South America’s second smallest nation, Uruguay perennially ranks first among all Latin American countries in areas such as quality of living, peace, democracy, and lack of corruption. It was even named the Economist’s Country of the Year in 2013 for its tremendous degree of safety and socially progressive measures. Even with all these impressive accolades, however, nearly 20 percent of Uruguay’s population remains in poverty. Volunteering in Uruguay is perfect for individuals who are seeking a fun and rewarding experience in one of South America’s greatest and most often overlooked nations. Look no further than lending a helping hand as a volunteer in Uruguay.
Uruguay has a population of only 3 million citizens, half of which live in the metropolitan area of Montevideo. Montevideo is the nation’s political capital as well as its educational, cultural, and economic capital. A thriving port city on the southern tip of Uruguay, Montevideo has a long rich history stemming back to its earliest colonial roots and today it is considered one of South America’s most livable cities. From its beautiful architecture to the flourishing music, arts, and literary scene, which has risen from its ranks, those who volunteer in Montevideo will find it to be quite an agreeable temporary home in countless ways.
None of Uruguay’s other cities come anywhere close to the size or magnitude of Montevideo, and you will find that most international volunteer programs in Uruguay are indeed centered in the nation’s capital. However, it is certainly possible to find work elsewhere if you wish - the next three largest cities are Salto, Ciudad de la Costa, and Paysandú, all of which hover around 100,000 inhabitants. Punta del Este and Colonia del Sacramento are also popular locations for tourism and volunteering in Uruguay. These cities, as well as volunteer placements in rural areas, offer a more quaint and relaxed lifestyle away from the big city.
Many volunteer placements in Uruguay in the area of environmental or wildlife preservation will have volunteers spending a lot of time off the beaten trail. Geographically Uruguay is a low and flat country encompassing a dense fluvial network of rivers, deltas, and marshlands. Along with its beautiful sweeping coastline on the South Atlantic, Uruguay also has 10 national parks, an impressive number for such a small country. There are also many protected wildlife reservations where it is possible to volunteer in Uruguay.
Projects & Placements
Volunteering in Uruguay often revolved around nature and wildlife conservation. Those who are interested in environmental preservation will have the opportunity to help by protecting the native sea turtle population, engaging in coast cleanups, and serving on a variety of other natural conservation projects. Uruguay is a beautiful and progressive country, however as in many other counties in the region, indigenous species face a constant threat from human industrialization.
While Uruguay is a fairly wealthy country compared to its neighbors in Latin America, there are still many who live in poverty or have been left behind. Volunteer placements in Uruguay are available in the areas of education, community development, and youth work, to bring aid to sectors of the population which go overlooked and underserved. Working in orphanages, on house building projects, or in daycares are all examples of typical community volunteer work in Uruguay.
Spanish is the primary language spoken in Uruguay, and volunteers will find it greatly helpful to be at least proficient in speaking the language. However speaking Spanish is not always required, and many volunteer programs in Uruguay will instead combine volunteer placements with Spanish language immersion programs. Combined programs such as these will allow you to improve your language skills while contributing positively to the community. Individuals are welcome to volunteer in Uruguay throughout the year.
Costs & Affordability
Given its status as Latin America’s overall quality of life leader, it may come as no surprise that Uruguay is also one of the most expensive countries in the region to live in, especially in the capital city of Montevideo. Prices in the capital can be on par with the United States or Europe if you are not careful. Therefore, living expenses will typically cost much less in the rural areas and smaller cities.
The local currency is the Uruguayan Peso, which runs at about 20 per $1 US. Most volunteer service programs in Uruguay will cover expenses related to housing, transportation, and some meals in the upfront program fees, so fortunately you will not have to worry about paying for these necessities while volunteering in Uruguay.
Accommodation & Visas
Most volunteer programs in Uruguay help organize accommodations for all volunteers, either placing them in an apartment or with a host family. Both can be fun and safe options, depending on your preferences and the length of your stay. In areas away from the big cities, it is also possible that organizations will have their own housing systems where volunteers all live together.
Depending on your length of stay, you may also need to apply in advance for a volunteer visa before volunteering in Uruguay. Volunteers from Europe or the U.S. can usually travel in the country for up to 90 days without a visa, but if you plan to volunteer in Uruguay for longer than three months you should consult your program provider on what visa option will be best for you.
Benefits & Challenges
Uruguay is one of the most underrated travel destinations in the world, and will provide individuals with an incredibly rewarding experience of volunteering abroad. Travelling to a beautiful and unique country and completing volunteer work which will positively contribute to local communities will be beyond meaningful.
A progressive and peaceful nation which affords its citizens the highest quality of living on the continent, you will not be let down by volunteering abroad in Uruguay, the jewel of South America. With volunteer work in everything from education to sea turtle conservation, the only thing left to do is apply!