Darwin might have sussed out that little thing called evolution here, but there’s much more to Ecuador than finches and fe-nomenal flora and fauna. Despite being the titchiest Andean nation, Ecuador is the world’s most diverse country. With volunteer opportunities in all four corners, volunteers can dance sanjuanito alongside indigenous communities in the Andes, sip locally-grown, Arabica coffee in stunning colonial cities, and spend hours monkey-watching in sweltering rainforest. Whether you’re a conservationist, botanist, or just a plain, old travelphile, volunteer work in Ecuador is guaranteed to knock your socks (well, flip-flops) off.
Ecuador really should be strutting around in a bikini and calling itself the Miss World of biodiversity; she has it all. Mysterious, wild jungle in the eastern Oriente merges into the thrilling volcanic peaks of the Andes in the sierra before diving into the coastal regions, and across the ocean to the greatest celebrity of the natural world, the Galapagos Islands. For those seeking volunteer work in Ecuador, the startling diversity might make it hard to pick just one project, but you’ll soon fall for this perfect little country. Hook, line, and sinker.
The most popular place to volunteer in Ecuador is on the Galapagos Islands. Snap a selfie with a nonchalant seal or marvel at the size and age of the grandfathers of this land, the Galápagos giant tortoise, some of whom live to be a whopping 170 years old. Thanks to preservation efforts and the designation of the islands as a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fascinating ecosystems and strange species that Darwin encountered in the Galapagos in 1838 don’t look too much different for a modern visitor. S-uh-weet.
Further east, if you are lucky, you can stumble upon the charming town of Tena; a must-visit for jungle-lovers wanting to volunteer in the Amazon. Volunteers will encounter life’s two extremes: slow ambles through the rainforest to spot lethargic sloths and chattering monkeys as well as high-adrenaline activities, such as white-water rafting and kayaking. While you may not discover the legendary, precious city of El Dorado while volunteering in Ecuador, jungle days will give you more than enough golden opportunities for getting into close proximity with its incredible wildlife and warm, relaxed locals.
Another top pick destination for volunteer work in Ecuador is the world’s highest capital city, Quito, which has much more to offer than the prospect of altitude sickness. Regarded as one of the best-preserved colonial cities in the whole of South America, Quito is a surprisingly metropolitan place, with dazzling architecture and a fascinating mix of old and new cultures. Observe life from a bench in the verdant, tree-lined Plaza de la Independencia and marvel at the ingenuity of the colorful textiles used as backpacks by the local indígenas (indigenous women) to transport anything from groceries to babies. At the nearby Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World), volunteers can literally put a leg in both hemispheres at once, because, well, just because.
If you dream about hanging out with penguins, being a modern-day Mowgli, or living in (quite literally) breathtaking mountains, rather than seeking professional help, you should volunteer in Ecuador. You might have fantastico or fantastic-NO Spanish skills, but you’ll find that Ecuador remains the perfect place to volunteer in South America; and learning Spanish will be easy anyway, considering it has one of the continent’s clearest accents. ¡Genial!
Conservation is the biggest name of the game called volunteer work in Ecuador. While volunteering with sea turtles, giant tortoises, or in rainforest conservation, you’ll develop a whole host of resume-building skills. Much of the volunteer work you’ll likely do will focus on educating and working with local communities, giving you close proximity to both nature and immersive, cultural opportunities. Animal welfare placements are also a very popular way to volunteer in Ecuador, with many organizations seeking to protect and rehome illegally-trafficked, wild animals (sad face).
If running around after cute niñitos sounds like your idea of fun, you’ll be delighted by the range of volunteer opportunities in Ecuador that involve working with children. Whether teaching dance or music or leading after-school clubs, you’ll be enchanted (and let’s face it, probably exhausted) by the energy of any young charges. Teaching English in Ecuador is also a very popular type of volunteer work. Bring the outside world directly into the classroom and open doors to future jobs and countries left, right, and center, by giving the life-changing gift of another language. Sí, sí, SI.
With 14 distinct indigenous populations in Ecuador, there are also some truly unique placements working with various populations and communities through community development projects. You might be focusing on preservation of traditional cultures or improving healthcare and education facilities, but regardless, any community development volunteer in Ecuador should be creative, resourceful, and happy to leave life’s comforts (and any preconceptions) at the door.
Despite using the U.S. dollar as its official currency, Ecuador is one of South America’s most inexpensive countries. Be aware that locals are guilty of charging foreign travelers “gringo rates”, so haggling a little bit is acceptable (although remember that while knocking $1 off that artisanal product might not make much of a difference to you, the effects will be felt by them).
As with all South American destinations, a healthy appetite for street food (and an understanding that finding stalls with long queues is essential for maintaining a happy stomach) will always keep costs down. Let’s face it: with the unmissable ceviche (raw seafood “cooked” in lime juice) available along the coast and the artery-clogging delicacy llapingacho (fried, cheesy potato patties), don’t be surprised if you leave Ecuador only a few dollars lighter, but a number of pounds heavier.
Thanks to the extensive network of transportation, you’ll also never struggle to travel around the country. Given that anything from taxis to coaches will rarely cost more than a few dollars, there’s no excuse not to use every weekend zipping to visit Ecuador’s many accessible and beautiful tourist spots.
Depending on which volunteer program in Ecuador you choose, placements can cost anywhere from $400 to $1500 for two weeks. Volunteering in the Galapagos Islands is far pricier than on the mainland, and costs of living are also significantly higher. But don’t be entirely put off the idea of becoming a volunteer in Ecuador just yet; fees are normally all-inclusive (with airport transfers, accommodation, food, etc.), meaning that any extra dosh you choose to spend will be on that beautiful, utterly backpacker-cliched, llama-wool jumper. Sound like a plan? Check out GoAbroad’s scholarship directory for ideas about how to fundraise for your adventure and be on that plane before you can say uno, dos, tres…
Let’s be realistic: you may (but more likely, not) end up with a flushing, Western-style toilet. If this is enough of a deal breaker, then you shouldn’t be journeying to this fabulous country in the first place. Adapting to different styles of living is all part of the adventure that is volunteering abroad.
One of the finest accommodation options commonly offered to volunteers in Ecuador is a homestay, where regular Spanish practice and tasty, traditional Ecuadorian meals (guinea pig, anyone?) are par for the course. If you’d rather live with other international volunteers, you can also find volunteer programs in Ecuador that provide accommodation in shared, volunteer housing. Either way, don’t expect too many extravagant home comforts, but do count on a friendly welcome and numerous opportunities to immerse yourself in Ecuadorian culture.
For the all-important visa question, rest assured; for stays of fewer than 90 days, visas are not required for U.S. residents or those from most European countries. Check out GoAbroad’s up-to-date Ecuadorian embassy directory for the latest information. Bear in mind: if you plan to volunteer in Ecuador for longer than three months, you’ll need a different visa. Contact your volunteer program provider to discuss the requirements of this well before you are due to begin your volunteering in Ecuador.
Have we mentioned the incredible wildlife? Ok, so maybe we have, but if you’re serious about a career in conservation, then what better way to impress your future employer (and learn some super useful stuff, of course) than with a placement on Ecuador’s fine, environmentally astonishing shores?
Let’s not beat around the palm tree: living here won’t conform to Western expectations of home comforts, but if the idea of living in banana leaf-roofed houses on the edges of pristine jungle or joining the dinner table of a local Ecuadorian family gives you more thrills than Darwin on spotting those first two finches, you’ll be guaranteed an excellent experience as a volunteer in Ecuador.
With all things considered, it’s hard to imagine another tiny nation that can pack this number of WOWs, which ultimately makes Ecuador one of the best destinations for volunteering anywhere around the globe.