Becoming a volunteer in Nicaragua helps individuals to achieve a unique experience that cannot be matched by any other country. Not to mention, traveling to Nicaragua has never been more accessible, with multiple major American cities now offering direct flights to and from Nicaragua. Relationships with neighboring countries have progressed in recent years, creating a safer environment for visitors and greatly limiting the dangerous stigma of the past. However, despite the better access and approachability of Nicaragua, it is still a developing country that can benefit greatly from international volunteer assistance.
There are multiple cities and towns (both urban and rural) where it is possible to volunteer in Nicaragua. Since Nicaragua has a relatively small population for its size, even the “larger” cities are rather small compared to some of the world’s largest cities. While there are many volunteer programs in Nicaragua’s rural areas, these locations may not be as plentiful and/or accessible to foreign travelers. Instead, the following three cities are particularly popular for volunteer programs in Nicaragua.
Managua is the nation’s capital and most populated city, making it a great destination for volunteer work in Nicaragua. As a city with a large population, there are a number of opportunities to interact with and improve the lives of a large number of children and families. The majority of families in Managua live close to or below the poverty line, making it difficult for locals to provide daily necessities, let alone education and various methods to overcome their circumstances. Teaching, childcare, and women’s shelter focused volunteer programs are plentiful in Managua, all of which will ultimately have a positive effect on the country as a whole.
Granada is another popular city to volunteer in Nicaragua, due to the city’s potential for growth. Granada has preserved its colonial roots well, as evidenced by its architecture and culture. The local economy relies heavily on natural resources, such as timber, coffee, and cacao, and therefore there are some volunteer programs focused on micro-financing to help local farmers or individuals who want to begin agriculture-based businesses.
Leon is Nicaragua’s second biggest city and is renowned for its historic architecture and churches. Leon has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and therefore brings in a large amount of tourism. While volunteering in Leon foreigners will have many opportunities to work in the tourism industry (or simply enjoy the tourist sites!). Since there are multiple hotels and hostels located in Leon, which accept international volunteers, volunteers will be able to choose from a variety of placements, from ecotourism to tour assistance.
Volunteering in Nicaragua
While there are a variety of local industries in Nicaragua, the country remains underdeveloped in many fundamental areas. Therefore, those interested in volunteering in teaching and education, healthcare, agriculture, and environmental sustainability are greatly needed. Education is a highly neglected privilege in Nicaragua, and is only mandatory up to the sixth grade. Consequently, children are often deprived of educational opportunities. As a volunteer in Nicaragua, you will have the ability to lead children to seek higher education and increase their chances for a better future; this will, in turn, have a positive effect on many of the health, economic, and societal problems faced by the nation, as well as the families of students.
Nicaragua’s recent welcoming of international tourists has done great wonders for the country. Tourism is now one of the top industries, providing many opportunities for foreigners to volunteer in Nicaragua. Many tourists travel to Nicaragua to surf, hike the many volcanoes, or just explore the dense mountainous jungle, and all of these activities require guides and experts to lead travelers into the unknown land. While you will most likely be assisting an already established guide, some tourism volunteer programs in Nicaragua may ask for certain experience or knowledge in a particular area or a more long-term commitment.
Knowing at least some Spanish will greatly benefit your ability to be successful as a volunteer abroad in Nicaragua, especially your general ability to get around from day to day. While volunteer placements in Nicaragua related to tourism will require less Spanish language skills, being that much of your interactions will be with English speakers, intermediate to advanced fluency in Spanish is highly encouraged, if not required, for any volunteer program involving education, children, and community projects. Since a good portion of the country lacks stable access to proper education (and has only recently been exposed to American and European tourists), much of the population does not know any English. So, volunteers should not expect to get by without any challenges if they have no Spanish skills.
Some volunteer programs in Nicaragua which require more responsibilities of volunteers will often last longer than a few weeks, such as teaching placements (which you will be required to stay for the whole term), but many are available for short durations of two to six weeks.
Costs & Affordability
The cost of living in Nicaragua is very affordable compared to more developed countries. Since The general population of Nicaragua struggles with issues related to poverty, so anyone living above the poverty line should have no problem affording basic commodities and necessities. You can buy a bottle of water for less than a dollar and a meal at an inexpensive restaurant for about $4. An apartment in the city center is rarely more than $300 per month. Those that are able to afford the flight costs should have no trouble covering daily expenses required of a volunteer in Nicaragua.
Accommodation & Visas
Most volunteer programs in Nicaragua include housing in the form of program fees, and some may even include meals as well. Common living arrangements are hotels and dorms, but homestays are usually also available for interested volunteers.
Since Nicaragua’s recent establishment of more lenient tourism laws, most foreigners can visit Nicaragua for up to 90 days with a valid passport. Those looking to volunteer abroad in Nicaragua for longer than 90 days must request permission from the Nicaraguan immigration office. Payment for extensions is roughly $23 per month, making longer stays still affordable.
Explore Widely Untouched Territory. With past laws keeping international tourists out of Nicaragua, much of the country still remains raw and free of tourist influence. As a result, you will experience a very authentic depiction of the country during your volunteer program in Nicaragua, which also means wild adventures are also likely.
Create a Positive Impact On An Underdeveloped Country. Due to the limited number of international tourists in past decades visiting Nicaragua, many Nicaraguans have a vague perception of the world outside of their own country. This provides volunteers with the unique opportunity to make a good first impression on locals about their home country and culture. Through sharing customs, beliefs, and ideas, you can work to inform and inspire youth, and adults alike, to create a more promising future for Nicaragua.