From the coast to the mountain and metropolitan cities to remote jungle, Ecuador literally offers something for everyone. One of the most biodiverse countries in the world, high school students who choose programs in Ecuador will be able to discover one-of-a-kind ecology and landscapes, learn Spanish, or make a difference by serving local communities. Embrace your inner adrenaline junkie by ziplining, biking, or rafting in this small, but mighty, South American country. Legend has it you can balance an egg on the tip of a nail on the equator as you straddle the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Venture to Ecuador and you can see for yourself if it’s true!
In Ecuador, you can find programs in three distinct regions: the mountainous Andes, the Amazon jungle, and the Pacific coast, which all vary greatly in climate, scenery, and culture. Ecuador is also home to the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin developed his theory of evolution and where Giant Tortoises and tiny Galapagos Penguins still roam.
During your high school program in Ecuador you can canoe down a river in the Amazon while listening to pocket monkeys chirping, cozy up by the fire in a highland hacienda, or make bread from yuca root in a local family’s home. High school programs in Ecuador are your once-in-a-lifetime chance to get out of the high school grind and study incredible natural and cultural contrasts in a diverse and inviting setting.
Situated 9,000 feet above sea level, Quito was the first city to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The old and the new merge in Quito, with its lively, historic downtown and modern, youthful neighborhoods. The city is well-connected by public transportation, so you can easily explore the numerous green parks, world-class museums, and artisan markets. You can spend your free time taking a stroll down the cobblestone streets in el Centro, or hang out in the popular tourist district, known as the Mariscal, which is full of restaurants, cafes, and travelers from all over the world. Don’t miss the Fiestas de Quito, a week-long celebration in December that is full of live music, bullfighting, and parades, too. Last, but not least, be sure to hop on a chiva, a bonafide party bus with live bands on board, and celebrate Ecuadorian-style.
Many high school programs in Ecuador are either based in or offer multi-day field trips to the Galapagos Islands, an experience that cannot be replicated anywhere else on Earth. Travel by boat from island to island, as you ramble among one-of-a-kind creatures, like the blue-footed booby. High school study abroad programs and service projects in the Galapagos often include wildlife conservation, clearing invasive species, or examining the impacts of tourism. Just imagine yourself snorkeling with sea life, hiking through a crater, or studying animal breeding with scientific experts!
A colorful market town about two hours north of Quito, in Otavalo you’ll find opportunities to get involved in community development, sustainable agriculture, and even pick up some of the local language, Quechua. On market days, tourists and locals alike flood the town to haggle over the best deals. The market invades the senses with smells of delicious locro soups, bright textiles, and the hum of chatter. The smaller city setting is ideal for those looking to engage with the community. You may just stumble upon a late-night street festival, complete with folklórico music, peach juice, and plenty of dancing.
High School Programs in Ecuador
You can get your hands dirty by volunteering or interning through one of the many high school programs in Ecuador focused on conservation, biology, and ecology. Among diverse ecosystems, you’ll be able to study plant and animal species that only exist in Ecuador. Service driven programs in Ecuador also commonly target social impact, from building a community center in an indigenous village to teaching English to school children. Volunteering abroad in high school is so much more than simply traveling; it’s a way to become a part of a new community, learn about yourself, and give back all at the same time. Many high school programs in Ecuador focus on community service projects for groups of young people too, meaning you’ll have the chance to make lasting friendships while also making a difference.
If you’re looking for a place to learn Spanish, Ecuador is known for its clearly spoken Spanish, making it ideal for studying the language. High school programs in Ecuador typically feature small class sizes, or even one-on-one language instruction, to maximize student learning. You can then put your language skills to the test by chatting up locals as you go about your daily life.
High school programs in Ecuador often take place in the summer dry season, although Ecuador’s climate stays the same year round overall. A basic knowledge of Spanish is often required for service learning programs, but introductory language lessons can typically be arranged. Some high school programs in Ecuador may offer college credit for an additional fee, or provide certificates of completion for volunteer hours. All high school programs in Ecuador provide significant supervision and support, so you won’t be on your own out there!
Scholarships & Costs
Interestingly, Ecuador uses the American dollar as its currency, so if you’re a high schooler from the U.S., you won’t have to exchange your money or worry about conversion rates. Ecuador is an inexpensive country to visit and travel within, although programs that include travel to the Galapagos Islands can be more pricey.
If you stick to shopping at markets and local establishments, you’ll really save money. Popular almuerzos (lunches) can run as little as $3 for a three-course meal, and you can buy fresh tropical juices for a dollar. A taxi ride will typically set you back a few bucks.
Consider crowdfunding to help fund your high school program in Ecuador, especially if you’re program includes volunteer work; sharing your story can help you garner financial support for your program. Also, be sure to check out available scholarships to boost your funding for your trip.
Accommodations & Visas
Most high school programs in Ecuador (and abroad in general) will arrange your housing, most commonly in homestays or hostels, or both if you’re going on a traveling program throughout the country or region. Living with a host family will provide you with intimate insight into local life, while giving you a chance to practice your language skills daily. Often meals are included with homestays, making them an affordable (and delicious) option. Many students make irreplaceable, lasting connections with their homestay families too. In hostels you can expect shared bedrooms, bathrooms, and living space, and access to a kitchen. Hostels allow you to meet young people and experience group living at its finest!
Citizens of most countries, including the U.S., UK, and Australia, won’t need a visa for stays up to 90 days. Do be sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your return and you have plenty of blank pages for stamps in your passport. For high school programs in Ecuador that are longer than 90 days, you will need a visa. Student visas will likely require you to show proof of funds, as well as official acceptance into your school. It’s also possible to apply for a Cultural Exchange visa, as long as your organization provides an agreement and you commit to offering your services for free. Do note that you should carry proof of citizenship with you at all times when you are in Ecuador, so keep a copy of your passport in your wallet.
Be sure to check out GoAbroad’s Ecuadorian Embassy Directory for current visa application requirements.
Benefits & Challenges
Ecuador’s unique climate and geographical location create unmatched biodiversity and numerous landscapes within a rather small country. With relative ease, you can visit and study mountains, jungle, coasts, and the Galapagos, while also getting to know the multitude of vibrant cultures, languages, and ways of life within the nation’s distinct regions. You’ll experience life in a developing country that may be different from what you’re used to, but you’ll also learn about a country rich in resources, community, and culture that will impact you well beyond your time there.
Being away from home can present many unforeseen challenges to teens on their first trip abroad. Homesickness is real, but there are healthy ways to deal with it. Rather than spending your days missing your family and friends, with the right shift in perspective, your eyes will be opened to the numerous wonders right before your eyes!
Rather than ringing in the New Year, Ecuadorians say adiós to the old year, Año Viejo, by burning effigies that represent something or someone they want to forget. Your time in Ecuador is one you won’t forget! Where else can you trek a volcano, see pink river dolphins, or eat guinea pig as a delicacy? High schoolers who travel to Ecuador will not only learn in a land of contrasts but will also grow personally in unexpected ways, push themselves to new heights, and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime.