Numerous organizations look for the services of volunteers; however, the vast majority require at least a minimal grasp of Spanish, a minimum commitment of several weeks or months, as well as fees (anywhere from $10 per day to $700 per month) to cover the costs of room and board. Volunteers can work in conservation programs, help street kids, teach, build nature trails, construct websites, do medical or agricultural work – the possibilities are endless. Many jungle lodges also accept volunteers for long-term stays. To keep your volunteer costs down, your best bet is to look when you get to Ecuador.
The classifieds section on Ecuador Explorer (www.ecuadorexplorer.com) has a long list of organizations seeking volunteers.
AmaZOOnico (www.selvaviva.ec/en/amazoonico) Accepts volunteers for the animal-rehabilitation sector.
Andean Bear Conservation Project (www.andeanbear.org) The Andean Bear Conservation Project trains volunteers as bear trackers. Hike through remote cloud forest to track the elusive spectacled bear, whose predilection for sweet corn is altering its wild behavior. Other jobs here include maintaining trails and working with local farmers to replenish cornfields ravaged by bears (to discourage bear hunting). Volunteers can come for as little as a week, but a month ($700) is recommended.
Bosque Nublado Santa Lucia (www.santaluciaecuador.com) Community-based ecotourism project in the cloud forests of northwest Ecuador. It regularly contracts volunteers to work in reforestation, trail maintenance, construction, teaching English and more.
FEVI (www.fevi.org) The Fund for Intercultural Education & Community Volunteer Service works with children, the elderly, women’s groups and indigenous communities throughout Ecuador.
Inti Sisa (www.intisisa.org) In Guamote, this hostel has info on volunteer opportunities in early-childhood education.
Jatun Sacha Foundation (www.jatunsacha.org) This foundation has four biological research stations in four zones of Ecuador: the coast, highlands, Amazonía and the Galápagos. It accepts volunteers at each one, with a minimum commitment of two weeks.
Junto con los Niños (www.juconi.org.ec) Organization that works with street kids in the slum areas of Guayaquil. One-month minimum preferred.
Merazonia (www.merazonia.org) A central highlands refuge for injured animals.
New Era Galápagos Foundation (www.neweragalapagos.org) Nonprofit offering volunteerships focused on community empowerment and sustainable tourism in the Galápagos. Volunteers live and work on Isla San Cristóbal.
Progreso Verde (www.progresoverde.org) Accepts volunteers for reforestation, organic farming, teaching and other areas.
Reserva Biológica Los Cedros (www.reservaloscedros.org) This biological reserve in the cloud forests of the western Andean slopes often needs volunteers.
Río Muchacho Organic Farm Guests and locals get their hands dirty learning about sustainable farming practices. There are short programs from one to three days, plus week- to month-long courses ($300 to $1200). You can volunteer here for $300 per month. Most people come here on a three-day, two-night tour costing $172 per person, with discounts for larger groups.
On the accommodation front, cabins are Thoreau-approved-rustic, with shared showers and composting toilets. The coveted spot is a tree house bunk. Lying along the river of the same name, this tropical organic farm is reached by a 7km rough, unpaved road branching inland from the road north of Canoa.
Siempre Verde Get off the road just before Santa Rosa for the two-hour walk into Siempre Verde, a small community-run research station supporting tropical-conservation education with excellent hiking and bird-watching. Students and researchers are welcome with prior arrangement.
Yanapuma Foundation Offers a number of ways for volunteers to get involved: teaching English, building houses in remote communities, helping with reforestation projects or taking part in coastal clean-ups. Stop by its Quito headquarters and language school for more information.