Volunteer opportunities in the Galapagos Islands offer volunteers the rare chance to live for an extended period of time in one of the world’s most beautiful and unique ecosystems. Popularly known as the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking theories on evolution over 150 years ago, today the Galapagos Islands host a small population of about 25,000 inhabitants amongst a large diversity of endemic species. For international volunteers interested in environmental preservation, biology, or wildlife conservation, volunteering in the Galapagos Islands is the opportunity of a lifetime.
Projects & Placements
The most common type of volunteer work in the Galapagos Islands is environmental preservation and wildlife conservation. The human population of the Galapagos Islands has exploded over the past century, and as such many native species now face a threat of habitat destruction, which formerly did not exist in nature. Those who embark on volunteer trips to the Galapagos Islands will have the opportunity to help with reforestation, replanting, and even volunteer work directly with animals, such as sea turtles and sea lions.
Due to the budding population, individuals can also find volunteer placements in the Galapagos Islands in the areas of education and community development. The Galapagos Islands are one of the few places in the world with no indigenous population, however, since it has become such a popular area for travel and research, five of the 18 major islands are now populated. Most inhabitants come from Ecuador’s mainland, where they lack access to many vital resources. Overall, the most common placements for volunteering in the Galapagos Islands are teaching English and childcare.
Many volunteer programs in the Galapagos Islands combine volunteering with adventure tourism. Participants who volunteer in these programs will have the opportunity to hike, snorkel, or scuba dive, and explore the islands under the supervision of a guide in their free time.
Volunteer opportunities in the Galapagos tend to be available year round, depending on the volunteer placement and organization you select.
Life in the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are quite sparsely populated, though there a few small towns that have sprouted up as centers of human activity. Five of the islands are inhabited – Baltra, Floreana, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela. On these islands the two largest towns are Puerto Ayora with 15,000 inhabitants and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno with 8,000 inhabitants. As a volunteer in the Galapagos Islands, it is likely you will be placed in one of these towns or on a reserve in a more uninhabited part of the islands.
Since the Galapagos are a territory of Ecuador, you can expect a fun, immersive experience into the nation’s vibrant Latin American culture (especially if your volunteer trip takes you to one of the nation's smaller towns). The main language spoken across the islands is Spanish. While it is typically not a requirement for individuals who volunteer in the Galapagos Islands to be fluent Spanish speakers, being at least conversationally adept will make your volunteer experience in the Galapagos easier and more rewarding as you'll be able to fluidly communicate with locals. Individuals can also join volunteer programs in the Galapagos Islands that combine volunteering with language immersion, which provide the ultimate experience.
Do not expect to have consistent internet connection or dependable electricity while volunteering in the Galapagos Islands, because the islands are remote and sparsely populated so living conditions are quite basic. It will certainly be an adjustment for individuals volunteering abroad in the Galapagos Islands for the first time, or those volunteering abroad for the first time in general. Participating in volunteer work in the Galapagos Islands will be well worth it as you will find yourself working in one of the most beautiful and relaxing locations in the world.
The climate of the Galapagos is unique to the region. From June to November the islands are often enshrouded in fog with a light drizzle and a cold wind blowing from the south. From December to May the weather is warmer, and though there are still sporadic rain showers, the sun is usually shining and there is no wind.
Costs & Affordability
Living in the Galapagos Islands is understandably more expensive than living in the rest of Ecuador, because the islands are so remote and are such a popular tourist destination. Every commodity has to be imported in to the islands, meaning that prices can often exceed double their price on the mainland. Still, because Ecuador is a developing country, so costs of living remain relatively manageable. Also, as a volunteer in the Galapagos Islands, it is likely that many of your costs will be covered upfront in the form of program fees.
Accommodation & Visas
Housing arrangements will vary depending on whether you are placed in a town or a less inhabited area, but in most cases you can expect to live in group housing with other volunteers during your program. Often power is spotty and there may not be hot water, so expect to live in fairly rugged conditions. Think of it as coming closer into contact with nature!
Standard visa regulations for the nation of Ecuador apply for those who want to complete volunteer work in the Galapagos Islands. You can typically obtain a visa to volunteer in Ecuador for up to 90 days upon arrival, but if you plan on volunteering in the Galapagos for longer than three months though, you may have to apply for a special visa ahead of time.
Benefits & Challenges
Volunteering abroad in the Galapagos Islands is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity that will expose you to one of the great wonders of the natural world. Despite protective legislation, the area is still under a mounting threat from human population and expansion, so as a volunteer in the Galapagos Islands you will be able to do a great service to endemic species by working to preserve natural habitats. You do not have to be a Naturalist, like Darwin, to have an immensely fun and rewarding volunteer program in the Galapagos Islands – you need only come with an open mind, sincere interest, and be ready to make a difference!