Join Andean Discovery Student Expeditions to explore agriculture and micro-business through the lens of local communities in the Andean highlands of Ecuador. Engage with farmers and entrepreneurs during homestays in a sustainable cloud forest community and rural Kichwa village that have adopted innovative micro-business models. Participate in a communal organic farming project, and workshops in small, local businesses that sell and trade their goods at farmers’ markets.
Learn about the resilient entrepreneurial endeavors that pop up in the most unexpected of places, from farming on the floor of a volcano crater to raising honeybees in the Andes, and creative alternatives to deforestation. This hands-on learning experience will focus on the empowering of local communities to navigate their own success in an increasingly globalized and corporatized world. Daily activities serve as a point of departure to analyze global issues of development, sustainability, and empowerment during group reflection.
Your Ecuadorian experience begins with arrival in Quito, a spectacular city rich in culture and rife with history. From ancient cultures to colonial rule to the bustling capital of the 21st century, Quito’s proud people and vibrant customs are rivaled only by the stunning geography that hosts it. At 9,350 feet above sea level, the city spills through an Andean valley with towering peaks on either side. Just a few miles from the equator, it maintains a springtime climate throughout the year and a reverence for nature unparalleled in most modern metropolises.
Meet your Andean Discovery Program Leader at the airport and chat with him or her about current events in the city on your way to your hotel. After a welcome briefing, it’s time to relax after a long day of travel.
Today you will be introduced to Ecuador’s human and natural history. The morning begins with an active exploration of Quito’s colonial center. Walk alongside your knowledgeable Andean Discovery Program Leader, a native Ecuadorian, down cobblestone streets, immersed in the lovingly preserved architecture of colonial Ecuador. Marvel at the ornate baroque facade of La Compañia church and learn about the way volcanic stone was hauled from the surrounding mountains to be carved into the intricate masterpiece you see today. Continue the conversation at the Church of San Francisco and the adjacent museum, with much of the church’s original artwork dating back to the 1600s. Absorb the long and tumultuous past of this city, which has been the commerce and culture capital of Ecuador long before Western contact. Enjoy a delicious lunch at a nearby local eatery, and then spend the afternoon getting an overview of the country’s stunning ecology at a local botanical garden, featuring plants from all ecological regions of Ecuador. As you walk through the gardens, you will gain a comprehensive introduction to the environmental education and conservation movements around Ecuador’s natural spaces and species. Take time to journal and reflect on your first glimpse of the human and natural history of Ecuador at an evening meeting, and head to bed early to gear up for your upcoming experience in the cloud forest.
Meals: (B, L, D)
We bid adios to Quito early in the morning and head west to dive into the natural beauty and fascinating biodiversity of the cloud forest. Making our way to the marvelous forest outpost of Mindo, we watch the scenery transform from arid to lush as we descend the Andean slopes to the verdant highlands accented with gushing waterfalls. Learn about this intricate ecosystems, which is home to hundreds of species of tropical birds–including toucans, quetzals, owls, and hummingbirds–that call the region home. Catch a birds-eye-view of it all during a thrilling canopy zip-line tour that takes you through a series of platforms and lines spanning over two miles across the upper levels of the forest.
After lunch, enjoy the tastiest of Ecuadorian customs by visiting a chocolate factory and speaking with a cacao producer. We explore every aspect of the supply chain from bean to bar, and sample some of the world’s best chocolate along the way.
From Mindo, we continue on to first homestay portion of our experience. This cloud forest community, a small collective legendary for its willingness to come together to preserve its land and legacy from development, welcomes you with open arms for an intercultural exchange. Sit down with members of the community and learn about the way they united in the face of resource depletion and exploitation to create an ecotourism initiative that has become a model for community empowerment.
Get oriented to the basics of organic agriculture and livestock husbandry, environmental education, and micro-business before meeting your host family and settling in for the night.
Meals: (B, L, D)
Over the next two days, the group will engage in meaningful service projects and community initiatives alongside town residents, working hand in hand to further the sustainable goals of the community. Plant seedlings or harvest fruit on a small organic farm. Care for and feed the community’s cows, chickens, and pigs. Help with production of marmalades, yogurt, cheeses, and artisan crafts. Help execute reforestation projects, and construct and maintain town infrastructure. You will spend afternoons on the soccer field with local children or spending time in the main square before dinner with your host families. Nights are spent journaling about your experiences, documenting, and reflecting on the bonds you’re forming in the community.
Meals: (B, L, D)
Participation in community projects. Play soccer and hang out with the children in the community during down time.
Meals: (B, L, D)
After several days of cultural immersion and furthering the goals of the community in the cloud forest, we part ways with our new familias and travel to zero degrees latitude to visit an interactive solar museum. Your Program Leader will walk you through a series of interactive experiments that demonstrate the gravitational forces surrounding the site associated with its unique geographic positioning. Observe Pululahua Volcano, one of only two inhabited volcanic calderas in the world. Here, clouds from the Pacific lowlands collide with the Andes producing fog or “neblina,” which rolls in around midday every day and fills the crater. These conditions produce a unique microclimate and fertile farmland on the crater floor, a phenomenon that has fascinated geologists and meteorologists for centuries.
We then head north to the province of Imbabura, a region known for its ancient volcanoes, pristine highland lakes, and thriving indigenous culture. The scenic drive makes its way through green valleys and dramatic plateaus, and you may even catch a glimpse of the snowcapped volcanoes Cotopaxi and Cayambe. This fascinating area is home to the Otavaleños, Kichwa-speaking Indians famous for their traditional garments, ancient handicrafts, and expansive outdoor markets. We orient ourselves to the local culture by meeting with a community leader who moderates a discussion on indigenous issues, including the effects of the Land Reform law, agriculture, oil rights, mining, and the policies of populist Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa.
Meals: (B, L, D)
Perhaps the best way to experience Otavalo is by participating in its legendary outdoor market alongside your host family, one of the largest and oldest of its kind in South America. This indigenous market has been a communal, cultural, and commercial hub for farmers and artisans in the surrounding areas since long before the arrival of the Spanish, and villagers walk for hours from surrounding villages to sell or trade their animals at the livestock market and stock up on provisions to take back to their villages. Alongside our hosts, we’ll prepare for the market, speak with artisans, and even try our hands at bargaining for exquisite jewelry, clothing, blankets, and art. Our hosts provide us an angle that most visitors never get, and help us truly understand the vitality and tradition of the market. After a long day of commerce and culture, we retire for a home-cooked meal using our recently purchased ingredients, as well as a restful night of sleep in the homes of our hosts.
Afternoon option 1
This afternoon visit a raptor rescue and rehabilitation center, set on a dramatic hilltop with views of Imbabura volcano, to get an up-close look at the great Andean Condor. Learn about ongoing conservation efforts and marvel at a live flying demonstration with harpy eagles, bald eagles, and hawks.
Meals: (B, L, D)
This morning visit Laguna Cuicocha or “Lake of the Guinea Pigs.” This pristine lake sits in a volcano crater at 10,072 feet above sea level, and is known for its emerald-green waters and the pair of islets at its center that resemble cuis, or guinea pigs. Take an easy hike around the crater wall and enjoy spectacular views of the lake below. Active travelers may opt for the full 4-hour hike around the crater rim for 360-degree panoramic views. Time permitting, a short boat ride provides access to the islets in the center of the lake, where you can observe endemic birds and get a glimpse of volcanic sulfur gas bubbling to the surface. Enjoy some tasty local cuisine in the artisan community of Cotacachi, one of the best places in Ecuador to find handcrafted leather goods. This afternoon you will participate in a community meeting and learn about local agriculture, the community’s relationship to the land, and ancient Andean traditions. Enjoy a Pachamanca meal, an offering to Mother Earth, which is by cooked by hot stones in the ground.
Meals: (B, L, D)
This morning you will be transferred to the airport in time for your international flight.