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Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Andes Mountains, Amazon Rainforest, Jungle, Hiking, Climbing

 

  Ecuador's unequalled natural beauty, diverse people, and fascinating history make it an incredible travel destination. Explore the Amazon jungle in a dug-out canoe; learn Spanish; experience diverse cultural festivals, including colorful Indigenous and vibrant Afro-Ecuadorian celebrations; scuba dive with sea lions and exotic fish in the waters of the Galapagos Islands; hike to the top of the world's highest active volcano in the Andes Mountains; go bird watching in pristine cloud forests; bargain with locals at markets that have remained unchanged for a thousand years; explore Incan ruins...
 

QUITO
Nestled in an Andean valley close to 10,000 feet above sea level and just south of the Equator, Ecuador's capital of two million is both modern and historic. First celebrated as the capital of the Northern Inca Kingdom, and subsequent to the Spanish founding in 1534 as a prize jeweled crown of the Spanish Empire, Quito contains the best preserved colonial architecture in the Americas. The weather is that of eternal Spring: cool mornings, hot sun at noon, possible afternoon rain, and chilly nights. While beautiful, expect to find the troubles of big cities, including an increase in pollution, thefts, and annoying traffic. Since Quito is the central point for coming and going, students based there have great access to dozens of exotic adventure travel destinations.

In Quito students will experience marked contrasts in wealth, with chauffeured Land Cruisers and opulent shopping centers side by side to street corners full of rural poor who have migrated to the city and sell candy or beg, for lack of viable employment. With the dollarization of the economy, the cost of living in Ecuador has skyrocketed and now parallels costs in developed countries. Some things, like camera film and clothes, are more expensive than at home. Fresh vegetables, flowers, and fruit are less. Expect to pay the same for entertainment or a pizza. For big spenders, money will dissolve just as fast as it does at home. On the other hand, frugal participants will spend very little, since program fees cover most living expenses.

AMAZON RAINFOREST
For many students, the rainforest is the most powerful experience of their South American adventure. With some of the highest rainfall in the world, the upper Amazon region houses thousands of animal and plant species. There are more species of trees per acre than anywhere else on the planet. Jungle creatures are shy so you may not see them unless you are alone and quiet, but you will be able to observe exotic plants, insects, and some birds high up in the canopy. Animals native to this region include a wide variety of monkeys, jaguars, ocelots, foxes, weasels, otters, skunks, raccoons, coatis, kinkajous, tapirs, deer, and peccary. Over 1,500 species of birds inhabit the region. In the flooded waters of the Cuyabeno Reserve, you not only see macaws, toucans, and several species of monkeys including the pigmy marmoset, but you can often see fresh water pink dolphins.

Andean Study Programs uses various sites, depending on the needs of the group. In some of the sites, students are able to experience the culture of one of the indigenous ethnic groups of the Ecuadorian Amazon region, which include Untsuri-Shuar, Achuar, Canelos Quichua, Huaorani, Napo Quichua, Cofan, and Siona-Secoya. Economic and cultural survival for the native Amazonian people is a constant struggle. The alarming deforestation and negative impact of oil exploration not only destroys the forest, but the cultures of those who depend on it for their existence. Our hope is that students will be able to explore the complex issues surrounding the rainforest, in addition to enjoying the grandeur.

Walking into the forest for a newcomer can be a tough challenge. Students should be in good physical shape for rainforest hikes. Rubber boots will help with the ups and downs, slippery stretches, and actual hiking in streams. For some the experience is akin to a physical and cultural outward bound journey with energies pushed to limits. Good humor and flexibility will aid you in making the most of every moment. We guarantee that you will come out of the jungle as a changed person.

Don’t forget to bring your swimsuit, rubber boots, a rain poncho, insect repellent, garbage bags to protect belongings from water, and a good flashlight.

MINDO VALLEY CLOUD FOREST
On the Western side of the volcano Pichincha and under two hours from Quito, the Mindo Cloud Forest boasts some of the highest epiphyte diversity in the world. Part of the Choco Endemic Bio-region, this pre-montane/subtropical rainforest hosts 9000 plant species and over 61 range-restricted birds. Some of the bird species include the Andean Cock of the Rock, Oilbird, Black and chestnut Eagle, Lyre-tailed Nightjar, Narino Tapaculo, Giant, Scaled, and Ochre-breasted Antpittas, and the White-faced Nunbird. Hard to spot mammal species in the valley include the ocelot, the endangered spectacled bear, the nine-banded long nosed armadillo, and the puma.

Plan on getting muddy and be sure to bring a rain poncho, sweatshirt, flashlight, and insect repellent.

THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
The Galapagos Islands are a group of 19 islands scattered over 23,000 square miles of ocean located 600 miles west of Ecuador's mainland. The islands, formed of lava piles, have a striking, sometimes lunar, ruggedness with cliffs, volcanic mountains, and craters. The climate is arid with much of the lowlands covered by forests of cactus. In 1935 Ecuador designated the Galapagos as a wildlife sanctuary, the same year it became world famous due to the studies and resulting theories of natural selection by the English naturalist, Charles Darwin.

There are about 700 species of higher plant life, 40% of these being endemic. The animal life is of utmost scientific interest for several reasons. First, there is an unusual percentage of endemic species. Most of the resident birds and all of the reptiles are endemic with the exception of one night lizard. Secondly, subspecies have developed on several islands, and species, most notably the Darwin finch, have developed adoptive measures in characteristics like beak shape and size. Other species such as the marine iguanas and flightless cormorants have evolved by adaptation. Thirdly, the giant tortoises from which the Islands get their name and who are thought to have the longest life span of any creature on earth, have become extinct on the continent but continue to thrive on the Islands. A fourth amazing characteristic is to see species of Antarctic origin such as the penguins and fur seals live side by side with tropical species. From the visitors point of view, perhaps the most incredible feature is to see all of these species living in their natural habitat, tame, and with no fear of humans.

Due to the distance between islands, the best way to see the Galapagos is by sleeping on a yacht and traveling from island to island, with each island holding its unique charm. Because the park attempts to minimize any outside impact on nature, landings to the islands are all natural, without manmade docks. Small motor boats transfer passengers from the yacht to the islands with either dry landings against the rocks or wet landings into the water of a shallow beach. From there, guides take visitors on a carefully controlled tour of the island so as not to disturb nesting areas that may be invisible to an uniformed guest. Snorkeling sites are also chosen each day.

Bring good walking shoes that protect you from thorns or sharp rocks, sunscreen, a hat, comfortable shorts, cool tops, and swimwear. If traveling in the cool season of late summer, bring a rain proof jacket. Lots of film and a disposable underwater camera are good ideas as well. Stretches of ocean between islands can be quite rough so good motion sick medicine, which is difficult to come by in Ecuador, is imperative if you get seasick. You may want to test yourself for seasick tendencies before the program if you have never been on a boat in rough waters.

PAPALLACTA
High in the Andes, under two hours from Quito, Papallacta provides students with the opportunity to soak in crystal clear thermal springs and hike through a literally breathtaking landscape. This high mountain tundra provides habitat to condors, pumas, bears, and other nearly extinct species. The lecture prior to Papallacta addresses the high tundra ecosystem.

Accommodations are heated but bring warm clothing, especially if you plan to hike. Layers are best with a warm sweatshirt and good rain jacket to keep out the wind. Pack an extra pair of socks and shoes in case one pair gets wet. Don’t forget your swimsuit!

BAÑOS
The people from Baños call their town "a piece of heaven" and it is the perfect place to recuperate from mental or physical stress. Named the Gateway to the Eastern Jungle, the narrow Baños pass with its rushing mountain streams, waterfalls, and cliffs eventually gives way to wide expanses of jungle. A major lure of the town is the active volcano Tunguragua, that can sometimes be seen spewing smoke, and fills the church with paintings of its fiery wrath and miraculous stories of salvation by the Virgin of Baños. Tourists from all over the world join pilgrims from all walks of life to enjoy the many activities available in the town. These include visiting the miraculous Virgin of Holy Water, sampling local delicacies in the streets, hiking, biking, horse back riding, soaking in the hot springs, or simply hanging out in one of the many cafes. Though the sun is usually out or just behind a mountain ridge, cold rain can set in for days at a time so be prepared for warm or cool, rain or shine.

Don’t forget your swimsuit for the thermal baths and hiking shoes.

OTAVALO
In the highlands, two hours north of Quito, the town of Otavalo is famous for the industrious Otavalenos who have marketed their weavings worldwide. The area is also known for the Andean traditional music and customs. During your stay in the Otavalo you will visit native traditional families, watch Otavalan weavers at work, explore historic haciendas, enjoy the view of lakeside lodges at the foothills of majestic Volcano Imbabura, bargain shop, sample local foods, and hike.

Don’t forget to bring lots of cash for purchases and sunscreen.

COTOPAXI AND LATACUNGA
South of Quito are the Cotopaxi and Chimborazo provinces with the largest native Andean populations. The provinces are named for the Volcanoes Cotopaxi, at 5,897 meters (19,347 feet) which is the world’s highest active volcano, and for Chimborazo at 6,310 meters (20,702 feet), which is Ecuador’s highest peak. These volcanoes provide great trekking and climbing for visitors and are sacred to the native people.

Going to the Cotopaxi national park makes a great day trip. Students can go by train or on a downhill biking excursion. The splendor of the volcano dominates the landscape. The paramo, or high tundra, is home to the Andean condor and the paramo fox. Beyond the park, continuing south on the Avenue of Volcanoes and off the beaten path, is Tigua, known for it’s colorful story paintings, Zumbahua with a Saturday market that sells llamas, produce, and trinkets, and Chugchilan, with amazing hiking opportunities. The landscape is one of the most spectacular found in Ecuador, culminating with Quilotoa, an emerald green crater lake, which is easy to hike down to but proves to be surprisingly exhausting coming back up. The later sites require overnights, due to remote locations.

Be sure to bring very warm clothing, including a hat, as the wind factor in the high mountain tundra creates an inhospitable climate.

Another popular weekend excursion is to bus to Riobamba, in the province of Chimborazo, and continue on south by train via the Devil’s Nose, which is a series of switchbacks down a steep mountain. The adventure can continue on to the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca and later culminate with a trip to Incapirca, Ecuador’s main Inca ruins.

 

If you would like to see more information about some of the sites we use, check out the web sites below:

Amazon and Cloud Forest Sites:

Other hotels, lodges, and Galapagos boats: