How do we reconcile the needs of the environment with those of people?

July 3 - July 16, 2016 · 14 Days
Group Size: 10 - 12 · Ages: 15 - 18 · Status: Available


Ecuador: Sustaining The Amazon

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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 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.

The core of the Sustaining the Amazon program is a multi-day segment at the Huasquila jungle lodge, near Archidona, where we will be learning about reforestation, rainforest ecology, and sustainable development of the Amazon’s natural resources. This region of the Amazon has relatively easy access and is more populated and developed, which affords greater opportunities for interactions with local culture and to learn about the challenges associated with sustainable natural resource management.

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.



through a sheer walled jungle gorge


chakras, the forest gardens of the Kichwa people


the mighty whitewater of the Rio Jatunyacu

Past Facilitators

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Remy Franklin

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Kristi Knudson

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Amazon Testimonials

The impact on my son was huge. The facts, information and overall knowledge of the environment and sustainability was exciting as parents. This style of learning was perfect for my son and he is already talking about changes we can make at home and at his school. He said the trip changed his life and […]

  Lori,  parent from Rio Rancho, NM

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Student Stories

Core Curriculum & Program Components

Much More Than A Tour

Amazing destination? Check. Fun and authentic experiences? Absolutely. A smart, down-to-earth group of like-minded teens? Yup. An awesome itinerary and first-in-class lodging are just the start. Our programs prepare teens to become environmental leaders through dynamic place-based learning.
Field Studies
How do we reconcile the needs of the environment with those of people? This essential question guides our experience studying sustainability in . Participants – through discussions, workshops, site visits, and fieldwork – will investigate sustainability 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.
Leadership Activities
Our approach to leadership development is adapted from the Stanford Graduate School of Education’s youth leadership curriculum.
Design Thinking Challenge
Participate in a half-day design thinking workshop, including a real innovation challenge applied to a local community problem. Design thinking is a formal process innovators use to create solutions to problems. We'll learn about human-centered design, and then engage members of the local community to conceive a project that is usable, sustainable, and lead to better outcomes within the community.
Independent Project
Learning happens best through a constructivist approach of inquiry, action, and reflection. Students should be prepared to engage in an independent project for the duration of the program that follows this approach. It can take the form of journalism, photography, film, research, advocacy, or other. Some students (for instance, those in an IB degree program) may find that they have a school-related project that can connect to Sustainable Summer. Others will be asked to develop a project concept through a guided process pre-program. The final "deliverable" is completed after the program.
Case Study
It's easy to be green when you have the time, resources, and autonomy to do so. But the real-world is far more complicated. We'll work through a multi-stakeholder case study related to a local issue so students can better understand the process of negotiation and comprise that is needed to implement sustainable solutions.
Sustainability Action Plan
All students develop a Sustainability Action Plan, which outlines a proposed sustainability initiative to complete back home. The SAP is considered a work in progress that gets “workshopped” in small group settings throughout the program. The final version is shared with the group at the end of the program and “accountability partners” are established to encourage implementation of the outlined action steps.

Program Tuition

Each program has a tiered tuition rate: standard (full tuition), tuition assistance (80% of tuition), or scholarship (15 - 70% of tuition).

How It Works

$ 2995
  • This represents a 20% reduction of the standard course fee. Participants at this tuition rate cover only their direct participation costs, including lodging, meals, activities, in-country staff and transportation, and support for local projects. Participation at this level is based on the honor system. It is available to all families - no documentation required. We simply ask families to honestly consider their financial resources and ability to pay the full tuition rate.
$ 540 - 2515
  • Additional scholarship funding is available for students that are unable to participate at either of the other rates. Scholarship participants receive a 30 - 85% reduction of the standard course fee. Due to the limited availability of scholarship funds, a separate application is required, including a parent financial statement and recent tax return.

What's Included


in eco-lodges and other locally-owned (and often sustainably-minded) establishments


3 meals daily while in-country. Local cuisine, served family-style, is on order most days. Dietary restrictions can typically be accommodated.

Immersive Activities

Guided activities, from the adventurous to the cultural, are a regular part of the itinerary.

Dynamic Learning Opportunities

Place-based. Interactive. Fun. Our programs prepare teens to become environmental leaders.

Ground Transportation

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 cattle truck to the local bus. Traveling like a local is part of the experience!

2 Full-Time Professional Facilitators

Our facilitators are the best in the business. Our international field team includes returned Peace Corps volunteers, college professors, seasoned wilderness guides, sustainability graduate students, and similar.

Pre-Program Materials and Support

Students and parents receive comprehensive and prompt pre-program support.

Not Included

Tuition does not include airfare, $95 InternationalSOS membership (required), or personal expenses such as laundry, snacks, souvenirs, and internet or international phone calls, and other incidentals.


We designate a recommended group flight for students. Students, whether arriving on our group flight or independently, will be met at the international arrivals area by our staff. Very detailed travel and booking instructions will be provided to all participants upon enrollment.

Our designated round trip group flight:

Outbound Flight

July 3
Miami (MIA)
Quito (UIO)

Return Flight

July 16
Quito (UIO)
Miami (MIA)


  • Do not make any flight reservations until explicitly directed by Sustainable Summer.
  • Not all of our group flights have a staff escort. Please see above for details.
  • Students NOT traveling on our designated group flight will be assessed a $35 fee if they arrive on a flight other than our specified group flight and/or a $35 fee for departing on a non-group flight ($70 total). Students must verify BEFORE BOOKING all non-group flight travel itineraries

14-Day Itinerary

  • Arrival

    Participants will depart from Miami (MIA) for Quito, Ecuador (UIO) on our ‘group flight’ with our trip leaders. It is a late evening departure, so students from all over the US (and internationally) will have ample time to travel to MIA from their local airport, connect with our group, and then make the 3.5 hour flight from Miami to Quito.

    Upon arrival, we’ll take private transportation to our accommodations in Tumbaco, a short drive from the new Quito International Airport, for a good night's rest.

    Day 1
  • Orientation

    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 2
  • Baeza
    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, nestled in the beautiful Quijos river valley. 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. In the afternoon, we will visit the Baeza Interpretation Center where park rangers will share insights about conservation of the surrounding cloud forest and Antisana National Park. Day 3
  • Hydropower & Hot Springs
    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 4
  • Waterfalls!
    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. Day 5
  • Huasquila
    For the second segment of the trip we will head an hour south and down in elevation into the rainforest and indigenous communities of Napo Province near Tena, a major gateway to the wilds of the Ecuadorian Amazon. We'll spend a week in the the area at Huasquila jungle lodge learning about reforestation, 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. After lunch, we will don rubber boots for a short walk to las golondrinas waterfall. Our Kichwa guide will introduce us to traditional medicinal plants and their uses and we will also learn about reforestation and rainforest conservation efforts in this region of the Amazon. Returning back to the lodge, we'll enjoy some time to relax by the pool, followed by dinner. Day 6
  • The Kichwa
    We'll be up before day break for a visit to one of the local Kichwa communities and to participate in the traditional guayusa ceremony, a ritual that has been practiced in the Ecuadorian Amazon for thousands of years. After breakfast, we will visit a guayusa nursery and learn how this herbal leaf is grown, how to plant it, and why it has so much potential as a sustainable agricultural export crop. After lunch, we will visit another local Kichwa community where the president of the community will give a briefing about their reforestation work. We will visit several chakras, the Kichwa family gardens; learn about the different native plants, including manioc, guayusa, and cacao; and then help with reforestation work in the community. Later we will receive a presentation on the about the traditional dances and Kichwa culture. Returning to the lodge, we will have dinner and then a guided night hike through the rainforest, when many of the jungle's inhabitants are most active. Day 7
  • The Gran Canyon
    Today we will be an all-day hike into the Mondayacu Gran Canyon, a rigorous, but rewarding hike through impressive jungle to a towering waterfall. A refreshing swim is a nearly mandatory outcome of our adventure. Our local guides will point out all manner of birds and other wildlife along the way. Day 8
  • Caves and Crafts and Kallari
    After breakfast, we'll visit Kallari, a chocolate cooperate run by the Kichwa. We'll lean about their entire supply chain, from the cacao that is collected from small family chakras throughout the region, then processed locally into chocolate and exported to the US and Europe. Kallari is an outstanding example of sustainable enterprise. In the afternoon, we will hike to a series of caves, collecting seeds and plants along the way. After exploring the caves, we'll walk to a nearby Kichwa community that is part of a Fair Trade alliance. The women in the community manufacture bracelets and other jewelry, which is sold at fair market prices around the world. These local artisans will show us how to make traditional Kichwa jewelry from the seeds and other items we collected during our morning hike. Day 9
  • Misahualli
    After breakfast, we venture to Puerta Misahualli where will take a take a dugout canoe ride to a jungle outpost. There we will learn how to make chocolate from scratch, continue our exploration of Kichwa culture, and see plenty of monkeys frolicking in the trees. Returning back to the lodge, we will stop at the El Arca wildlife rescue center to see some of the large jungle mammals that have been forced out of this part of the Amazon due to deforestation, and which can no longer be seen in the wild. Day 10
  • Rafting
    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. Day 11
  • Banos
    After breakfast, we'll depart for Banos, about 3-hours by bus, one of Ecuador's top spots for adventure activities. Day 12
  • Choices
    Today, we'll  go with group consensus. Banos has a lot to offer - volcano hikes, mountain biking, hot springs, and more. We like the classic Ruta de las Cascadas, so named for the numerous waterfalls that tumble out of the jungle along our descent, but it's up to the group to decide how we spend our time - and our budget - in Banos. In the past students, have elected to manage a tight budget and instead donate proceeds to a local conservation or education non-profit. Or, go all out on some fine dining. It's your call. You'll just need to make a compelling argument to the rest of the group and get consensus. Time to test out those leadership skills! Day 13
  • Final Day
    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 a final night in Ecuador. Day 14
  • Departure

    Return flight to the US

    Day 15
  • An Important Note About Itinerary Changes

    Sustainable Summer reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the program itinerary. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in weather or road conditions; to take advantage of a new activity or unscheduled opportunity (such as a local festival or event); to accommodate the health needs of an individual participant; or due to changes in activities or schedules of our local partners and providers.

    The itinerary shown here is based on previous programs and the anticipated day-to-day activities for this program. However, as with any travel experience, some changes may occur.