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.
Note that Lonely Planet does not vouch for any organization that we do not work with directly, and we strongly recommend travelers research volunteer opportunities themselves to assess suitability.
AmaZOOnico (www.selvaviva.ec/en/amazoonico) Accepts volunteers for the animal-rehabilitation sector.
Andean Bear Conservation Project (www.andeanbear.org) 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.
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.
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 $179 per person, with discounts for larger groups. On the accommodations 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 cleanups. Stop by its Quito headquarters and language school for more information.
Although Ecuador has a low unemployment rate, the underemployment rate is high (above 50%), so finding work isn’t easy. Officially, you need a worker’s visa to be allowed to work in Ecuador. Aside from the occasional position at a tourist lodge or expat bar, there is little opportunity for paid work. The one exception is teaching English.
Most paid English-teaching job openings are in Quito and Guayaquil. Schools sometimes advertise for teachers on the bulletin boards of hotels and restaurants. Pay is just enough to live on unless you’ve acquired a full-time position from home. If you have a bona fide teaching credential, so much the better. Schools such as the American School in Quito will often hire teachers of mathematics, biology and other subjects, and may help you get a work visa. They also pay much better than the language schools. Check ads in local hotels and newspapers. One of the best online English-teaching resources, complete with job boards, is Dave's ESL Cafe (www.eslcafe.com).
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