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Ecuador

Community + Conservation + Adventure

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Discover Ecuador

A geographical sensation.

Prepare for the ultimate South American experience, as we take you on an epic journey through the Andes, Jungle, Galapagos and Amazon Rainforest. This adventurous team program will steer you 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 helping with development initiatives co-ordinated by the Yanapuma Foundation.

Yanapuma is a charitable foundation who aims to improve the quality of life for a number of communities across Ecuador through sustainable projects and volunteer tourism which provide the funds and labour required to bring about change.

Venture out to Ecuador on a journey across the Andes, Amazon and Galapagos Islands, getting stuck into a mix of community development, conservation and adventure activities along the way.


Program Itinerary

This program is all about getting stuck into development projects within traditional communities desperate to combine the ancient with the modern world. So, roll up your sleeves, practice your Spanish and expect a full cultural immersion as you travel across this stunning and diverse country.

The following is a sample itinerary.

Overview

Andes

High up in the Andes

Your adventure starts in Quito, where you will spend a couple of days acclimatising to the altitude in this stunning historic capital city before hitting the road for your first phase. 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.

The Andes is a playground for the adventurous, providing endless trekking opportunities to spectacular waterfalls and crater lakes before haggling in Otavalo’s famous artisan market selling traditional crafts and clothes.

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.

Wks 1- 3

Agato Community + Spanish

Culture and Refurbishment

Your destination is Agato, a rural Andean community, 30 minutes from Otavalo. Agato struggle to maintain a sustainable living through farming and handicrafts and as a result they welcome volunteers with open arms to help turn this around.

You'll gain a real insight into their ancient culture and the community will value your help in providing the additional manpower needed to refurbish their village infrastructure and to help with their harvest and crop preparation.

Spanish Lessons Included

English is not widely spoken across Ecuador so we have built in time for you to have Spanish lessons in your first few weeks to help you get by. Expect 2 hours a day.

Accommodation

You’ll live in a traditional house with one of our host families. 2 volunteers per family.

Food

3 meals a day will be provided.

Expect: locally produced food, lots of rice, served in each host house.

Wk 4

Ruta de los Volcanes Adventure Expedition

From Mountain Biking to Rafting

Now its time for some adrenaline adventures along the famous Ruta de los Volcanes (Volcanic Route).

You’ll start at the Quilotoa Crater Lake, where you will stroll around the enormous lagoon nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano, before hitting the waters in a kayak. Then it's off to the adventure capital of Ecuador; Baños, to admire the Tungurahua volcano and white-water raft down the Pastaza river, finishing off in Riobamba where you’ll be taken to the snow line of the mighty Chimborazo Volcano, before mountain biking back down.

Accommodation

Different hostels along the way. Expect dorm style rooms.

Food

Only breakfast provided.
Lunch and dinner will be extra at one of the restaurants along the way.

Overview

Lowland Jungle

Down into the Steamy Tropics

Next, it’s time to travel down into the lush and green tropics, home to 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 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.

Accommodation

Expect volunteer cabins made from wood with leaf roofs.

Food

3 meals a day cooked by members of the community.

Expect: a lot of rice and plantain.

Wks 5 & 6

Tsachila Tribe Cultural Heritage

Heritage and Pride

This phase is all about reinforcing the Tsachila’s pride in their heritage and hopefully slow down the young migration, who are drawn to modern, urban areas by the promise of paid work, taking with them the future of the community.

By showing 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.

Ongoing projects involve:
Helping to plant and manage the Tsachila’s cacao plantation. Refurbishing and preserving their traditional buildings and extending their ‘ethno cultural centre’. Creating an ‘edible forest’ of fruit trees and vegetables to help the Tsachila diversify their diet.

Overview

Galapagos

600 Miles off the Coast

For many this is a bucket list moment...and 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.

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.

Wks 7- 9

San Cristobal Environment + Agriculture

Heading to 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 eco-farm which 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.

Ongoing projects for you to contribute to:

Helping develop 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.

Overview

Amazon

The Mighty Amazon

Finally, you’ll get the chance to visit the mighty Amazon Rainforest, one of the most spectacular places on Earth.

The Amazon will be everything you had imagined - hot, steamy and tall, with its towering canopies, noisy bird chatterings and camouflaged wildlife. It will be a great finale to your journey across Ecuador.

Accommodation

Gaia Amazon Center in shared dorms with ensuite bathrooms.

Food

3 meals a day provided.

Wk 10

Gaia Amazon Center Exploration

Relax and Explore

Here, the Gaia Amazon Center will provide a program of activities for you to learn about the Amazon and its cultures.

This will be a great finale to your time in Ecuador, as it’ll give you the chance to kick back and relax, whilst enjoying the Amazon experience. Activities here include a canoe river tour, hiking in the primary rainforest, fishing, and a trip to a native family home.

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:

2019: 4 Jan, 4 Apr, 6 Sep

2020: 7 Jan, 3 Apr, 4 Sep

Costs

10 weeks
4 weeks Andes + 2 weeks Jungle + 3 weeks Galapagos + Adventure week
2019: £39772020: £3977

6 Weeks
3 weeks Andes + 2 weeks Jungle + Adventure week
2019: £26412020: £2641

Summer July programs starts on:

2019: 3 Jul

2020: 2 Jul

Costs

6 Weeks
3 weeks Andes + 2 weeks Galapagos + 1 week Amazon
2019: £29012020: £2901

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.

Adrenline Sports

White water rafting, mountain biking and kayaking will be all part of the adventure week.

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.

Backpacker favourites:

  • The TeleferiQo cable car that flies you up Rucu Pichincha to an observation point overlooking Quito.
  • Trek up to find the Lago Cuicocha (Otavalo) in the crater of an ancient volcanic crater.
  • Dip in the thermal springs in Baños.
  • Must do Galapagos boat tour around the islands.
  • Snorkelling in the sea around the Galapagos.

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 amoungst 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.

Watch our videos

Ecuador

July 2017. Credit Paige Busacker

Ecuador

January 2018. Credit to Charlie Vickers

Ecuador

September 2017. Credit to Marnie Adelkopf

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