Peru is a land rich with history, culture and natural beauty. It is home to two wonders of the world -- Machu Picchu and the Amazon -- as well as beautiful beaches, mysterious ruins, and one of the world’s deepest canyons.
Peru is also a developing country, with nearly one-third of its population living below the poverty line. Any visit to the nation is sure to leave you with a sense of appreciation for what you have and, most likely, a desire to give back.
But if you’re at home contemplating the idea of volunteering in Peru, the possibilities might seem overwhelming and even cost-prohibitive. Some programs cost upwards of $1,000/week, which may seem unbelievable in a country where the cost of living is nearly half that of the U.S.
This doesn’t have to be the case. With a little finagling, and a lot of research, you can volunteer in Peru for free!
What’s With Program Costs?
When you’re paying a program fee -- whether it’s $1,000/week or $1,000/month -- that money is covering a lot of different things. In many cases it covers housing (usually a volunteer house or homestay), meals, and administrative costs. It may also cover insurance, transportation from the airport to your placement, a donation to the organization or materials for your work. The most expensive fees may even cover extras like language lessons, cultural activities, or tours to famous sites.
More importantly, for some, that fee represents convenience -- everything is set up for you -- and a sense of security and reliability. If you’re planning your volunteer trip from home, especially if you aren’t a seasoned traveler, it may be worth these fees to know that all your bases are covered, that you’re volunteering with a (hopefully) legitimate organization where you can truly make a difference, and that you have someone to turn to if you have any questions or anything goes wrong.
Reputable Free and Low-Cost* Volunteer Programs
*Note that some of these programs with low fees also have a registration or membership fee, which could add anywhere from $20 to $300 to your total costs.
How do I volunteer in Peru for free?
As with anything in life, you save money when you do more of the work yourself. That means to find a “free” (as in no participation fees) volunteer opportunity, you are going to have to put in the time and effort to find and research organizations.
You will also need to figure out (and pay for) all the other nitty gritty details -- transportation, housing, meals, insurance -- yourself.
Independent volunteering means your experience will be completely up to you, flexible to your needs, and can cost as little or as much as you want.
While the accommodation included with an expensive program fee might be very nice and full of all the conveniences you’re used to, you can save yourself a lot of money if you’re comfortable staying in a hostel, guesthouse or homestay.
To show you how much your other costs might be to live in Peru while you volunteer, and to assess the value of a program fee, here’s a potential cost breakdown for a typical week. This is assuming you are comfortable with a budget lifestyle, such as sharing a hostel dorm, eating at local restaurants, and walking or taking a bus. This does not include an extra incidentals or leisure activities.
- Housing: $10/day (hostel) = $70/week
- Meals - $10/day (3 meals in an inexpensive restaurant) = $70/week
- Transportation = $3/day = $21/week
- Insurance = $4-20/week
- Total per week = $165-181 USD
Potential Cost Breakdown
This total cost projection could be even less if you choose to find an alternative method of accommodation, such as a homestay or even couchsurfing, which could also mean some free meals. You might even find that once you start volunteering, the organization might have subsidized housing for its other regular volunteers, or someone associated with the organization might be willing to host you. Depending on where you are volunteering and how long you will be staying, it might also be worth looking into renting an apartment.
Travel insurance is recommended especially when you are volunteering abroad. You do not know what kind of situations you might be put into or what kind of risks could be associated with the work you are performing. In particular, if you are volunteering in a remote area, there is always the possibility of needing an emergency evacuation that could otherwise set you back tens of thousands of dollars. Try Squaremouth to compare a variety of policies, while World Nomads is a slightly more expensive, but generally favored, comprehensive insurance for travelers.
Types of Volunteer Opportunities
Before you start your search for a local organization to give your time to, figure out what kind of volunteering you want to do. Some of the most common volunteer opportunities are in community development, youth development and education, environmental conservation, health, and gender equality.
Once you have narrowed it down to what interests you, you will have an easier time searching the web for related organizations or stories from volunteers who have done similar work. Once you have figured out what you want to do, you can also start to think about where in Peru you should volunteer.
Different areas will have different needs, and your costs will also vary depending on where you live. The most popular locations are Lima and Cusco, but there are a variety of other options, from small tropical or mountainous villages to medium-sized cities.
If you are more keen on helping out than necessarily solving the world’s problems, consider volunteering through organizations like WWOOF or Help Exchange (HelpX). In exchange for your services (organic farming with WWOOF, various tasks with HelpX) you receive free room and board.
Insider Tip: One fantastic source for finding and connecting with local organizations in Peru (and elsewhere) is Omprakash. The site lists numerous organizations within Peru that you can personally contact and coordinate your volunteering with. Each organization has a description of its mission as well as the possible volunteer opportunities. Many feature reviews and stories from past volunteers and even allow you to contact them with questions. Most of the volunteer opportunities are completely free and offer extremely inexpensive housing and meal options (as low as just $20-40/week) and breakdowns of the potential costs.
One other consideration about volunteering on your own without a program is your Spanish skills. If you are going to try to approach a local organization directly to volunteer your services, you might find a certain level of Spanish necessary to communicate your intentions. Once you’re on site, there’s no guarantee anyone will be there to translate things for you, and you could find yourself completely clueless if you don’t have the language skills to comprehend your instructions.
If you don’t have at least intermediate level Spanish skills, you want might to consider taking some Spanish classes while you’re in Peru. Some language schools, such as Proyecto Peru will even hook you up with free volunteer opportunities if you enroll in a class with them.
Scholarships, Grants, Sponsorships & Fundraising for Volunteering in Peru
Whatever way you slice it, some money will have to be spent for you to volunteer in Peru. However, there are still ways for you to volunteer for free. There are a number of scholarships and grants available for volunteering abroad. Some are associated with certain programs or organizations, others are more open-ended.
Start saving with this list of fundraising resources!
- LIVFund gives away two $500 scholarships every month to people planning to volunteer, intern or study in a Latin American country.
- Omprakash offers grants for travel and living expenses for volunteers four times per year.
- The Volunteers for Prosperity Service Incentive Program (VFPServe) grants $500 to $1,000 to highly skilled Americans volunteering abroad.
- Volunteers For Peace (VFP) offers up to 10 scholarships to VFP members.
Once you’ve done more research and selected a program or organization, you may stumble across more options.
If you’re volunteering abroad for college credit, it might even open up a few more doors for you in terms of what kind of scholarships you could receive.
If you’re a working professional, it’s worth looking into whether your company will sponsor you to volunteer abroad. They get some nice PR, you get a great experience, and everyone gets to feel like they made a positive difference. Win-win!
There may be other possibilities for fundraising or sponsorship in your community if you keep your eyes peeled. Are you or anyone you know involved in any local service-oriented organizations, such as Rotary? Perhaps they might be willing to sponsor part of your trip. If you’re planning to do some conservation volunteering, check out environmental organizations for possible grants.
Let your friends, family and co-workers know about your plans and that you’re open to donations (even if it comes in the form of books or art supplies for use during your experience). You can also try setting up an online fundraising site, like Go Fund Me.
If you are flexible and willing to put in the time and effort, you shouldn’t have to raise much too much to cover your expenses.