Volunteer in Patagonia
Volunteering abroad is an increasingly popular travel choice, particularly among young people, who feel a desire either to give up their time for a charitable cause or want to experience a range of places on a small budget. in Patagonia, volunteering is a great way to really see Patagonia in 3 weeks or even 3 months.
Here we'll tell you more about volunteering in Patagonia and help you find projects to join on farms, estancias and in national parks throughout Patagonia.
Volunteering in Patagonia
Patagonia is a vast place, with some of the most pristine landscapes in the world that need to be protected. Although efforts have been made to protect land in Chile and Argentina through the creation of national parks, there's still a lot more work to be done to protect and rebuild eco systems as well educate people about the need to care for their surroundings.
For example, over New Year 2011, a hiker caused a fire in the western part of Torres del Paine National Park that spread rapidly along the eastern shore of Lake Grey. The fire was extinguished after several days but resulted in many thousands of acres of burnt forests. Find out more about what's being done to repair the damage in Torres del Paine.
Things to do
Most programmes ask you to commit to 3-4 weeks minimum on a project to really get involved and make a difference but this can be extended to one or two months if you prefer. Each programme differs in the experience you'll gain, but we can put you in touch with projects that encompass a variety of tasks including:
- huemul tracking, the huemul is a native deer close to extinction and only seen in certain parts of Patagonia
- removing exotic plants that are threatening native species
- collecting and planting seeds
- removing kilometres of fence from old 'estancias' or sheep ranches, which is arduous but very important.
- Organic farming and natural building
- Tutoring children and teenagers
- Operating a community radio
- Teaching and/or assissting at a local library
- Helping at a daycare centre or assisting people with intellectual disabilities.
- Supporting communities affected by mining
- Creating animated movies explaning the dangers of metal mining exploitation
Day to Day Schedule
The day to day work asked of you very much depends on the organisation but often the work will be like a standard 9-5 day job, with time for a break and lunch. Some volunteer projects ask for a minimum of 25 hours work per week on certain days of the week, which allows for a level of flexibility.
If this is a big consideration for you, it's best to look at the type of work you'll be doing in a given project, for example, if you're going to be teaching, you'll likely be needed Monday - Friday during school hours. All volunteers get time off to relax and organisations are good at helping you find local clubs to join and giving you information about places to visit and things to do. Please note that projects focused on manual labour or ecosystem restoration will require you to work out in the fields and although you'll get 2 days break each week, this may not be on a Saturday or Sunday.
Reforestation Patagonia is a wonderful initiative launched in May 2012 to replant the 42,500 hectares of trees which were burnt in the fire in Torres del Paine over New Year 2011. Although inspired by this disaster, it also hopes to replant some of the 7.5 million acres of native forest throughout Patagonia which have been destroyed by fire and human intervention over the last 100 years.
Help Reforest Patagonia reach its target of 1 million trees replanted in 2012, by choosing a species (lenga, ñirre, and coigüe) and 'planting a tree' yourself. Once a tree has been planted in the virtual forest, you'll receive an email with a certificate of reforestation and a geotagged link to Google Maps that displays the exact location of where their trees will be planted. Each tree costs $4 USD and contributions are made principally through PayPal.
What is Voluntourism?
Voluntourism is an increasingly popular way for people to travel: by investing their time and/or money in the local economy either by ensuring that they book through local operators, or by getting involved in volunteer projects in the countries that they visit. It has evolved over the last few years in part because people are tired of seeing huge travel companies reap the benefits and have instead become interested in sustainable tourism.
With high unemployment rates, many young people see it as a way of broadening their horizons, gaining life experience and escaping the doom and gloom of the recession. Older people are also getting involved, and volunteer schemes are set up so that anyone can help through giving up their time.
Planning your volunteering trip
Volunteering is a fantastic way of exploring a place but also giving something back at the same time. To make the most of your time in Patagonia you may want to consider a volunteer programme as part of a wider tour of Patagonia. We can help plan that trip from start to finish giving you time to volunteer and time to experience the amazing opportunities for trekking in Patagonia or to go kayaking, mountain biking, horse riding or rafting. In addition, we can also give you expert advice on travel to Patagonia or arrange this for you.
For example, a really nice way of spending your time in Patagonia may be to volunteer in the beautiful region of Aysen, helping to create a new national park, before heading south to do the Torres del Paine W Trek. Alternatively, you could volunteer at a local community radio station in the Chubut Valley in Argentinian Patagonia before heading over to the Bariloche Lake District for a week of white water rafting. Whatever you choose to do, we can help you plan your trip and advise on some of the most exciting adventure activities and routes.
Voluntourism is sustainable because organisations charge a fee to cover the cost of your accommodation and food whilst you're there whilst others ask you to contribute to to the organisation through a larger payment which also covers your costs. This ensures that the volunteer doesn't cost the organisation anything. The cost of living is reasonably low in most of the locations where projects are taking place, so usually volunteers are happy to provide for themselves for a period. In addition, Some organisations use donations from their volunteers solely to promote, sponsor, and execute development projects in Patagonia.
For some volunteers, learning Spanish either before or whilst in Patagonia is a big part of the experience. Our volunteer partner offers 1 week to 1 month programmes in Santiago which will give you around 20 hours of Spanish lessons a week. You can supplement this with 'intercambios' or Spanish/English conversations.
Most programmes can accept volunteers with little or no Spanish whereas others ask for a a medium to good level of Spanish in order to join the programme. When you get in touch, let us know your level of Spanish and whether you're interested in classes.
Where to volunteer in Patagonia
Torres del Paine: Supporting the national park. Located in southern Chile, Torres del Paine National Park is often referred to as the gem of Patagonia. With famous landmarks such as 'Las Torres' and the curly granite spires 'Los Cuernos' the national park is famed for its two trekking routes; the W Trek and the Torres del Paine Circuit, allowing you to hike the major valleys and passes, staying in the parks mountain huts (refugios) and camping out under the stars as well.
In Paine you'll be tasked with:
- Repairing and clearing trails and bridges.
- Carving traditional wooden signs to mark trails inside the park.
- Participating in educational camps and activities with college students.
- Producing newsletters that promote the 'leave no trace' policy of the park.
- Teaching Basic English to local people and Patagonian cowboys.
Chiloe: Helping out at the ranch. A beautiful island in the Chilean Lake District known for its tales of mermaids and fishermen and bubbling hot springs, Chiloe is a great place for hiking and kayaking.
Volunteer work in Chiloe is mainly centred around helping out on the estancia or farm and work includes:
- Looking after the horses and other animals
- Helping in the main house, tourist centre and restuarant (if there is one)
- Acting as a tour guide
- Helping with any ecological projects
Aysen: Building a national park. This pristine area of Patagonia is yet to be discovered by the tourists. With few trekking routes, it's a haven for wilderness lodges dotted throughout the region on the edge of Aysen's beautiful lakes and rivers. Aysen is close to the Northern Patagonian Ice Cap and as such it's a wonderful place to see sprawling glaciers close up.
Building a national park is no mean feat but this means that working on this project in the Chacabuco Valley is pretty challenging. Volunteers will get involved in:
- Trail building and ecosystem restoration
- Digging up exotic plant species, moving rocks for trail building and gathering native seeds.
There are more community-based and teaching projects in and around Santiago. If you'd like more information about these just get in touch.
How to get involved
To help us find you the right project, get in touch and let us know the type of volunteering you're interested in, your dates and length of time available, and which part of Patagonia you'd like to be in. We'll then speak to our trusted network of partners in order to find the right project to you and we'll send you more information about the volunteer work, costs and travel information.
Have you been inspired by voluntourism and want to encourage others to get involved? If you've helped on a project in Patagonia and would like to share you're feedback we'd love to hear all about it. If it's ok with you we may even share it on our blog to help spread the word.
Read about Alain's experience of volunteering with Conservacion Patagonia.
Guide to Patagonia
Patagonia spans over 1,000 miles north to south and landscapes ranging from forests, to glaciers, to volcanoes and deserts. Read our Patagonia Guide to find out: how to get there, when to go, what to see and how to find the best trip. Or find out about:
When are you
thinking of going?
See Patagonia at the height of the season, when you'll have 18 hours of daylight and feel Patagonia's infamous wind at its strongest. There are just so many options open to you in addition to hiking, why not try glacier trekking, mountain biking and white water rafting on the rapids of the Futaleufu River?
If you want to visit last minute, the key is moving quickly and booking your flights. Availability in Chalten shouldn't be too difficult but in Torres del Paine it's likely that refugios will be fully booked. Don't worry though, it's warm enough to camp under the stars. If you're still in the planning stages of your trip but hope to go this season, it's a good idea to get flights booked as early as possible and make the most of Patagonia's summer before autumn sets in April.
February is a great time to trek Patagonia's national parks, in particular Torres del Paine quietens down as Chilean visitors head back to their cities. In Feb you can expect temperatures of between 5 and 19 degrees in Torres del Paine, and this could be a good time to trek the W Circuit independently if you want to save some money to go kayaking for example.
If you want to go in February but you've left it last minute, you may be able to find a late deal on our Exclusive Deals page. Your best bet is finding a Patagonia Tours which tend to have lots of departure dates to join during February.
If you're considering visiting next season, (starting in October), why not getting your flights booked good and early? If you're lucky you may be able to get flights from London to Punta Arenas for £850.
March is the tail end of the season for adventure in Patagonia so the infamous Patagonian wind will be on its way out, there'll be fewer people in the national parks so generally quieter on the trails. This is great as you may find prices come down slightly as the locals and tourists leave, but it's more difficult to get a group together, so could be harder if you're travelling alone (although we'll strive to pair you up with someone). However, most longer, multi-location trips run by our global operator partners still run in March and they tend to have bigger groups, but prepare for rain if your trip visits the lake district!
In April the season is coming to an end, so try to get there in the first half of the month for more availability and better weather conditions. If you're hoping to stay in the Eco Camp in Torres del Paine or do an adventure cruise round Cape Horn, they finish for the season in early April, so get going! Luckily it's about this time that skiing in Bariloche becomes available in the Argentinian Lake District. Remember that many mountain lodges and estancias close around this time making it hard to do the W or Full Circuit for example. Plus certain services become unavailable such as the catamaran across Lago Pehoe in Torres del Paine and glacier hiking, so it may be a good idea to go earlier in the season if these are on your list of things to do.
Find out more about visiting Torres del Paine in winter >>
Winter is getting into full swing now so you may want to try out volcano skiing in the Patagonian Lake District or tailor made tours that take into account the potentially difficult weather conditions. As many operators and lodges wind down for the winter, fewer travellers visit the trails and parks so private departures on most trips are likely. The weather will be a bit like trekking in wales in Dec, are you up for that challenge?
Find out more about visiting Torres del Paine in winter >>
At this time of year, the snow is starting to settle in Torres del Paine National Park and the trees are brown and orange, a very beautiful time to see the highlights. June is also when operators launch their Winter W Circuit and Fitz Roy trips, which vary from the usual itineraries as many refugios are closed and van transfers are required because the catamaran across Lago Pehoe stops. Although days are short and weather temperamental, if you can see Patagonia in winter, it will be serene and picturesque.
Find out more about visiting Torres del Paine in winter >>
Mid winter, July is equivalent to our January in terms of weather. This is a great time to take advantage of the skiing Patagonia has to offer, particularly in the Chilean and Argentinian Lake Districts. Araucania offers off piste skiing, whereas Bariloche is home to the popular Cerro Catedral Resort but also caters for off piste skiing. For adrenaline junkies, you can ski down the slopes of several volcanoes on certain trips. If you're planning a trip for next season, start looking at flights as the sooner you book them, the cheaper they are.
If you hope to visit Torres del Paine this month, find out more about visiting Torres del Paine in winter >>
This is a great time for snow shoeing in Bariloche, or skiing in the Patagonian Lake District. There are also some winter trips in the Torres del Paine & Fitz Roy areas. Come prepared - cold temperatures, snow and short days means that your trip may not go 100% according to plan, Chalten is known for snow blocking the roads for a day or 2. Alternatively, August is a great time to plan and book trips for the early part of the season ahead, at this time operators will be starting to release availability and rates to help with that.
August is the last month to take advantage of specially designed winter trips in Torres del Paine. If you're keen to see the park covered in snow, find out more about hiking in Torres del Paine in winter >>
In September, it's still pretty chilly in Patagonia, with snow and temperatures of 5 degrees in El Calafate for example. If you're hoping to trek the main national parks, you may find that operators don't have any groups heading out, so you may have to go on a private trip with just your guide. The season really kicks off at the end of September/beginning of October with W Circuit and Full Circuit trips as well as estancias and lodges opening their doors to clients.
However, winter trips are still running in Torres del Paine. Find out more here >>
Get in before the crowds - you won't see many people on the W Circuit and you'll have the northern part of the park pretty much to yourself on the Full Circuit (you may even come face to face with the endangered Huemul deer). It's still a bit too early for horse riding and rafting trips, you're best off doing these from November onwards. So if you're thinking about visiting Patagonia this season, get your flights and trips booked, as availability really starts to tighten up over October/November.
November is a good time to visit: late spring/early summer. Not too busy but a full range of trips and itineraries to choose from. If you want to visit this month, you need to move fast. Refugios are getting booked up until January, but the operator will work hard to fit you in. Don't forget it takes at least a week to organise a tour, so don't leave it too late!
Mid summer, 18 hours of daylight and there will probably be days when you're hiking in shorts and t-shirt. Many Chileans and Argentinians will come down to Patagonia for their Christmas break so availability may be tight and you should expect the National Parks to be busier.
It's essential that you get your flights and tours booked asap, as flight prices are also increasing.
About Swoop Patagonia
We've spent 15 years exploring Patagonia, and arranged holidays for over a thousand customers. We have a network of trusted guides, lodges, and local operators across the region and delight in helping people plan and arrange a great holiday.
You can book directly with our local partners in Chile and Argentina, or with our ATOL certified company here in the UK.