have plenty of opportunities to practice and learn new palabras.
Volunteering is about contributing your skills and knowledge to people in need: but it is also about having unforgettable experiences and forging powerful connections. There is no better place to do this than Bogota. ¿Listo? ¡Vamos!