Ecuador: The Galápagos Islands and the Andes

Experience the richness of Ecuador's unique ecology and wildlife during a summer abroad.

During this high school summer abroad program in Ecuador, explore the country’s various geographical areas: the Andes Mountains, the upper Amazon basin, and the Galápagos archipelago. In each location, you will learn about the richness of Ecuador’s ecology and wildlife and the importance of preserving them. Investigate rare plant and animal species on the Galápagos Islands. Go on excursions to mountains, hot springs, and a primary forest. Paddle into the heart of the jungle on a guided canoe expedition and learn about indigenous Ecuadorian traditions.

Your discovery of Ecuador’s ecology takes place throughout every stage of the program. On your first excursion, you will see the rivers and diverse wildlife of the Mindo Nambillo cloud forest. In the Amazon basin, you will see the stunning waterfalls of the Banos and observe monkeys and exotic birds as you canoe down the Napo River. During your homestay week, hike up from the first base camp to the second shelter (16,400 feet above sea level) of Chimborazo, an inactive volcano that reaches 20,800 feet above sea level, and then bike down through a beautiful Andean landscape. The program’s four days in the Galápagos will give you the opportunity to learn about the fragile ecology and unique biodiversity of these remarkable islands. Cruise by night from island to island, swim alongside seals in lava grottoes, explore mangrove forests and flamingo lagoons, and observe the courtship displays of rare tropical birds.

You’ll also experience Ecuadorian cities and learn about the country’s history and cultures. See the gold-inlaid sixteenth-century churches and colonial buildings of Quito’s Old Town. Ride a train to Devil’s Nose. Improve your Spanish language skills through interactive lessons and conversations with local residents. Riobamba, a small city surrounded by the snow-capped Andes, provides the setting for a weeklong homestay. Share daily activities such as sports, movies, and walks through town with your host family. Learn how to prepare a typical dish such as ceviche or empanadas and, working alongside a local nonprofit, participate in a three-day community service project.

Community Service Certificate: At the conclusion of this program, participants will earn a community service certificate noting how many hours of community service they completed.

Orientation: Quito, 2 days
Homestay: Riobamba,* 8–9 days
Other Accommodations: Hostels or hotels

* Homestay locations can vary.

Days 1–2

Orientation in Quito

  • Learn about the history and culture of Ecuador
  • Get to know other members of your group during activities and discussionsExperimenter on the Galapagos islands
  • Take interactive Spanish lessons and practice your Spanish language skills

During the orientation period, you and your group will stay at a mission.

Days 3–5

Thematic Focus in Mindo Cloud Forest

  • Go tubing on the river
  • See waterfalls
  • Visit a butterfly farm
  • Observe flora and fauna within this ecosystem

During this period, you and your group will stay in an environmental educational facility.

Day 6

Thematic Focus in Quito

  • Hike through one of Quito’s main forests, the metropolitan park Güangüiltagua

Days 7–10

Thematic Focus in the Amazon Jungle (4-day excursion)

  • Visit the Yarina Ecological Reserve
  • Travel by motorized canoe into the rainforest along the Napo River
  • Explore the area around the Napo River, observe monkeys and exotic birds, and go fishing for piranha
  • Meet with an indigenous family and learn about the Ecuadorian Amazon from them

During this excursion, you and your group will stay in a lodge.

Days 11–12

Thematic Focus in the Baños

  • Visit the waterfalls
  • Go trekking on horseback

 During this period, you and your group will stay in a hostel.

Days 13–20


  • Become fully immersed in the daily life of an Ecuadorian family and community
  • Do activities with your host family
  • Participate in community service work
  • Take dancing and cooking lessons
  • Go on excursions to hot springs, a primary forest, and a crater lake
  • Visit nearby villages and learn about activities — such as carpentry, alpaca farming, and pottery making — of the people in those communities

During this period, you will stay in the home of a family. Sample host communities: Riobamba, Cotacachi, Salcedo

Days 21–22

Thematic Focus in Quito

  • Ride Quito’s cable car
  • Hike Pinchincha Mountain
  • Visit Quito’s Old Town

During this excursion, you and your group will stay at a mission.

Days 23–27

Thematic Focus in the Galápagos (4-day excursion)

  • Go hiking, snorkeling, and swimming
  • Go on nature walks and participate in discussions with an Ecuadorian naturalist about the fragile ecology of the Galápagos
  • Enjoy panoramic views of the Darwin and Wolf volcanoes
  • Visit the Darwin Station, which is part of the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galápagos Islands

During this excursion, you and your group will stay on a boat.

Day 28

Program Reflection and Wrap-up in Quito

  • Reflect with your group on your experiences during the program

During the reflection period, you and your group will stay at a mission.

Day 29


Please note: This itinerary is only a sample and is subject to change. Because of factors such as group size and availability of in-country offerings such as festivals, your experience — including sites visited and the number of days spent in each location — may differ somewhat from the one presented above.

These are leader bios from summer 2014.

Amelia Williams

Amelia Williams is originally from Olympia, Washington, where her love for the outdoors and sense of adventure was instilled at an early age on family backpacking trips to the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges. She graduated from Willamette University in 2002, where she earned a BA in anthropology and a minor in Spanish and spent a semester studying in southern Chile. Since college, Amelia has had the privilege of working, living, and traveling in twelve countries on five continents. Some of her favorite experiences were while working in Costa Rica for the School for Field Studies, where some weeks you might find her working with students doing research on wild palm trees, and other weeks organizing for students’ homestay experiences. Amelia has an MA in teaching from SIT Graduate Institute and currently teaches third grade at a two-way immersion school in the greater Portland, Oregon, area. Her students are constantly teaching her how to look at the world in new ways. When not teaching, Amelia enjoys playing soccer, gardening, laughing, and cooking with family and friends.

Melissa Skidelsky

Melissa Skidelsky was raised in New Rochelle, New York, and attended the State University of New York at New Paltz. She spent her junior year abroad in New Zealand and has been traveling ever since. After graduation, she joined the Peace Corps and served as a rural health volunteer in Belize. Over the last few years, she has taught English at a bilingual school in the Galápagos, studied agriculture in Argentina, and worked at an English language academy in South Korea. In addition, she has traveled to Mexico, Uruguay, Israel, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. When she isn’t traveling, Melissa enjoys painting, hiking, bike riding, and experimenting with new recipes she has learned abroad.

The bus ride to Riobamba was tough for the group; none of us wanted to be separated from each other. We were all anxious and super nervous about having to stay with a family of strangers, after having gotten so comfortable with the members of the group.  We reluctantly dispersed into our families. If I had only known what I was in for, I would not have been so reluctant to join my new mom and brother. My family was awesome, plain and simple! My own mother died when I was one years old, and maternal love was something in a way I grew without. My host mom was so cariñosa, so loving, so caring, so motherly. In every way she was the mother I never had. She took me in with open arms and treated me as if I was her actual son. I will never forget when my group leader, Shelley (who was an awesome leader by the way) came over just to check on how everything was going with me and my new family. We sat down in the living room with the pristine couches only sat on when guests came over. My group leader asked a couple questions, and the next thing you knew my mom was pontificating for three hours on motherhood! She cried, she laughed — the speech brought it all. It was a jaw dropping speech that left me to conclude that my mom should write a book on what it’s like being Supermom.

—Daniel Vazquez, Seton Hall Preparatory School

My experience this summer went above and beyond my expectations. I will always remember and cherish the bonds formed with my group members, the time I spent playing with my host sisters.… I value nothing more than these connections; connections that cross cultural barriers, linguistic challenges, connections that I hope will stay strong. I’ve learned how to approach a situation with an open mind, soaking up all that an experience has to offer. Without preconceived expectations, you can learn so much more.

Katherine Grasso, Brattleboro Union High School