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The Galapagos

A 1-Week Program in Darwin's Enchanting Islands

Galapagos Summer Program

Ecuador’s most famous destination, and perhaps the most iconic archipelago on the planet. Forever associated with Darwin’s theory of evolution, the Galapagos has managed to retain it’s enchanting appeal through several decades of explosive growth in tourism. It’s sensitive eco-system is closely managed by the National Park System with strong support from international groups of researchers and conservationists.

In this 8-Day Sustainable Summer program…

  • You’ll take in some of the ultra classic Galapagos experiences, like Bartoleme and Pinnacle Rock, while also seeing some more under the radar spots
  • You’ll consider challenges to sustainable management of the Galapagos, like the competing interests of the tourist trade and conservation initiatives
  • You’ll learn about the remarkable flora and fauna from naturalists, and the efforts of conservationists to protect native species and eradicate invasive ones

The Galapagos is legendary for its exotic wildlife and critical role in the history of biology. Visit four different islands on a guided exploration of this remarkable archipelago, enjoying many of the classic Galapagos experiences along the way. Our travels will also illustrate the steps Ecuador has taken to conserve this fragile and vital ecosystem, and will allow students to consider the sustainability of ecotourism.

This program is designed as a 1-week “extension” of EITHER our 3-week Seeds of Change program OR our 2-week Sustaining the Amazon program, in addition to being open to participants enrolling just for the Galapagos. Please see the Program FAQs tab for some additional information.

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.


Day 1: Flight from Quito to San Cristobal. Transfer to hotel. Tour and snorkeling at La Loberia.

Day 2: Visit San Cristobal interpretation center in the morning, then boat transfer to Santa Cruz. Check-in to hotel in Puerto Ayora, then afternoon snorkeling in Tortuga Bay.

Day 3:  Morning visit to the Charles Darwin Research Center then hiking in the Santa Cruz highlands.

Day 4: Volunteer day with a conservation organization working to eradicate invasive species on the islands.

Day 5: Sea kayaking in the mangroves of Divine Bay.

Day 6: Cruise to Bartolome Island and Pinnacle Rock.

Day 7:  Flight to Quito and overnight in our guesthouse outside the city.

Day 8: Morning flight back to the United States.

(Please note, the Galapagos travel industry is heavily regulated and this itinerary has been customized and reserved for Sustainable Summer through a Galapagos-based tour provider that specializes in student travel. However, this itinerary is subject to change based on weather conditions outside the control of Sustainable Summer)


Similar to almost all student travel programs in the Galapagos, we do not use cruise-based accommodations. There are some budget cruise options available, but you get what you pay for and we prefer land-based accommodations for superior comfort and quality at student travel prices. Budget cruises do NOT have a very good reputation for providing a high-level of value whereas a land-based tour of the Galapagos is a terrific option for travelers that don’t have $6000 to spend on a Galapagos cruise.

Instead, we will base out of pleasant, locally-run hotels on San Cristobal and Santa Cruz and utilize boats for day trips and excursions.


The Galapagos has a well-developed tourism industry and a variety of food will be available during the program, from ‘comida tipica’ to western fare. Vegans and vegetarians shouldn’t have any problems.

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



Our Galapagos program is designed as an ‘extension’ program. Unlike other Sustainable Summer programs, our Galapagos program is more of a tour than an educational experience and we don’t layer a structured academic curriculum over the experience.

Yes, there are dozens of other summer programs that bring high school students to the Galapagos and call it an “educational” experience. We’re quite certain that the Sustainable Summer Galapagos extension program will be every bit as educational as any other well-designed travel program to the Galapagos. We will have a Class-III guide (the top classification) that is a highly qualified naturalist and we will see and learn about many amazing things related to the ecology of this remarkable place. However, as a travel destination, it simply does not posses the same opportunities for intellectual inquiry as mainland Ecuador. (This statement does NOT, of course, include all of the people doing serious long-term conservation and research work in the Galapagos.)

However, if you’re looking for a quick summer escape, the Galapagos is a definite crowd pleaser. We think the Galapagos is a fascinating destination and absolutely worth a visit – as a tourist. Unfortunately, it’s not really possible to visit on any other terms as a “traveler.” Please see the curriculum tabs on our other programs for more on this concept and the overall academic structure of our full-length programs.

Program FAQs

These FAQs are specific to our Galapagos program, 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.

The short answer is “yes,” but please read this before applying:

This program is designed as an extension option for students in our Ecuador: Seeds of Change program or our Ecuador: Sustaining the Amazon program. The Galapagos is a huge tourist draw, and has been for years. It’s an interesting place, but people that go to Ecuador and only visit the Galapagos are seriously missing out. We couldn’t in good conscience be party to that kind of behavior without at least throwing up a big disclaimer: We think traveling to South America for a one-week trip to the Galapagos is at odds with our overall philosophy of travel and we want to encourage anyone interested in a short trip to the Galapagos to reconsider their travel plans and try to prioritize a longer stay that includes the Ecuador mainland.

We can appreciate the appeal of the Galapagos to travelers everywhere. If you want to get up close and personal with some incredible wildlife, the Galapagos is one of the most amazing places on the planet to do so. We think the Galapagos itinerary we’ve put together is fantastic and a phenomenal value compared to other opportunities available to high school students.

However, we also want to be honest about our view of the Galapagos as a travel destination in relation to the educational objectives of our program. Visiting the Galapagos is not “core” to what we do as environmental educators. This is why we have designed our Galapagos program as an extension option, rather than a stand-alone program. We say this with full knowledge of the fact that thousands of students and other time-constrained travelers visit the Galapagos every year on week-long trips (or shorter) and in some ways this is the norm.

We understand that you are probably reading this and trying to figure out how you can squeeze an 8-day tour of the Galapagos into your busy summer plans. You don’t have the time for a longer trip to Ecuador and there’s nothing we can say that will change the limitations of your schedule. We get it. We’ve given you our spiel. So, here’s what you need to know about how to enroll in our Galapagos program now that we’ve said our piece:

We open up our Galapagos program to enrollment from “stand-alone” participants on April 1st. We typically have a handful of spaces available. You can apply at any time (meaning, you don’t have to wait until April 1st), indicating your interest in the Galapagos program on the application form. After April 1st, we will contact students to interview if spaces are available. Are there spaces available? Check the sidebar to the right. If it says spaces are available, then spaces are available.

If you have additional questions, please contact us for more information about how you can visit the Galapagos with Sustainable Summer.

This program will consist, in roughly equal thirds, of students from our Ecuador: Seeds of Change program, our Ecuador: Sustaining the Amazon program, and “stand-alone” students. The total program enrollment is capped at 14 students plus 2 Sustainable Summer trip leaders. We will try to balance enrollment across the two programs and, in the interest of creating a positive group dynamic, will cap the number of enrolled extension students from any one program at 7 until March 31st. We will open up the program for additional enrollment at that time, including to students that are interested only in our Galapagos program.

Sustainable Summer organizes a group flight from the United States for students in our Seeds of Change and Sustaining the Amazon programs, which all participants are strongly encouraged to take.  This flight will be chaperoned by a trip leader. We are not able to offer a chaperoned group flight for “stand-alone” students, however we will have staff at the Quito airport to receive the student on arrival. (Please note: the arrival date in Quito for “stand-alone” students is July 19th.) Our flight from Quito to the Galapagos will be purchased by Sustainable Summer (and is included in the tuition cost of this program). Please see the itinerary tab for more details on where and when we fly. We will take a chartered boat to travel between San Cristobal and Santa Cruz. We also have a private charter for our day trip to Bartoleme island.

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.

This program is less “academic” than other Sustainable Summer programs, but one of the main reasons to visit the Galapagos – for any traveler – is to learn about the native flora and fauna from a naturalist. We have a fantastic guide who will be with us every day sharing his knowledge about this remarkable ecosystem. There’s also plenty of opportunity for rest, relaxation, and fun. We’ll be snorkeling and hiking and sea kayaking and swimming and all sorts of other fun stuff.

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. We will have one community service day while visiting the Galapagos, helping with conservation projects on Santa Cruz. 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.

Of course. This is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations.

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.

Malaria is not present in the Galapagos and, unlike other low elevations of Ecuador, the CDC does not have a travel advisory in effect for malaria.

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. July is considered the ‘cool-dry’ season in the Galapagos. The average air temp is in the low 70s and there is very little rain. The weather is often overcast and sometimes misty. Water temperatures can be in the mid to low 60s.

This program will be staffed by two Sustainable Summer trip leaders – one from our Ecuador: Seeds of Change program and one from our Ecuador: Sustaining the Amazon program. All Sustainable Summer trip leaders are professional educators. The average age of our 2013 trip leader team was 28. Trip leader bios for our 2014 program are to the right. We will have a Class-III, highly trained naturalist guide with us for the duration of the program, too. This program has an enrollment cap of 14 students.

  • 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