The World Discovery Program takes you on a 12-week journey through 6 countries. while you learn to plan, assess and undertake expeditions to remote areas. Alongside this you will become a confident global traveler, prepared for all circumstances, and you will learn how to safely navigate your way through independent travel. All of our travel is planned but not booked as we leave that at the hands of our groups which helps instill the skill of traveling independently.
Explore the Galapagos Islands, volunteer in Ecuador and Laos, check out Machu Picchu, hike through the Vietnamese rice terraces, visit the hill tribes in Thailand and trek into the Himalayas. You'll not only tick off many bucket list items on your travels but also get a truly immersive experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life!
✓ Want to learn how to travel independently
✓ Want to experience homestays in a small community
✓ Are interested in immersing yourself in a new cultures
✓ Love activities like hiking, snorkeling, wildlife safaris and rafting
✓ Are enthusiastic about environmental and community volunteering
✓ Would love to see as much of the world as possible
My Pacific Discovery trip was absolutely a life-changing experience. I not only had an excellent time and made 13 new best friends, but also gained perspective that changed the way I look at the world. Meeting people from local communities and learning about their way of life has inspired me to think differently about my own life and about those I meet. Coming home from this trip, I am more thoughtful, inquisitive, independent, and mature and will be much better prepared to handle what the future brings."
- Emily Bosworth
Our Program Quiz can help you find your perfect Program match! Or get the full Program run-down in our catalogue. This catalogue provides information about Pacific Discovery's values and program design, as well as program descriptions and testimonials!
On arrival in Quito, you will be met by your program instructors. Quito is a sprawling city nestled high in the Andes and flanked by volcanic peaks. Its location and sights are spectacular! We have a few days of orientation in Quito to explore the historic center and get to know each other. Our time will focus on creating a positive and reflective group culture to support us in realizing our program goals.
We then head to Tena, the gateway city to the lush Amazonian rainforest, and kick off this program with an environmental project. We love to work with small communities to help them educate local children and adults the techniques for restoring and protecting the local environment. We also want to encourage them to grow and flourish economically. Our volunteer work in Ecuador could range from supporting tourism efforts through the building of cabanas to teaching locals how to streamline their efforts to encourage sustainable tourism. It will depend on the community's needs at the time.
But these days are as much about delving into the culture as they are about conservation and sustainable living. By working alongside the local villagers in a small community, we will better understand their way of living and get a truly immersive and authentic experience.
After a quick stop in Quito, we take a flight to San Cristobal Island - the first island Darwin visited in the Galapagos Archipelago. This week, we will visit sites of ecological significance and incredible biodiversity on the Galapagos Islands. We will snorkel, hike, and watch the many varied wildlife in a fascinating few days that we will remember forever!
A highlight of any visit to the Galapagos is the incredible snorkeling opportunities available. One of the best spots for snorkeling, Kicker Rock or Leon Dormido is an unique rock formation near San Cristobal Island. While we snorkel around Kicker Rock, we can spot sea turtles, marine iguanas, rays, Galapagos sharks, tropical fish and if luck is on our side we can even see hammerhead sharks. Besides enjoying the underwater view, we can usually see frigatebirds on the cliffs as well as sea lions along the shore.
We also get the chance to visit a tortoise breeding centre and walk the El Junco volcano! There will be wildlife at every corner during our time on the Galapagos islands, whether that is snorkeling with turtles or swimming with the local sea lions!
No trip to the Galapagos is complete without a trip to the Darwin centre which was the base for wildlife studies from 1964! This visit will blow your mind with facts galore about the research they carried out here. This will be our last visit before we fly out and onto the next adventure.
After landing in Peru, we will head to historic Cusco and learn why this city is also known as the gateway to the Incan Empire. Colorful Cusco sits at an altitude of 3400 meters above sea level and was built by the Spanish on the remains of Inca temples and palaces. We will wander up and down Cusco’s small, steep streets and stumble upon many wonderful sights, ruins, museums and plazas full of ambiance.
In the rural areas of Cusco, we will take part in a community exchange project this week. We will stay, cook and learn with locals, help with a local project, share stories of your family and community at home and get a feel for what life is really like as a Peruvian. This homestay and community project will give us the chance to know authentic Peru and its unbelievably friendly people.
It’s time to put our hiking boots to good use and get off the beaten track! The Ausangate Circuit is world class hiking. We will be walking the bright red sands of the high Andes with the extreme contrast of white snow caps. In this unreal environment, a team of porters and mules will be supporting us to make the epic 5 day overland journey. We will walk by glaciers, turquoise pools and camp at the base of towering peaks.
During our trekking, a local Wayki guide will explain all about the Inca ruins, farming, villages and views that surround us. We will pass the occasional remote indigenous villages where people dress in their typical attire and speak the Incan language. While we gradually climb to a height of 4,700m, we will depart the villages but instead be surrounded by snow-capped mountains and herds of llamas. This alpine trekking will test our limits, but it will all be worth it, we promise!
With the Incan capital Cusco as our base, it’s time to explore the incomparable Sacred Valley region. The picturesque town of Ollantaytambo is where our journey begins this week, before moving on to Aguas Calientes, the neighbor of Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu is one of those places that every traveler should experience at least once in their lives. It’s the best-preserved relic of Incan civilization, and earned itself the title of one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Take an early morning hike up to the Sun Gates to see the morning light over the ruins, and spend the day wandering through temples, palaces, forts and monuments. Take a moment to meditate on the amazing experience you've had in the Andes countries.
We then say farewell to Peru and fly to the other side of the world. Our Peruvian Sol becomes Vietnamese Dong and we’ll have the chance to try another new language and take part in local life at streetside restaurants and markets. We base ourselves in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, where daily life spills out onto the street.
In Hanoi, we enjoy some free time to explore the colorful streets of the Old Quarter, where streets are named for the products they sell. See artisans creating a myriad of products, gravestones being carved, silk merchants haggling, flower markets and everything imaginable being bought and sold on the streets.
From the urban feeling of Hanoi, we move on to the lush terraced rice paddies and the rustic charm of the native dwellings in Sapa. You’re sure to fall in love with this place! Many diverse groups like the Dzay, Dzao, Tay, Xa Pho or Hmong populate this richly cultural northern territory. We will walk through the rice paddy fields this region is famous for, and delve deeper into the daily life of the locals as we pass small villages and sample their unique delights.
You have to experience an authentic, backpackers overland journey at least once on this epic trip, and this is it. Join the dots from Northern Vietnam to Western Laos with a border crossing, vans and slow boats on the Mekong River tributaries. Laos is a vibe, with it's spicy chilli noodle soup and small population in the heart of south east asia. Enjoy the slow pace of life with a stop at Muang Ngoi, interact with the friendly locals and enjoy the natural beauty, before moving onto the loveable town of Luang Prabang.
Described by an alumni as a town of ‘colonial-French-Buddhist-jungle-rainforest fusion’, this UNESCO World Heritage town – with its glistening temple roofs, crumbling French colonial architecture and fantastic food, is hard to leave. While we are in this stunning town, we will work on a community project. Helping locals, we will be working at a local school to further a current project. Our daily tasks may vary based on the needs of the school, and could range from classroom learning to building or landscaping.
It will be hard to move on from the connections we make on the community project in Luang Prabang, yet we will continue on as we head to the historical city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Although Chiang Mai is the third largest city in the country, it has the appearance of a large village. We explore the historic center during the day, and spend the evening browsing, shopping and snacking in Chiang Mai’s night markets.
We will also start with an off-the-beaten-track hike to visit hill tribes in remote tropical areas near Chiang Dao. This area is known to have the greatest variety of tribal villages in northern Thailand. We will immerse ourselves in these new cultures, chatting to as many locals as possible, trying the rainbow of foods that is the Thai cuisine foods and taking in all the beautiful views of limestone ranges along the many trails! This walk really balances out our Global Discovery hiking portfolio; from the red dessert of the Andes to the lowland sticky jungle of Northern Thailand before we take on the epic snow capped Himalayas. Each one is a world apart.
After finishing our last few days of hiking through the jungle, we make our way to the Himalayas, to what many feel is the spiritual home of adventure. The beautiful, rugged country of Nepal is where we will put the technical, educational and learning principles developed throughout this program into practice. It’s time to focus on all you have learnt so far in your program and apply this to how you would run an expedition of your own. What better place to do so than the awe-inspiring landscape of Nepal?
We will spend a few days in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, which is set in a valley surrounded by the Himalayan mountains. There will be time to wander around the maze-like alleys in Durbar Square, shop for souvenirs at Asan’s bustling market area, and talk to some of the friendliest locals around. You are also free to take some rest days for the adventures ahead or to get any trekking equipment you may need from the endless outdoor stores.
From Kathmandu we embark on a 2-day rafting journey down the Lower Seti River, one of the most majestic rivers in Nepal. This unique journey has us rafting through rice fields, waterfalls, rapids, a jungle corridor rich in wildlife as well as small local villages. After we set up camp on a beautiful remote beach, we can unpack and jump in the warm waters of the Lower Seti for a relaxing evening swim!
Our rafting journey brings us to Pokhara, nestled on the banks of Phewa Lake at the foot of the mighty Annapurna mountains. Pokhara was once an important town on the trading route between Tibet and India. Today, it is one of the most laid back and popular places to visit in Nepal, and is home to several Tibetan communities and the World Peace Pagoda. While we’re here, we will gain first aid knowledge during a Wilderness First Aid Course. This course is designed for guides of the trekking industries and covers a wide variety of topics, ranging from frostbite and hypothermia to injuries and high altitude sickness and is also heaps of fun!
Pokhara is also our gateway to Annapurna National Park, and an incredible journey trekking the Annapurna Circuit through the rugged Himalayas. We will meet with the team who will become your trekking crew - porters, guides and cooks who will share your journey into the mountains, and explain all about the region. Over the next two weeks, we hike through glacial carved valleys, and overnight in tents or tea houses with local Sherpa and Tamang families. The trail takes us through forests, steep gorges, past glaciers, breathtaking lakes, and some of the highest mountains on earth.Just ask anyone who has done it; it probably changed their life.
Our days on the Annapurna Circuit trail are some of the most inspiring and challenging we will ever encounter, and we'll be absolutely captivated by the area from the very first day!
Tradition and Tibetan Buddhist culture is still preserved on the Annapurna Range, making it one of the best treks from a cultural point of view. On our journey, we will learn about life in the Nepali mountain communities, visit the sacred Muktinath temple (one of the world’s highest temples at an altitude of 3.800 meters), get to know locals in Gurung and Magar villages, and enjoy the beautiful hospitality of the Nepali people. These experiences will become achievements you will look back on with immense pride and satisfaction for the rest of your life!
The resting days in the remote villages of Kagbeni and Manang provide our feet with some well-deserved rest and give our bodies the chance to acclimatize, but also provide us with ample opportunities to explore the prayer-flag alleys, Buddhist gompas, monasteries and other local cultural heritage.
We then head to Royal Chitwan National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled at the foot of the Himalayas. Crocodiles, cheetahs, slug bears, wild elephants, monkeys and rhinos all inhabit this area, so we will have to keep our eyes open during our jungle walks and open jeep safaris to spot them. If we are lucky, we might even catch a glimpse of the elusive Bengal tiger! What we will surely see, however, is Asian elephants.
Since we are fortunate enough to work with a partner in Royal Chitwan National Park that aims to create better lives for elephants in Nepal, we get to learn about their journey into establishing an inspiring elephant welfare program that takes elephants out of the tourist industry. We will listen to the stories of our guide, participate in making elephant food, and simply enjoy sitting beside these gentle creatures while they graze, river bathe, play in the sand and walk through the bush in their massive chain-free corals. Finally, we will head to a local Tharu village, where we are welcomed inside a traditional mud house for a cooking lesson and dinner with the family. We will learn about the traditions and experience the lifestyle of the ethnic Taru people, before spending the night listening to the jungle sounds of birds and animals from above the ground in our very own jungle tree house.
We then return to Kathmandu, to celebrate and reflect upon our learning and growth throughout the program. You will depart Nepal a different person, touched by the people, places and experiences you’ve encountered, and with an intimate understanding of the complex issues facing our environments and indigenous cultures.
*Each week there will be some designated free time so that you can catch up on email, laundry, rest, and explore independently with others in the group.
**Pacific Discovery reserves the right to alter and/or change the order of the itinerary, the locations, the focus of the projects or the activities themselves due to dates, availability, and safety precautions.
✓ All in-program travel and transport, including flights
✓ All accommodation
✓ All meals
✓ All expeditions, activities, excursions, volunteer projects and entry fees as described in the itinerary
✓ Experienced Program Instructors and local guides
✓ Informal lectures from resident experts on conservation and eco-tourism
✓ Outdoor Leadership Qualification
✓ Advanced International Wilderness First Aid certification
✓ Experiential core curriculum that pushes students to reflect and ask questions of themselves
✓ Certificate of Program Completion
High Activity Level: Anyone with an intermediate to advanced fitness level and an enthusiasm for the outdoors and new experiences will have a great time on this gap semester! You will need to be fit enough to complete a multi-day trek (4-6 hours trekking per day carrying a daypack), and engage in physical work during the volunteer project.
High Camping Level: Be prepared to spend some time out in nature on the multi-day hikes. You'll love the experience of camping, staring at the camp fire, breathing in fresh air and stargazing the night away.
Medium Service Learning Level: You will be able to make a difference to the local community during your stay. Be prepared to get your hands dirty and do some hands-on learning about local issues.
Accommodation is diverse, comfortable and carefully chosen to fit our needs. Our accommodation will be a mixture of comfortable and clean hostels and simple trekking lodges; village homestays (in pairs/small groups); and some nights of camping (tents supplied). Laundry and Wi-Fi will be available approximately once per week, except while on expedition.
Food is undoubtedly a highlight when traveling around the world and throughout there will be the opportunity to eat local cuisine. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians are catered for. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included in the program cost. Any snacks are at an additional cost, which we recommend budgeting around $10 per day for.
To make things easy for you, we partner with a full service travel agency that can arrange flights, appropriate travel insurance and post program arrangements for our students.
They have access to a "Cancel For Any Reason" or CFAR travel insurance for US citizens in participating states. This optional travel insurance product allows travelers to cancel for any reason whatsoever up to two days prior to departure and still receive a significant refund. This allows you to keep planning for the future while avoiding the stress and the financial worry of canceling a program if you need to.
Our program locations and itineraries have been carefully selected and modified to minimize risk of exposure to anyone outside the group with most being located in rural areas. This allows for a more focused learning environment, as well as a safe haven from the stress of our modern world.
We've been working hard and watching closely to any CDC recommendations about group sizes and testing requirements to come up with options that will allow you to have a safe, healthy, and stress-free Gap Year experience. We do the hard work so you can come and enjoy the fresh air, adventures, and new friends!
We have been running successful international gap year programs in Spring, Summer and Fall 2021. The students shared their experiences in testimonials and wrote their stories down in blog posts - feel free to have a look.
Check out the information on our COVID-19 page to find out more about our Covid-19 policies, procedures and updates.