Colombia is the second-most biodiverse country in the world, housing 10% of the world’s fauna, 15% of the world’s flora, and producing 15% of the world’s oxygen. Colombia is situated at the meeting place of Central and South America, and it is the only country on the continent of South America with coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Tourists are drawn to Colombia’s clean tropical beaches, lush rainforests, snow-capped Andean mountain peaks, and fertile coffee plantations.
ISL’s service-learning program is in the surrounding villages of the city of Chinchiná in the State of Caldas. There are dozens of coffee farmworker “veredas” (villages), varying in size from a half dozen families to a hundred homes. This region is known as “Eje Cafetero” (the Heart of Rural Coffee Plantation Country) in the central cordillera of the Andes, with lush green peaks and valleys at an elevation between 4,000 – 6,000 feet. The yearly average temperature is a pleasant 70 degrees. Yes, it rains daily, but almost always only at night, which is very convenient for both farmers and our ISL service volunteers!
Colombia is experiencing an economic and cultural transformation with its recently found civil peace and growing trade with the U.S. and other developing nations. Urban areas have made great strides in reducing poverty through economic development and increased access to higher education, but rural farming regions are still in great need of health care, elementary education, and development support.
Colombia ranks as the 31st largest economy in the world and the 2nd fastest growing economy behind only China. We have the world’s fastest-growing information technology industry, yet 32% of our population still lives below the poverty line, primarily in the rural farm-working communities, where ISL volunteers serve. Colombia is the world’s 3rd-largest producer of coffee.
Where We Serve in Colombia
ISL volunteers serve small farm-working communities in the high-altitude coffee bean harvesting region of central Colombia. People here are too far from regional hospitals to receive health care on a regular basis. Most adults do not have a formal education. Many youth are faced with the difficult decision of leaving home for the cities to continue their education past middle school or to stay and help their families as the new generation of coffee farm workers. Even so, you will not find seemingly happier people or a more beautiful setting than the coffee lands of Colombia.
As with any great work, it takes great relationships to get the job done well. That’s why ISL Colombia is excited to partner with nonprofits, NGOs, and governmental and religious institutions to better serve the people of Colombia.
Dirección Territorial De Salud de Caldas – State of Caldas Health Department
Alcaldía de Chinchiná – City Hall
Bomberos de Chinchina – Paramedics Training & Ridealong
Fundacion Mundos Hermanos – Shelter for Teen Girls
Fundación Vida Plena & Saludable – Special Needs Community
Fundacion Proyecto Simon – Childcare Center for Children of Sex Workers
Fundacion San Camilo de Levys – Shelter for the Homeless Elderly and Free Clinic for Refugees
Fundacion Fundación Coangel – Retirement Home
Casa de Cultura – Community Arts Center
Malecón Cameguadua – Migratory Bird Lake Habitat
Schools and Universities
Universidad Católica de Manizales – College of Nursing
Universidad de Caldas – Medical School
Uniminuto – Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios – Community Volunteering Programs
World English School – English conversation tables
IDONTEC – Nurse Asssistant Training School
What to Expect as a Volunteer
Your Colombian adventure begins as you land at the Matecaña International Airport at Pereira. The ISL Colombia Base Camp is 22 miles away in Chinchiná. After going through Customs and retrieving luggage, volunteers are always met by ISL staff members at the arrival gate. Volunteers are then transported by taxi, van, or bus (arranged and paid for by ISL).
If you arrive in daylight, your one-hour ride to the ISL Base Camp Minga House Foundation in Chinchiná will be a feast for your eyes as you enjoy the picturesque lush fields of coffee, cacao, sugar cane, papaya, avocado, mango, citrus, plantain, coconut, and giant bamboo. The landscape is accented by brightly colored colonial style villas, and you will share the road with men on horseback, public transport willy jeeps heaped with passengers, and steady streams of commuters on motorcycles.
When you arrive to the Minga House Foundation, you will be able to access WiFi to check in with your family & friends to let them know you have arrived safely at your final destination. You will also be able to quickly share photos with family and friends as your trip progresses. Bottled water is always available, and ISL staff will stay with you 24/7.
Daily travel time from housing to work site varies from 15 to 60 minutes by jeep; all work sites are in the State of Caldas under the authority of the State of Caldas Territorial Office of Health. Most recreation & cultural experiences are within the Chinchiná municipality with the exception of the hot springs and theme park, which are 1-2 hours away respectively.
Cultural Exploration Options
With ISL Colombia, you’ll have many opportunities to explore the culture of those you serve. Here are some of the many possibilities.
Horseback ride for 1-2 hours through the coffee plantation of Granja Pinares, enjoying the picturesque landscape. A whole day may be spent at this sustainable traditional ranch, with farm animals, natural pools, rappelling, zip lining, fishing, nature walks, a horse show and delicious traditional meals.
Granja del Café
Spend half a day at a local private coffee farm learning all about coffee agriculture, and plant your very own coffee sapling, forever leaving your imprint in Colombia. Don’t forget to name your tree!
Paseo de Olla
Harvest all needed ingredients to cook a chicken stew alongside a stream, experiencing one of rural Colombia’s most cherished family traditions.
Attend a Friday evening family street fair hosted by Casa de Cultura, where you will find live music, art exhibits, activity stations for children and other cultural displays. ISL volunteers have the option of hosting their own exhibit!
Casa de Cultura
Visit Colombia’s version of your local YMCA with community classes in music, art, theater, and dance. Volunteers may participate in the classes as students or as co-facilitators.
Manizales de mi Alma
Tour the city of Manizales via public transportation for a unique experience among the locals, while bargain hunting for Colombian keepsakes and indigenous-made purses and other wares. Choose among other points of interest to visit as well, such as the aerial gondola lift, which crosses the city to Chipre, the city’s highest point.
Café Cultural La Tarima
Hang out at the popular coffee shop for college students near our base camp hotel to enjoy live music & artistic performances, game boards and delicious specialty coffee drinks.
Juan Valdez Café
After serving in rural farm communities for a few days, part of the grand finale is visiting this high-end coffee shop in Manizales, where you will experience a stark contrast in cultures. For example, you’ll see Colombians at the coffee shop who can easily spend $2-5 on a leisurely coffee drink as part of the economic renaissance in the city, while the communities you have just served may only make that much in one day.
Zumba at the Park
Watch or join dozens of locals doing Zumba at the park on a Friday night. The contagious Latin beat and enthusiasm of the participants will draw you in!
Sharing with the Community
Practice English with bilingual 6th grade children. They would love to sing popular English songs with you and hear all about life in the U.S.
Dance Night Out
People-watch & dance with the locals while enjoying traditional regional dance music in a safe and fun setting.
Tejo & Billiards
Play a unique traditional local game called, “Tejo”. Tejo is a type of horse shoe game where a steel 4.5-lb slug is tossed 60 feet towards a slanted mud bank in order to hit the center ring (the bull’s-eye). One of the ways to make points is by hitting a triangularly-shaped paper packet of so-called “gunpowder” that, when struck just right, makes a loud “Bang!”
Colombian billiards is also a very popular pastime. It is similar to the familiar game of pool in the U.S., but consists of only three balls on the table. When you strike your ball into the other two, you score a point.
Street Fútbol & Basketball
Accept the challenge of a teen street soccer or basketball game. ISL volunteers are known for accepting the challenge. The wager: ice cream!
Motorcycle & Jeep Rides
Ride an open jeep or motorcycle and gain a unique view of the community. ISL volunteers often ride in open jeeps to reach the rural villages we serve. On weekends volunteers have the option of a motorcycle ride with an ISL staff member.
Learn to prepare your new favorite Colombian dishes! Whether you want to learn to cook a traditional Colombian dish or simply be in the kitchen watching the cooking magic happen, you are always welcome to join our kitchen staff before meal time.
Canopy is a zip line system where you are secured in a harness and glide down a few hundred yards over a natural setting. Cost: $4
Rappelling down waterfalls with a harness. Expect to get wet! Cost: $4
Teams of 3-5 battle with full protective clothing & masks. 200 bullets. Cost: $5
Designer manicures & pedicures at the hotel. Cost: $6
A professional relaxation service at the hotel; you choose style & length. Cost: varies from $10-$30
Hot spring pools believed by locals to have medicinal properties. You may also request a massage ($10-40) and enjoy a delicious traditional Chorizo (sausage) dinner ($7) or enjoy the refreshingly cool, natural water falls next to the hot springs. Cost: $11
Workout sessions for singles or groups from a private coach; available every evening at a private gym next to the base camp hotel. Cost: $2
The pool next to the base camp hotel is open until 9 p.m every day. A quick dip can be the perfect thing after a long day of service. No matter which month of the year you are there, it is always warm enough for a swim. Cost: $2
Parque National del Café
This is a famous amusement park with roller coasters and a ferris wheel. There are also a variety of cultural coffee attractions, such as an interactive coffee museum and a song & dance show. Full or half day option, two hours away from ISL Base Camp. Cost: $15
This huge 40-acre sports complex has a water park, artificial turf soccer fields, sand volleyball courts and basketball courts. Also included is a “Park of Memory” and an Indigenous replica of Old Pereira. Full or half day option, one hour away from ISL Base Camp. Cost: $10
Whether lodging at a hacienda on the beach of the Sea of Cortez in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico; a walled convent in the heart of Alajuela, Costa Rica; or an apartment situated above the bustling metropolis of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, ISL’s volunteer lodgings are unique and carefully chosen, based on very important criteria.
Accommodations are safe, clean, and within reasonable driving distance to service sites and recreational opportunities. Volunteers are provided their own bed, easy access to restrooms and showers and meeting spaces for training and fellowship. Many ISL accommodations are unique and may include lodgings such as retreat houses, guest houses or home stays–all of which provide a distinctive cultural experience. ISL Country Coordinators provide a description of your lodging in the Final Trip Document uploaded to your MyISL Portal prior to your departure.
We love our staff and we are positive that you will too! Each staff member is professional, courteous, and has the same passion as you do: to serve others.