Volunteering In Central America
With beaches, rainforests and mountains abounding, Central America is a fantastic destination for both vacation and volunteering. Long popular with young international people looking to pick-up Spanish and catch some sun while doing good, Central America is becoming even more of a go-to destination for people, as cities become safer for tourists and land becomes developed.
But even as all of these changes are happening in Central America, there is still a lot to be done to provide equality of opportunity to the people of Central America.
Volunteering in Central America is a great way to give back, and to immerse yourself in a rapidly changing region.
There are opportunities to work with children, animals, and wildlife in Central America. But before you decide what kind of volunteer abroad opportunity might be the best fit for you, you might want to learn a little more about the population and climate of Central America.
The seven countries of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Belize, Honduras, Panama) attract many foreign volunteers with their temperate climates, rich cultural history and broad diversity over a small land mass (roughly ¼ the size of Mexico).
Central America is also known for its economic disparity and widespread poverty, creating a multitude of volunteer opportunities in social service and health care. Most popular in this region are environmental volunteering opportunities, as organizations intent on preserve Central America’s idyllic coastline, coral reefs and wildlife are anxious to receive idealistic young activists to aid their cause.
Did you Know? La Tortuga Feliz has saved more than 100,000 turtles since start-up.
While for decades many countries of Central America were plagued with political turmoil and civil war, strides have been made in recent years to bring peace to the region, making it a much safer destination for tourists and expatriates. However, before making the decision to commit to a length of stay in a foreign country, it is very important to research the most recent travel warnings and visa requirements, which often change.
Population & Diversity
While the majority of people living in Central America are of mixed European and Indian decent, the northern countries still boast large native Maya populations.
The diversity of Central America also extends to climate; while all are situated in the Tropics, changes in altitude (up to 4000 meters above sea level) cause the region to be divided in three temperature zones: The Cold Zone (2000m+) with temperatures from 10-12ºC(50º-54ºF) at night and 23º-26ºC(74º-79ºF) during the day; The Temperate Zone (1000-2000m) with temperatures from 15-21ºC(59º-70ºF) at night and 23º-26ºC(74º-79ºF) during the day; and The Lowlands (sea level to 1000m) with temperatures from 21º-23ºC(70º-74ºF) at night and 29º-32ºC(84º-90ºF) during the day.
Like much of the tropics, the Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall that we experience in North America are not present, but rather various amounts of rain distinguishing seasons.
Quick Fact: Of the seven Central American nations, there are just two that have only one coastline: Belize, on the Gulf of Mexico, and El Salvador on the Pacific Ocean.
The rainy season (invierno) runs from late April to early November while the dry season (verano) runs from late November to early April. While these are general guidelines, there is major variation between coasts (the Pacific Coast receives much less rainfall than the Caribbean). It is also important to note that hurricane season begins midway through the rainy season, and some parts of the region become hazardous as a result of flooding.
Volunteer Central America Organizations
- Volunteer Latin America is a great go-to resource for volunteer opportunities in both Central and South America. The information focuses on free and low-cost volunteer work in Latin America, but there is a cost associated with accessing the “guides” provided on the site.
- Stanford University Center for Latin American Studies also provides a listing of programs that provide volunteer opportunities in Latin America. Each listing includes a description so that you can learn a bit more about the program before you visit the website.
- La Tortuga Feliz (The Happy Turtle) is a nonprofit organization devoted to the protection of sea turtles in Costa Rica. Volunteers of all ages work in a group of about 20 nesting turtles on the beach.
- Central America has many physical amenities, and is very popular with tourists and volunteers alike.
- The most popular type of volunteer opportunities in Central America is environmental, as the abundance of coastline and rainforest provide a broad landscape for preservation work.
- It is important to be aware of hurricane season if you are volunteering abroad in Central America, as flooding can make some places become hazardous.