Cartagena is the perfect Caribbean destination you’ve never heard of: surrounded by ancient ramparts, dotted with white sand beaches, and filled with large plazas and cobbled alleys, this Colombian city will make you wonder why it’s not already on the cover of every travel magazine. That said, Cartagena is also home to nearly one million colombianos, and its residents can and do experience real challenges. Volunteering abroad in Cartagena is a great way to assist locals while also learning about the Colombian way of life.
Popular Ways to Volunteer Abroad in Cartagena, Colombia
Volunteering in Cartagena is a great way to experience Colombian culture while also giving back to the community. As you perform your daily tasks, you’ll get to know your neighbors, practice your Spanish skills, and find the joy in snacking on a perfect arepa de huevo (egg-filled maize patty).
Popular causes/program types in Cartagena. Volunteers with all sorts of skill sets can be helpful in Cartagena, but there are specific areas where the need is greatest. The city’s economy is growing, but some locals still lack basic necessities and many children are especially vulnerable. Projects that focus on childcare allow volunteers to assist children with after-school activities, preparing meals, and teaching life skills through sports and other hobbies. Volunteers can also work with older students, teaching them English and other school subjects. For those who are interested in Colombia’s biodiversity, volunteer projects focusing on environmental assistance are also available.
Short-term volunteer programs in Cartagena. If you only have two weeks of vacation time or are on a limited budget for volunteering in Cartagena, but you still want to help, that’s great! However, it’s important to be mindful when choosing a short-term volunteer project. Consider where your skill sets can make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time. Helping with a construction project or an environmental survey, where it’s easy for someone to pick up the task when you leave, is a safe bet that you’ll be making a difference without leaving anything (or anyone) hanging.
Long term volunteer projects in Cartagena. If you’re considering volunteering with children or undertaking a teaching volunteer project, your impact will be greatest if you’re able to stay three months or more. You’ll be able to make stronger connections with the young people you’re working with, improve your language skills, and really immerse yourself in the local culture.
Life in Cartagena for Volunteers
Cartagena is no small beachside town, and life in the city isn’t always relaxing. But on the days you can’t escape to the beach, there are winding streets, tucked-away cafes, and colonial remnants just waiting to be explored.
Grab a carimañola de queso (cheese-filled fritter) and follow the path along the stone-walled ramparts that surround the old town or check out the tunnels underneath the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. For a fun night out with your fellow volunteers, head to Getsemani for ceviche, mojitos, and dancing. On the weekend, you can try out snorkeling in the nearby coral reefs of Parque Nacional Natural Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo.
The cost of living while volunteering in Cartagena makes it an affordable destination for volunteers. Those who budget wisely and arrive with some savings should be able to stay for several months to complete projects. While food and lodging costs are relatively low, keep in mind that imported products, such as electronics and clothing, can be more expensive that what you’re used to.
GoAbroad Insider Tips
Once you’ve decided to volunteer in Colombia and you’ve found the perfect volunteer opportunity, it’s important to think about visas (paperwork may be boring, but it is also essential!). Depending on how long you’ll be in the country and what project you’re working on, you may need to apply for a volunteer visa before departing your home country. In other cases, traveling on a tourist visa might be an option, but you may need to extend it in Cartagena once you’ve arrived. Visas can be complicated, so it’s important to touch base with your volunteer organization to make sure you’ve checked all the boxes.
After dealing with visa requirements, finding a place to sleep should be much easier. You’ll probably receive assistance finding housing from your volunteer organization, and in some cases, housing is even included in the volunteer agreement. In these cases, you’ll most often live with fellow volunteers in a shared house or with a host family. While you may not have all of the comforts of home, like wifi or cable TV, your lodging should be comfortable and allow you to get to know other volunteers and locals as you work on your volunteer projects.
Cartagena can feel like a fairy tale, with its flowery balconies, leisurely boat rides to mangrove-lined beaches, and extensive tapas menus. Volunteering abroad in Cartagena will show you this side of the city, but it will also expose you to the challenges locals face in everyday life. Use this information to reflect on how you’ll move forward once your volunteer experience has finished. What will you do with the knowledge you’ve gained, and how will you ensure that you continue to travel meaningfully?
Feeling mucho inspired? Read our comprehensive guide on volunteering abroad in Colombia for even more programs and info.