Home to majestic volcanos, gorgeous islands, and incredible wildlife, Ecuador is an adventure enthusiast’s dream! Discover the rich history and stunning scenery that put this tiny country straddling the Equator at the top of every traveler’s list!
Visit the “Middle of the World” for some unique experiences that can only be done at Latitude Zero, explore charming Quito and discover why it’s one of the most beautiful cities in South America, and go on an exhilarating zipline tour through the cloud forest!
The highlight of this adventure will be visiting the magical Galápagos Islands. This volcanic island archipelago is home to world-famous wildlife and is not to be missed. Observe tortoises, sea lions, eagle rays, penguins, iguanas and more, all in their natural habitat. There really is no other place in the world like it!
During our time in the Galápagos, we will participate in a variety of service projects all dedicated to helping the local community. We will spend time with the students at the local elementary and high schools and volunteer at an environmentally-conscious farm that supplies food for the community. The farm also has a unique horse-therapy program for children with disabilities that we can assist with.
On this trip you will:
- Earn 20 hours of community service volunteering with local students and a sustainable farm
- Stand in both the northern and southern hemisphere at the same time
- Snorkel or scuba dive* with sea lions, sea turtles, marine iguanas, penguins, manta rays, and a variety of tropical fish
- See different species of Galápagos tortoise at the Charles Darwin Station
- Keep your eyes peeled for Darwin’s finches, blue-footed boobies, pelicans, and frigate birds
- Watch playful sea lions up close as they swim in the water and bask on the shore
- Enjoy delicious, local cuisine at an authentic hacienda
- Navigate the Manduro River in a canoe as you explore the Ecuadorian Amazon
- Visit El Pailón del Diablo (the Devil’s Cauldron), an impressive waterfall with a drop of 260 feet!
- Take a beautiful hike to Chimborazo Volcano and admire the flora and fauna
- Ride the Devil’s Nose Train on a breathtaking descent down Nariz del Diablo Mountain
- Take a walk along the streets of Cuenca, the most beautiful colonial city in Ecuador
*Scuba diving is an optional activity
This program is the extended version of our popular Ecuador & the Galápagos Service program.
DAY 1: GROUP FLIGHT DEPARTS FROM MIAMI
DAY 2: QUITO – LA MITAD DEL MUNDO
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, Quito will charm you with its stunning scenery, well-preserved colonial district, and welcoming residents. Nestled between the Andean Mountain peaks, it is considered one of the most beautiful cities in South America! We will explore this city and discover its intricate architecture, vibrant plazas, and colorful markets.
One of the most unique aspects of Quito is that it is home to “la Mitad del Mundo,” the Middle of the World, where you can be both in the northern and southern hemisphere at the same time! After straddling both hemispheres, we will visit the Intiñan Museum, where you will learn more about the indigenous culture of Ecuador and be able to participate in some unique experiments that can only be done at latitude 0°.
DAYS 3-6: GALÁPAGOS – DISCOVERING THE ISLANDS
The next destination on our journey is the magical Galápagos Islands! We will spend time on Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal Islands and discover what makes the Galápagos such a coveted travel destination.
On Santa Cruz Island we’ll take the trail to the gorgeous Tortuga Bay where we will sunbathe, swim, and even spot marine iguanas along the shore. We’ll also visit the Charles Darwin Station on the island. This famous center is a wealth of information on habitats and local conservation, and home to the Tortoise Breeding Center, where it is possible to view tortoises of varied sizes and shapes.
The second island we will visit is San Cristóbal, where we will visit the Galapaguera, a Tortoise breeding center and home to the largest species of giant tortoise in the world. We’ll also explore the misty Junco Lagoon, a freshwater lake located in the middle of a volcanic caldera. You’ll spot seabirds bathing here to wash the salt from their feathers.
While on the islands, we will have plenty of time to relax on the white sandy beaches and swim in the crystal clear water. We’ll snorkel with some fascinating marine life, including sea lions, sea turtles, marine iguanas, penguins, manta rays, and different species of tropical fish. Those who are looking for a little more adventure will also have the option to scuba dive! One of the beaches we visit is home to a large number of lazy sea lions basking on the sand, so you will be able to observe these beautiful creatures up close.
DAYS 7-9: GALÁPAGOS – COMMUNITY SERVICE
After enjoying everything the Galápagos have to offer, there is no better way to complete our journey than by giving back to these beautiful islands that have given us so many incredible memories! We will volunteer with several different projects dedicated to helping the local community–first at a local school, then at a sustainable farm.
We will work with both the elementary and high school students and play games with them, help them practice their English, and learn about what life is like for them on the islands. We will also help out with any light maintenance projects the school may need.
We’ll also spend time at a sustainable farm dedicated to preserving the environment and providing food for the local community. We will help out with several projects on the farm, including recycling, preparing food in a traditional mud oven, and even helping with their horse therapy program for children with disabilities.
DAY 10: NAYON VALLEY
After our exciting time in the Galápagos, we’ll return to Quito for one last day of adventure! Head to the Valle de Nayón for an action-packed, adrenaline-pumping adventure course. Cross the largest hanging rope bridge in Latin America, go on a canopy tour of the jungle, and of course, feel the wind in your hair as you swing on a Tarzan Swing!
DAY 11: COTOPAXI
The next stop on our journey is Cotopaxi National Park, where the awe-inspiring beauty of the Cotopaxi Volcano will leave you breathless. We will hike along the slopes of this colossal volcano to discover the park’s magnificent beauty while learning about the vital importance of its humble ecosystem and the species that dwell here, such as the Andean condor and the paramo wolf.
DAYS 12-16: EL COCA AND BAÑOS
Explore the Ecuadorian Amazon as you navigate the Manduro River on a small canoe all the way to the Sapococha Lagoon. Wander the lagoon and enjoy a concert of birds, frogs, and monkeys while learning about different types of aquatic plants.
We will venture on several adventurous hikes through a variety of different jungle ecosystems. Learn about the flora and fauna found in different types of forest and visit swamps and trees that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. Our Amazon experiences will also include learning how to use a blowpipe and piranha fishing!
Wander through the cloud forest, spot orchids and butterflies, and ride a cable car across the roaring river to reach one of the most well-known waterfalls in Ecuador – El Pailón del Diablo (the Devil’s Cauldron). This impressive and powerful waterfall is 260 feet high and attracts photographers from around the world! Stand on the suspension bridge for the best view of the powerful waterfall cascading down into the river.
DAYS 17-18: RIOBAMBA AND ALAUSI
The next stop on our journey is Riobamba, a charming city with a strong French influence. We will be able to explore the quaint cobblestone streets and admire this town nestled in the mountains. We will also be able to see the majestic Chimborazo Volcano and enjoy a great hike to admire the area’s unique wildlife.
Our next adventure will be a ride on the famous Devil’s Nose Train as we take a breathtaking descent down Nariz del Diablo, a 45-degree mountain slope. On this journey you will encounter stunning mountain scenery, including waterfalls, rivers, and gorges.
After the train we will visit the fortress of Ingapirca, a major pre-colonial Inca site which dates back to the 15th century. This is the most important religious and political monument left by the Incas and the many pre-Columbian cultures that once dwelled in this area and is a great example of how the Inca really lived.
DAYS 18-20: CUENCA
Cuenca is regarded by many as the most charismatic colonial city in the entire country, with a European flair. Its cobblestone streets, graceful wrought-iron balconies, and flowered squares will be sure to captivate you. Its unique marketplaces and handicrafts are living testimony to the region’s rich indigenous and artesian heritage. In the afternoon, we will visit a Panama hat museum and ceramic factory for the perfect opportunities to bring home some authentic gifts!
DAY 21: GUAYAQUIL
We’ll get to know this colorful city, which is quite different from its highland counterpart, Quito. Visit the Parque Simón Bolivar, more commonly known as Parque de las Iguanas because of the ficus trees that are home to exotic flycatchers and arboreal iguanas. Experience the splendid Palacio Municipal and the Gobernación de la Provincia building situated on the promenade on the shore of the Guayas River and gain insight into Guayaquil’s interesting past. As we stroll through the district of Las Peñas, we will pass quirky art galleries and hip cafés with beautiful views. Be sure to pay a visit to the Mercado Plaza del Sur, a metallic structure designed by Gustave Eiffel himself!
DAY 22: RETURN FLIGHT HOME
Authenticity is engrained in everything we do. Eat, stay, and travel like a local.
Check out what past travelers have to say about TFT and discover why we are consistently awarded “Top Youth Travel Organization” year after year.
"This summer was my favorite summer yet. I had the chance to spend a week on the Galapagos Islands and two more weeks in the numerous amazing places in Ecuador. I was able to snorkel with sea lions and sea turtles, learn about Charles Darwin's research, and help out the local community to maintain the island's sustainable practices. The Galapagos were incredible, but I could not wait to go to the Amazon! Not many people can say that they hiked through the Amazon to get to a lodge and shortly after, go piranha fishing, and top off the night with a night-walk to spot giant tarantulas. The adventure did not end there. We hiked up Cotopaxi, one of the tallest volcanos in Ecuador. The views were unbelievable! We finished off the trip but relaxing in natural hot springs, standing in the middle of the world (on the equator), and going on the best ziplining course I've ever seen. This was a truly unforgettable trip, and I have found another country to add to my list of places to re-visit!"
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of teen typically participates in this program? What are the requirements to join?
Teens from all over the world join this program! Typically, our participants are culturally curious individuals who are excited to make new friends, experience something unique, and interested in stepping out of their comfort zones and expanding their horizons.
This program is exclusively for students who are currently in grades 9th through 12th and approximately 14 to 18 years old. Students living outside of the USA are welcome to join!
Where do we stay?
Our hotels and hostels are specifically chosen to be in safe areas and well-suited to facilitating group supervision. We stay in centrally located accommodations, usually within walking distance of the main attractions. This means we do not use large, impersonal chain hotels on the outskirts of cities. We prefer to select smaller, family-run hotels where we establish personal relationships with the owners.
On this program, we will stay in several different types of accommodation, including hotels, lodges and slightly more rustic accommodations (such as a lodge located in the jungle).
For safety reasons, we do not publish the names of the accommodations we use. We do not feel it is safe to publish the name of a hotel where a group of teenagers is staying abroad. After registering, participants and parents are given access to our secure parent website where you will be able to see the names of all of the accommodations for a program.
Do most travelers go on their own?
Yes! In fact, over 75% of students who travel with us choose to come independently. This encourages teens to step further outside their comfort zone and make new friends. We believe that one of the most rewarding and exciting elements of travel is the new friendships that form along the way. When we travel by ourselves, we are bound to make new friends from all over the country and even the world. The best part is, you can travel again with your new friends on another TFT program the next summer!
If you are thinking about joining a TFT program by yourself but you are feeling unsure, please let us know! We have plenty of references from solo travelers who had great experiences and would be happy to chat with you about it.
Can I bring a friend?
Absolutely! We ask that if you do come with a friend, you and your friend(s) maintain openness to meeting new people and sharing this special experience with the entire group.
What do students like most about this program?
Students love that they are able to explore one of the most visited countries in Latin America. The Galápagos is a highlight for most students, as having the opportunity to see such diverse wildlife up close is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
What is unique about this program?
Students will have the unique opportunity to work closely with the local community at its schools and on a farm. This provides travelers with a unique cultural connection that most tourists are not able to have.
What is included?
Tuition cost includes ground transportation; accommodation; chaperones and guides; program-related activities and admissions; taxes and tips; all meals.
Not included in the cost (not intended to be an exhaustive list): Airfare, visas and visa application fees, beverages other than filtered water at meals, activities and admissions not referenced in the itinerary or deemed not program related, such as movies, expenses incurred by the participant that are outside the program description, such as excess baggage fees and damage to hotels, expenses related to unforeseen circumstances, such as transportation strikes and natural disasters, as well as personal and medical expenses.
How do the optional group flights work?
Upon registration, you will be contacted by our International Logistics Team to discuss the program’s flight details. There is no requirement to take the group flight, but there are several advantages to doing so. The group flight is usually chaperoned by a TFT staff member, and it also offers an opportunity for the students to get to know one another prior to the start of the program. Parents are responsible for coordinating transport to the departure airport – however, the logistics team will send out instructions detailing the exact meeting spot and airport point person. For additional information about flights, visit our dedicated flight page.
Who leads the program?
Our staff is a cut above the rest! We seek out two main characteristics in our counselors – extensive knowledge of and experience in our destinations, and a passion for working with teens. Our staff’s backgrounds include living abroad and working in summer camps or other educational settings. Team members are proven leaders and role models, who connect easily with others and form genuine friendships with each student – all while bringing each destination to life.
We celebrate diversity! Our staff represents 49 different nationalities, speak a combined total of 21 languages, and visited 142 countries. Additionally, 80% of our staff lived or worked abroad in their lives. With so many unique experiences to share, you are sure to gain a global perspective.
Our average minimum ratios are one staff member to every seven participants. Each program has one Trip Director with several support staff, depending on the group size. Directors must be at least 25 years old and have prior experience working with TFT.
What are the safety qualifications for our staff?
Our staff members undergo a rigorous hiring process. They receive the same background check as school educators, an extensive training process to go over all safety precautions and protocols, and are required to be certified in CPR and First Aid. We exclusively hire responsible, multi-talented individuals who are safety-minded and are as passionate about teen travel as we are.
What is the average group size?
We pride ourselves on small group sizes to create a more authentic and personalized experience. Our group sizes fall between 14 and 21 students – the perfect size to facilitate new friendships without feeling lost in a crowd! We believe smaller groups eliminate the likelihood of cliques, and allows for a well-rounded, healthy group dynamic.
How does this program connect to other programs?
Our program dates are designed specifically so that participants can opt to combine trips throughout the summer. When connecting to another program, your counselor will escort you to the airport on the last day of the program and assist you in meeting your next group at your new destination.
Families who sign up for more than one program will also receive a 15% discount on the lesser-priced program.
What is the food like on this program?
In a word – delicious! At TFT, we believe food should be an integral part of the travel experience and always make an effort to eat at authentic establishments when we can. What better way to immerse yourself in the culture of a place than by sampling the local delicacies, and we encourage students to do so whenever possible! Just as we stay away from Americanized hotel chains, we try to avoid restaurants with menus that cater only to tourists because every good traveler knows the best food is found wherever the locals are eating!
Expect to eat corn, potatoes and other tubers, quinoa, rice, meats (beef, pork, fish and chicken) veggies and many other foods flavored with unique Ecuadorian seasonings! Vegetarians will have no issues eating well on the trip. Also, unlike in Europe where a light breakfast of coffee and toast is the norm, Ecuadorians eat big, savory breakfasts—and so will we!
We also love to have picnics al fresco, and do this whenever possible, which is a great way to taste some local food while sitting out in the fresh air taking in the sights and sounds of our surroundings.
As always, we are willing and able to accommodate vegetarians, vegans, gluten allergies, and other dietary restrictions.
Do I need any vaccinations for this program?
We recommend checking with your family doctor regarding vaccinations and medical advice for the destination you are visiting. For more information, please check the World Health Organization’s website. Upon registration, we provide a list of recommended vaccinations that can be discussed further with your doctor.
Do I need to speak the language?
No, our skilled staff members will help you get around and even teach you a few fun phrases!
What kind of visa do you need for this trip?
Any US citizen that enters Ecuador is automatically granted a free 90-day tourist visa. If you are coming from somewhere outside the US, please be sure to check your country’s specific visa requirements.
Do we ever get time to go off on our own?
Our staff and teens are nearly always together, but we do provide the opportunity to break up into smaller groups to allow for flexibility and customization within the itinerary.
We offer free time in defined safe areas – for example, shopping in a market or exploring a museum. During these times, students remain in groups of at least two and are given no more than an hour. Of course, the counselors remain nearby and available. Additionally, a lifeguard-certified counselor supervises the campers any time they are involved in water activities.
Do I need to bring anything special for the community service portion of the program?
Participants will need to bring a pair of work gloves as well as some clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and a pair of close-toed shoes that can get paint on them. All tools and materials will be provided to participants on site.