The Scoop On Volunteering In South America

With widespread poverty across many parts of South America, a helping hand is regularly welcomed by many non-profit aid services and charities that are working hard to improve the lives of the people of South America.

Photo: Hannah Watkins

Photo: Hannah Watkins


An appealing venture, volunteering is often undertaken by numerous individuals including those taking a well earned career break, backpackers or those who are simply looking to do their part.

Depending on preferences, volunteers in South America can lend a hand with a range of different activities from teaching English, applying Medicine and Equine Therapy skills in Argentina, to contributing to the conservation of the Galapagos Islands ecosystem in Ecuador.

Arranging volunteering through companies


There are plenty of companies littered across the Internet who offer volunteering opportunities, however many usually come at a high price. To many naïve and unsuspecting travellers, paying a large sum of money to volunteer and lend a hand to those less fortunate is seen as standard procedure, so they cough up much of their budget without giving much thought to where their hard earned money is spent.

For those who can afford it, there are bonuses to booking your volunteering experience through travel companies. Would be volunteers will not only be guaranteed a placement volunteering in your chosen area, many also offer 24hr support throughout their volunteering experience, which can be particularly useful with language barriers.  Transport from the airport, accommodation and food is usually also usually pre arranged so volunteers need not worry about the intricate details of their trip, they simply have to book the flights!

Typically, it’s of hot debate among travellers as to whether these companies who effectively make a profit from the paying volunteers are actually helping or hindering the issue of poverty in South America and the rest of the world. But if you can afford to pay the fees, it could potentially make your experience a whole lot easier.

Finding Volunteer work yourself


Unfortunately, most travellers scarcely have the space in their budgets to warrant a volunteering placement through one of these companies. Thankfully with the help of the Internet and the 21st century it’s becoming increasingly simple and popular to find volunteering placements yourself. There are plenty of forums and websites such as the Lonely Planet Thorntree Forum, where budding volunteers can exchange advice on where’s best to find your own unique volunteering opportunities.

Photo: Hannah Watkins

Photo: Hannah Watkins

Many well seasoned volunteers, often suggest that preparation is the key to a successful volunteer placement. A good volunteer needs to try and be as effective as possible and simple tasks such as learning basic Spanish (or Portuguese if you’re visiting Brazil) before you leave for South America will ensure that you learn quickly and are a valuable member of a team.

It’s also a good bet to do plenty of research online reading up on what the different volunteer programs do for their local communities. Potential volunteers also need to guarantee they have their relevant jabs and vaccinations organised before leaving for Latin America. Choosing the correct type of travel insurance is also vital for all volunteers as standard backpackers insurance will not cover you if you are injured whilst undertaking hard manual labour.


Aside from enriching the lives of those who live in the communities you’re working in, volunteering in South America (or anywhere in the world for that matter) can be a great addition to a resume and a fantastic way to obtaining unique life skills. Volunteering can be suitable for anyone from semi-experienced backpackers in their early twenties to those with more life experience. All that is required is a good attitude, a willingness to learn new skills, get out of your comfort zone and meet new people.


Adam BennettAbout Adam: Fuelled by his love of travelling and being on the road, Adam Bennett has written some unique and compelling articles from his experiences across the globe. From visiting dogmatic political figures in Red Square to recounting stories of touring and busking throughout Europe, Adam Bennett gives a delectable insight into the world of nomadic travelling.


Have you volunteered in South America or any other particular destination? What were your experiences? We’d love to hear your input in the comments below…

7 thoughts on “The Scoop On Volunteering In South America

  1. Sadly, I worked with a foundation who charged exuberant amounts to have the privilege of working for free for them. To this day, I never saw the need for such a large fee, except for the fact that they keep on growing the size of the foundation to accommodate more staff who pay an even higher fee to have that ‘privilege’ now… and what’s worse.. the work they’re doing isn’t even that beneficial to the community. :( Definitely do your research before blindly volunteering. Too many sleezy operations out there! Great write up, mate.
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  2. Pingback: South American Food: A travelers Guide, Info and Tips.

  3. Great overview. We’re planning on doing some volunteering on our RTW trip next year. I definitely want to do the leg work myself. I believe you make a better impact that way and I’m not sure how much I trust these large companies with over-inflated fees!
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  4. Thanks for the interesting and insightful article!
    Me and my younger brother are doing a 6 month South America trip soon and any advice is gladly appreciated! I’m an english teacher and always try to do my bit with local organisations or charities on my travels. When I was 18 in my first big trip I also paid a fortune to a big company (GapYear) to volunteer and it really wasn’t worth it. I never saw where the money went and the school didn’t see any of it. I learnt my lesson and now always talk to the locals or go in search of the backstreet schools or charities when I arrive somewhere. By doing this I have had the most incredible experiences all over the world from teaching in Bali to teaching in Tanzania, to delivering water to slums in Cambodia and building a medical room in Thailand. Now I cant wait for South America! :)

  5. Hi, I was wondering,is that possible to get paid from working as volunteering? because I think this might be one of way to extend my journey…but, please correct me if I’m wrong

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