Santiago de Cuba — streets roamed by classic cars and lined by awe-inspiring architecture, rum by the litre and cigars by the kilo. It’s as if time halted many years ago in this intriguing city. The country’s recent re-opening to American tourists makes it the ideal time to volunteer abroad in Santiago de Cuba, connecting more closely with the locals and their culture than you would by visiting as a tourist. With plenty of community based project options, you won’t be short of an opportunity to give back, helping Cuba move forward.
How to Volunteer in Santiago de Cuba
There are plenty of ways to contribute to the community in Santiago de Cuba, which offer an ideal chance to better understand the culture and challenges faced by the city’s population as well.
Popular causes and projects. In Santiago de Cuba, volunteer projects are mostly linked to the needs of the community. There is a great demand for English teachers as the country opens up to additional tourism and trade opportunities. Educational projects are not limited to language however; skills classes and health education opportunities are also available. If you’d prefer to look more at the country’s nature, consider signing up for conservation programs that help the local marine life.
Summer and short-term volunteer programs. Participants are encouraged to opt for longer term volunteer placements, as this allows you to build a stronger connection to the local community and better understand their needs. That said, some programs are suitable for shorter two-four week or summer placements — just be realistic about what you expect to achieve in the timeframe you have.
Long term volunteer stints. Long term programs are an ideal way to develop a thorough understanding of Cuban culture and life in Santiago de Cuba. As you develop a relationship with the community and people whom you are supporting, you will be able to contribute more and more to your placement. This complete level of immersion is a unique travel opportunity. Long term placements may also offer meal and accommodation inclusions, more likely in homestays or shared volunteer housing, although some may also allow you to make your own arrangements, letting you choose a Cuban lifestyle to suit your needs!
Life in Santiago de Cuba for Volunteers
Santiago de Cuba is a city of many personalities — beach side and classic. As development and modernity creep across the city, driven by young people and particularly the local students, a huge change to local lifestyles comes around. Although you will be busy and working hard at your volunteer placement throughout the week, make time to experience the nightlife that ranges from incredible salsa clubs to bustling bars spilling out onto the streets.
Life in the city is not expensive but you should be aware that Cuba has two currencies, one for tourists and one for locals. You will, naturally, save a lot by shopping in local stores and trying out local restaurants for meals, but need to be conscious of the widely differing exchange rates for the two tenders and always establish which you will be using. Many programs include accommodation, reducing the logistical challenges facing you on arrival and keeping costs manageable from the start.
GoAbroad Insider Tips
With increasing numbers of tourists visiting the city, you have the unique opportunity, as a volunteer to view Santiago de Cuba-life through the eyes of a local. Seize any opportunity that comes your way to spend time with the locals and experience an authentic insight into Cuban life. These are the stories you will keep for your grandchildren.
Not too far from the center of Santiago de Cuba are the Playas del Este, stunning white sand beaches that get a less than perfect reputation for not holding up to the impeccable standards set by resort towns on the island such as Varadero. For a weekend break after a full week on project, they are however the ideal spot to unwind with a mojito and some tasty seafood, so don’t miss out despite what you hear! The countryside is also a complete contrast to Santiago de Cuba, so be sure to visit nearby Viñales during your stay for an insight into rural Cuba.
Experience the real Cuba and take on an opportunity to assist with development on the island where time stood still. Santiago de Cuba is the city at the centre of Cuban development and you will find plenty of programs to keep you busy, and show you a more authentic side of Cuban life.
Read our comprehensive guide to volunteering in Cuba here.