40 minutes south of Varna on the coast, Kamchiya forest reserve is a UNESCO biosphere and offers marked trails, boat tours and guided kayaking trips along the Kamchiya River. Meet in Varna for a full day’s kayak tour including training, kayaking, BBQ and beach walk (the river ends at the sea). Approx £30 including life-jackets. Discounts can sometimes be organised with a large enough volunteer group if taking a tour midweek. Speak to your coordinator about how to book. Bring drinks, snacks, suncream, a second set of clothes and a towel.
This programme is now no longer open for applications.
For a similar programme only 3 hours flying time from the UK please refer to our Morocco programme in Marrakech.
Volunteering in Europe Here’s everything you need to know about our volunteer programme in coastal Bulgaria including how it works, how to get there and how to stay safe. This unique programme only accepts 6 volunteers per week and is filling up fast for July and August. Call us now on 01603 280702 to enquire and reserve. Or text your enquiry to 07554002930.
About the Bulgaria project
Volunteer in Europe, in one of the prettiest coastal towns in Bulgaria and surprise yourself. A safe country to visit and the people are friendly. Bulgaria’s coast is also known as the Algarve of Eastern Europe. It attracts thousands of holidaymakers every summer to its beaches including increasing numbers of British holidaymakers to the holiday resorts at Sunny Beach and Golden Sands, both close to Varna where the volunteer programme is based.
The Bulgaria volunteering program is organised by a dedicated local support team which organises placements for the volunteer team that are administered by the local council and municipality and can be extremely varied. You might be playing and dancing with children, helping disabled children ride for the first time, painting city murals and taking out the elderly for some fresh air and sea views. Local youth volunteering groups also often ask for help from our volunteers and provide an optional opportunity to work alongside local people and youth groups from beach clean ups to local arts festival promotions which can be great fun and an opportunity to meet and make friends with local volunteers. So do come with an open heart and mind to explore and experience different activities with different sections of local society.
What is it like working with children?
Activities are mostly art/play or supervision-based so anyone who likes playing games or setting up art and craft activities will feel comfortable. This is the easiest volunteer activity to prepare for in advance by bringing some art and craft materials from home in addition to some outdoor play equipment which you can re-use if needed. In the summer there is always another volunteer next to you so you won’t feel you are leading anything on your own unless you want to. No experience is required. Children’s backgrounds at different projects vary from marginalised Romany children to children with varying learning difficulties. Working with children may or may not take up a full week, but there is no need to bring a full week of activities just in case as extra stationery can be bought easily in Varna. Volunteers have also run lovely art and craft sessions for the elderly who would otherwise be left sitting.
Can I organise outdoor games and teach sport?
Absolutely, although space may be limited at some projects. But sometimes even the simplest activities indoors can be great fun such as musical chairs or heading softballs. Ask the local team on arrival which of the following week’s projects have space for activities so you can prepare in advance.
When will I be volunteering?
Community volunteering with children takes place on a part-time basis between Monday and Friday according to the local project and community needs and the group always travel together to the projects with their group leader. Volunteers can opt in and out of the schedule as preferred but volunteers are encouraged to take part in every activity available as the schedules can change. There will also be occasions to travel further afield to reach projects or villages which receive few volunteers although these trips are always on a voluntary basis but may provide a unique experience to discover more of the country. A favourite volunteer excursion is to the Romany gypsy hillside community south of Varna to play and teach informal English. Self-directed health placements are also available for students and qualified nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and art therapists at community projects and residential homes.
Will I have free time?
Weekends are always free and with so many activities on offer and places to visit along the coast you will not be short of things to do. And of course, not forgetting the beach on your doorstep, the main attraction for all visitors to the coast. Scroll down to the Free time section for details on places to visit.
Free time in Bulgaria
There is plenty of time to explore Varna and take a tour both at the weekend and midweek between activities. It’s best to arrange after arrival as it’s more fun in a group with new friends you have met amongst the other volunteers.
Placement at a glance
|Volunteer Experience||Enjoy a varied schedule in different settings and help with playwork,outdoor games,informal English teaching, visits to care homes to provide company to the elderly and occasional manual work and assistance to local charities.|
|Support||A group leader escorts your volunteer group to the day's activity.|
|Project location||Projects in and close to Varna. The volunteer apartment is centrally located close to all shops and cafes and only 15-20 minutes walk from the beach.|
|Accommodation||Volunteers stay together in dorm-style apartments and shared houses in Varna. Occasionally a centrally located modern hostel is used when not enough bookings for the apartment or for the occasional days when the accommodation is overbooked for a few days. This is organised for you. Rooms may be mixed sex. We will try to avoid this wherever possible but sometimes flights are bought later by the occasional volunteer without always confirming with us first! :)|
|Working hours||Variable part time hours depending on the week's schedule. Your volunteer organisor attempts to fill up the week but timings will depend on the local projects and charity's plans for the week of your visit as their needs can change. When there is a break in the schedule the beach is only a short stroll from the apartment!|
|Language||Bulgarian. You are not expected to know any Bulgarian, indeed many Romany children you may work with have their own language and dialect, closer to Turkish.|
|Getting to project||Varna is the best airport or try Bourgas further down the coast although transfers will be more expensive (for flights visit: skyscanner.net) this is the simplest way to arrive. Some volunteers fly to Sofia then take the train to Varna, approx £15, 7 hours.|
|Minimum stay||5 days. Most volunteers arrive on a Sunday and depart the following Saturday or Sunday. If more convenient a flight arriving on a Monday morning is also possible but be aware volunteering may be therefore limited if arriving too late on Monday to join an afternoon project. The following Sunday night accommodation may not be available if there is a new arriving volunteer on their way.|
|Project operates||June - September. Extremely limited spaces. This project has fixed start/end days. Arrival day is Sunday, departure day can be Saturday or Sunday. Volunteers arriving Saturday can be met at the airport/train station as usual and then transferred to a pre-booked hostel of their choice. Hostelbookers.com and hotels.com are popular sites to prebook rooms.|
|When to apply||Maximum group size is 6 volunteers. Call us now to enquire and reserve on 01603 280702.|
|Costs||£125 per week covers all accommodation, organisation of placements and your group leader who organises your group's weekly placements. Flights/food/local transport/personal spending excluded. Allow £5 - £10 a day for transport and meals.|
|Airport Pick-up Service||Available from Varna airport/train and bus station £20. Bourgas airport £55. Payable on arrival in British pounds to driver.|
- Shop 2 minutes
- Bars 5 minutes
- Chemist 5 minutes
- Bus 5 minutes
- Taxis 5 minutes
- Cash machine 15 minutes
- Bank 15 minutes
- Wifi usually available in volunteer house for Whatsapp calls.
- Wifi usually in house
- Laundry- 5 mins + small fee
Basics, what to take?
- Summer visits: Duvet cover (not duvet) or summer weight sleeping bag and pillow.
Accommodation: To keep programme costs as affordable as possible volunteers stay together in a functional traditional Bulgarian/Communist style volunteer apartment in Varna city centre in shared (occasionally) mixed sex dorm style rooms. Apartment has modern bathroom, lounge/sleeping area and communal kitchen. Please be aware that the appartments are basic and functional. Support: Back-up and support during your stay available when needed from your English speaking group leader, although most visits are hassle-free, Varna feels pretty much like Brighton or Bournemouth in the UK, except there’s a sandy beach and the sea’s considerably warmer!
Meet the project team
You could not be better looked after in Bulgaria with help and support at every step of the way. Our Bulgaria volunteer programme benefits from a knowledgeable group leader who knows the town inside out. They will do everything they can to make your volunteering programme smooth and enjoyable from day one.
Your English speaking group leader carries out a variety of tasks to support your volunteer group which includes : arranging the visits for your volunteer group with the local charities, communities and institutions, escorting your group to projects, being on hand at projects to translate between volunteers/children and local staff, organising the weekly volunteering schedule, organising project transport between the volunteer house and the projects when needed and helping with any accommodation issues that might arise during your stay (for example, if the Wi-fi needs a nudge!).
As Bulgaria is a gentle seaside town not dissimilar to the look and feel of many towns in Northern Europe, the UK included and with few of the irritations of far-flung exotic more edgier countries, you will be expected to take care of yourself between volunteering activities in the same way as you would at home when not working or between lectures at University. You certainly will not need an escort to stroll around Varna, find the beach and somewhere to eat as you would not need to at home when living in a coastal town.
Main points to stay safe: Pickpocketing is quite common in the summer, so wear your bag on your front where possible, do not leave your phone in your back pocket, two volunteers were caught out in 2016. Because of the stark Communist style of housing in Bulgaria you may sometimes feel like you are in somewhat less than salubrious surroundings and it takes a bit of getting used to, but really, there is no difference to anywhere else in Europe, it’s just the architecture letting the place down.
The benefits of your local in-country team
What is a volunteer coordinator?
Every project has a volunteer coordinator. This is the person responsible for organising your volunteering and looking after your welfare needs during your stay and they are all English speaking.
What experience do volunteer coordinators have?
All our coordinators are local people with knowledge and experience gained over many years of supporting volunteers. They have a deep knowledge of their local community, providing an invaluable source of information. 9 in 10 coordinators at our destinations have between 5 – 7 years experience and 7 in 10 of our coordinators have supported more than a thousand volunteers each (current as of August 2013). If they don’t know where to buy Parmesan cheese when the shops are shut, no one will!
Who are volunteer coordinators?
At some destinations the volunteer coordinator will also be the manager/director of the project you are volunteering if you are based in one location. Examples of manager/coordinator projects will be Kenya-Mombasa/Peru/Cambodia/South Africa/Argentina/Uganda/India. Some destinations require an independent volunteer coordinator because there are many projects volunteers go to. Independent coordinators will organise a variety of placements at many different projects in the local community throughout your visit. He/she will liaise with all the projects/schools/hospitals on your behalf to organise schedules for your volunteer group. Examples of volunteer programmes are: Morocco/Ghana/Tanzania/Kenya-Masai/Malawi/Mexico-Merida/Ecuador. Thailand and Nepal offer a mix of both.
Is there only one volunteer coordinator?
Coordinators have other staff supporting them, from drivers to housekeepers, and cooks and assistant coordinators. Support team size varies between project type and time of year. The typical size of any support team will be 5 – 7. There may also be a long stay volunteer helping out The Uganda school project had at last count 15 local staff supporting volunteers which ranged from security to water carriers!
What do coordinators do?
- Airport pick up Your in-country coordinator will organise your pick up and make sure you get to the volunteer house as smoothly as possible. If your coordinator does not meet volunteers from the airport, their trusted regular driver will be sent to meet you.
- Liaise with local projects If you are on a mixed volunteer programme (Morocco/Ghana/Tanzania/Kenya-Masai/Malawi/Mexico-Merida/Ecuador) your coordinator will be regularly liaising with the projects you will be going to today, this week and next, organising suitable times and communicating schedules to the volunteer group.
- Help organise specific placements Coordinators will also ensure that volunteers with special preferences eg. medical/building can get involved as fully as possible in their preferred area of work.
- Show you around and help you to locate things Need a Sim card? Want to buy some paintbrushes for an art session tomorrow? Speak to your coordinator – they will advise on where, how to get there and prices.
- Provide an orientation on arrival This may take the form of a more formal meeting for all new arrivals by your coordinator or through informal advice, long stay volunteers, handouts, information on the noticeboard as per needs dictate. This will usually include any important cultural awareness if this may affect your stay. For example bare tummies should be covered in Ghana for example otherwise the children won’t stop giggling!
- Help you when things go wrong We are often asked what happens when things go wrong. Your local team are the experts on getting you the help you need immediately. They have seen it all before (in a nice way) and are well experienced in looking after hundreds of volunteers each year with all the usual niggles from sunburn to upset tummies. Whether you need a doctor in the night for sickness or you want to try out a new project or move bedroom or volunteer house. If you have remembered to print off your project contact details and leave them with family (these are sent before travel to all volunteers) – your family can also contact the coordinator directly. Or they can call us and we can put them in touch. But if you need further assistance or advice we are here to help you. Contact us straightaway and we might be able to make the niggly issues go away. For any country related crises which may occur which would require volunteers to return home, your coordinator and their team will ensure everyone is safely escorted to the airport or Embassy as per the advice provided by each volunteer’s government together with any additional support that may be required.
- Help you when you feel unwell Coordinators are the first port of call if you think you may need medical assistance. They will organise an escort to the local clinic/hospital and make sure you are well treated. They can also contact home and will be happy to speak to parents to explain how you are. If you are volunteering alone, they may also stay with you in the hospital or request that a member of their staff and a volunteer keep you company as it can be quite daunting to be in a foreign hospital, even if it is only an infected mosquito bite! Most health problems are minor and with a day or two’s bed rest either at the volunteer house or the local hospital and plenty of water, most volunteers are back to their normal selves again. While on the subject of hospitals – make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance to cover local medical bills and repatriation. In developing countries and where medical care is mostly private, it is not uncommon to be admitted into a private room for something which would be treated as an out-patient back home. Without insurance, hospital fees can be as much as £200 per day. For doctors appointments when you only need a prescription, your coordinator will help you to locate the nearest doctor/clinic. For these it is often easier to pay on the spot and not claim on the insurance. Expect to pay approx. £5 – £15 per consultation and £5 – £20 for basic medication.
- Organise excursions Your coordinator knows all the best trips and best prices which volunteers over the years have participated on and recommended. If the options are not posted on a notice board ask your coordinator what is available and how to book. Typical prices across all destinations as a very rough guide: £30 – £40 for a day’s activity, £200 – £400 for a trek/budget safari for 3 – 5 days. Most volunteers go together in a group for more fun and get discounts. Additional trip discounts for volunteers are available in Ghana and Tanzania.
- Return transfer back to the airport Your coordinator can organise the return trip back to the airport for you, simply ask a few days before your flight. This is not automatically organised as many volunteers will have made friends and may leave the project a day or two earlier to sightsee before flying home, want to go shopping right up to the last minute or forget that the transfer was booked and have already jumped in a taxi!
Bulgaria specific questions
Do I need experience?
No experience is required to be successful on the volunteer programme. Whether you work on the health care programme or the teaching and play work programme, everyone is welcomed to come. For volunteers wanting to take on a care role it is recommended that you have some previous experience of working or volunteering independently in a similar setting as supervision is not always available.
When do I choose what I will be doing?
For the community programme, a schedule is organised each week according to the request of local projects and charities. The aim is to provide as varied a schedule as possible which will be of benefit to the children/adults and the community.
How do health care placements work?
Two weeks are recommended for health volunteers in case of delays and schedule changes by the institutions they are volunteering at. In the event of any changes, health volunteers are invited to participate on the community programme. On arrival it is expected that volunteers will shadow staff for between 1 and 2 days and help with non-medical/health aspects, for example at meal times or taking a patient/resident outside in their wheelchair for some fresh air. Following supervision and assessment by the senior nurse and doctor in charge, a more active role in all aspects may be encouraged according to your skill set and confidence. Most placements will be unsupervised and local staff speak limited or no English, health volunteers should therefore be confident and independently active towards their role.
How can I prepare for the general volunteering programme?
It is a really good idea to learn some basic phrases, we include a basic list on this page. A Bulgarian phrasebook or dictionary will be essential. Quality guidebooks on Varna town do not yet exist although most brand names guidebooks on Bulgaria will contain a section on Varna or the area.
To get more out of your stay it is helpful to do a little reading on this fascinating region of Europe before arrival. If you don’t have time to source history and travel guides, sit down with a coffee and look at Wikipedia pages on Varna and Bulgaria, it won’t take long and you will get much more out of your visit.
What should I be aware of?
There can be pickpocketing in the summer months so keep your bag on your front in crowds. The architecture can be strange for British visitors, still reminiscent of the Communist/Russian style with long streets of grey concrete tower blocks and the odd Communist statue here and there. Hopefully the location of the volunteer apartment close to the town centre and beach and the volunteering will make up for the tower blocks, so typical of this ex-communist corner of Europe!
I would like to fundraise for the projects specifically – what do they need?
Fundraise before you travel and speak to the volunteer group leader to find out which projects would welcome support then buy the resources they need in Varna or make contributions directly. It can often be helpful to do it this way round as needs change or you may have a favourite project you have volunteered at which you would like to help.
Will I be met on arrival?
There are three options for pick-ups from (i) Varna airport (ii) the train station in Varna or (iii) Bourgas airport which is further down the coast. An airport transfer from Bourgas takes 1.5 to 2 hours and can cost around £55 so do allow extra time and the budget if you choose this option.
What do I need to take?
Do bring conservative clothes for volunteering with children – a standard T-shirt (not strappy vests) and jeans or knee-length shorts are acceptable in the summer months. For health placements bring your own uniform if you have one from home, or wear office-type clothes which identify you as a member of staff.
Where will I be staying?
Volunteers on both placements share the volunteer apartment together in (occasionally) mixed sex occasionally) in Varna city centre about 10 minutes walk from most cafes and shops.
Is Bulgaria safe?
Very. There is nothing that will happen or could occur any differently than would occur in England. One volunteer described Varna like Brighton in the UK if it had a sandy tree-lined beach hot weather and warm sea.
Do I need a visa?
Bulgaria is now part of the European Union. European passport holders do not require a visa to enter the country.
Are there fixed arrival dates?
The Bulgaria programme has fixed start days and limited spaces (max 5) so early booking is essential. The programme runs from June to September. Start days are Sunday (or Saturday), departing Saturday or Sunday but spaces are limited.
I am worried about travelling on my own – can I buddy up with someone?
Yes we can buddy you up, just let us know at the time of booking. But if you are travelling alone, don’t panic, most volunteers travel alone and this will be their first experience of volunteering abroad.
What if I am on my own during my stay?
If you are the only volunteer for a few days (rare but it can happen for a few days early season and last weeks of the summer programme), you will be escorted in the usual way to the projects by your volunteer coordinator who will work alongside you at the projects and they will provide some additional company for you out of volunteering hours until the next volunteers arrive. Please note we cannot refund any programme fees for any volunteer leaving the accommodation to stay in a hotel or hostel elsewhere whilst they volunteer.
Will I need any jabs?
Only the usual boosters you would need from time to time in the UK. There isn’t any malaria in Bulgaria but they still have midges from the surrounding forests so it is essential to get a good strong repellent in case you need it.
How will I get back to the airport?
Your support team will organise a taxi back to the airports or the train station, or with the driver if he is picking someone else up. Alternatively, the journey back to Varna airport can be made easily by taxi direct from the volunteer house for about £15.
Angela Coren – Bulgaria
Here's my review of my time in Bulgaria.Bulgaria was a surprise, I wanted to do something in Europe then found the project on the OV website and booked straight away. I learnt a lot during my stay especially about the suffering of the Roma gypsy people, not just in Bulgaria but in the region as a whole. It has defi...
Leah Maxwell – Review
Why did you want to volunteer? To travel and put something back by helping others.Do you feel you made a difference, how? I think we helped every project, it was a great team and we did lots of interesting activities with the children.What did you do for fun? Nights out in Varna centrum and the beach front b...