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Ecuador & Peru

Volunteering + Adventure + Machu Picchu

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Gap Year in Ecuador and Peru

A South American Adventure

This team adventure starts in Ecuador, where you will volunteer and travel through the Andes, Jungle and Galapagos, before flying over to Peru to explore the Amazon, Cusco and the glorious Machu Picchu.

This diverse and exciting gap year program provides you with the opportunity to be so much more than a regular backpacker as you will get right off the beaten track to live amongst indigenous communities, experiencing and helping preserve their ancient cultures.

By the end of 10 weeks you will have experienced contrasting environments, communities and projects and learnt Spanish along the way so you can communicate with the families you will meet.

Venture on an exciting journey across Ecuador and Peru for an awesome South America adventure.


Program Itinerary

This program gives you access to the highlights of Ecuador and Peru. Expect a combination of cultural immersion and adventure as you travel across the Andes, Amazon and Galapagos.

The following is a sample itinerary.

Week 1 - 5

Ecuador

A Country of Contrast

Ecuador has every environment you can think of on its landscape menu. From the heady heights of the Andes, to the sweaty jungle, to breezy beaches and of course the glorious Galapagos, so pack for hot, cold and everything in between.

Architecturally think pretty, colourful colonial cities contrasting with indigenous houses tucked away in the jungle. Culturally abundent and our aim is to get you off the beaten track to experience it all.

Week 1

Andes Explore

City in the Andes

Your adventure will start in Quito, a stunning city found high up in the Andes. Here you will spend a week acclimatising to the altitude whilst learning Spanish and exploring the city and surrounding mountains.

Accommodation

In Quito, you’ll be staying at the Hostal La Guayunga, right in the heart of Quito's historic centre. Expect shared bedrooms and bathrooms with hot water.

Food

3 meals a day will be provided: breakfast will be in the hostel, lunch and supper will be out in a restaurant close by.

Weeks 2 - 3

Lowland Jungle Tsachila tribe

Down in the Steamy Tropics

You will leave the heady heights of the Andes travelling down through ever changing countryside to find the steamy lowland forests which home the country’s last remaining indigenous Tsachila tribe. 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 to live among Shaman healers, who still practice ancient rituals. Here you will help refurbishing their traditional buildings and create an ‘edible forest’ of fruit trees and vegetables to help diversify their diet. By showing the Tsachila’s youth that there is a bright future for the community and income to be made from volunteer tourism, you will help prevent this precious culture from disappearing by slowing down the migration of young to the big city.

Accommodation

This phase is the most basic: expect volunteer cabins built by the Tsachila. The cabins are made from wood with leaf roofs, with 4 -12 beds - sheets, blankets and mosquito nets provided. There are three ecological toilets on site and a hosepipe for showering, but most volunteers choose to wash in the river with biodegradable products.

Food

3 meals a day cooked by members of the community. Expect: a lot of rice and plantain.

Weeks 4 - 5

Galapagos San Cristobal

Unique Gem

For many, a bucket list moment...and if you’re an animal lover, the Galapagos will not disappoint. Due to being 600 miles off the coast, the islands’ flora and fauna is completely unique providing one-of-a-kind encounters. Exceptional.

San Cristobal
You will fly into San Cristobal, the Galapagos’ easternmost island, to live and work at a conservation project and eco-farm called Hacienda Tranquila. The Hacienda is a flagship farm who provides organic gardens for the local community, manages the island's land conservation and is creating an indigenous forest with the aim to reintroduce the giant tortoise back onto the island.

Here you will help with:
Developing eco-friendly, high yielding farming methods for the farmers in the area.
Assisting with disabled children’s horse riding sessions.
Removing invasive plants and replanting with species that the tortoises can eat.
Maintaining irrigation systems to bring clean, drinkable water from San Cristobal’s natural sources.

Accommodation

Hacienda Tranquila - simple, purpose-built volunteer accommodation.

Food

No food included in this phase. Here you will need to buy and prepare your own meals as a team in the Hacienda, budget $15 per day.

Weeks 6 -10

Peru

So Close, So Different

The second part of the adventure will take you into Peru to explore the heady heights of their Andes where the mysterious Machu Picchu lies in the sacred valley, to the virgin Amazon rainforest, to the glimmering Lake Titicaca. Environmentally and culturally a complete contrast to Ecuador so the two countries work well together.

For us Peru is much more than just the sights, it’s about the remote communities whose crops are still planted by hand, where the Campesinos still wear tire truck sandals, where the women work in petticoats and bowler hats, and llamas are as tame as pets.

We have organized the program so you will have the opportunity to combine the sights with meeting these communities, who are trying to preserve their traditional way of life but are keen for development in its gentlest form. Several forward-thinking communities have agreed to let Leapers step into their world to help with their crops, building refurbishment and teaching the young English and computer skills. It is an amazing and unique opportunity for positive cultural exchange.

Week 6

Cusco + Lake Titicaca Explore

From Colonial to Ancient

You will start this phase exploring the stunning colonial city of Cusco and from here spring board out to see the amazing sites close by, such as the incredible pre-Inca site at Sacsayhuaman where thousands of huge stones, some weighing hundreds of tons, have been intricately and painstakingly joined together to form a long series of terraces.

You will also head out to Lake Titicaca, via Puno high up in the Andean Mountains. It is one of South America's largest lakes and it is believed to be the birthplace of the Inca’s. Here you will explore crumbling cathedrals, desolate altiplano and checkerboard fields backed by rolling hills and high Andean peaks. All stunning.



Accommodation

Cozy Hostel in Puno and Hostel Felix in Cusco.

Food

Breakfast at the hostel - lunch and dinner in different restaurants.

Week 7

Sacred Valley Tierra de los Yachaqs

Deep in the Sacred Valley

The “Tierra de los Yachaqs” project involves a group of small indigenous communities tucked away in the Sacred Valley. They live at about 3,500 to 4,500m above sea level, in the spectacular Andean landscapes and live largely by traditional agriculture and crafts production.

They are keen to welcome you into their community to help with their traditional agricultural processes,teaching conversational English and helping with their reforestation and environmental remediation projects. This will be a very special experience.

Accommodation

You will stay with local host families, 2 to 4 volunteers per family.

Food

3 meals a day cooked by your host family.

Week 8 + 9

Amazon Reserva Tierra Linda

Deep in the Amazon

The next phase will take you to the “Reserva Tierra Linda”, a conservation center located at the entrance to the El Manu National Park, one of the most important areas in the Amazon basin because it possesses all the different Amazonian eco-systems found across South America.

Here you will contribute to their ongoing projects which include:
Trail maintenance
Nursery work, reforestation and care of newly planted saplings.
Working in the vegetable gardens to produce the food for the reserve.
Building rubbish bins and rustic furniture.
Teaching English locally.
Environmental education workshops in local community schools.
Creating informal videos to record flora and fauna and promote the reserve.

Accommodation

You will live in a volunteer house in dormitory style accommodation, in the conservation centre.

Food

All meals will be provided by reserve staff.

Week 10

Machu Picchu Trekking

Bucket List Moment

Built in the 15th century, Machu Picchu is the big draw of the Andes mountains, high up above the Urubamba River valley. It’s renowned for its dry-stone buildings built in line with astronomical alignments and stunning, I repeat stunning, panoramic views. Its exact former use still remains a mystery, which adds to the charm.

There are several ways to visit Machu Picchu but we recommend (and include) a 4 day trek along the Salkantay Trail. It is the less touristy option and will have you winding your way through pretty valleys, before ascending to the site of Machu Picchu in time for sunrise. You will have the day there to explore the site in all its glory before trekking back to Aguas Caliente for the night. Got to be done.

After spending the night in Aguas Calientes you will return to Cusco for a final day before heading beyond or home.

Accommodation

Camping along the trail.

Food

3 meals provided.

Program Details & Costs

We have four departures to Ecuador throughout the year: January, April, July and September for either 6 or 10 weeks. The most popular is the all singing and dancing 10 week option where you can “do it all” but of course you can go for less time to accommodate your timings and budget. Just get in touch to start exploring your options.

Jan, Apr & Sept programs start on:

2020: 7 Jan, 3 Apr, 4 Sep

Costs

10 weeks (without trek)
5 weeks Ecuador + 5 weeks Peru
2019: £43072020: £4307

10 weeks (including trek)
5 weeks Ecuador + 5 weeks Peru
2019: £48672020: £4867

Dates Don't Suit?

Don't worry - we can work around this, just get in touch and we'll chat through options more suited to you.

Social Life

Guaranteed. You will be part of a tight team of like minded volunteers, who will be on your journey from start to finish.

Contrast

You will travel to the Andes, the Amazon, the Galapagos and beyond - contributing and exploring as you go.

Bucket List

Machu Picchu and the Galapagos included.

Cultural Exchange

Through living and working beside indigenous communities you will experience real life and make extraordinary friendships.

Monday to Friday

Each phase will vary in terms of project hours, depending on the area; in some cases, (such as the Galapagos), you can expect long days of hard graft, whereas in others (such as the jungle), you’ll be able to enjoy a siesta.

But as a rule of thumb you’ll be kept busy for about 6-8 hours per day, Monday to Friday. Please note: the volunteer work is very heavily manual labour based – so be prepared.

Weekends

The weekends are yours to do with as you please. You’re welcome to stay and chill with the community, but volunteers usually prefer a change of scene. Most teams stick together at the weekends and your project leader will offer advice on where and what to do.

Ecuador is one of the smallest countries in South America, roughly equal in size to Colorado or the UK, but home to a huge diversity of climates, flora and fauna and indigenous cultures. Snow-capped volcanoes rub shoulders with the Amazon rainforest and Pacific beaches, and are a short hop from the unforgettable Galapagos Archipelago. Simply stunning but amongst all of this are over 17 different cultures who have had to adapt to these ecological and at times harsh environments, living alongside a myriad of unique bird, animal and plant species. However life is never easy and some of these communities are struggling to cope with the fast changing pace of life and this is where we come in ....

Yanapuma Foundation

We have partnered up with a Local NGO called the Yanapuma Foundation who collaborates with local grass-roots projects and communities to help preserve their history, culture and very existence. Our Leap volunteers provide the very resource needed to get projects completed, but more importantly it is through the side by side interaction, cultural exchange in its simplest form that will help reinforce a pride back into their culture and therefore a determination not to give up.

For example the number of Tsachila communities, in the lowland jungle, 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 and loss of the young who are pulled to the bright lights of the cities. By working side by side the community on simple projects, the young will see an interest in their history and learn that life in the city is not as simple as they might think.

It is with these principles in mind you will travel across the country to combine adventure with sustainable development and conservation on the Galapagos Islands.

Leaper's Highlights

Have a read of what our Leapers have been up to...

Thank you Ecuador... you'll be missed Nicole Barry

As we dreaded, our last week has just about gone by. After a six-hour bus ride from Quito, we got to our absolutely stunning and secluded home in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, Gaia Lodge.

The staff here have been great by providing us with so many opportunities to submerge ourselves into the rainforest. Only a few minutes after arriving, we were already off on our first adventure of floating down the Napo River on a bird/monkey watching tour. On Friday, we were woken up bright and early for a two-hour hike through the rainforest. Unfortunately, a massive rainstorm decided to take place at the same exact time, so our hike turned more into a mud slide. Despite being absolutely drenched from head to toe, it was still an incredible experience– when else will we get to say we hiked through the Amazon Rainforest in the middle of a thunderstorm?!

Aside from the hike, we’ve spent the past few days doing lots of different activities. To list a few: meeting an indigenous family, crocodile watching, visiting a butterfly farm and animal rehabilitation centre, chocolate making, and a traditional Shaman presentation.

Spending ten weeks traveling through an amazing country has left us with memories that we will remember for the rest of our lives. It’s hard to choose one moment that was better than another, but I think if I had to pick, it would be a toss-up between snorkelling at Kicker Rock and getting to live with a host family in Agato.

Chilling in Chilcapamba Ginny Burton

After a rather long (and tiring) journey from Quito we got to Chilcapamba where we were met by Alfonso, who is the head of the Morales family (the family looking after us whilst we volunteered).

During the week we worked for a few hours in the morning (work varied from digging trenches, to planting trees and carrying building equipment for a well up a hill) before heading home for food. After lunch, we had some time off to sort washing, chill, or practice Spanish before our much-needed lessons in the afternoon, as many of us had never spoken Spanish before arriving in Ecuador!

After Spanish, we sometimes headed into nearby Cotocatchi to organise washing, pick up some snacks or to chill in one of the restaurants. Dinner was much the same as lunch and was traditional Ecuadorian fare which comprised of soup, rice, vegetables, beans and meat. After dinner, many of us would play cards, I’m surprised no wars started over Uno.

We had our weekends off and we were lucky enough to visit some incredible places! Our first weekend was spent in the nearby town of Otovalo, where we browsed the local market. It was the perfect opportunity to pick up gifts for friends and family as well as select a few souvenirs for ourselves. We decided that, as it was Saturday night we should check out some Ecuadorian nightlife, which was extremely entertaining with many of us learning how to salsa!

The Sunday was far more laid back with a trip to Laguna de Cuicocha. Some of us went for a hike around the crater whilst those of us who were still rather tired had a more sedate visit and took a boat trip around the lake before having a chat over some chips and a climb to a viewing place.

Our second weekend was spent in an incredible town called Banos but that trip needs a blog post of its own, which I promise to put up soon!

Our time in the Andes ended with an evening of live music and us cooking for the Morales family, which was an interesting experience and good practice for the Galapagos! We ended up making hamburgers with fried potatoes and salad which appeared to have all gone down well!
Once dinner was all finished the whole community thanked us by playing some traditional Ecuadorian music which we all had to dance to! We were also given bracelets which Alfonso’s daughter had made for us as a memento of our time there.

Gringos gone wild Hope Mayhew

After arriving in Quito and attempting to acclimatise to the altitude for a couple of days the two groups went their separate ways off and into Ecuadorean wilderness. Group B have headed off and up to the Andes to the chilcabamba community in search of even less oxygen.

Having been told methods to aid the adjustment to high altitude, one being to not do strenuous exercise we were ready to rumble. With that in mind we spent our first morning being sent off with spades and wellies galore to rid the canal of all its sand.

Having succeeded at the canal we made our way back down the path towards the exposed water pipes. Our next task would be to dig up turf and carry it up the hill, repeatedly, until the water pipes were covered. Some of us were able to work the hoe better than others. For most of us this is where the strenuous exercise took its toll, but again we managed to complete the work, and just in time for lunch. All meals have been thoroughly appreciated so far, so a huge thanks to Francisca and Olympia for keeping the groups belly satisfied.

In free time, we have taken to the basketball court for an aggressive version of the game with no rules. Claudine putting up an almighty fight in defence. Despite proclaiming she doesn’t care about the game.

Spanish lessons have been a bundle of fun, with all but two of us attending the complete beginners class. We’ve left our first couple of Spanish lessons leaving the poor teacher a little bewildered. To quote Harry our attempts have been “A Beautiful Failure”.

Harry has been able to most accurately describe the scenic Andes so far. It’s just so “causally dramatic”.

This weekend we’re hoping to head to the colourful market, so family make your present requests now. On Sunday, we may go for a hike around the Cuicocha Lake.

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