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An Introduction to Bolivia for Volunteers

With six major cities located at altitudes of 2,574-4,150 meters (8,445-13,615 ft), Bolivia is a country that can, quite literally, take your breath away. Staggering Andean mountains, cities rich in colonial architecture and indigenous culture, a steaming Amazonian jungle in the lowlands teeming with wildlife—this is a country of superlatives. It is also South America’s only landlocked country. Bolivia shares a border with Peru to the west, Chile to the southwest, Brazil to the north and east, Paraguay to the southeast, and Argentina to the south.

View over the rooftops of Sucre, Bolivia.
Sucre, Bolivia. Photo © Nicolas De Corte/123rf.

More than half of Bolivia’s 10 million people are indigenous, the largest groups being Aymara and Quechua. While Bolivia’s main language is Spanish, there are 37 official indigenous languages as well, and roughly 10 percent of the population does not speak Spanish.

Bolivia ties with Honduras for the largest percentage (60 percent) of population living below the national poverty line in mainland Latin America. The gross national income per capita is a meager US$2,040 (2011 World Bank figures), and, as might be expected, there is a wealth of opportunities to support the country and its people.

Volunteer opportunities might include working at an orphanage, teaching English, doing construction work, working in a health clinic, offering support to drug addicts or women and children suffering from abuse, working side by side with locals in an indigenous village, or helping to rehabilitate pumas or monkeys that have been rescued from illegal trade.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.