Those who volunteer in Ecuador will discover a country of multi-faceted landscapes and an impressively vibrant culture. Volunteering in Ecuador providers international volunteers with the opportunity to expand their language skills while experiencing a varity of service projects and communities. From urban neighborhoods throughout Quito to the tropical paradise of the Galapagos Islands to rural areas where simple living is the norm, volunteers will have a well-rounded volunteer abroad experience in Ecuador.
Ecuador uniquely straddles the equator, which means it is technically in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Bordering Colombia, Peru, and the Pacific Ocean, Ecuador has access to a variety of geographical landscapes and locations. Those who volunteer in Ecuador will have the chance to explore a little of everything by visiting the nation's three main geographical regions: coasts, highlands (dominated by the Andes), and the Amazon, all of which provide volunteer opportunities.
The large majority of Ecuadorians, over 80 percent, practice Roman Catholicism and most Ecuadorians are a mix of European and American Indian descent, with 98 percent of the population speaking Spanish.
There is a huge variety of volunteer work in Ecuador available, it is all about what type of volunteer experience you desire. Also, since there are ample volunteering opportunities in Ecuador, if after starting in one placement you feel compelled to try another, it is typically easy to change to a new project area.
If it’s your first time volunteering abroad, it might be smart to work through an English-speaking organization with offices around the world that provide support to independent and local projects. This will give you a volunteer placement in Ecuador that is accustomed to taking in large numbers of international volunteers, as well as an idea of the scope of opportunities available. If you choose to arrange your international volunteer experience through a provider it will make your fees higher but also provides a great support system which can be priceless if you are a first timer.
The experience you have as a volunteer in Ecuador will vary greatly depending on where you choose to work and what your interests are. If you are looking for an experience that will surround you with people from all over the globe, look into the volunteer programs in Ecuador's major cities. Placements are common in the cities of Guayquil and Quito, for example. But placements are available across the country.
Providing basic medical care on the coast, teaching English in the Andes, or working with street kids in the poorest neighborhoods of Quito are just some of the many volunteer opportunities available in Ecuador. Organizations that work with kids are very understaffed so it easy to find a volunteer program in Ecuador working with children. One perk is that positions that involve working with children typically allow a lot of room for creativity to tailor the program to your skills. Most allow volunteers to suggest ideas for improvements and new activities, such as martial arts, dance lessons, or art classes.
International non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, in Quito need support from English speakers and quiet wildlife reserves in the Amazon need volunteers to feed monkeys and parrots and contribute to conservation efforts. NGOs often allow volunteers to undertake their own individual projects for in their free time as well to help the organization develop.
Volunteers can also choose to live and work at a farm or hacienda, in the countryside herding llamas, and rural areas are particularly affordable with many haciendas offering room and board in exchange for work. Volunteering in Ecuador at a hacienda (typically at a countryside hotel and restaurant) or for an NGO in Quito, will be more of an immersive, solo experience, so it is definitely something best pursued by those who speak at least intermediate Spanish.
Ecuadorian cuisine varies depending on the region, but most meals start off with soup and are followed by pork, chicken, or even cuy, which means Guinea pig and is a local favorite. Expect a lot of rice and bread no matter where you are and seafood is very popular on the coast.
Although there is definitely a lot of American media influence, expect a culture that is relatively socially conservative, when compared to North America. Locals almost always receive foreigners very well but be prepared for some ogling and the occasional cat-call to females. There is still a very visible indigenous population, particularly in marketplaces, who speak Quechua and dress in the traditional bright clothing so volunteers won’t have to travel far to see the roots of Ecuador’s people. Depending on when you go, expect to enjoy frequent festivals such as Carnival and Semana Santa, that combine religious tradition with local indigenous customs. Plus, witness an intense passion for their favorite sport, soccer.
Ecuador is very affordable overall, except for major tourism hot-spots like the Galapagos Islands. Public transportation, taxis, and non-American products are all relatively inexpensive, but foreigners are often charged higher rates. Be prepared to ask cabs for the fee before you get in the car, and to bargain down the price for clothes and any souvenirs you want to buy. Hanging out with Ecuadorians is also a great way to avoid paying more than you should.
Housing in Ecuador is very inexpensive. Staying in a homestay with a local family is an excellent way to work on your Spanish, have traditional Ecuadorian meals provided, and gain a more immersive cultural experience. The majority of volunteer programs in Ecuador have a homestay option. If you would rather live with other international students, some programs provide housing for volunteers. This allows you to live with your co workers, regardless if you decide to volunteer in Quito or a village in the Amazon.
If neither of these options sound like what you are looking for, it is possible organize housing separately from your volunteer work in Ecuador. Some individuals who volunteer in Ecuador set up accommodations through organizations such as Couch Surfers and the South American Explorer Club. They are straightforward, easy to arrange, and a great way to meet new people.
Travel. On time off, Ecuador provides endless possibilities for travel to varying landscapes. Travel by public transport is very inexpensive and, especially in Quito, relatively well-organized. It is possible to go from the Andes Mountains, to the Amazon Rainforest, to the sunny coast in only a matter of hours. Those who volunteer in Ecuador can spend their free time ziplining through the jungle, hiking around the capital city of Quito, or enjoying themselves in the sand and waves of the Pacific Ocean.
For those volunteering in Ecuador with a limited budget, there are bargain options everywhere, including islands off the coast, which have been dubbed “The Poor Man’s Galapagos.” They have most of the animals that the actual Galapagos Islands have but with a much lower price tag.
Language. Spanish is an extremely useful language to learn and lessons are widely available and highly affordable. Ecuadorian Spanish is relatively slow compared to other countries in South America and it has few irregularities, making it a great place to learn (although it does get faster on the coast). If you’re a complete beginner in Spanish, sticking to volunteering in major cities where most people speak a bit of English can make your stay and transition easier. It is still a good idea to learn a few basic phrases in Spanish before you begin your volunteer program in Ecuador.
Expectations & Impact. Like any other endeavor, it’s important to have reasonable expectations. Unless you are a trained professional working in your field, your contribution as a volunteer in Ecuador may seem modest, but that is not truly the case. The personal nature of volunteer work in Ecuador and diversity of projects are priceless. Many volunteers have undergraduate degrees or are in pursuit of one but spend your days working construction. Don’t underestimate your importance! Volunteerism is needed everywhere for all types of volunteer projects in Ecuador.