An Ecological Journey Through Darwin's Enchanted Islands

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The Galapagos: Crossroads of Conservation

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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 Sustainable Summer Galapagos 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.

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.



with white-tip sharks and Galapagos penguins at Bartoleme Island

Sea kayak

in the mangroves of Divine Bay and surf the azure waves of Tortuga Bay


the marine iguanas, tortoises, and other iconic wildlife that makes the Galapagos famous around the world.

Program Details

14-Day Program

2016 Dates TBD

Tuition: $3795
Group Size: 14
Ages: 15-18


Connecting Programs

This program is designed to connect with either our 9 or 15-Day Amazon Programs or our 9-Day Costa Rica Bridge to the Future Program.

9-Day Program

2016 Dates TBD

Tuition: $2495
Group Size: 14
Ages: 15-18


Connecting Programs

This program is designed to connect with our Dartmouth College Program and Costa Rica Bridge to the Future Program.


14-Day Itinerary

  • Arrival
    Students will arrive on our chaperoned group flight from Miami into the international airport outside Quito, Ecuador's capital city. The flight departs Miami late in the evening, arriving 3.5 hours later in Quito. It's a short drive by private transport from the airport to our guesthouse in Tumbaco, where we will get a good night's rest and then begin our orientation period. Day 1
  • Orientation

    During orientation, we'll become familiar with local customs, health and safety protocols, and share our individual and mutual goals for the program.

    Day 2
  • Travel to Galapagos

    Flight from Quito to Baltra Island in the Galapagos. Short transfer by boat to Santa Cruz island, then bus up and over the Santa Cruz highlands to our camp, where will live in safari-style tent accommodations for the next 2 weeks.

    Nature walk; class with guadua; introductions

    Day 3
  • Where are we? Environmental sciences: introduction
    The origins of Galapagos teaches us about the origins of the world... Los Gemelos; lava tunnels; tortoises; Angermeyer Point swimming Day 4
  • What is around us? Environmental sciences: humans and ecosystems
    The world around us tells us what we are and where we came from… Biking to Garrapatero; snorkel and kayak; conservation work on the farm; ceramics class Day 5
  • How does it work? Ecology and biodiversity
    We will learn physical oceanography while experiencing some amazing Galapagos activities… Tortuga Bay; kayaking & surfing; banana fibers and ceramic class Day 6
  • How does it work? Oceans and atmosphere
    Different environments have different life forms… Boat cruise to Bartoleme; Ceramics class Day 7
  • How does it work? Evolution
    Learn about the examples used by Darwin on is book about the origins of species… Charles Darwin Research Station; kayaking in Finch Bay; ceramics class; ocarina Day 8
  • How does it work?
    Learn about the life of the Galapagos emblem, trek the Miconia forest… El Puntudo; Cerro Crocker Day 9
  • How does it work?
    Learn about the events that shaped these islands… Boat cruise to Santa Fe; Playa Escondida Day 10
  • What do we do? Huge changes
    Let’s talk about how we are influencing our planet… National Park volunteer day; Bay tour; ceramics Day 11
  • What do we do? Huge changes
    Final Galapagos Day… Tortuga Bay; surfing; presentations; goodbyes Day 12
  • Farewell Galapagos
    Afternoon flight to Quito. Overnight and dinner at hotel near airport. Day 13
  • Arrive Home
    Return flight to US or continue on to another Sustainable Summer program. Day 14
  • 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.


9-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 Tabebela, a short drive from the new Quito International Airport, for a few hours of rest.

    We'll use our time at MIA well with some orientation activities that will familiarize us with local customs, health and safety protocols, and our individual and mutual goals for the program.

    Day 1
  • San Cristobal
    Flight to San Cristobal, Galapagos. Check-in to hotel, then snorkeling at La Loberia, unquestionably one of the best spots in the Galapagos for wildlife all of all kinds - marine iguanas, sea turtles, blue-footed boobies, and of, course, the namesake Sea Lions, known as lobos marinos, or sea wolves, in Spanish. Day 2
  • Puerto Ayora
    Visit San Cristobal interpretation center in the morning, then boat ride to Puerto Ayora and our lovely hotel near a great beach for swimming in the azure waters of this idyllic port town. Day 3
  • Santa Cruz Highlands
    Hiking in the Santa Cruz highlands. We'll have a chance to observe some of the biggest giant tortoise in the wild, walk through extensive lava tunnels, and explore Los Gemelos, the most intact endemic highland vegetation in Galapagos. The geological formations, finches and other features of this natural cloud forest will be explained by our naturalist guide. Day 4
  • Bartolome
    Cruise to Bartolome Island and Pinnacle Rock. Bartolome is the crown jewel of the Galapagos. Its majestic volcanic scenery is unrivaled and its famous Pinnacle Rock is one of the most classic images of the Galapagos. Galapagos penguins can be observed on the coastline and are often seen while snorkeling, too. Day 5
  • Las Grietas and Divine Bay
    Cliff jumping and snorkeling at Las Grietas. Sea kayaking in the mangroves of Divine Bay. We will paddle through lava channels where white tipped sharks and rays swim beneath us, while perched overhead are colonies of blue footed boobies and marine iguanas clinging to the rugged cliffs. Day 6
  • Tortuga Bay
    Surfing at Tortuga Bay, a striking white sand beach, and then snorkeling in the calm, clear waters of its backbay. Day 8
  • Departure
    Morning visit to the Charles Darwin Research Center. Afternoon flight from Baltra to Quito (3 hours). Overnight at a hotel near the airport. Day 9
  • Arrive Home
    Return flight to US. Day 10
  • 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.

  • 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.




Our Approach to Learning Abroad

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.

Crossroads of Conservation

Crossroads of Conservation

Course Info

Our Galapagos: Crossroads of Conservation Curriculum program has a special emphasis on ecology and conservation. This is a great option for students that have an interest in learning about the economic challenges associated with conservation initiatives, evolutionary biology, and, of course, wildlife ecology.

Topics include:
  • Water resource management. Human uses of water in a water-stressed region.
  • The geological history of the Galapagos National Park
  • The human history of the Galapagos, multi-stakeholder policy-making, and the formation of the Galapagos National Park
  • Deforestation, reforestation, invasive species, and species reintroduction. The importance of the Galapagos as a 'global commons.'
  • The impact of the tourism and fishing industries. Economic development and sustainable tourism. The role of international NGOs in protecting the Galapagos. Funding sources and the role of international business and NGOs in conservation work.

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.

Our Philosophy

Our Philosophy

Additional Thoughts
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.
Course Goals

Course Goals

Insert subhead
Students will...
  • Develop “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 ​the ​critical reflection, communication, ​interpersonal, ​and positive risk taking skills necessary to create change in their local and global communities.
Course Requirements

Course Requirements

Course Requirements
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 5 hours, can be completed at the student's convenience, and includes readings, online video lectures, and some short assignments. This segment 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.

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.

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. In general, the Galapagos is an easier place to travel in than other Sustainable Summer programs. Our 10-day Galapagos program, in particular, is a great introduction to travel in Latin America. Our 14-day program is intended to be a more immersive and intense experience, although is still a great choice for first time travelers.

Our 10-day program was initially conceived as an optional "extension" program for students participating in a program in mainland Ecuador that wanted to experience the Galapagos. We continue to think that this program works best as an extension program, and we encourage students looking for a "stand-alone" program to consider the 14-day option. However, due to date conflicts, time or financial constraints, and other factors, we typically have about 50/50 "stand-alone" vs "extension" students in the program.

The 10-day program features 7 nights in the Galapagos, with visits to San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Bartoleme Islands (Baltra, too, but it's notable only for its airport). This makes for a really excellent, albeit short experience in this remarkable archipelago. The accommodations are in small, locally operated hotels, one night on San Cristobal and the remaining nights in Puerto Ayora, the main settlement in the Galapagos. The accommodations are the equivalent of a 2-star hotel in the US. Breakfast and dinner are served cafeteria-style at the hotel. We take a packed lunch with us into the field most days.

Our 14-day program features visits to Baltra, Santa Cruz, Bartoleme, Santa Fe, and Pinzon Island. This is not only a longer (10 nights vs 7) Galapagos experience, but a more dynamic itinerary, including 3 boat trips to outer lying islands, instead of only the 1 (to Bartoleme) on the 10-day itinerary. Additionally, the accommodations are more remarkable. On the 14-day itinerary, we stay in truly unique accommodations, at an organic farm and eco-lodge in the Santa Cruz highlands. Students live in luxury safari tents and enjoy the tranquility of the Galapagos Park (as opposed to the urban surroundings of our hotels on the 10-day program). Meals are taken at the lodge's main gathering area and students have the opportunity to learn traditional culinary techniques from the lodge's chef. In general, the accommodations and food on this program are consistent with that one would find at a top eco-lodge. So, you can expect exceptionally fresh food, prepared in innovative ways; intense natural harmony; and an altogether more unique living experience. Additionally, the longer duration of the program affords a more in-depth exploration of the archipelago and a more intense engagement with the course subject matter and fellow program participants.

Ultimately, both program options have their merits. The 14-day program is a better value, in our opinion, but for students that are looking to extend their Sustainable Summer experience, or that are not able to participate in a longer Galapagos program due to time or financial constraints, the 10-day program is an outstanding option that is a guaranteed to deliver a once in a lifetime experience.

The total program enrollment is capped at 14 students plus 2 Sustainable Summer trip leaders.
Sustainable Summer organizes a group flight from the United States, which all participants are encouraged to take.  This flight will be chaperoned by a trip leader. Our flight from Quito to the Galapagos will be purchased by Sustainable Summer (NOT included in the tuition fee. Typical roundtrip price is $500 - $550. See the Program Details section at the top of this page and hover over the "i" icon for current fares). Please see the itinerary tab for more details on where and when we fly. We will take a chartered boat for travel between islands and day trips.
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. Unlike mainland Ecuador, most locals in the Galapagos speak English.
This program is slightly 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.
The Galapagos is an established travel destination, and certainly one of the safest places to visit in Latin America. See our Safety page for additional information.
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. All Sustainable Summer trip leaders are professional educators. The average age of our 2014 trip leader team was 29. 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.

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