Named for the equator which the country straddles and about 1.5 times the size of Washington State, Ecuador has a population of 15 million and is one of the United Nations Environment Program mega-diverse countries in the world.
It is a safe and welcoming country to travel in – Ecuadorians have an easy-going manner, speak Spanish comparatively slowly (so great for beginner and learner Spanish speakers!), and are truly appreciative of visitors who take an interest in their language, culture and country.
Our one-month summer program in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands combines a week of service-learning while home-staying with a wonderful community in the Andes, a week of interactive Spanish language lessons, and two weeks of exciting adventure travel.
You will gain insight into the lives of indigenous Andean and Amazon communities. Immerse yourself in Spanish and improve your conversational ability. Hike, canyon and zip-line in the Andes, and raft in the Amazon Basin. Follow in Darwin’s footsteps with a nature focused week island-hopping through the Galapagos where you’ll have incredible wildlife encounters.
You’ll return from this summer program inspired by all you’ve experienced and learned…and most likely planning your return!
This summer abroad program is suitable for high school graduates, gap year students, and university students and graduates, ideally 18 – 24 years. Optional transferable academic credit is available on this program.
This program can be combined with Fall or Spring semester program options in other regions of the world (Nepal & Tibet, Southeast Asia, Central America, New Zealand & Australia) for an in-depth and enriching global gap year.
Arriving at Quito airport in Ecuador, you will be met by your Pacific Discovery Program Instructors and transferred to our accommodation in the historic center for a night.
From Quito, we travel into the northern highlands to a small Andean village, Agato. The people of Agato are Kichwa and proudly maintain a very traditional life, rich in a culture and lifestyle that highly values connection with the earth. The community gets their livelihood from farming and the production of various handicrafts. Your homestay there is an authentic and immersive experience where you have the privilege of learning from a tight-knit community who generously open their homes to our groups.
While there, we commence with an in-depth orientation where we focus on getting to know each other and creating a positive and reflective group culture to support us in realizing our program goals.
In Agato, we will work alongside our host families on a community-initiated development project while planning fun activities (art/craft/sport etc.) with the children in the afternoon. You will also participate in daily community life such as food preparation and harvesting quinoa and corn. In all of this, you will build strong relationships with the families of Agato while experiencing a completely different way of life.
Spectacular crater lakes, volcanoes, glacial peaks and lush valleys studded with rural villages are a feature of Ecuador’s central highlands. Leaving Agato, we stop at Otavalo, which is world-famous for its craft market with hundreds of stalls selling textiles, jewelry, musical instruments, art and leather goods. After trawling the market, we continue upwards to Quilotoa, a tiny community of artisans in an area famous for its breathtaking crater lake. We stay in a guesthouse run by a local artist couple and enjoy hiking in and around the crater.
From there, we head to Baños – a charming town nestled on the flanks of the impressive Tungurahua mountain. Our time in Baños is busy, as there is much to experience between its cloud forest, hot springs, waterfalls and rivers. In the mornings we have Spanish language instruction at the excellent Marco Polo Language School. The level will be appropriate to your proficiency (beginner to advanced Spanish speakers are catered for at their own level).
When not immersing ourselves in Spanish and enjoying time with our host families, we will try some of the adventure activities on offer - canyoning, rock climbing, hiking and biking. We homestay with local families screened and approved by the language school, who are experienced in hosting international students. Meals are eaten with the homestay family. Your evenings will be dedicated to spending time with your host families where you can put your new language skills to use.
The focus of our time in the Amazon Basin is to learn about the rainforest and the lives of the indigenous communities who live in this unique environment. Beginning in Tena, we take a safe, though adventurous rafting expedition down the Jatunyacu River.
The river takes us to Misuahilli, a small town on the edge of the jungle. We get to stay at the Sinchi Warmi Center, an inspiring indigenous women’s ecotourism initiative. Sustainability is at the heart of this inspiring center; while our patronage helps sustain the communities’ livelihood, we learn more sustainable means of production and consumption. The women will teach us many things about their way of life, including how artisanal chocolate is produced – we’ll see the process from cacao bean through to unbelievably delicious bars of organic fair-trade chocolate.
After a couple days to enjoy the historic capital, Quito, we head to the first island in the Galapagos Archipelago visited by Darwin, San Cristobal. Over the next eight days, we visit sites of ecological significance and incredible biodiversity on four different islands. You’ll swim, kayak and have close encounters with amazing wildlife.
One of the highlights of any visit to the Galapagos is the incredible snorkeling opportunities available. From Kicker Rock and Los Tuneles, you’ll spot sea lions, harmless reef sharks, rays, turtles and other diverse marine life. We also swim and snorkel at La Loberia beach, a stretch of coastline home to sea lions, yellow warblers, frigates, various species of finches and large Galapagos marine iguanas.
We visit Floreana Island where you learn about the fascinating cultural history of the island. Then to Isabela, the largest island in the archipelago and home to penguins, tortoises, flightless cormorants pelicans and Sally Lightfoot crabs, as well as several unique bird species. It is the only island with the equator dissecting it, and the only place in the world where a penguin can be in its natural habitat in the Northern Hemisphere. We hike to the summit of Sierra Negra, the oldest volcano in the Galapagos. Its southern and eastern sides are fertile and covered with lush tropical vegetation. The higher reaches are more barren with scrubby bushes and grasses. The northern side of the volcano is almost entirely devoid of vegetation due to lava flows.
We will wrap up the program on our fourth island with time for celebration, more snorkeling and reflection on our learning and growth throughout the program. The group will fly together to Guayaquil City on the Ecuador mainland to connect with international departures.
Note: Each week there will be some designated free time in a town or city so that you can catch up on email and laundry, relax and explore independently with others in the group.
Open to high school graduates, university students and graduates, ideally 18 – 24 years. This program is suitable for anyone of moderate fitness with an enthusiasm for conservation, humanitarian work, new experiences and different cultures. It is an excellent option for students and graduates electing a gap semester or gap year experience and wanting to be exposed to and immersed in cultures different to their own.
You need to be open-minded, committed to, and prepared for some physical work during the volunteer components of the program. You do not need to be proficient in Spanish. This program is suitable for both beginner and experienced Spanish speakers. No prior travel, trekking or experience with activities is required.
The program is a shared group experience. We expect you to join the program with an open mind and a willingness to work together with your group mates to make the program an amazing experience for the whole group. Additionally, the program will be as much about the inner journey of personal growth and learning about yourself as it is about what you will experience in the outer physical journey. We expect you to be open to learning and challenging your ideas and assumptions.
Our accommodation will vary from welcoming homestays, lodges and camping with shared facilities, to hotels and guesthouses with private bathrooms. Laundry and WiFi will be available frequently, except while at our service learning projects, hiking trips and community stays. Accommodation is diverse, comfortable and carefully chosen to fit our needs.
Meals are fresh, tasty, healthy and varied. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians are catered for. 100% of meals are included in the program cost. We recommend you budget the sum of $7-10 per day for snacks and drinks not included in the program cost (approximately $300 for the program).
Visa on arrival*; All in-country travel and transport (except flights); All accommodation; All meals; All activities, excursions, entry fees and adventure travel as described in the itinerary; One week of volunteering and community service; Informal lectures from resident experts on conservation, history, development and eco-tourism; Experienced Pacific Discovery Program Instructors and local guides; Online image library for your program.
*Note: A free 90-day visa for Ecuador is issued on arrival.