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Ecuador: Sustaining the Amazon

Epic waterfalls, endless jungle, and vibrant culture.

Amazon Summer Program

Few places are as critical to the overall health of our planet as the Amazon rainforest. Ecuador’s Amazon is ground zero for extractive industries – oil, minerals, timber, etc – seeking to reap economic gain and fuel our insatiable global ‘need’ for these resources. The pressure to develop the Amazon’s considerable natural resources has led to watershed contamination, deforestation, displacement and harm to the indigenous population, and much more.

In this 15-Day Sustainable Summer program…

  • You’ll learn fascinating facts, like how hydropower projects account for billions of dollars in debt in developing countries while not necessarily generating ‘renewable’ energy.
  • You’ll visit chakras, the ‘forest gardens’ of the indigenous Kichwa people
  • You’ll consider economic solutions to natural resource management in a global context, like the role of social enterprises and micro-finance in sustainable development
  • You’ll examine the ecological impacts of our global hunger for non-renewable resources, which have depleted the Amazon’s ecological health while contributing massively to climate change, species extinction, and local health issues.

Come to Ecuador’s exotic ‘Oriente’ and immerse yourself in the majesty of the jungle and the indigenous people that live in it.

We’ll begin the program with a full day of orientation at our beautiful guest house outside Quito to become familiar with local customs, health and safety protocols, and our individual and mutual goals for the program. The next morning, we’ll take a short trip over the mighty Andes to the farming community of Baeza, situated in the tranquil Quijos River Valley, where we will be based for a few days. We’ll begin our first sustainability segment focused on water resource management. We collaborate with a local NGO that is working to protect Ecuador’s unique river corridors for the benefit of maintaining biodiversity and human health, and developing sustainable economies. We’ll visit two dam projects currently under development, including Ecuador’s largest – the Coca Coda Sinclair – speak with local groups and government officials who are both for and against the project, seek to understand the political and economic forces driving the project, and contemplate alternatives. We’ll also look at the oil industry, mining operations, and other enterprises that are contributing to watershed pollution.

For the second segment of the trip we will head an hour south, to the Amazon gateway town of Tena, a pleasant jungle town nestled in the foothills of the Andes. There you’ll volunteer with an NGO that is working with local farmers to develop guayusa collectives for export to the US. We’ll spend several days in the area learning about social enterprise and sustainable economic development; visiting chakras, the ‘forest gardens’ of the Kichwa people; trekking through the jungle; and spending time with the local people.

Tena is world-renowned for whitewater kayaking and rafting, and we’ll wrap up our time in the region with a full day of paddling on the class III big-water of the Rio Jatunyacu before moving on to Banos, one of Ecuador’s top spots for adventure tourism. In Banos, we will have a chance to bike the classic Ruta de las Cascadas, a (mostly) downhill ride through the waterfall strewn Pastaza river canyon. Banos is also well-situated to the Salasacas indigenous community. We’ll visit the Salasacas and bring our exploration of natural resource management and sustainability full circle, as we examine a micro-hydro project being developed on the Rio Pachanlica that will provide inexpensive electricity to the community while causing almost no environmental disruption. Our group will then enjoy a scenic bus ride up the central valley of the Andes, back towards Quito, for a final night in Ecuador, and then home the next morning. See below for the full itinerary.

This program shares many similarities to our other Amazon program, Into Yasuni. The core of this program is a multi-day segment working with the Runa Foundation based out of the Amazon gateway town of Tena; Into Yasuni instead heads deep into the jungle for a 6-night immersion experience at Shiripuno jungle lodge and research center. The beginning and end of the programs are otherwise generally similar.

We’ll make sure there’s ample time for fun and adventure in between and alongside the educational components. A few examples include rafting on one of South America’s best whitewater rivers, biking the infamous Ruta de las Cascadas, soaking in the Papallacta Hot Springs high in the Andes mountains, and much more.

Not sure if this is the right option for you? Use our Compare Programs page to help you assess which Sustainable Summer is the best fit for your interests and comfort zone.

Itinerary

Day 1: Evening arrival at the Quito airport. Most participants will arrive on our ‘group flight’ with our trip leaders. We’ll take private transportation to our accommodations in Tumbaco, a short drive from the new Quito International Airport, have dinner, and an orientation and safety briefing.

Day 2: We’ll begin the program with a full day of orientation at our beautiful guest house outside Quito to become familiar with local customs, health and safety protocols, and our individual and mutual goals for the program.

Day 3:  After breakfast, we’ll have the privilege of participating in a lecture and discussion with the project manager for one of Ecuador’s power utilities, Mr. Galo Aguirre. Galo will frame our experience for the next couple of days as he explains hydro-electricity, the current state of affairs in Ecuador’s energy sector, and the active development of numerous dam projects, which have the potential to provide the country with an abundance of “renewable” energy, but at great environmental and financial cost. We then take private transportation northeast over Papallacta pass and the spine of the Andes. We’re heading for Baeza, in Ecuador’s cloud forest zone, about 2 hours away. We’ll settle into our accommodations at La Casa de Rodrigo, in the sleepy town of Baeza. We’ll use Baeza as our main base of operations while we explore the surrounding rivers and mountains as part of our first sustainability intensive segment focused on water resource management.

Day 4: We work with a local NGO that is working to protect Ecuador’s unique river corridors for the benefit of maintaining biodiversity and human health, and developing sustainable economies. We’ll visit a 100 MW dam project on the Papallacta and Quijos Rivers, and learn about the ecological devastation and significant financial costs of this renewable energy project being blasted through the deep river canyons. We’ll see the transmission lines cutting through the cloud forest, up and over the Andes, bringing energy to Quito. We’ll go for a hike in Antisana National Park and learn about the delicate cloud forest ecosystem. We’ll finish up the day with a relaxing dip in the Papallacta hot springs.

Day 5: Today, we go to San Rafael Falls, the largest waterfall in Ecuador and also the site of the imposing Coca Codo Sinclair hydro-project, which, according to some environmentalists, may completely dewater the falls when completed. We’ll speak with local groups who are both for and against the project, seek to understand the political and economic forces behind it, and contemplate alternatives. We’ll also have a chance to see how the oil industry, mining operations, and other enterprises that are contributing to watershed pollution in the Quijos Valley. We’ll stop at Cascada Magica, perhaps Ecuador’s most enchanting waterfall, on the ride home.

Days 6 – 11: For the second segment of the trip we will head an hour south, to the Amazon gateway town of Tena, a pleasant jungle town nestled in the foothills of the Andes. There you’ll volunteer with an NGO that is working with local farmers to develop guayusa collectives for export to the US. Guayusa is a naturally caffeinated tea leaf that the Kichwa have traditionally brewed for health and ceremonially purposes. Runa, a Brooklyn-based company, is working to establish a market for guayusa as a beverage product (think bottled ice tea without all the sugar and preservatives) in the United States. Through their non-profit arm, the Runa Foundation is working to build productive capacity in the local chakras - the family farms of the Kichwa – to support the growing demand for guayusa exports, at fair trade prices. We’ll start off with an orientation to learn about the exciting work that is being done by Runa to develop guayusa as a sustainable export commodity. We’ll visit the processing plant and test plots, and learn the basic nuts and bolts of the guayusa supply chain before heading out into the jungle to visit one of the Kichwa communities. We’ll overnight in homestays and then wake before dawn to participate in the traditional guayusa ceremony with a shaman. After two nights in the community, we’ll transition into accommodations at an eco-lodge on the outskirts of Tena for the next four nights. We’ll spend three days visiting chakras working with the Kichwa to harvest and plant guayusa in the mornings and engaging in adventure or cultural activities in the afternoons. You’ll play soccer with the local kids, go for a jungle trek, and be able to observe and participate in the daily life of the local people.

Day 12: Tena is one of the world’s top destinations for whitewater rafting. We’ll spend the day paddling the Class III Rio Jatunyacu, which means ‘Big Water’ in Quichua. The Jatunyacu tumbles out of the Llanganates National Park in a torrent of big waves punctuated by calm pools, making it a great trip for both beginners and more experienced rafters. After we get off the river, it’s a quick ride out of the Amazon basin and back up into the mountains. Our destination is Banos, one of Ecuador’s top spots for adventure tourism.

Day 13: Today, we’ll mountain bike the classic Ruta de las Cascadas, so named for the numerous waterfalls that tumble out of the jungle along our descent.

Day 14: We depart Banos for the nearby indigenous community Salacas. Our exploration of natural resource management and sustainability has come full circle and we contemplate an alternative development model. A micro-hydro project being developed on the Rio Pachanlica will provide inexpensive electricity to the community while causing almost no environmental disruption. Our group will then enjoy a scenic bus ride up the central valley of the Andes, back towards Quito and our guesthouse for our final night in Ecuador.

Day 15: Morning flight from Quito back to the US

(Please note, this itinerary is subject to change)

Sustainability Immersion Experience

All Sustainable Summer programs feature a sustainability “immersion” experience whereby the students live together in close proximity to the sources of their food, water, and energy in a low-impact or zero-waste way. Typically, this involves living in a community where the majority of food is grown for local consumption; local small-scale renewable energy sources provide most or all of the communities energy needs; and drinking water is collected on site. On our Ecuador: Sustaining the Amazon program, our overnight stays in the Santo Domingo indigenous community will be our ‘sustainability immersion’experience.

Accommodations

Accommodations on the program will range from eco-lodges to hostels to family-run guesthouse. Depending on the location, students may have one roommate or several. Students are always in gender segregated rooms and our trip leaders are always nearby and available 24/7. In general, accommodations are not luxurious, but clean and pleasant with a lot of character.

We’ll start and finish the program staying at a family-run guest house outside of Quito. In Baeza, we stay at a small hostel run by our friend Rodrigo.

We’ll spend two nights in home stays with an indigenous community that has close ties to the Runa Foundation. This is one factor of the program that elevates the “emotional” intensity to three stars. The accommodations are extremely basic, but clean. Each student will have a bed in a private room and meals during this part of the program will either be prepared by the host family or taken communally in the village as a group.

We’ll spend four nights at an Amazonian eco-Lodge near Runa’s base of operations in Archidona and to some of the communities we will be visiting. The accommodations at the lodge are in traditional thatch roof bungalows, but are quite nice and the most luxurious of the trip. A jacuzzi and pool are on site.

In Banos, we will stay in small, family-run hotel.

Food

Rio Muchacho Food

Comida Tipica

The food we will eat is generally fresh, local and delicious. Breakfast typically consists of eggs, cheese, tea or coffee, and some variety of bread or baked goods. Lunch is typically the biggest meal of the day, and consists of a main course of fish, chicken, or meat, soup, rice and legumes, cooked vegetables and fresh juice. Dinner is usually a lighter variation of lunch, and sometimes may be a pasta dish or something a little less conventional.

Although dietary restrictions (vegetarian, Celiac’s, etc.) can be accommodated, students should be flexible about food or be prepared to supplement with their diet with some high-density, non-perishable food brought from home. Strict vegans will have a difficult time getting the right nutrition on this program, since food may be prepared with butter, milk or other animal products. Vegetarians should also accept the cultural dissonance that vegetarianism is not a localy understood concept and this can make it very challenging to maintain a truly animal-free diet. For instance, you may get a “vegetarian” soup made from chicken stock.

We will eat most meals ‘family-style’ at our accommodations, although in certain locations, such as in Banos, students will be given the option to choose from several different local restaurants for dinner.

Destination

Ecuador packs a lot into a relatively small place. It is the most bio-diverse country on the planet relative to its size, which is roughly equal to Colorado. Ecuador owes its incredible biodiversity to its stunningly varied geography: you could travel from a tropical beach to the Andean highlands to the Amazon rainforest all within a single day’s drive. Situated on the Equator, elevation is an important determinant of climate. Snow-capped volcanoes stud the majestic Andes, which run up the spine of the country north to south, giving way to cloud forest transition zones on either side.

Ecuador’s natural bounty, vibrant culture, and friendly people have made it one of the most desirable places to live in the world, ranked #1 on International Living’s top retirement destinations for several years running. It’s safe, has a well-developed tourism industry, and even uses the US dollar for currency.

The indigenous people of the Andes held pachamama – roughly translated as ‘Mother Earth’ – as their most sacred deity. Today, you’ll find pachamama and ‘Nature’ with assigned rights in Ecuador’s constitution, being the first nation to do so in 2008. Yet it continues to be one of the worst offenders of environmental degradation. Ecuador is in the midst of an economic boom. The pressure to develop its considerable natural resources has led to deforestation, species extinction, watershed contamination, soil depletion, and much more. These factors, and many more, make it the ultimate experiential classroom for the study of sustainability.

Curriculum Overview

All programs include a broad introduction to sustainability as an interdisciplinary concept from a social sciences perspective. Some environmental science, as well as cultural and human dimensions of sustainability, is also part of the curriculum.

This course – through readings, discussions, presentations, and fieldwork – will examine sustainability through the investigation of energy, water, and agriculture projects with the understanding that truly sustainable solutions take into account not only the environment, but also the people, culture and economy of a given place. By the end of the program, participants should have a solid, coherent understanding of what it means for an action, organization, or approach to be considered sustainable, and the many challenges we face to achieving environmental sustainability. Most importantly, Sustainable Summer students will have begun the important process of thinking critically about what we can do individually, collectively and globally, to begin to solve the planet’s most pressing problems.

Although every Sustainable Summer program uses a standardized curriculum and approach, individual programs function very differently. Sustainability is an extremely broad field and each program emphasizes certain curricular segments more or less, depending on the planned (and unplanned) opportunities for instruction available on the program.

Agricultural production is always given important emphasis on every Sustainable Summer program. The problems with the global food production system are enormous, yet, on an individual or family level, there are few “easier” things that one can do to live more sustainably than make better choices in the grocery store. Consequently, Sustainable Summer is designed to highlight examples of sustainable agriculture by actively involving students in local food production. Our investigation of agriculture will often stimulate later discussions in our water and energy segments, for example, with irrigation or agricultural water pollution, or food transportation or methane biodigesters.

Ecuador: Sustaining the Amazon Curriculum

Our Ecuador: Sustaining the Amazon program has a special emphasis on renewable energy, water usage, and sustainable development. This is a great option for students that have an interest in learning about the global politics of the oil industry and energy alternatives, especially hydropower, and the complicated problems of sustainable economic development of the Amazon.

Topics include:

  • Water resource management. Human uses of water. The ecological importance of rivers. Dams. Privatization of water resources. Water politics and policy.
  • Extractive industries in Ecuador. Oil, timber, and minerals. Economics and politics. Global supply and demand. The ecological and social impact locally and globally.
  • Deforestation and reforestation. The importance of the Amazon as a ‘global commons.’ Causes of deforestation. Reforestation projects and the role of international NGOs in protecting the Amazon.
  • Micro-enterprises and sustainable economic development. Fair trade. Cooperatives. Sustainable tourism. Funding sources and the role of international business and NGOs in opening global markets.

Course Goals:

  • Develop student’s “eco-literacy” and critical thinking about sustainability.
  • Develop understanding of the interconnectedness of human and natural systems; the linkages found in nature and those connecting economic systems, environment, and society.
  • Develop a learning environment that provides students the ability to acquire values and feelings of concern for sustainability while providing skills training for identifying and solving problems objectively.

Course Requirements:

  1. Participation in course activities: Participation is the largest qualitative and subjective aspect of this program, and will have a substantial impact on the student’s experience in the Sustainable Summer program. All students are encouraged to think critically about the issues at hand, and to share his/her opinion regularly within group discussions. Group discussions occur daily without exception during the program.
  2. Completion of course assignments and assessments: All assignments in the course reader are obligatory, and should be completed prior to the relevant class period or group discussion.
  3. Co-Facilitation: Students must take initiative in coordinating and co-facilitating at least one small group discussion on a topic related to the course.
  4. Journal entries: Students are required to keep a journal that documents their participation in the program and course. They will have focused reflective assignments that will be reviewed by Program Facilitators. Journal entries can be creative and include drawings, question lists (good for generating discussion), and other mixed-media elements. The aim is for these entries to be concise while also allowing space for students to present their comprehension of a reading, theme or issue.
  5. Sustainability Action Plan: Students are required to develop a personal Sustainability Action Plan (SAP), which will document the steps they would like to take when they return home to put what they have learned in the course into practice. The SAP should detail changes they will make on a daily, monthly and yearly basis, and will also outline steps to encourage members of their family, peer groups and community to adopt similar measures.

Our curriculum includes a required pre-program segment designed to build a common foundation among student in key concepts. The pre-program coursework is about 10 hours, can be completed at the student’s convenience, and includes readings, online video lectures, and some short assignments. This segment covers defines sustainability and major factors that contribute to unsustainable impacts; establishes basic frameworks to analyze and assess sustainability; and introduces methods for implementing sustainable solutions at local, community, regional, national, and international scales.

Our Educational Philosophy

We take the academic component of Sustainable Summer very seriously. Students should be prepared to engage in the subject matter intellectually. This does not necessitate any previous coursework beyond a freshman earth science or biology course. Motivated students that possess strong environmental sensitivities will have no problem with the course material provided that they are prepared to do the reading and the work that compliment all of the “experiential” aspects of the program. Once we are “on-program,” most of the active learning we will be doing will be “field-based.” We don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense to travel to a fascinating destination and then spend most of the day in a classroom. However we believe that a structured curriculum designed to reinforce the many lessions of the program is necessary to foster retention and transferrence. We realize that this type of language may appeal to parents and educators much more so than students. So, to students that may be wondering if Sustainable Summer is “all work and no fun,” we assure you that there will be ample time to make new friends, hang out, explore, be silly, and be active. If you’re not sure that the program strikes the right balance between structured and unstructured time, between fun and serious time, or between experiences and academic, just give us a call and we’ll put you in touch with past students who can help describe our approach from a student’s perspective.

Program FAQs

These FAQs are specific to Ecuador: Sustaining the Amazon, including FAQs about student health and safety, travel, trip leaders, and other important information that prospective students and parents should consider before applying to Sustainable Summer.

For general FAQs about tuition, scholarships, how to apply or enroll, payment, what to pack, how to prepare, etc., please check our Prospective Student FAQs for more information. Enrolled participants should login to their MySummer account for all pre-program information.


Sustainable Summer is not for everyone. In addition to the age requirements (15 – 18 years old), in general, you should have a strong interest in environmental sustainability and the requisite physical and emotional maturity to handle the experience of traveling with your peers in a developing country for 2 to 4 weeks. Use our Compare Programs page to help you assess which Sustainable Summer is the best fit for your interests and comfort zone.

Ecuador is wonderful country and although the Galapagos has been a major tourist destination for decades, mainland Ecuador is quickly growing in popularity as a destination for “adventure travelers.” Services for travelers are quite good by developing country standards, but the tourism industry is nowhere near as established as, for example, Costa Rica. This is part of the charm of being a traveler in Ecuador – you can discovery the country on your own terms. However, it can also make for challenging travel at times. This program has an “off the beaten path” feel but is in actuality, we will be visiting regions of the Amazon that are quite accessible (by Amazon standards, at any raete). For two of our nights in the jungle, we’ll be camping in tents. Camping in the jungle is not that much different than camping anywhere else, and students that are comfortable being outdoors in the backcountry should do just fine. For students that have very little experience tent camping, this is probably not the best choice of program. We will have three bus rides of 2-3 hours while moving between locations and a few day trips may involve bus rides in excess of an hour. The physical circumstances of living in a tent in the jungle or hiking on a chilly day in the cloud forest may prove challenging. However, Sustainable Summer is designed to push you out of your element. A healthy degree of challenge is a very good thing! Look carefully at the course information, and in particular, the curriculum and food and lodging tabs to ensure this program is a good fit for you.



Sustainable Summer trips typically consist of 15 students, ranging in age from 15 to 18.  Most students do not enroll with a friend, but pairs of students are welcome to come together.


Sustainable Summer will organize a group flight from the United States, which all participants are strongly encouraged to take.  This flight will be chaperoned by a trip leader.  More information about securing a seat on the group flight will be provided upon enrollment in the program.  Once in country, all travel will be by private coach when we are traveling any significant distance, although we may occasionally use other transport when traveling locally. This can range from a the local bus to a cattle truck. Traveling like a local is part of the experience!


No Spanish is required to participate in the program; however, students with a basic command of the language will find numerous opportunities to practice their Spanish with native speakers. Students who have not previously studied Spanish will get a crash course in ‘survival’ Spanish during our orientation. Because all course instruction is in English, students who do not speak Spanish should be able to participate fully in the program, and reap the full benefits of Sustainable Summer in Ecuador.


There’s plenty of opportunity for rest, relaxation, and fun. Activities on this program include rafting, biking, hiking, and hot springs, just to name a few examples.


This program is not explicitly intended to be a “community service” trip. All of our programs feature partnerships with local organizations with a strong commitment to improving and sustaining the local community and we will actively engage in a day or two of community service during the program. Sustainable Summer will provide documentation of the program fundamentals and community service hours.


Communication via cell phone or Internet is often not possible for several days at a time during programs. When we are out of cell phone range, we always have an immediate means of reaching emergency assistance should it be needed, for instance, via short wave radio. However, students should be prepared for the reality that they may not be able to place or receive calls or check email/social media for long stretches during the program, up to one week at a time. Internet access is available at several points during the program, so students can plan to check in with family and friends intermittently throughout the trip. In case of emergency, family members will be able to reach our 24 hour hotline to communicate important information to their students in as timely a manner as is practical.


Ecuador is typically considered one of the safest countries for travelers to Latin America.  Additionally, many of the areas where we will travel are frequently visited by foreign travelers, and crime is rare. Ecuadorians in general are very welcoming to travelers from the United States, and many of the local people we will visit will treat participants with the same regard and concern they would show family members. One fact we like to share with families is that Ecuador has been voted the top retirement destination for American expats by the publication International Living for several years running. The healthcare and infrastructure is quite good, and in many cases as good or better than “first-world” standards. Hospitals in Quito are excellent with English-speaking doctors trained in the US or Europe. Many new roads and highways have been constructed in recent years making ground transportation safe and efficient. The country has also been politically stable since switching over to the US dollar for currency in 2001. The current president, Rafael Correa, was re-elected in February 2013 and is widely admired by his citizens for ushering in a wave of economic prosperity and modernization.Costa Rica is typically considered one of the safest countries for travelers in Central America. It is widely recognized as an eco-tourism pioneer and has been a major destination for western traveler for decades. The country has a very well developed tourist sector that is actively regulated by the government. Potable water is available out of the tap in most parts of the country, food safety and health care standards are very high by ‘developing’ country standards, and violent crime is very low.


We expect that every trip will run smoothly and without incident, but we plan for the worst. Sustainable Summer has invested in the quality of its risk management practices by participating in the Risk Management Training offered by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), an organization with over 40 years of experience managing risk in wilderness environments.  As a result of this training Sustainable Summer has developed a risk management strategy encompassing all levels of our organization. In order to mitigate the risk that is inherent in all international expeditions, we have invested time and resources in these practices because the health and well being of our participants is of the highest priority. All Sustainable Summer programs feature experienced staff using established risk management best practices to guide every decision. All trip leaders have CPR and Wilderness First Aid training, and at least one leader possesses advanced medical training.

All participants are required to be enrolled in a comprehensive medical and travel insurance as part of their program tuition. (You will be given the option of having Sustainable Summer purchase a plan from our preferred provider on your behalf when you enroll in the program.) We use private transportation when traveling between locations. We work exclusively with experienced local operators who have been vetted by our team. We conduct training with all trip leaders and establish clear protocols to mitigate risk and effectively mobilize resources in the event of an emergency. Please see our Safety page for a more comprehensive overview of our approach to student health and well-being. If you have specific questions about your situation, please contact us to discuss. Answers to some common questions about health and safety are below:



All trip leaders have current first aid and CPR certifications, and can treat basic medical situations on-site.  Sustainable Summer has clearly defined protocols in the event of a health/medical emergency. We are happy to share examples of successful field medical treatment – give us a call if you’re concerned. A critical component of our risk management plan is to require that all participants enroll in a travel health insurance plan while traveling on the program. Policies that cover emergency health and medical evacuation while traveling abroad are inexpensive and Sustainable Summer can purchase a plan on your behalf when you enroll in the program. In the immediate areas we will be visiting, medical clinics are available for a broad range of health issues, but participants with more serious needs will be transported to Quito for more comprehensive treatment.  Hospitals in Quito adhere to similar standards and practices as medical facilities in the United States.


Sustainable Summer is eager to accommodate medical or dietary needs, as circumstances permit. We are not able to provide alternate meals since most of our food is served ‘family-style’ from locally harvested sources. We will typically eat whatever is fresh that day, so students with dietary restrictions should plan to speak to our program directors before enrolling to ensure we can accommodate their needs.  Programs also require a certain level of physical capability, so students with any concerns about their fitness should contact our office to confirm this is an appropriate program for them.


Healthy ecosystems depend on insects and other “critters” for balance. You will definitely encounter bugs and spiders when we are in lower elevation regions, notably Yasuni, although students are routinely surprised how few mosquitos, spiders, and insects you’ll see. They are, of course, everywhere in the rainforest, but you’ll find that spiders keep to themselves and bites are virtually unheard of. Similarly, mosquitoes are significant food source for amphibians, bats, and other creatures higher up the food chain, and in a healthy, well-balanced ecosystem, malaria carrying mosquitoes are far more likely to end up as a frog’s lunch than on your skin. We, of course, take preventative measures by covering up, using insect repellant, and sleeping in screened enclosures to further mitigate the risk of vector born diseases. Students may also want to take prescription prophylactic measures, although Sustainable Summer does not provide medical advice and all conversations about medications should be with the student’s physician. Yellow fever, typhoid, and other inoculations may be advisable. Check with your primary physician or a travel medicine specialist. Please see our travel health page for some more information. We take these risks seriously and will provide you with our pre-program guide, that covers our student health policies in more detail, after you enroll in the program. Please call us with any specific questions.


Please see our travel health page for some more information.


The weather in Ecuador is dictated more by elevation than by season, although there are seasonal variations in each of the country’s four regions: the coast, the highlands, the Amazon and the Galapagos. The Amazon has the least seasonal variation of any region in the country. It’s the rainforest. Expect rain every day, but note that it is rare to have rain all day. Typically, heat and humidity build throughout the day which leads to brief, heavy afternoon downpours. Temperatures, especially in the morning and evenings, can be surprisingly mild. The highlands maintain a fairly consistent climate year round. Days are often sunny with temps in the 70s and the evenings can be quite brisk due to the high elevation.


There are two Sustainable Summer trip leaders on this program. All Sustainable Summer trip leaders are professional educators. The average age of our 2013 trip leader team was 28. Trip leaders bios for our 2014 programs are to the right. We also work very closely with our local partners. English-speaking guides, specialists, and instructors will be with us throughout the program. The student:staff ratio will never be lower than 6:1.

  • Camille

    I’ll miss climbing through the dense jungle and finding magical waterfalls. I’ll miss avocados growing on trees, the rich red soil, and feeling one with the clouds. But mostly, I’ll miss the people I’ve met. -- CAMILLE, Hackley School, NY

  • Enrique

    Sustainable Summer will be one of those chapters in my life I will never forget. It was definitely a good learning experience but it was also an opportunity to get to know one’s self. My personal experience overall was very positive and I enjoyed every event. -- ENRIQUE, High School for the Sciences at York College, NY

  • Arwen

    Sustainable Summer is the trip of a lifetime, and although it’s super educational, it’s also fun. I met kids that I will adore for the rest of my life. If you are looking to get a little outside of your comfort zone, meet some awesome people, experience some once in a lifetime things, and learn a lot, Sustainable Summer is definitely the program for you. -- ARWEN, Berkshire School, MA