How do we reconcile the needs of the environment with those of people?
Days: 28 • Group Size: 10 - 12 • Ages: 15 - 18
June 27 - July 18 Closed
July 21 - August 11 Closed
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Ecuador: Seeds of Change

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Ecuador Summer Program

We are no longer accepting applications for our 2019 Ecuador programs. Please have a look at our program in Costa Rica as a comparable alternative.

Our Ecuador program is ideal for high school students with a strong interest in environmental sustainability, and particularly natural resource management and international development.

Come to Ecuador and experience the majesty of the Amazon rainforest and the indigenous people that live there. Hike along a crater lake at 12,000 feet of elevation in the heart of the Andes. Learn about sustainable food production models while living in a rural community in one of Ecuador’s major agricultural regions. We’ll also be learning about reforestation, rainforest ecology, and sustainable development of the Amazon’s natural resources. Throughout the program there are ample opportunities for interactions with local culture and to learn about the challenges associated with sustainable natural resource management in Ecuador.

Why Ecuador?

There are so many reasons we love Ecuador, but one of our favorites is that nowhere else can you find such biodiversity in such a geographical small space. Ecuador is the most biodiverse country on Earth relative to size. This program takes full advantage of that fact by bringing students into cloud forest, high alpine mountains, tropical riparian corridors, and rainforest. Additionally, 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 about Ecuador’s push to develop ‘renewable’ energy from hydro that is financially and environmentally spurious.
  • 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.

What Will I Learn

Where Will I Go In Ecuador?



the rim of Laguna Quilatoa at elevation 12000 feet


the mighty whitewater of the Rio Jatunyacu


principles of permaculture and sustainable food production

2019 Facilitators *

Demaceo Howard

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Allie Mack

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Ecuador Testimonials

My husband and I both feel strongly that the staff on his trip were truly exceptional. Max felt he could talk to them and clearly was not afraid to show emotion in front of them. My guess is that once Max has processed it all the impact will be overwhelmingly positive – he mentioned that […]

  Elizabeth,  parent from Iowa City, IA

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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 a collaborative, multidisciplinary, challenge-based learning approach.

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.
21st Century Leadership
A “global citizen” is someone who identifies with being part of an emerging world community and whose actions contribute to building global values and practices. Frugality, integrity, humility, and cultural awareness guide our mission in creating the next generation of environmental leaders and responsible global citizens. Instead of a "leadership" curriculum, we infuse our program with activities that develop global citizenship in our students.
Developing Lifelong Skills
Challenge-based learning is a collaborative learning experience in which educators and students work together to learn about compelling issues, propose solutions to real problems, and take action. This unique approach asks students to reflect on their learning and the impact of their actions and publish their solutions to a worldwide audience. This component takes many forms on the program - including team-building challenges, natural and cultural exploration, case studies, site visits, interactions or lessons with local experts, cultural exchanges, service projects, and formal opportunities for student leadership. The goal of this challenge-based learning approach is the development of lifelong skills that help create economic, social, or cultural value.

Program Tuition

Each program has a tiered tuition rate: standard (full tuition), tuition assistance (83% of tuition), or scholarship (as low as 15% of tuition).

How It Works

$ 3695
  • 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.
$ 675 - 3150
  • Additional scholarship funding is available for students that are unable to participate at either of the other rates. Scholarship participants receive up to an 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.

Dynamic Activities & Learning Opportunities

Guided activities, from the adventurous to the cultural, augment sustainability-focused learning opportunities.

Emergency Assistance

As part of our risk management and emergency protocols, we enroll every participant in an ISOS emergency assistance and evacuation plan.

Ground Transportation

Once in country, travel will typically be by private coach when we are traveling any significant distance, although we do 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 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 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. We provide the below information as a courtesy to prospective families for planning purposes.

Our designated round trip group flight:

Might Have an Escort (TBD)

Outbound Flight


Return Flight



  • Do not make any flight reservations until explicitly directed by Sustainable Summer. Enrolled families - please check your MySummer account for more information. This is the only source of completely accurate and up-to-date information about our flight logistics.
  • Not all of our group flights have a staff escort. Please see above for specifics and our Flights page for additional 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

22-Day Itinerary

  • Arrival
    Upon arrival, we’ll take taxis to our accommodations in Tababela, a short drive from the new Quito International Airport, for a good night's rest. Day 1
  • Orientation
    we'll start the day with an orientation following breakfast, reviewing health and safety protocols, becoming familiar with local customs, and sharing our individual and mutual goals for the program. We'll then take a private bus to Mashpi Shungo, have lunch, and then spend the rest of the afternoon in the community, with some additional orientation activities to close out the day. Day 2
  • Mashpi Shungo

    Situated in one of the most biodiverse places on the planet at the transition zone between the tropical Andes and Ecuador’s lowlands, at Mashpi students will engage in a module on agroforestry and sustainable agriculture.

    We’ll begin this module with a few days of lessons on permaculture design and agroforestry with one of Mashpi’s instructors. We'll typically spend about 2 hours each day in a classroom setting before heading out into one of the four local farms connected to the Mashpi community. The chocolate farm is always a student favorite. This mini-course follows a “pedagogy of nature,” a pedagogical model based on the interaction with the essential elements of nature. Daily lessons could explore biodiversity, sustainable practices in building and agriculture, and water and soil sustainable management.

    Days 3 - 6
  • Quilatoa
    Leave Mashpi by private bus (4 hours) to Chugchilan for a few days of incredible hiking trip in the heart of the Andes. Accommodations will be with Black Sheep Inn, a beautiful eco-lodge overlooking the Rio Toachi canyon, where heavy bags can be left. A highlight is the impressive Laguna Quilatoa crater lake at over 12,000 feet of elevation. Day 7
  • The Black Sheep Inn

    Waking up to the sunrise in this part of the Andes is breathtaking. The groundbreaking Black Sheep Inn eco-lodge, situated near the iconic Laguna Quilatoa, is one of those places that works oh so well as a full experience. The inn itself is intimate and magical. The food - all vegetarian - is incredible. The people are friendly and fascinating. And the scenery is second to none.

    We’ll get a personal tour of the Inn’s world renowned permaculture and sustainability initiatives, as well as some of the micro-enterprises in the region such as the community-owned cheese factory started by a NGO.

    We’ll explore the majestic Andes with the classic hike from the rim of Quilatoa’s picturesque crater lake back to the lodge. It’s a full day affair that takes in some of the most stunning scenery in all of Ecuador.

    Days 8 - 10
  • Banos

    We'll take pickup truck taxis out of the rugged roads of the Quilatoa region and down into the central valley of the Andes where we'll hop on a public bus from Latacunga to Banos. Banos is known for its amazing waterfalls, artisan markets, authentic restaurants, and a rich history. Students will determine activities, which could include Casa del Arbol, viewing the “fireworks” at Volcan Tungurahua, and the infamous Ruta de las Cascadas.

    Banos is a lot of fun. Perhaps we'll do the easy half day hike into Pailon del Diablo (the Devil’s Cauldron). It rests at the conclusion of the famous Ruta de las Cascadas, so named for the numerous waterfalls that tumble out of the jungle just outside of Baños. Regardless, you’ll get to explore the local markets, have some free time out on the town, and perhaps even enjoy the famous termas located under one of the town’s closest waterfalls.

    Days 11 & 12
  • Baños to Huasquila
    After a final morning exploring the Baños markets (last chance to shop for souvenirs!) and diving into some local cuisine for lunch, we’ll head down in elevation and into the rainforest and indigenous communities of Napo Province. Situated just a few kilometers from Tena, the main commercial center of activity in the Ecuadorian Amazon, we’ll begin our weeklong stay at the Huasquila jungle lodge learning about reforestation, social enterprise and sustainable economic development. Upon arrival, we will have a short afternoon waterfall hike. 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 13
  • Guayusa
    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 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 14
  • The Rainforest and Ecosystem Services
    We’ll spend today getting to know a little bit more of the local landscape and its history. You’ll learn about the difference between primary and secondary forests, why plants grow where they do, and begin to understand the ecosystem services provided by the rainforest. We’ll come back and help prepare a dinner with the Huasquila staff tonight as well. Day 15
  • Riparian Issues, Rafting, and Paddling Skills Progression

    We'll depart take just the bare essentials with us for a three day, two night rafting trip into the jungle. Day one starts with some big, but friendly whitewater on the upper reaches of the Rio Jatunyacu, led by professional guides. We'll overnight at a riverside Kichwa village where you'll learn some jungle survival skills, such as the use of medicinal plants, fabrication of hunting tools and traps, and natural construction methods.

    Day two starts with some instruction of paddling technique, including basic paddling strokes, identifying different "features" in the river, and other essentials for being able to guide a raft or paddle a kayak. The river is calmer here, so students will take turns at the helm of a raft, practicing calling commands and navigating downstream. We'll stop at points to examine the impacts of illegal gold and gravel mining in the riparian corridor of the watershed before arriving in the tiny village of Puerto Misahualli and our take-out, where the resident monkeys are always a hit. We'll hop in truck taxis for a short ride up one of the Jatunyacu's tributaries, the Rio Anzu, where we'll spend the night in riverside cabanas.

    On our third day, we'll continue our "river" theme with a day in "sit-on-top" kayaks on the Anzu. This section of river is perfect for new paddlers and is sure to put a smile on the face as confidence in paddling skill develops.

    Our hope through this 3-day component is that students will develop both an appreciation for the importance of environmentally-healthy watersheds and inspiration to continue their exploration of rivers everywhere after building some basic competence with paddling technique.

    At the conclusion of Day 3 of our river adventures, we'll return to Huasquila.

    Days 16 - 18
  • Kallari Cooperativo
    After breakfast, we'll visit Kallari, a chocolate cooperative owned by Kichwa. We'll learn 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. 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 various seeds in the region. Day 19
  • Gran Canyon
    Today will be an all-day hike into the Mondayacu Gran Canyon, a rigorous, but rewarding hike through impressive jungle to a towering waterfall set in a beautiful grotto. 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 20
  • Closure and Departure
    After breakfast, we begin our return to the Quito area. This 4 hour trip involves traveling out of the Amazon basin and eventually up and over 14,000 foot Papallacta Pass, crossing over the continental divide of the Andes, but there are ample reasons to take some additional time to stop and explore along the way. En route, we’ll stop and soak our sore muscles at the Papallacta Hot Springs before getting back into Tababela. Day 21
  • Arrive Home
    Early morning departure for US Day 22
  • 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.