Just north of Costa Rica lies a country of similar diversity in landscape and wildlife, but at the prices of Guatemala. Most tourists head directly to the colorful colonial cities of Granada and Leon, skipping over the chaotic sprawling capital city of Managua. However, as almost 50 percent of the nation’s 2.4 million people live below the poverty line, it’s also prime real estate for you to have a major impact. Many volunteer organizations are headquartered or provide volunteer programs in Managua and the surrounding villages, so it’s the perfect location to be in the heart of it all as a volunteer in Nicaragua.
Volunteer Programs in Managua
Many volunteer opportunities in Managua focus mainly on three fields: healthcare, education, and tourism. Every year, thousands of Nicaraguans move south to Costa Rica in search of better healthcare, education, and work opportunities because these opportunities cannot be found in their own country. Due to the large outflux of locals, many NGOs and local volunteer organizations in Managua are focused on providing access to quality healthcare and education within the city and the surrounding villages.
If you’re interested in volunteering abroad in healthcare, community development, or education, Managua is a great place to base yourself for a unique experience in Nicaragua. Healthcare clinics are always in need of volunteers to provide hands-on treatment and administrative help. Nicaragua’s population is particularly riddled with diabetes, parasites, and obesity, so whether you’re a nursing student or an English major, there are many volunteer organizations in Managua that will welcome you with open arms.
Nicaragua similar biodiversity as Costa Rica, but it doesn’t have the same infrastructure and policies in place to protect the natural environment. Much like other developing countries in Central America, Nicaragua suffers from deforestation, lack of water access, and loss of native wildlife. If your interest is in environmental protection or animal welfare, volunteering in Managua will provide you with the perfect opportunity to get your hands dirty and help protect the country’s natural resources.
Nicaragua’s tourism only started to grow in the 1990s, but it has since exploded. Nicaragua has, consequently, begun to focus on sustainable tourism initiatives to ensure the country’s natural beauty will be available for locals and tourists alike for decades to come. Several volunteer programs in Managua will give you the chance to work closely with local government agencies in order to develop and implement sustainable tourism projects throughout the city of Managua, and the rest of the country.
Most volunteer opportunities in Managua are available year round; since Nicaragua enjoys a tropical climate year round, with cooler temperatures in the highlands, you’ll have pleasant weather no matter when you volunteer in Managua. Although, the country still has two distinct seasons, wet and dry. The wet season lasts from mid-May to November. For the (very) best weather, volunteer in Managua during the dry season.
Volunteer programs in Managua can range anywhere from two weeks to six months in length, depending on your availability and the specific project you choose. While you don’t have to know any Spanish to volunteer in Managua, your experience will be better overall if you do. Spanish lessons are abundant and affordable throughout the city of Managua. Also, keep in mind that Managua is a modern city with all the usual commodities you’d expect, so don’t overpack, instead support the local economy.
Life in Managua
Managua is a chaotic and sprawling city. If you have ever traveled in a developing country before, you know that the streets don’t have recycle bins, the public transportation system is slow, and you can’t flush your toilet paper down the toilet. Despite its dusty exterior, Nicaraguans are warm, friendly, and you’ll experience firsthand an up-and-coming, vibrant, Latin American city. The city does have many modern amenities, like a large Western-style mall, a lively nightlife, good hospitals, and a great art and music scene, however.
Nicaragua is a beautiful country with incredible biodiversity, spanning from its Caribbean coast to its Pacific coast. You can surf on black sand beaches, climb active volcanoes, and explore cool colonial cities, like Granada and Leon. Managua is home to several important cathedrals and plazas that played a role in Nicaragua’s journey to independence and civil wars during the 1800s. Don’t miss the Palacio National de la Cultura, where you can learn all about Nicaragua’s history, from the early days up to current events.
Managua is an extremely cheap city to live in compared to other cities around the world. Meals and transportation will never run you more than a few dollars at a time. Market and street vendor prices can always be haggled down. If you want to live in style while ballin’ on a volunteer budget, you’ve come to the right place.
Accommodation & Visas
Your volunteer organization in Managua will most likely organize your accommodations for you. Homestays are very popular in Central America, which allow you to live and eat with a local family while volunteering in Managua. Homestays are the perfect way to experience how locals truly live. By the time you’re done with your volunteer work, you’ll be part of the family (not to mention you’ll be speaking Spanish!). Apartments and hostels are also available for individuals who volunteer in Managua, but they often cost more than homestays.
Tourist visas are available for individuals from most countries to who want to volunteer abroad in Managua for up to 90 days, and they can be obtained upon entry into Nicaragua. Nicaragua is part of the C-4 Agreement between Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which allows travelers to visit and stay within those four countries for up to 90 days. If you plan to volunteer in Managua, or anywhere in Nicaragua, for longer, then you will need to leave the C-4 zone for up to 72 hours to reset your 90 days. Costa Rica is an easy bus ride away from Managua, so you can freshen up your 90 days quite easily. To determine your visa requirements make sure you communicate with your volunteer program provider or consult GoAbroad’s Nicaraguan Embassy Directory for information on logistics and additional requirements you might need to meet.
Benefits & Challenges
Volunteering in Managua will be both rewarding and challenging, but an amazing experience nonetheless. You will be able to experience firsthand what it is like to live and volunteer in a developing country. Life is not always easy for locals, but you’ll be sure to see plenty of smiles and laughs along the way. You have the potential to leave a major impact on the local community as a volunteer in Managua, whether you volunteer at a medical clinic, a wildlife park, or at an inner-city elementary school.
Becoming a volunteer in Managua will also be a great opportunity to learn or perfect a second language. Spanish is widely spoken across the world, and speaking Spanish can open many doors in your future career. Even if you make a lot of mistakes at first, you’ll find that by the time you leave, speaking Spanish will have become second nature.
Managua is a large city with various neighbors. While Managua is generally considered safe compared to other Central American cities, you’ll still want to avoid going out past dark by yourself and carrying expensive belongings. The public transportation is often dirty and late, but that’s just Central America for you; time is just a number. Learn to enjoy the slower pace, go with the flow, and you’ll be just fine.
Nicaragua isn’t for just anyone, but if you decide to volunteer abroad in Managua, you’ll be in good company. Only the truly intrepid and adventurous volunteers, the ones with big hearts and a deep seated willingness to give their time and energy to those less fortunate, make a city like Managua their home. Learn about the nation’s long history, practice your Spanish, and make a difference in the local community by volunteering abroad in Managua.