Music, dancing, fantastic food, vibrant cities, jaw-dropping scenery and incredible wildlife all spring to mind when you think of South America, making it a fascinating place to visit as a volunteer. Not only will you be providing much needed help and support to young people, and important conservation projects, but you’ll also have the opportunity to improve your language skills.
Countries in South America
South America is a continent of huge variety and impressive superlatives. Home to the world’s largest natural rainforest (the Amazon), longest mountain range (the Andes), largest river basin (the Amazon River Basin), rainiest city (Buenaventura in Colombia), driest desert (the Atacama), and largest native community still never to have been contacted by the outside world, this incredible and fascinating continent is well worth a visit. Having a relatively sparse population compared to many other continents, the remote beauty of South America’s spectacular natural landscape attracts volunteers and travellers from all over the world. If you, too, are tempted to spend your gap year or career break volunteering in South America, either as a teacher, or working with animals, read on to discover what delights await you in this awe-inspiring continent, and how you can get involved in one of our worthwhile volunteering projects.
Human civilisation has a long history in South America, with the earliest record of human life here dating back to 9000BC. Before the arrival of European explorers in the late 15th century, the Incas were the largest group of indigenous people on the continent, and the remains of their extensive and advanced civilisation can still be seen today. The most famous of these historical relics is the citadel of Machu Picchu, a mysterious and magical place set high in the Peruvian Andes, and well-known for its sophisticated building techniques and panoramic views. Although decreasing in numbers, indigenous cultures like the Inca are still present in South America today; it is even thought that there are at least 70 native communities living within the Amazon Rainforest who have never had contact with the outside world!
South America’s modern-day population is concentrated in Brazil, the continent’s largest country and home to almost half of its total inhabitants. If it’s energy, colour, music, dance and a lively, carnival atmosphere that you’re looking for whilst volunteering in South America, then head to one of Brazil’s big cities on its eastern coast. Sao Paulo ranks top in terms of population size, its 20 million inhabitants making it one of the planet’s 10 largest cities, whilst Rio de Janeiro is home to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’. Beyond the hustle and bustle of its big cities, Brazil also boasts a beautiful and hugely varied landscape, attractive to anyone wishing to really get off the beaten track during their gap year or career break, and lose themselves in a secluded wilderness. The country is best known for its dense northern rainforests, including the world’s largest, the Amazon, but it is also home to dry grasslands, rugged hills, pine forests, sprawling wetlands, immense plateaus, and a long coastal strip lined with magnificent beaches. Volunteer in Brazil, at a youth centre or as a sports coach, to experience the friendliness of the local people and the beauty of the natural landscape for yourself.
To explore a natural landscape which takes the meaning of diversity to a whole new level, volunteer and travel in Chile. This extremely long (4300km) and thin country, wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the rugged mountains of the Andes, combines more climate zones than any other. Discover shimmering blue glaciers, hot springs, snow-capped volcanoes, and dramatic mountains, as well as rainforests, grasslands, endless sandy beaches and the driest desert on Earth, all within the borders of the same country. Ecuador too offers a wide variety of landscapes, ranging from coastal mangrove forests, to rainforests in the foothills of the Andes, to grasses and shrub lands at higher altitudes. Such a range of landscape gives rise to a huge selection of plant and animal life, making Ecuador the perfect destination for any volunteer interested in conserving and protecting vulnerable wildlife and natural environments; over 300 mammals have been spotted here, including the rare jaguar, ocelot and tapir.
Located off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are a fascinating Pacific archipelago made up of 13 large and 6 tiny islands. Thanks to their volcanic origins, the islands boast spectacular landscapes, including incredible lava tubes and black beaches. These islands are a nature-lover’s paradise, and offer unparalleled bird and animal watching throughout the year. While volunteering here on our conservation project, you could witness rare species such as the Galapagos turtle, land and sea iguanas, sea lions and the blue-footed booby, amongst many others, and will be amazed by the confidence and lack of fear displayed by many of these wild animals given their lack of natural enemies.
Wherever you decide to go within South America, the friendliness of the locals, and the central place of music and dance within the culture, is guaranteed. This vibrant continent lives and breathes music. From the Argentine Tango, the Brazilian Samba and Salsa, and the Colombian Cumbia, there are plenty of dances to try out and learn. Take the opportunity too, to improve your language skills while volunteering. Learn Spanish (the continent’s main language), while teaching in Chile, or learn Portuguese while volunteering with children in Brazil. If you enjoy trying out new tastes, flavours and dishes, you will love sampling delicious South American cuisine across the continent. Don’t miss out on ‘ceviche’, a popular raw seafood dish, washed down with a ‘pisco sour’, a typical South American cocktail. Be sure to taste Brazil’s ‘pastel’ too, a thin crispy pastry stuffed with any combination of melted cheese, meats and shrimp. To satisfy your sweet tooth, sample Brazil’s ‘dulce de leche’, a milky caramel served with everything from donuts and muffins to toast, and treat yourself to a ‘brigadeiro’, a delicious Brazilian chocolate truffle. With so many tasty delights on offer throughout this continent, there’s certainly no danger of going hungry while volunteering in South America!
If this brief overview of South America’s history, culture and landscape has inspired you to spend your gap year or career break volunteering in this amazing continent and discovering its many treasures for yourself, have a look at the projects that we offer here. You could volunteer with children or as a sports coach in Brazil, teach and live with a host family in Chile, get involved in conservation volunteering on the Galapagos Islands, and contribute to wildlife and monkey protection projects in Ecuador. From childcare, to animal welfare and conservation, we are sure that there will be a project for you.