Volunteering In Colombia: Bogota vs. Cartagena
Colombia has long been a jewel of South America, that few have had the pleasure of discovering! From Cartagena based on the Caribbean coast to the city of Bogota located within the Andes, the unique geography and beauty of its landscapes are unparalleled in Latin America, providing diverse cultural, tourism and volunteer opportunities. We often get asked what the differences between the volunteer programs in Bogota and Cartagena are, this blog will help you learn which Colombian program is right for you and you may even decide to experience both!
Location and Climate
Bogota, Colombia’s capital city, is located 8,675 feet/ 2645 meters above sea level, and is an environment many volunteers won’t be familiar with. Don’t worry, you’ll soon acclimatize and the mountain landscape will feel like home.
Year round, the temperatures in Bogota stay consistently between 45 and 66 degrees Fahrenheit. The days are usually around 65 degrees Fahrenheit and the nights are around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. As a volunteer on the Bogota program you’ll need a mix of summer attire for the daytime and warmer, layerable clothes for the evenings. You can never be too prepared!
The IVHQ Cartagena program is situated on the Caribbean coast and you’ll be blown away by the tropical colors and sun kissed beaches. You’ll find the temperature and humidity is higher in Cartagena compared to Bogota, making it the perfect location for those who love warm weather. The temperatures in Cartagena tend to stay around 75-88 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, so pack your swimwear and sun block!
Culture and Cuisine
Bogota has many different cultural influences, with heavy connections back to its Spanish colonial heritage. This gives the city a unique feel of old and new, where you can explore old Catholic churches and soak up modern street art all in the same day.
When sampling the cuisine in Bogota, you can’t miss out on tasting the famous dish ‘Ajiaco’. It is a flavorful soup consisting of chicken, potato and corn, accompanied by rice and avocado.
Cartagena has its own unique cultural feel, with influences from Spain, the Caribbean and Africa. It’s a kaleidoscope of bright colors, flowers and tropical atmosphere.
The streets are lined with fresh fruit and juice stalls featuring tropical fruits like pineapple and mango. You can purchase a sliced mango sprinkled with sea salt for less than $1USD. If you have more of a savory tooth you’ll be spoiled for choice with the street carts that sell empanadas, arepas and chuzos.
Accommodation and Living
Both programs accommodate volunteers in large volunteer houses in safe neighborhoods, which have been pre-approved by IVHQ staff.
In Bogota, you’ll be staying in a two story volunteer house within a gated community in the suburb of Quirinal. Just across the road is a shopping complex that has a supermarket, pharmacy and fast food restaurants. There is also a big park nearby where you can relax in the sun or exercise.
The volunteer house in Cartagena is a one story house in Crespo. Volunteers often take a five minute walk to a nearby street for ice-cream after dinner, or pizza on Friday nights. The volunteer house is located within a 10 minute drive from Cartagena’s old town and picturesque beaches.
Each program offers breakfast, lunch and dinner during the week. On weekends, volunteers can use the kitchen to make their own meals or dine out to enjoy the local cuisine.
When you’re trying to find the right volunteer opportunity for you, it’s important to consider what your motivations are for volunteering abroad and whether you have any specific skills that you can contribute. Figuring out these two things will help guide your decision and support you in finding the right Colombia program for you. Think about how your motivations and skills fit with these projects. Note, Teaching and Childcare are available on both programs.
Volunteer Projects in Bogota
- Teaching: Volunteers focus on teaching English to students in Soacha, a slum area located on the outskirts of Bogota. Volunteers who speak intermediate Spanish may also be able to assist in teaching other subjects such as math or art.
- Childcare: The Bogota Childcare project focuses on providing support to one placement. The children range in age from babies to 10 years old.
- Elderly Care: The Elderly Care project is located in a home for elderly women whose family either cannot or will not look after them. Volunteers provide attention and care to these women who don’t get many visitors.
- Construction and Renovation: You don’t have to be a skilled tradesman to take part in the Construction and Renovation project. The project focuses on renovating classrooms by painting and building furniture.
- Feeding the Homeless: This project focuses on preparing meals at a community centre for the homeless community. There is also a mobile food van that travels around the city on Saturday nights.
Volunteer Projects In Cartagena:
- Teaching: The teaching project in Cartagena has a range of placements, including schools and community centers. Volunteers are able to take small tutorial style lessons or larger classroom lessons.
- Childcare: In Cartagena, you could be volunteering in a day-care centre with children under 5 years old or in a facility for children with cancer.
- Sports Development: Children in Colombia love soccer/football so you’ll likely be spending a lot of time teaching them ball skills and playing informal soccer games. If soccer isn’t your thing you will be welcome to teach other sports such as basketball and rugby.
- Community: The community project in Cartagena involves helping with the upkeep of the community’s garden. They grow fresh produce like basil and arugula to be sold to restaurants and hotels.
Tourism Activities In Colombia
Volunteers on the Bogota program spend their free time visiting local markets, the salt cathedral and graffiti art tours.
One of Bogota’s most famous landmarks to visit is Cerro De Monserrate, a Church and Shrine devoted to El Señor Caído. It’s located on top of a mountain in the centre of Bogota, (3,152 meters/10,341 ft above the sea level). Volunteers take a 5 minute cable car or walk an hour up to the top. It’s a popular spot for a view of the whole of Bogota and to watch the sunset.
In Cartagena, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to beaches. After you’ve finished volunteering for the day you can head down to the beach to cool off. In the weekend many head an hour by taxi to Playa Blanca, one of Cartagena’s most famous beaches. Here you’ll have access to a white sand beach, turquoise water and traditional Cartagenan food.
In Cartagena, you have to pay the old town (walled city) a visit. It’s like stepping back in time to an old Spanish town. In the old town you can dine out, dance and visit street markets.
For more details on trips and free time activities please see:
Can You Volunteer In Both Locations?
Can’t decide which one is more intriguing? See both! Taking part in both programs is a fantastic way to experience two polarizing cities in Colombia. In order to do both, you will need to submit an application for each city (they both offer start dates on the 1st and 15th of each month) and then register for each. As a multiple trip volunteer, you will receive a 10% registration fee refund from your second program onward!
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