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 hike down to a lake inside of a volcano!
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
- Walk on lava surfaces and hike into a volcanic crater to explore the lake within
- 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
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°.
DAY 3: QUILOTOA VOLCANIC CRATER
We’ll enjoy a delicious Andean breakfast before continuing our journey to one of Ecuador’s most fascinating natural sites – Quilotoa. Quilotoa was once a majestic volcano, but 800 years ago, it suffered a catastrophic eruption that tore the peak of the volcano off and left only the caldera. Over time, it filled with water, and today it has become a spectacular lake. On the way to the crater, we will be able to see the indigenous populations of Zumbahua and Tigua in their small picturesque villages.
Once we arrive at the crater’s rim, we will have a spectacular view of the lake from the edge of the volcano before hiking down to the shore of the lake. On the lakeshore, you’ll be amazed by the spectacular view of the surrounding crater as we enjoy a traditional Andean lunch and marvel at the fact that we are enjoying a picnic in a volcanic crater!
DAYS 4-7: 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 8 -10: 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 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
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of teen typically participates in this program? What are the requirements to join?
We have teens join this program from all over the world! They are typically culturally curious teens who are excited about making new friends, stepping out of their comfort zone, expanding their horizons, and trying something new.
What are the requirements to join?
This program is only for students who are currently in 9th through 12th grade 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 Galapagos is a highlight for most students, 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?
Ground transportation, accommodations, all breakfasts and dinners, chaperones and guides, 60 hours of language classes, trip related activities, trip related activity admissions, taxes and tips.
Not included (not intended to be an exhaustive list): Airfare, rail passes, lunches, visas and visa application fees, beverages other than tap water, activities and admissions not referenced in the itinerary or deemed not trip related such as movies, clubs and the like, expenses incurred by the participant that are outside the trip description such as damage to hotels, excess baggage fees and the like, expenses related to unforeseen circumstances such as transportation strikes, natural disasters and the like, 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?
The Trip Director for every program is a seasoned teen travel professional with extensive TFT experience. Trip Directors often live or have lived and worked in the destination country. Extensive knowledge of the language and culture of the destination is crucial. Our Senior Counselors are experienced, responsible and fun-loving individuals who our participants can share experiences with and look to for guidance and support. At Travel for Teens we pride ourselves on our rigorous staff application process and the professionalism of our full time and summer staff. It is the job of the counselors to keep the program fun and exciting, the learning and the laughter in good balance, and to oversee the safety of the participants. Minimum ratios are on average one staff member to every seven participants. Programs may also include one or two Junior Counselors, who are college students with a history of TFT travel, and one or more Counselors in Training (CIT’s) with limited responsibility. CIT’s are not counted in staff-participant ratios. In addition to the TFT staff from outside South Africa, there will also be a local full-time TFT guide with the group for the entirety of the program.
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?
At Travel for Teens, we pride ourselves on smaller group sizes to create a more authentic and personalized experience. Our group sizes fall between 14-21 students, which is the perfect size to meet new friends without feeling lost in a crowd! We find smaller groups also eliminate the likelihood of cliques, and allow for a better well-rounded group dynamic.
How does this program connect to other programs?
Most of our Latin America programs are designed specifically so that participants can combine them with other trips. If you are connecting to another program, your counselor will escort you to the airport on the last day of the trip and help you get to your next destination where you will meet up with your new counselors and group.
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.
How much free time do we get?
Our counselors are with the group almost always. Everyday we will break up into smaller groups to give our participants some choices and flexibility in their itinerary. We do offer some free time to do some shopping, for example, in defined areas that we are very familiar with. If participants are ever shopping by themselves within these defined areas they go in groups and for no more than an hour. Additionally a lifeguard certified counselor will be supervising the students 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.
DO I NEED ANY VACCINATIONS FOR THIS PROGRAM?
We recommend that you check with your family doctor regarding vaccinations and medical advice for the areas you will be visiting. For more information, please check out the World Health Organization’s website www.who.int/en/. After you register, we will provide you with a list of vaccinations you should consider discussing with your child’s family doctor.
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 I NEED TO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE?
No, our skilled staff members will help you get around and even teach you a few fun phrases!