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Ecuador

Adventure and community-led sustainable development

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Discover Ecuador

Conservation, culture & adventure

This program is open and first team heads out in January 2021.

Prepare for the ultimate South American experience, as we take you on an epic journey through the Andes, cloud forest and the Galapagos.

Starting in the Andean city of Quito, a world cultural heritage site and the 2nd highest capital city in the world. Here you will have time to explore and acclimatize before you descend through the Andes to Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve where you will help with their conservation and scientific projects before flying over to the celebrated Galapagos to meet Geovanni and his team to develop the pioneering eco-farm that is leading the way for sustainable living.

But of course, adventure is interwoven throughout as you white-water raft down the Pastaza River, cycle through the Cotopaxi National Park and haggle in the markets...

Step off the tourist trail and discover the real Ecuador. Let us help you make your mark and create change in Ecuador's most remote areas.


An epic journey of contrast, contribution and challenge as you explore 3 contrasting environments and cultures.


Program Itinerary

This program is all about getting stuck into conservation and sustainable projects within traditional communities desperate to combine the ancient with the modern world. You will play a vital part in conserving the natural landscape 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.

Days 1 - 2

Quito Settle in and explore

Settle in and explore

You adventure starts in the stunning city of Quito, which is a Unesco World Heritage site. Here you will meet your team and Emma – our gorgeous program coordinator, and her in-country Ecuadorian guide, who will talk you through the next few weeks, whilst allowing you to rest, acclimatize and start exploring.

Accommodation

You’ll be staying in a hip traveler’s hostel right in the heart of Quito's historic center.
Expect good WIFI, shared, single sex dorm rooms and bathrooms.

Food

Three meals a day included. You’ll have breakfast at the hostel and then lunch and supper will be out in a pre-arranged restaurant.

Days 3 - 8

Santa Lucia Santa Lucia Cloud forest Reserve

Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve

The first phase of the program is to contribute and explore the Santa Lucia Cloud forest Reserve which is a true community-owned conservation and eco-tourism organization, located within the stunning Chocó Andino de Pichincha Biosphere Reserve, one of the world’s biodiversity 'hotspots.'


The reserve is home to over 1500 tropical plants, including orchids, 400 species of birds, as well as pumas, ocelots and the endangered spectacled bear so there is plenty to discover and explore. It takes about 2 hours to reach the edge of the reserve from Quito and once there you will start the 2-hour trek in - weaving your way up through primary cloud forest to find the lodge at a height of 1920m.

Eco-tourism in a location such as Santa Lucía is very labour-intensive so help from volunteers is really vital. It is sometimes possible for leap teams to focus on a specific project but usually we are needed to help with the following ongoing projects:

  • Collecting orchids and maintaining the orchid garden
  • Helping in the organic kitchen garden
  • Maintaining the lodge buildings, trails and signage around the reserve
  • For those who enjoy art and creativity, helping design elaborate souvenirs
  • Bird monitoring – part of a larger scientific research project at Santa Lucia – this involves placing and retrieving camera traps in the forest
  • Working in the sugar cane plantation and sugar production, a sustainable cycle for the lodge

At Santa Lucia there is limited electricity (provided by solar panels) and for the moment they do not have WIFI. They are looking into it but no concrete plans as yet. There is good mobile phone reception so you can use your phone if you arrive with roaming or get a local SIM card from an Ecuadorian mobile phone provider.

Accommodation

In the lodge, in shared dorms and bathrooms.

Food

Breakfast, lunch and dinner included at the lodge – expect fresh, local food.

Days 9 - 12

Adrenaline Road Trip Bike tour, Swing, Rafting

High up in the Andes

Leaving the cloud forest behind, you'll head back to Quito before starting your next phase of adventure in the Andes, which includes:

Cotopaxi National Park
Here you'll tackle a 30 kms exhilerating biking tour through the Cotopaxi National Park - traveling along the Avenue of the Volcanoes, visiting the Limpiopungo Valley to see the wild horses, indigenous birds and plants and the beautiful Limpiopungo Lake.

Hike & Swing at the End of the World
Next up is a trip to the pretty mountain spa town of Baños, where you'll hike to the stunning waterfalls of Manto de la Novia and the Pailon del Diablo, before visiting the famous "Swing at the End of the World" where you can swing from a local treehouse out over the valley below with the smoking Tungurahua Volcano as a backdrop. Breathtaking

White Water Rafting
Along the Pastaza River to experience the thrills of big water and incredible views along the way.

Accommodation

You will be staying at different hostels along the journey.

Food

All meals provided apart from dinner in the Cotopaxi National Park and Banos (ie Day 10 and Day 11 dinners).

Day 13 - 26

Galapagos Conservation

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. We give you the chance to go way beyond the tourist trail and explore where few people get the opportunity to discover.

You will fly you into San Cristobal, the Galapagos’ easternmost island, to live and work at a conservation project and eco-farm called Hacienda Tranquila, led by the dynamic Geovanni and his team.

The Hacienda works as a flagship eco-farm to provide the local community with organic gardens and sets an example for other farmers. They also contribute to reversing the effects of environmental damage caused by increased tourism, restoring the land to its natural state, and creating organic gardens for the community.

Projects here include:

  • Here you will work in a controlled plot of land to eliminate invasive plant species and to restore native and endemic ones, growing the plants first in a greenhouse, and then transplanting them to their permanent locations.
  • At the Hacienda, they have a hippo-therapy program which works with disabled children from the local community every Wednesday and Thursday morning. Here you will help the children with the planned activities - leading the horses while the children are riding in various positions, teaching self-sufficiency skills, and interacting with the children through game and play.
Accommodation

Hacienda Tranquila - simple, purpose-built volunteer accommodation.

You’ll be sharing bedrooms with 2-5 volunteers per bedroom, sheets and mosquito nets are provided. The house has a kitchen with two stove tops and large refrigerators, a common area and bathrooms. There’s even an outdoor pizza oven.

There’s a cleaning rota and everyone is required to muck in with household duties.

Please note there is NO WIFI in the house but available in the nearest towns of Progreso and Puerto Baquerizo.

Food

Food – NOT INCLUDED. Here you will need to buy and prepare your own meals as a team. In the past, Leapers have devised a rota for cooking and allocated responsibility for each meal to a pair of volunteers, which tends to work well.

Days 27 - 28

Farewell in Quito Farewell

Time to say farewell

You’ll head back to Quito for a final night to say good-bye to Emma and her team and do any last-minute shopping, before heading home or carrying on with your travels.

On your final day Emma’s team will transfer you back to the airport.

Accommodation

Overnight in a hostel in the old town

Food

Farewell dinner included
Breakfast on final day included

Program Details & Costs

We have 3 departures to Ecuador throughout the year: January, April and July for 4 weeks. Get in touch to start exploring your options. Maximum team size of 14 so don't hang about.

Options and costs

Programs start on:

Whats included?

Budget

Flights: £800 (depending on time of year and availability)

Spending Money: Approx £60 per week but twice that for the Galapagos stage.

The Galapagos is expensive so brace yourself. Firstly, you need to budget for food and we really urge you to all cook/eat in the hacienda – budgeting about $15 per day x 14 nights = $240. Plus, you need to budget for weekend activities – see My Leap for options – scuba diving, island hopping safaris are all fantastic excursions – most leapers have told us that they spend about $400 on excursions – but remember these are optional.


Eco warriors

Travel with a tight team of leapers, going beyond the tourist trail and making a real difference in extraordinary destinations.

Contrast

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

Adrenline Sports

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

Cultural Exchange

Working beside local 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 it will be more about free time like your adventure phase.

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.

Backpacker favourites:

  • The TeleferiQo cable car that flies you up Rucu Pichincha to an observation point overlooking Quito.
  • Dip in the thermal springs in Baños.
  • 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 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.

Our hosts

The over management is organised by Emma Morgan who runs her own travel company in Ecuador called Original Ecuador. Originally from the UK, Emma organised and led her first trip to Ecuador for a group of British teachers back in 1999, whilst working at the Swansea Environment Centre in South Wales.

After meeting her Ecuadorian husband, Emma finally came to live in Ecuador in 2002 and now has over 15 years of experience working in the Ecuadorian tourism industry. In this time, she has gained extensive knowledge leading, developing & running active tours across Ecuador & the Galapagos. Emma is passionate about Ecuador and especially enjoys visiting the Galapagos and the cloud forest. On weekends she loves to explore the different regions and activities that Ecuador has to offer with her husband Andres and their teenage daughter Emilia.

Emma is overall in charge of the program, but you will have one of Emma’s bi-lingual local and fun guides escorting you until you leave for the Galapagos.

In the Galapagos Geovanni Sarugu takes over. Geovanni is the visionary behind the Hacienda Tranquila which aims to restore the environment and support the community.He is eternally grateful for the time and energy our volunteers give to make his vision possible.

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

January 2019 by Lily Gee

Ecuador

July 2017. Credit Paige Busacker

Ecuador

February 2019 Josie Betts

"Hand on my heart it's been the experience of a life time"

I've just been having THE best time here! It's gone so quickly, but I feel like I've been here forever at the same time.

We've done a lot of work already, so I feel like we've made a big difference. Through this work we've all learnt a lot, but it's mostly given us a good sense of liberation and generally put a lot of things in perspective. And of course, we now understand how difficult it is for these communities to get just essential amenities!

But the main thing is that I am very happy with the programme, and I can put my hand on my heart when I say it's been the experience of a life time, and I can't wait to continue for the 2nd half of it!

- Peter Blake

"I wish I could go back "

My experience in Ecuador was amazing. I have been home for two weeks and already want to go back to ecuador. My leader and my group was the best. Everyone instantly clicked and grew closer together everyday. All of the work was hard but we had fun while doing it. We brought speakers out to work with us so we had some music playing while we worked! I also liked the variety of work that we do in the communities. The adventure weeks were the best. Jumping off bridges, white water rafting, beaches, biking down volcanos, and so much more. You can't do anything better than that!

I wish I could go back now, with the same group, same leader, and do so many more things and make so many more memories. That trip is one I will never forget.

- Caroline Sides

"Thank you again so much for providing such a wonderful gap year experience - we shall keep on recommending you!"

Just to say Harry is back home now having had an absolutely wonderful time in Ecuador, full of enthusiastic anecdotes and stories of his experiences in the last 10 weeks. I'd just like to say thank you to you and the team for your immaculate organisation of the whole trip and for your phone calls and emails keeping us fully informed of progress along the way.

We have really appreciated this attention to detail and suffice to say it has been as fabulous an experience for Harry as it was for his sister, Lucy three years ago, who still remembers her own trip to Ecuador with equal fondness. They are having fun comparing notes!


- Jane and Bob Caton

"Incredible experience"

I wanted to say a huge thank you to you and your team !

Ava returned yesterday via Peru and had such an incredible experience in Ecuador. It was all very well organised and the people were amazing .I am still to hear more.

- Amanda Howard

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