Ecuador & the Galápagos | Community Service

Highlands, Quechua Culture, & Island Biodiversity

Live in Ecuador’s Andean highlands on this summer community service program. During your student travel program in Ecuador, join members of a local Quechua community in meaningful service projects — lend a hand with light construction work, participate in water access initiatives, teach schoolchildren, or help with the local harvest. Then, explore the otherworldly landscapes and extraordinary wildlife of the Galápagos Islands, home to giant tortoises, lava tunnels, equatorial penguins, marine iguanas, and blue-footed boobies.

  • June 27, 2018  –  July 24, 2018
  • July 1, 2018  –  July 28, 2018
At A Glance:
  • Adventure
    Outdoor exploration, hiking, biking, swimming, and other active pursuits
  • Service
    Focus on community-based projects in collaboration with a partner village
  • Wildlife
    Exploration of flora and fauna in natural habitats, national parks, or wildlife reserves
Completing grades 9 – 12
US Gateway City:
Community Service
28 days
Typical Group:
15 – 17 students, 2 leaders
$ 6,190 + airfare



  • Volunteer with Ecuadorian friends in a minga to repair a community building
  • Celebrate the Inti-Raymi harvest festival with traditional Quechua song and dance
  • Ride on horseback at the base of Cotopaxi, the world’s largest active volcano
  • Observe marine iguanas, sea turtles, and Galápagos penguins in their natural habitat

Leader Profile: EMMA KADING

Education: Vassar College, B.A., Hispanic Studies, B.A., Science, Technology, and Society

While at Vassar, Emma focused on Hispanic Studies and Science, Technology, and Society, which led her to spend quite a bit of time in the… read more

While at Vassar, Emma focused on Hispanic Studies and Science, Technology, and Society, which led her to spend quite a bit of time in the southern hemisphere, traveling to Argentina, Australia, and Bali. While in Argentina, Emma attended La Universidad de Buenos Aires, played rugby, and worked with Fundación Huesped, an organization that combats discrimination and stigmatization of people living with HIV and AIDS. While in Australia, she studied in the Health Sciences and Sociology faculties at Melbourne University, where she also played Aussie Rules Football. She also spent time backpacking in Thailand. In her final year at Vassar, Emma tutored children in ESL classes and for the Spanish-language newspaper La Voz. Until recently she lived in Guatemala, where she volunteered as a nutrition recuperation program facilitator for Primeros Pasos, a public health NGO. She is now working toward her EMT certification. Emma is fluent in Spanish and has twice led Putney’s Community Service Costa Rica program, as well as Community Service Peru and Ecuador.  


Departure • Travel Day • Meet your fellow students and one or more of your leaders in Miami and fly together to Quito, Ecuador. To learn more about how we organize travel, click here.

Quito 2 days • Spend the first days of this summer program exploring Ecuador’s capital city, Quito. Get to know your leaders and fellow students, take a walking tour of the colonial Old City, ride the teleférico up the Pichincha Volcano, savor rich Ecuadorian coffee in an outdoor café, and participate in an in-depth orientation.

Host Village 16 days Travel by bus to our host village, a small community of about 500 – 1000 people, in the central Andean highlands north of Quito. Experience local culture and everyday life as you work with a traditional Quechua indigenous community to complete volunteer projects. Lend a hand constructing a community center, harvest crops, teach English classes, or organize a summer camp for local children. In the afternoons and evenings, play pick-up soccer with Ecuadorian friends, practice your Spanish, or hike into the hills surrounding your village. Putney Student Travel groups live and partner with different host villages and do not meet during the program.

Students ride horses on our community service program in Ecuador and the Galapagos

Otavalo & Cloud Forest • 2 days • During your time in your host village, take an overnight excursion to explore the surrounding area. Hike around the rim of Laguna de Cuicocha, a crater lake with spiritual significance to the Quechua people. Explore Otavalo’s renowned outdoor market featuring embroidered textiles, handwoven alpaca blankets, art, jewelry, and more. Hike to hot springs, enjoy home cooked meals, learn about the region’s biodiversity, visit a local coffee cooperative, and take part in an Inti-Raymi celebration.

Cotopaxi • 2 days •  After bidding goodbye to your host village, visit snow-capped Cotopaxi, one of the world’s largest volcanoes. Stay at a cozy Andean hacienda, hike to the mountain refugio on snow-capped Cotopaxi Volcano for breathtaking views, and ride horseback across the surrounding Andean páramo. At night, savor traditional meals and tell stories by the fireplace with gaucho guides

Quito • 1 day • Return to Quito for one night before a morning flight to the Galápagos Islands.

Santa Cruz, Galápagos Islands • 1 day • Fly from Quito to Baltra Island and travel by boat to the island of Santa Cruz to meet one of the Galápagos’ most famous residents, a 100-year-old tortoise named Diego, who has helped repopulate an entire species of giant tortoises. Visit Diego along with other tortoises and rarely-seen land iguanas at the Charles Darwin Research Station and learn what scientists are doing to reintroduce them into the wild. Go for a hike in the highlands and check out the cavernous lava tubes. Head to Tortuga Bay, a stunning beach with fine white sand to see marine iguanas.

San Cristóbal, Galápagos Islands • 4 days • Next, board a boat bound for San Cristobal. Visit the Interpretation Center on San Cristóbal for an introduction to the biology, geology, and history of human impact on the islands. Then, jump on bikes for an exhilarating downhill ride from the highlands to the coast. Snorkel through the passage of Kicker Rock, the remains of an underwater volcano, and spot manta rays, sea turtles, harmless Galápagos sharks, and an impressive array of colorful tropical fish.

Return • Travel day • Fly with the group from the Galápagos to Quito. Fly overnight from Quito to Miami with your group and a leader, then continue on to your final destination. To learn more about how we organize travel, click here.

This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule.  However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.

We expected that Jesse would have a safe, well-organized, transformative learning experience. Our expectations were readily fulfilled!  Jesse grew in his maturity, his ability to travel on his own, make new friends, his knowledge of a different culture, and the opportunity to be of service all of which contributed to a tremendous growth in his self-confidence and self-knowledge!

— Ron Rubin & Lisa Young, Middlebury, VT

A Day in the Life: HOST VILLAGE

Due to the traveling nature of this student program abroad, each day is different. Here is a snapshot of a day in the host village.

7 AM Prepare breakfast with women from the community
8 AM  Lay blocks for the construction of a community kitchen
12 PM Eat a homemade lunch and relax
2 PM • Teach an English class to local schoolchildren or work on your independent project
4 PM Hike into the hills surrounding the village to prepare for your Cotopaxi hike
6 PM Dinner
8 PM Group meeting to discuss the day and the progress of work projects

Students teach to local schoolchildren on our community service program in Ecuador


What to Expect

Community Service • This summer abroad program in Ecuador is designed to provide the opportunity to learn about another culture by forming meaningful relationships with local people and undertaking a shared community service experience together. You should come to the summer with an open mind, eager to participate in new experiences and interested in exploring another culture and way of life. During your travel in Ecuador, you can expect to participate in several different service experiences — construction projects such as mixing cement and laying blocks for a community building, environmental projects like water access initiatives or shadowing local farmers, and educational projects such as teaching English to local children and adults. All students participate in each of the group’s projects on a rotating basis, and everyone lends a hand in meal preparation and cleanup. You can expect to complete 50 – 80 hours of community service work. To learn more about our Community Service summer abroad programs, click here.

Language Practice Proficiency in Spanish is not required. However, students who study Spanish in school may have opportunities to practice while communicating with local people. Students who do not speak the local language will have the opportunity to learn some basic language skills.

Independent Project • Choose an independent project and pursue an aspect of Ecuadorian culture of particular interest to you — learn to make empanadas with a local family, try milking a cow, learn a traditional dance, or organize an opportunity for you and your friends to lend a hand in reforestation efforts.

Physical Activity • This is a very active summer program. The volunteer work, as well as activities and excursions, can be strenuous, and you can expect to spend most of each day outside. You can expect to work on projects, play soccer, hike, horseback ride, swim, kayak, bike, and snorkel. You do not need to be at peak fitness to participate, but it is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are excited about trying all activities.

Altitude • This program visits high altitude destinations — Quito and the region around our project village (~9,000 feet), our hacienda in Cotopaxi National Park (11,800 feet), and a hike to the the base camp of Cotopaxi Volcano (14,000+ feet).

Accommodations • Living accommodations in Ecuador are very simple. The group lives in a community building or albergue — we use sleeping bags and sleeping pads on the floor with simple bathrooms, running water, flushing toilets, and a shower. During overnight excursions and in the Galápagos, we stay in simple, clean eco-lodges, bungalows, and family-run inns where students sleep in beds, have hot showers, and share a room with other students in your group. Leaders reside together with the students throughout the program.

Meals • In the host village, we eat delicious home-cooked meals prepared by local women. Each day several students from the group form cooking crews and help the cooks prepare meals. Students learn about shopping at the market and preparing food, Ecuadorian style. During excursions and in the Galápagos, the group eats most meals in restaurants and occasionally hits the markets to shop for a picnic lunch.

My greatest sense of accomplishment was my continual use of Spanish. I made an effort to talk to locals and improve my language skills, and by the end of the trip, I feel like I grew immensely as a speaker.

— Greta W., Chadron High School, Chadron, NE

Ask Us

Call Lauren at 802.387.5000 or email

The Community Service Ecuador summer program is directed by Lauren McDowell. If you have questions, are interested in receiving more detailed information, or would like to talk further about the program or any of our summer student travel programs, please get in touch!

Lauren McDowell

Washington and Lee University, B.A., Spanish, B.A., Economics

Lauren lived in Seville, Spain, during college and has been on the go ever since. She has led Putney programs to Ecuador, Cuba, Costa Rica, and Spain. Lauren has worked with Putney since 2000 and has created and cultivated partnerships between Putney and many small villages throughout Central and South America. When not traveling, Lauren can be found outdoors soaking up southern Vermont’s seasonal extremes, practicing yoga, reading, and Nordic skiing. She looks forward to the day when her three sons will join Putney groups themselves. Lauren coordinates programming in Ecuador and Cuba, and acts as our liaison to the Putney Open Door Fund scholarship foundation.