Prepare for an epic adventure that will take you to the Andes, jungle and Galapagos. You'll venture off the regular backpacker trail and into traditional indigenous communities, where you’ll live and work alongside some of the world’s most remote cultures and wildlife.
For nature lovers, Ecuador is a dream. You’ll come into contact with all sorts of exotic birds, bizarre jungle plants, strange insects and the fantastic array of animals that inhabit the Galapagos Islands. Throughout the process, you'll contribute in many different ways in such a variety of places, resulting in a fully rounded travel experience.
Your first couple of days will be spent in Quito, Ecuador’s historic capital city. You’ll be staying at Hostel Guayanga right in the centre of a UNESCO world heritage site, close to Yanapuma’s offices and not far from the Mariscal district, a buzzy area that’s popular amongst students and travellers.
Quito is over 9,000 feet (2,800 meters) above sea level and high altitude can cause nasty effects such as dehydration and breathlessness, so take it easy for the first few days and make sure you allow your body time to acclimatise. Drink plenty of water and remember that alcohol has a stronger effect on the body at high altitudes!
After Quito, you’ll hit the road for your first volunteering project. Leaving the sprawling city behind, you’ll step into a fairy-tale land with condors swooping down over the villages, gurgling brooks, and lush fields nestled between snow-capped volcanoes. Your destination is Otavalo, an indigenous market town famous for traditional crafts, twenty minutes from where the rural Andean community, of Agato, where you will help with their development projects.
The Andes is a playground for the adventurous, providing the opportunity to trek to the region’s spectacular waterfalls and crater lakes. For the less active, browsing Otavalo’s artisan market is a relaxing and equally enjoyable alternative, as is condor-spotting.
Next it’s time to begin your jungle adventure, as you travel west of the mountains to the equatorial tropics, home to the country’s last remaining indigenous Tsachila tribes. Once prolific in this region, the number of Tsachila communities has now dwindled to just seven remote settlements, all of which are at risk of losing their traditional culture, due to the expanding influence of the mestizo culture.
This is a unique opportunity for you to experience living among Shaman healers, who still practice ancient rituals, and learn to dance, dress and even arm-wrestle like a local.
In your free time, you’ll have the chance to challenge the school kids to soccer matches, go trekking through the jungle, or head into the local town, Santo Domingo. From here, you can catch buses to the coast to enjoy a dazzling sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
If you’re an animal lover, the Galapagos will not disappoint. The archipelago’s remote location, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, means that the islands’ flora and fauna have been almost entirely isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years, many without natural predators.
This means the Galapagos is not only a fascinating study in evolution (in fact Darwin himself came up with the whole idea right here), but is THE place to experience one-of-a-kind wildlife encounters with animals that aren’t afraid of humans.
Your program ends with a send-off deep in the Amazon Rainforest.
Here you will be looked after by the Gaia Amazon Center who will provide a program of activities for you to learn about the Amazon and its cultures. We have no doubt that this will be a great finale to your time in Ecuador, as it’ll give you the chance to kick back and relax, as well as enjoy the Amazon experience.Activities here include a canoe river tour, hiking in the primary rainforest, fishing, tubing and a trip to the butterfly farm.
The Agato community would like you to help them improve their village infrastructure, which includes constructing a cultural day centre, painting the kindergarten, and repairing roads.
Other projects here include teaching basic English and sport at the day care facility, harvesting crops and clearing debris when heavy rain floods the roads and causes poorly-constructed homes to collapse.
In the jungle, you’ll be assisting members of the community with everyday chores, from cooking, to fishing, to making traditional jewellery. You’ll also develop and cultivate the Tsachila people’s Botanical Gardens and manage their cacao plantation, improving productivity and revenue.
In addition to this, you’ll help preserve traditional building methods by providing the additional manpower needed to collect and use sustainable materials found naturally. Building projects planned by the community over the coming years include volunteer cabins and developments to the ethno cultural centres, which will help expand their ecotourism business.
You’ll fly into San Cristobal, the Galapagos’ easternmost island, to live and work at Hacienda Tranquila, which oversees several different projects.
With your help, Hacienda Tranquila aims to develop eco-friendly, high-yielding farming methods and discourage local farmers from using chemical pesticides and fertilisers, which have had a detrimental effect on the ecosystem. It is hoped that this, along with huge efforts in removing invasive plants from the area, can pave the way for the giant tortoise species to be successfully introduced back into the local ecosystem in the year 2020.
You will also look after children with special needs who visit the Hacienda for outdoor education sessions, and assist with bringing clean water to the community through irrigation systems.
Built into the itinerary and cost is an expedition along the famous Ruta de los Volcanes (Volcanic Route) and after your stint in the Andes, you’ll be pleased to hear it’s comfy hostels and hot showers all the way.
You’ll travel from Quito to Quilotoa, kicking off the week at the Quilotoa Crater Lake, where you can stroll around the enormous lagoon nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano, before hitting the waters in a kayak. The following day, it’s off to the steaming thermal baths in beautiful Baños, where you’ll be able to see the Tungurahua volcano and try your hand at white-water rafting.
The week finishes in Riobamba, a town whose cobbled streets and ancient buildings are steeped in history. From there, you’ll hike to the snowline of the mighty Chimborazo Volcano, which stands at 20,565ft, before mountain biking back down. Be sure to pack a woolly poncho for this one, as it gets pretty chilly at the top.
Communication is not the easiest in Ecuador, as most people do not speak any English, but don’t panic, as you will have an English-speaking guide with you at all times. However, it is really useful and less frustrating if you can get by with some basic Spanish up your sleeve.
Therefore, included in the cost are Spanish lessons for all while you are in Quito and in Otavalo. Before you go, we will ask about your level (most are total beginners) so we can pre-prepare the teachers/lessons. You’ll spend about 2.5 hours every afternoon with a professional language tutor in a group of 3-5 students.
You’ll be pretty busy with your project work, learning Spanish and numerous days of adrenaline-filled activities but your weekends are free to get stuck into some of these backpacker favourites - all of which can be arranged out there.
TeleferiQo The TeleferiQo is a cable car that flies you up Rucu Pichincha to an observation point overlooking Quito. Not only do you get to enjoy incredible views from the top but also, if you’re feeling really fit, you can keep hiking all the way to the top of the mountain.
Mindo Cloud Forest After your stint in the Andes, you might have time to visit Mindo Cloud Forest. It’s the perfect place to relax amongst nature, as hummingbirds and butterflies fly right by you as you lie in hammocks. Or get your fill of adrenaline as Mindo is an adventure town where you can zip line through the forest, hike along a trail of waterfalls, and tube down river rapids.
Horse Riding Available in Mindo Cloud Forest - perfect for everyone ranging from beginners to experienced riders. Take a guided trip on horseback through tree-lined paths and along the river.
Galapagos Boat Tours Unmissable. Jump aboard one of the speedboat ferries that run between San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabella and explore the museums, galleries and stunning beaches on the other islands.
Snorkelling If you visit the Galapagos you MUST have a go at snorkelling. A snip of the cost of scuba diving, snorkelling offers a unique perspective into one of the most awe-inspiring underwater environments in the world.
Scuba Diving Voted the world’s best dive site, The Galapagos Islands offer an array of aquatic wildlife such as hammerheads, manta rays and seals. You can dive with one of the islands’ PADI accredited schools with or without a certificate, but please be advised that dive conditions are fairly challenging here, therefore previous experience of scuba diving is recommended.
We have different departures for Ecuador throughout year. The January, April and September departures are for the full ten weeks, taking in all the sights and experiences you’ll find described on this page with plenty of downtime for you to explore the country as you please.
The six week program, in July, aims to pack as much into a shorter period as possible and is ideal for the gap between A-Levels and results day.
However we are very flexible, so if you need to arrive late or leave early? No problem, get in touch and we'll help you sort something out.