Ecuador is a South American treasure. The people are welcoming, the food is delicious and the views are out of this world. After exploring the colonial capital of Quito, we will spend the rest of the week in the northern township of Agato, connecting with a local community on a rewarding service learning project. We will be in homestays, immersing in the culture and supporting a needs-based grassroots initiative. The tasks change according to what the community needs when we visit; all we need to bring is enthusiasm and curiosity!
We will walk the rim of the Quilotoa Crater; a pristine lake with a chocolate shop on the ridgeline (yep, chocolate is a big deal in Ecuador). We will spend the rest of the week getting high on adrenaline-filled outdoor activities like zip lining, canyoning and from the adventure capital Baños. Our bodies will appreciate soaking in hot springs before the next leg of the trip.
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 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
For our final leg of the program we take a flight 600 miles off the Ecuadorian coast to arrive at the Galapagos Islands! Based on San Cristobal and Santa Cruz Islands, we will snorkel with sea lions and turtles at Kicker Rock and Loberia Beach, walk amongst gigantic slow moving land tortoises and climb a volcano to see red bellied frigate birds. Every day we will be getting out hiking, stretching out on beaches, learning from experts about this world-class UNESCO heritage site and boating to diverse locations. Our time spent on the Galapagos is simply phenomenal.
Join this summer program to experience the best of Ecuador with a close group of peers.
✓ Love pristine beaches and island ecosystems
✓ Are interested in grassroots community development projects
✓ Want to zipline, canyon, hike and horse ride
✓ Love to be amongst spectacular nature and wilderness areas
✓ Would like to receive a Certificate of Community Development and Conservation with 25 hours of service to boost your resume
The Galapagos program was hands-down the most incredible thing I've ever experienced. When trying to pick a program, I read many reviews. They all seemed too good to be true ("life changing" "time of my life" "made lifelong friends"). I was skeptical to say the least, but I was so wrong. I live in Hawaii and have travelled a bit, but nothing compared to what I saw, learned, and experienced on this program. From day one, everyone was hanging out in each other's rooms and getting along wonderfully. You'll be amazed at how close you become with your group in such little time. Your group members will be incredible, but so will the people you get the privilege of helping. It was so humbling and rewarding.”"
- Tobi Watanabe
Get the full Summer Program run-down in our catalogue. This catalogue provides information about Pacific Discovery's values and program design, as well as program descriptions, testimonials and a comparison chart!
**This is a guide to what you can expect to do on Program. The order in which the activities occur might vary**
Welcome to Quito! We will spend the first days of the program getting acquainted with the group whilst strolling the European-feeling cobblestone streets of the Ecuadorian capital. The Old Town is one of Ecuador's first UNESCO protected sites (along with the Galapagos). It was built in the 16th century on the ruins of an Incan city. We will get an eagle eye view of the beautiful city from the Teleferico, a cable car system set above Quito.
From here, 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 get their livelihood from farming and the production of various handicrafts.
In Agato, we will work alongside local families on a community-initiated development project while planning fun activities (art/craft/sport etc.) with the children in the afternoon and immersing ourselves in their culture during homestays. We will also participate in daily community life such as food preparation and harvesting quinoa and corn. In all of this, we 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, to check out the largest market in South America! This world-famous market bustles with hundreds of stall holders selling textiles, jewelry, musical instruments, art and leather goods. After trawling the market and practicing our bartering skills, we continue upwards to Quilotoa. This is 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 pristine volcanic crater.
Baños is 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. We will get amongst the action by ziplining, canyoning and horse riding over the course of four days.
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 – and we’ll get to try the process ourselves, from cacao bean through to chocolate.
Before the week is over we take a flight to San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos.
We bus to Guayaquil and spend a night before taking a flight to San Cristobal Island - the first island Darwin visited in the Galapagos Archipelago. The Galapagos is made up of at least 14 islands, and 97% of the area is considered so special that the public has been banned from visiting! Over the 10 days, we visit sites of ecological significance and incredible biodiversity on two distinct islands. We will swim, kayak and have close encounters with amazing wildlife. It’s beautiful to walk around San Cristobal - there are sea lions out your front door and delicious local food to be found at the local markets.
A highlight of any visit to the Galapagos is the incredible snorkeling opportunities available. From Kicker Rock, you’ll spot sea lions, 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 will learn about farming and restoration work whilst here, bringing color to our understanding of the islands with relevant knowledge.
We will spend our final days on the remote and beautiful Isabela Island, exploring our surroundings. This week sees us kayaking in beautiful secluded coves, watching the wildlife, and snorkeling again to make sure you don't miss out on any turtle-spotting opportunities!
In the last days on Santa Cruz, we have our final swim with the sea lions and reflect on the diverse experience we’ve shared in Ecuador. In the last days on Santa Cruz, we have our final swim in the best swimming spot in all of the Galapagos, the Grietas. Three crystal clear pools in an idyllic setting make this a highlight of the program!
The program instructors will hold an end-of-trip wrap-up, and we will share the lessons we’ve learned and the tools and techniques we may take forward with us in life. We are sure that you will reflect on how amazing it was to have a chance to take a break from everything. We fly home with a sandal tan, new friends and lots of wonderful memories.
*Each week there will be some designated free time so that you can catch up on email, laundry, rest, and explore.
**Pacific Discovery reserves the right to alter and/or change the order of the itinerary, the focus of the projects or the activities themselves due to dates, availability, and safety precautions.
✓ All in-program travel and transport, excluding 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
✓ Experiential core curriculum that pushes students to reflect and ask questions of themselves
Medium Activity Level: Anyone with an average fitness level and an enthusiasm for the outdoors and new experiences will have a great time on this summer program! You will need to be prepared for some physical work during the volunteer projects on the program, like trail building or the removal of invasive plants.
Low Camping Level: You will spend your nights on this Summer Program in comfortable lodges and guesthouses.
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.
Our accommodation will vary from welcoming lodges and camping with shared facilities, to hotels and guesthouses with private bathrooms. Laundry and Wi-Fi will be available some times, except while at our volunteering projects, trekking 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. 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.
Meals are a mixture of eating out at restaurants and food preparation shared by students. An average day on program would consist of the following:
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!
Check out the information on our COVID-19 page to find out more about our Covid-19 policies, procedures and updates.