Colombia is the second-most biodiverse country in the world housing 10% of the world’s fauna and home to 15% of flora, 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 Caribbean Sea. Tourists are drawn to Colombia’s clean tropical beaches, lush rainforests, snow-capped Andean mountain peaks and fertile coffee plantations. ISL teams serve in the surrounding villages to 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, where 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 teams!
Colombia is experiencing economic and cultural transition 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 the 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, 2nd fastest growing economy only behind China with the world’s fastest growing information technology industry, yet still deals with 32% of the population living below the poverty line, primarily reflecting the rural farm-working community where ISL volunteers serve. Colombia is the world’s 3rd-largest producer of coffee.
Where We Serve in Colombia
ISL volunteers serve small villages in the high-altitude coffee region of central Colombia, which are too far for regional hospitals to provide health care on a regular basis. These farm-working communities mostly live an agrarian life harvesting coffee beans. Most adults do not have a formal education. Many youth contend with the difficult decision of either leaving home to venture into the cities and continue their education past middle school or begin living their lives as the new generation of coffee farmworkers to help their families. Yet, you will not find seemingly happier people or a more beautiful setting than in the coffee lands of Colombia.
Dirección Territorial De Salud
Fundación Vida Plena & Saludable
Alcaldía de Chinchiná
Casa de Cultura
Schools and Universities
Universidad Católica de Manizales – College of Nursing
Universidad de Caldas
Uniminuto – Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios
What to Expect as a Volunteer
Your Colombian adventure will begin as you land in 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 base camp in Chinchiná will be a feast for your eyes as you enjoy seeing the picturesque lush green crop fields of coffee, cacao, sugar cane, papaya, avocado, mango, citrus, plantain, coconut, and giant bamboo. The landscape will be 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 at the Plaza Hotel Chinchiná, 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 and will be able to quickly share pictures with them daily. Bottled water will always be present for the group, and ISL staff will also stay with you in the hotel 24/7.
Daily travel time from housing to worksite varies from 15 to 60 minutes on jeep; all worksites are in the State of Caldas under the authorization 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 the theme park which are 1-2 hours away respectively.
Horseback riding for 1-2 hours through a coffee plantation Granja Pinares in small groups enjoying the amazingly picturesque landscape. The whole day may be spent at this sustainable traditional ranch, with farm animals, natural pools, rappelling, zip lining, fishing, nature walk, a horse show and delicious traditional meals.
Granja del Café
Spend half a day in a local private coffee farm learning all about coffee agriculture, plus you will have the opportunity to 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; Experience one of rural Colombia’s most cherished family traditions.
Friday evening family street fairs hosted by Casa de Cultura where live music, art exhibits, activity stations for children, and exhibitors display the local culture. The team may have the option to participate with an exhibit.
Casa de Cultura
Colombia’s version of your local YMCA provides community classes in music, art, theater, and dance. Team members may decide to participate in the classes as students or request to be co-facilitators.
Manizales de mi Alma
Manizales city tour & shopping trip via public transportation for a genuine experience among the locals while bargain hunting for Colombian keepsakes and indigenous-made purses and other wears. During the day, many tourist points of interest chosen by the group to visit; experience the view from aerial gondola lifts to crossing the city and visiting Chipre, the city’s highest point.
Café Cultural La Tarima
Popular coffee shop and college student hangout near our base camp hotel with live music & artistic performances; game boards and delicious coffee specialty drinks available for purchase.
Juan Valdez Café
After serving the farmworkers in the medical clinics for a few days, part of the grand finale is to visit this high-end coffee shop in Manizales where you experience the Colombian higher stratus society as a contrast in culture. For instance, you’ll see how there are Colombians enjoying an economic renaissance who can easily spend $2-5 on a leisurely delicious coffee drink, while the communities you have just served might make that much in a day and have that expendable income or even access to good health care.
Zumba at the Park
Though you may choose to only watch, it will be a challenge to resit joining the dozens of locals doing Zumba at the park on a Friday night! The contagious Latin beats and enthusiasm by the participants will tug on you.
Sharing with the community
Meet up with bilingual 6th grade children who want to practice their English with you. They will want to sing popular songs in English to you and ask you all about life in the U.S.
Dancing Night Out
People-watch & dance while enjoying the current popular traditional regional dance music in a safe and fun setting with locals.
Tejo & Billiards
Unique traditional games played by the locals. ‘Tejo’ is a type of horse shoe game where you toss a steel 4.5-lbs slug 60 feet towards a slanted mud bank in order to hit the center ring (the bull’s-eye). One of the ways you 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; similar to the familiar game of pool, but consists of only three balls on the table where you have to strike your ball into the other two every turn to score a point.
Street Fútbol & Basketball
Every time you walk to the workshops you will pass by street courts where teenagers are playing soccer and basketball. You are most likely to be challenged to a quick match. ISL teams are now known for accepting the youth challenge. The wager: ice cream.
Motorcycle & Jeep Rides
This is a jeep & motorcycle culture! Every day your team will ride on open jeeps to reach the rural villages where we serve. On the weekend you will have the option to get a motorcycle ride from ISL staff giving you a unique view of the community.
Whether you want to learn to cook a traditional dish or simply wish to be in the kitchen watching the cooking magic happen, you will be invited by our contracted kitchen staff to join them in their labor before & during every meal. Find and learn to prepare your new favorite Colombian dishes!
Canopy is a zip line system where you are secured in a harness and glide down for a few hundred yards over natural settings.
Rappelling down waterfalls with a harness. Expect to get wet!
Teams of 3-5 battle with full outfits & mask. 200 bullets.
Designer manicure & pedicure at the hotel.
Professional relaxing 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 delicious traditional Chorizo (sausage) dinner ($7); next to the hot spring pools are also refreshingly cool natural water falls.
Workout sessions by private coach or as part of a group available every evening at a private gym next to the base camp hotel.
The pool next to the base camp hotel is open until 9 p.m every day so a quick dip can sometimes be the perfect thing after a long day of service, no matter what month of the year you are there, it is always warm enough for a swim.
Parque National del Café
This is a famous amusement park with rides such as roller coasters and a ferris wheel, there is also a variety of cultural attractions centered on coffee such as an interactive coffee museum and a glorious song & dance show. This option is also an all-day option; two hours away from basecamp.
This huge 40-acre sports complex is a place where tourists have fun swimming in a wave pools and high pool slides; a lot of artificial turf soccer courts and sand volleyball courts, and many basketball courts. Other interesting places are the Park of Memory and Indigenous replica of old Pereira. This option is also an all-day option; one hour away from basecamp.
Whether a hacienda on the beach of the Sea of Cortez in Puerto Penasco, 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 a reasonable driving distance to service sites and recreation opportunities. Volunteers are provided their own bed, easy access to restrooms and showers as well as meeting spaces for team training and fellowship. Many ISL accommodations are unique and may include retreat houses, guest houses or home stays, all of which provide a distinctive cultural experience. ISL country coordinators will provide a description of your team’s lodging in every Welcome Letter that goes out 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.