Despite being one of the smallest countries in South America, Ecuador has enormous biodiversity, and is widely regarded as one of the easiest and most pleasant South American countries to travel and volunteer in on a career break.
The Andes form the backbone of Ecuador, which is bordered by Colombia to the north, Peru to the south and east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The country has a fabulous coast line as well as tropical jungle, snow-capped mountains and volcanoes, making it an exciting destination for a volunteer project.
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Lying at 2850 meters above sea-level in a valley at the foot of the active volcano Pichincha, it is a real architectural jewel. Quito is divided into two distinct parts: the colonial centre and to the north, the modern city. As a volunteer in Ecuador, walking through the streets of the historical part of town can seem like visiting a giant museum!
Apart from Quito, Ecuador has plenty to offer, especially for nature lovers. With its volcanoes, jungle, the famous Galapagos Islands and the Andes, there are so many things to explore and discover on a career break in Ecuador!
Life between cities and rural areas is very distinct. While big cities such as Quito and Guayaquil are well serviced by public transport and offer a rather western life-style, rural areas are largely undeveloped and rely on non-paved roads and moto-taxis. As a result, volunteering and teaching in Ecuador can be a wildly different experience depending on your location.
Career break volunteers can teach English in Ecuador, work as a childcare volunteer, or take part in a conservation project. We work in three different regions in Ecuador: in the Andes (which includes Quito and villages in areas listed among the ten most biologically important in the world); in the Central Highlands, tucked away in the ‘Avenue of the Volcanoes’ (widely regarded as one of the most beautiful car journeys in the world); and on the coast, around the beautiful and tourist-friendly town of Puerto Lopez.
Volunteers travelling to teach in Ecuador mainly work in government schools, which receive very little funding and where the pupils have little or no knowledge of English. There are also opportunities for volunteers to work as an orphanage volunteer or in a children’s hospital in Quito. MondoChallenge also works with a National Park on the Pacific coast, where a voluntary conservation project helps to looks after an area that covers both the main land and nearby islands.
As a volunteer in Ecuador you will find that the best way to see the country is to fly. Flying in Ecuador is affordable and convenient and you can usually get to where you want to go in no more than half an hour's flying time. The country's main airlines offer daily services to the main towns and cities, usually departing from Quito or Guayaquil. As well as allowing you to see Ecuador’s stunning natural landscape from above, flying is the best way for career break volunteers to access remote areas such as the Oriente jungle region. Volunteers working and teaching in Ecuador can also visit the Galapagos Islands, which are around 3 hours flying time from the mainland.
While flying is highly recommended, those volunteering in Ecuador will find that foreigners are often required to pay more than double the price that locals pay. It is also worth noting that seats are not reserved and are given on a first come, first served basis. Reconfirming a flight 24 hours before departure is imperative as airlines can refute your reservation if it hasn't been confirmed.
Buses are a cheaper option, but while most long distance journeys take a day or less, the road conditions are often very poor and local buses can be very crowded. Those doing volunteer work in Ecuador will find that taxis are a good option for short journeys or day trips out of cities, and they can often be cheaper than renting a car. Taxi meters do exist, but they are not always switched on so it is best to agree on a price before the journey begins.
Travelling in Ecuador is generally very safe, though we always recommend that volunteers on a career break in Ecuador visit the FCO website for up to date information. Big cities, like anywhere else, have pickpockets and thieves but by being vigilant you should avoid any problems. Don’t leave your bag unattended, avoid wearing fancy jewellery or exposing expensive video, camera or computer equipment, and never count your money in public.
Volunteer programmes in Ecuador require that you have or gain some knowledge of Spanish prior to your departure, though there are opportunities to join a Spanish language course upon arrival in Quito. Voluntary project co-ordinators have highlighted this as something which needs to be taken very seriously, as people in Ecuador generally do not speak English. The higher your level of Spanish, the more you will be able to contribute as a volunteer in Ecuador, and the more rewarding you will find your career break experience. This advice is particularly relevant to those wanting to teach English in Ecuador.
You can also use the menu at the top left of this page to navigate projects in this country.