Barefoot Atlas Profiles 10 Extraordinary Free Volunteer Opportunities in Central America

Share Article

Proving that volunteering abroad doesn't have to cost a fortune, Barefoot Atlas has released a list of 10 extraordinary Free volunteer opportunities across Central America. Whether your dream is to nurse baby monkeys in Costa Rica, bring clean water to indigenous communities in Panama, care for street children in Nicaragua, or build homes for the needy in Guatemala, there are incredible ways you can make a difference with just your time!

Proving that volunteering abroad doesn't have to cost a fortune, Barefoot Atlas has profiled 10 extraordinary FREE volunteer opportunities across Central America. No matter what you're passionate about - education, the environment, public health, animals, or something else - there are incredible ways you can make a difference with just your time! 


The Ngöbe Indians who call Soloy home lack safe water, latrines, and adequate housing. Many cannot read or write. But they know well the value of their ancient culture and of the natural beauty that surrounds them. The Ngöbe are taking the reins of their own development, careful to grow slowly and not pay too high a price for it. With visionary grassroots leadership and a real need for volunteers, a local organization, Medo, is helping the community make the transition.

To volunteer with Medo is to live a life far different from any you’ve known. It is not only a step into another culture but also a step back in time. Proud of their vivid culture, the Ngöbe people live today much as they did a century ago, farming small plots of land to feed their families, piously worshipping their native god, and celebrating their colorful traditions. Without electricity or running water, this volunteer opportunity cannot be called comfortable. However, for anyone looking for a meaningful cultural experience (and up to the challenge), living amongst the Ngöbe is the opportunity of a lifetime... [ Continue reading at


A world away from the Imperial-soaked Pacific sunsets that made Costa Rica famous is a place where the phrase pura vida is even more fitting. Cloudbridge is a nature reserve in the middle of other nature reserves. Tropical, verdant, and fresh — pure life is everywhere here.

Volunteering at Cloudbridge is an opportunity to admire this forest’s incredible beauty while helping to heal its scars. The project plants 4,000 trees a year, helping the forest reclaim land that was razed for pasture years ago.

There’s no action up here besides monkeys swinging in the trees. Volunteers spend mornings restoring the forest. Afternoons are free for exploring the 20km of trails, splashing in the waterfall, or tracking your favorite monkey troop through the canopy. By the time the heavy mist rolls in at dusk, you’ll be ready to cozy up with a book in your surprisingly comfortable little casita... [ Continue reading at


We’ve all been there. We see a problem and desperately want to help but feel powerless to do anything about it, thinking we don’t have the right skills, experience, or resources. That’s the story of Abriendo Mentes (AM), with one important exception: its founders acted anyway. Against overwhelming odds and with no resources to speak of, two young volunteers dedicated themselves to improving the educational situation in Potrero. They started from scratch, offering free afterschool tutoring in a local restaurant (by convincing the proprietor to loan them a few tables between the lunch and dinner rush). What happened from there is a testament to people’s goodwill. Inspired by the dedication of AM’s founders, the community and strangers alike rallied in support of the program. Donations poured in, classrooms and teaching supplies were donated, and labor volunteered. Now, Abriendo Mentes is opening the minds of Potrero’s youth on a scale they never could have imagined. It is truly amazing what can happen when people come together... [ Continue reading at


A short, bumpy ride up a dirt road on the outskirts of town brings you to a very different Granada than the merry place most tourists know. In this Granada, there are no brightly painted houses or music-filled watering holes. This is a place of run-down shanties, lean-tos, and squatters. Children and mangy animals scamper through the woods all day long — even when school is in session. There are no paved roads, and it lacks the basic infrastructure you’d expect in even the most impoverished of places. It is in this neighborhood, this humble place, that Casas de la Esperanza (CLE) does its work.
CLE is run completely by volunteers who work hard to improve the lives of squatters in La Prusia, a neighborhood just outside Granada. Through their efforts, they hope to inspire the people here to move out of decrepit conditions and into real homes, to learn skills they can use to earn a living, and to get educations.

Volunteering at CLE is an immersive experience. You’ll be living, working, and playing with over 20 volunteers from across the globe in a quiet atmosphere away from all the tourist traps and traffic. You’ll have the best of both worlds: days spent making an enormous impact on the poor families who live here and nights spent relaxing in a beautiful place with good company. And whenever you’re up for it, the hustle and bustle of downtown Granada is just 20 minutes away... [ Continue reading at


Aside from a dozen or so volunteers and the fiery Texan in charge, Rainsong Wildlife Sanctuary (RWS) is also home to one white faced capuchin monkey, two toucans, four porcupines, a bluejay, a green iguana, a guinea pig, four baby howler monkeys, red and yellow river turtles, a couple of parakeets, and a pig that plays soccer. But that’s just this week. It’s always changing.

Located in the peninsula’s small town of Cabuya, RWS cares for ailing animals and gives a voice to the region’s original inhabitants. It sits on the doorstep of the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, with the same stunning beaches and breathtaking forests that inspired the entire Costa Rican national park system. The project gets involved in any way it can, doing what’s necessary to conserve the wildlife here. Each year, RWS attracts over 200 volunteers who lend a hand in achieving these long-term conservation results. The project has a tranquil setting and an earthy, loving vibe that makes it easy to see why so many volunteers choose to come here... [ Continue reading at


Mayan Families provides essential services to the impoverished indigenous communities surrounding Lago Atitlán. The communities supported by the organization are among the poorest of the poor, and Mayan Families is one of their only sources of assistance. Meeting the many needs of these communities is a gargantuan undertaking.

Mayan Families is a young, grassroots organization that’s growing in every possible direction. What started out as a simple nutrition program for malnourished youngsters has grown into a formidable organization — one providing support to entire communities of people from the very young to the very old. And it’s not just about food anymore. Medical services, education, and vocational opportunities are all part of the equation. Mayan Families even addresses the needs of the disadvantaged four-legged community members (mostly unwanted puppies and kittens).

Despite a growing staff, volunteers are always in high demand. With so many diverse programs, there’s work suitable for every kind of volunteer. Whether you have 10 years of relevant experience or none, speak perfect Spanish or not a word, can give a year or just two weeks, Mayan Families can use your help... [ Continue reading at


There’s not much going on besides the whispering of a gentle breeze and the rustling of banana leaves. As you walk from Altagracia to the Sí a la Vida project (SLV), it’s easy to feel alone, as if you were exploring a deserted island. Then you turn the corner that leads to the SLV courtyard and there, under a century-old tree, full-on mayhem is taking place — a typhoon of little boys jumping around and getting into mischief. And they immediately run away with your heart. Even in their exhausting hyperactivity, they are so lovable and endearing that it is easy to forget that not long ago they were hardened kids from the street, homeless and addicted to drugs, some thieves or worse.

Volunteers are beloved by the boys and a huge help to the staff. From the first moment you arrive, the boys will be climbing on you and bombarding you with affection. Your job is to corral them — to organize fun activities, help with homework, and be a positive role model. These children have more than their fair share of problems. Inspiring them to overcome the challenges they face is a difficult task — and a profoundly rewarding one.

SLV is located just outside of Ometepe’s biggest town, Altagracia. The quaint town is a restful place with loads of laid-back island appeal. The days at SLV may be filled with chaos, but the nights here are calm, breezy, and carefree... [ Continue reading at


Centro Arte para la Paz (CAP) is a great opportunity for creative or athletic volunteers who like kids and want to teach. As an “art center for peace,” this project is all about promoting the concepts of tolerance and non-violence through creativity and personal expression. Sister Peggy, CAP’s director, is one progressive nun — with very modern and open-minded ideas about how to foster tolerance and creativity in the hearts of Suchitoto’s youth. She invites volunteers to join the organization in getting these messages across by teaching imaginative classes and leading fun group activities.

The volunteer experience at CAP depends a lot on you and how long you want to stay. What you teach and how often you hold class are mostly up to you. The skateboard park out front says it all — CAP is open to anything collaborative, anything artistic or expressive, anything that allows kids to explore who they are. Athletics, as long as they are collaborative (i.e., not competitive), are also encouraged. Last time we checked, Sister Peggy was looking for a “jump rope master” to teach kids a few new tricks.

CAP is a wonderful opportunity to use your abilities, ideas, and talents to open new worlds to children who would otherwise not have the chance to explore them... [ Continue reading at


The Utila Iguana Station (UIS) offers volunteers a chance to be a part of real science. Volunteers go into the field, knee deep in the muddy water, catching and tagging endangered iguanas for conservation purposes. They care for incubating iguana eggs and do the dirty work necessary to keep domesticated populations fed and healthy. Additionally, UIS volunteers get to participate in scientific, soon-to-be published studies by collecting data from the field. It’s an amazing opportunity to explore the world of scientific research and on-the-ground environmentalism that’s usually reserved for Ph.D. biologists.

What’s asked of UIS volunteers is very reasonable, just seven hours a day Monday through Friday. The work varies, but is usually a good mix of the exciting and routine.

The Iguana Station itself (where you’ll be living) is a romantic little place surrounded by lush tropical greenery. It’s a quiet spot away from town — but not too far away. There’s a raging nightlife within walking distance if you’re interested, and the possibilities on the weekends are endless: incredible diving, secret beaches, freshwater caves, and more. This place is a nature lover’s dream... [ Continue reading at


Hacienda Mérida (HM) is a quaint well-appointed hotel in one of the most remote parts of Ometepe — and Nicaragua for that matter. Mérida is a tiny community, home to a mere 1,522 people, 6,660 dogs, 3,602 chickens, 473 pigs, 243 cows, 32 yellow crested parrots, 10 goats, and a handful of monkeys — at least that’s what the sign says.

The hotel is a profit-generating business that caters mostly to the backpacker and long-term traveler crowd. It’s owned and operated by Alvaro Molina, a Nicaraguan-American who aspires to use his hotel to kickstart a bilingual education system on Ometepe.

Alvaro started out by offering English classes to children and young people through the hotel, and he’s currently in the process of building school classrooms to support a more formalized program. His projects have a long way to go, but Alvaro is working hard to turn his dream into a reality.

To help in these efforts, Alvaro runs a small-scale (and very loosely defined) program through which volunteers can teach English to local children. He doesn’t ask much of volunteers beyond teaching classes for a few hours a day, six days per week. In return for volunteering, you’ll receive cheap room and board and have plenty of time leftover to climb a volcano, take the kids tubing on the lake, or just unwind. It’s the perfect opportunity for someone looking to combine volunteer work with a little vacation time in a majestic place... [ Continue reading at

  • - -

Learn more about these opportunities and dozens more like them in Barefoot Atlas' new guidebook, 'Volunteer Central America' available now on and the Apple (AAPL) iBookstore.

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Devin Welch, Chief Volunteer
Barefoot Atlas
+1 (434) 996-3281
Email >

Happy to Work with Individual Media on Stories!
Follow us on
Visit website