Experience the natural and cultural richness of Ecuador with your arrival in Quito, the first city to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Straddle the Northern and Southern hemispheres at the same time, and be one of the privileged travelers to visit the Galapagos Islands where we explore the home of Darwin’s theory of evolution and observe many unusual species of animals. Bring your sense of adventure as we river tube and zip line in the cloud forest. Dive into community service projects working alongside locals, on the spectacular Galapagos Islands and in the communities of Quito and Latacunga. The warm and friendly natives welcome us as we interact with local children, seniors and indigenous villagers.
Participants on this program have the option of joining us on a chaperoned group flight from our departing USA city (Atlanta or Miami to be finalized in the spring) directly to Quito. We strongly recommend this option to Quito. Our staff will be with you from the time you check-in onward. We arrange flights from other cities to connect into the departing city. From New York, we typically have 1 leader flying with participants from the area to the departing city depending on how many are from New York. Check with us on your departure date. If you decide to meet us in Quito, we will help you coordinate your flight and times and greet you as you proceed through immigration and customs.
For your return from Quito, we offer a chaperoned flight back to the USA. You may choose to join that flight and arrange transfers (if required) at suitable times after the group has cleared customs and immigration in the USA; or you may fly from Quito to your home city and our leaders help you to check-in and remain in the airport until flights in designated times have departed.
Pan De Vida Home Improvement Team does everything from helping with building construction, to interacting with the children of the communities they are helping. Projects will revolve around painting houses, beautifying homes, building walls, pathways and much more.
Get to know the students at the Simon Rodriguez School. You’ll leave your mark here as you work to improve their local school through various projects and of course playing and interacting with the delightful students.
From a Jungle Lodge on the bank of the Napo River, participate with the local Quichua on a community improvement project. Your welcoming hosts will show you how to make the local beverage “chicha” and challenge you in a blowgun target shooting contest (don’t worry, a friendly one). Your work will help to benefit the people of this region and as you say your goodbyes, you will have the opportunity to experience a traditional farewell dance.
Santa Cruz is the most popular island and home of the Charles Darwin Center. You will learn about the volcanic formation of the islands and the giant Tortoise breeding program.
Help preserve the Giant Tortoise breeding grounds by eliminating invasive plants and reforesting their natural habitat.
The school will welcome us to help with beautification projects such as gardening and painting, while offering meaningful cultural exchange opportunities as you interact directly with their students and teachers.
From your hotel in the lively Mariscal district, visit the beautiful colonial area, zero latitude at La Mitad del Mundo (Center of the World) and ascend to 12,150’ aboard the Funicular offering unrivaled views of the city and Pichincha Volcano.
Get set for the extreme adrenaline rush of zip lining 11,975’ over 12 cables above the cloud forest canopy. Hold on to your tube while riding the rapids of the Mindo River.
Visit South America’s most impressive Indian Market dating back to pre-Incan times. Tour a local community to learn about their ancient traditions and meet with a Shaman for a one of a kind cultural exchange.
Be amazed in the Andes by Cotopaxi. An active volcano, Cotopaxi is one of the world’s highest volcanoes and is known for the lush and beautiful forest that surrounds it, as well as the glacier covered summit. Hike to the refuge for an unforgettable view of the surrounding national park.
Visit a wildlife rescue center to see toucans, parrots, monkeys and jaguars. Spot even more wildlife during a float down the Napo River.
Travel high in the Andes to the small town of Baños. Whitewater raft down the thrilling Pastaza River. Stroll down Ambato Street choosing from many international restaurant options.
Visit the San Cristobal Interpretive Center and snorkel among amazing marine life by Frigate Bird Hill and Darwin Bay. View the island landscape from Junco Lake formed in an extinct volcanic crater. Snorkel among playful sea lions at La Loberia Reserve and by sea turtles at Lobos Island. Sea kayak at Cerro Brujo. The huge volcanic formation of Kicker Rock is one of the best snorkeling spots of the Galapagos featuring king angel fish, starfish, rays, turtles, and colorful corals.
Hike to Tortuga Bay known for its beautiful white sand beach and multitudes of marine iguanas. Kayak in the mangrove protected salt water cove. Climb, crawl and hike through natural lava tunnels and walk around the edge of Twin Craters.
Enjoy the final farewell banquet as you look back on this incredible adventure, cherish your new friendships, and realize how much you have all “evolved.”
Our hotel is strategically located in the lively Mariscal distract, an exclusive area of the city near the airport, museums, galleries, theaters, historic city center and other tourist attractions. Each room features wi-fi, phone and a safe.
With the symmetrical cone of Cotopaxi in the distance, Hosteria Simon is located just outside the town of Latacunga. It is a lovely wooden log cabin style lodge. The rooms are simple with bunk beds and bathrooms, Wi-Fi, a large lobby area with restaurant, wood burning stove and comfy chairs.
Surrounded by rainforest, your lodge, is located on the shores of either the River Arajuno at the Liana Lodge or the River Napo at the Shaman Lodge. Experience the rainforest with indigenous guides and enjoy some chill time in your hammock in tropical surroundings. In the rainforest, you’ll enjoy tranquil evenings by candle light and every room has a private bathroom.
The Monte Selva Lodge offers comfortable rooms all with TVs and Wi-Fi. It is the perfect spot for some relaxation after our time in the Amazon. The hotel has incredible facilities including basketball and volleyball courts, nice grounds and a pool.
This hotel though basic is clean, has internet, and all rooms have comfortable beds, private baths and air conditioning. The hotel offers a nice patio with gardens and hammocks to enjoy where we can laugh about the excitement of learning to surf or the fish we saw on our amazing snorkeling expedition.
This three story hotel is set in front of a fresh-water pool. The rooms have Wi-Fi, and are clean & comfortable with spaces to take in the majesty of the islands. Poolside, there are plenty of spaces to lounge in the rich Galapagos breeze.
At Westcoast Connection nothing else comes first. From our extensive trip planning department through our management team and our leaders, it is our single biggest priority! Safety procedures, equipment – we’ve got it covered. All Trip Leaders and Directors are certified in First Aid and CPR. We are extremely proud of our safety record and welcome all questions you may have in this area. Please see more under Safety First.
Once you are on your trip, you will have sensitive leaders that are caring, approachable and always there for you. Your Trip Director and Trip Leaders are people with incredible backgrounds including teachers, guitar players, IRONMAN triathletes, SCUBA divers, volunteers, and so much more.
Every staff member takes part in and must complete our extensive training weekends that review our philosophy and procedures to provide a well-supervised and fun-filled program.
Our Trip Directors, the individuals responsible for overseeing each itinerary, take on the roles of teachers, coaches, camp counselors, mentors, concierges and hosts. They’ve been trained to provide individual attention and create an all-inclusive family atmosphere (our EACH & EVERY philosophy). There’s a definite art to building dynamic groups, and we’ve worked hard to master it! We want you smiling on day one right through to a teary goodbye at your farewell banquet.
Our leaders are non-smokers. To learn more about our staff, please visit our Summer Leaders section.
We can’t say it too many times, this is a really incredible group experience. A great dynamic starts with our secrets for group bonding. Our bag of tricks goes way beyond traditional ice breakers. Imagine people hunts, Rock, Paper, Scissors championships, Ninja tournaments, flash mobs and so much more. We work hard to get everyone moving beyond first impressions and creating an atmosphere of total acceptance. Our staff hiring and training emphasizes social safety and establishing an inclusive culture. Many of our travelers come as individuals and we have a geographically diverse enrollment with students joining us from across the U.S., Canada and internationally. This mix helps eliminate cliques at the outset and establish an open environment that benefits you. We take great care in assembling groups to create an unforgettable social experience. Our international service programs are for up to 21 group members.
Our service projects can change from one year to the next as we adjust to the needs of the local communities and the guidance of our service partners. This way, our service hours have the greatest impact and move forward the projects with the greatest priority. We also focus on service-learning throughout the process, where education and reflection are key to enriching these experiences for all.
We partner with established organizations that have a long history of achieving their goals and integrating teen volunteers into their efforts. Over the years we have built strong relationships with various organizations in the communities we visit who look forward to hosting our groups year after year. The specific service projects that we will work on are finalized in late spring and depend on what is most needed in these communities. Past projects have included building homes with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica, planting sustainable gardens with Children’s Eco Training in South Africa, teaching children to read with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hawaii. Last summer we completed 22,917 hours of service (that’s equivalent to 2.6 years!) in just 8 weeks.
Whether it’s building and planting sustainable food gardens in South Africa or lending a hand by making mud bricks for a community in rural Peru, our community service programs participate in a wide array of meaningful projects on five continents! With the help and direction of our longstanding local partners on the ground, our projects focus on five main themes: community welfare, youth leadership, environmental sustainability, infrastructure, and wildlife conservation. Check out some noteworthy projects we completed in previous summers to give you a glimpse at how we make our summers count!
Our groups participate in well-planned and substantial community service projects in between surfing in Hawaii, snorkeling in the Galapagos, zip lining in Costa Rica, climbing to the top of Machu Picchu in Peru, or marveling at the Big 5 on a safari in South Africa. We know when to pick up the pace to get the adrenaline flowing; we also know when it’s time to chill with some downtime on the beach. The balance of service and recreation is what sets our programs apart. By integrating adventure and recreational highlights into our itineraries, we are able to maintain a high level of enthusiasm.
Volunteer with experienced nonprofit organizations and alongside the locals who often directly benefit from your help, as you become part of a team working towards a common goal. Everyone’s contribution and cooperation are so important to help the service projects progress as planned, so please join us with the right expectations and a positive attitude. The rewards in sharing this experience are many, such as lasting friendships, improved interpersonal skills and personal growth. You will receive a letter of completion recognizing 20-70 hours of service (depending on the program) and listing the projects you helped to complete.
Westcoast Connection is a Certifying Organization for the President’s Volunteer Service Award. The award program was developed in 2003 as a way to honor and thank U.S. citizens and residents who engage in service both domestically and abroad. Presidential recognition of what you have achieved speaks to the type of person you are and hopefully inspires others to take positive action to change the world. The award requires completing 100 hours of community service within a 12 month period. Your service hours with our program qualify towards that total to earn the award.
As you travel to new places and experience different cultures, your journey may challenge your ideas and preconceived notions. We recognize this and strive to provide an environment where you are free to question and learn. This is nurtured by our leaders’ open and non-judgmental guidance. The opportunity for growth through service learning is endless!
Of all our summer programs, community service provides the greatest opportunity to interact with the local people and culture. Being exposed to families and children who have different customs and daily realities can broaden our perspective and raise our awareness of important issues. In a multicultural world, this education can break stereotypes and help us understand the role we play as global citizens.
There really is a difference in how different summer programs operate! Motivated teens going away with qualified leaders is a given. But what sets us apart is the depth of our qualified personnel that allow us to perform with the greatest consistency at the highest level.
Your Trip Director and Trips Leaders are with you throughout your program. They have daily contact with one of our two 24-hour Communication Centers and are in regular contact with our Company Directors. Our Company Directors are the most seasoned veterans who each oversee specific programs providing support to trip staff and to assist with any situations that may arise. Our Company Directors alternate between traveling to visit programs and being reached in the office. Program visits enable us to provide ongoing support and development to our Trip Directors, allows trip staff to have a sounding board for their own progress in reaching trip goals, helps us to identify any challenging areas for improvement while it still has relevance to your summer rather than as a mention on your end-of-summer survey, and helps us to identify the future Directors from the current crop of all-star summer staff. These visits are by Company Directors along with our Regional Supervisors, who are former Trip Directors with further experience out in the field. Collectively our team is an incredible resource with 420+ summers of combined teen travel experience. This way, we can lend a hand wherever and whenever a little extra effort is called for. Last year, we had 205 scheduled supervisory trip visits to make sure all was running well, provide ongoing support to our staff in the field, and have fun! This investment in depth of personnel is unrivaled in teen travel and is a critical element to achieving consistent, excellent program quality and surpassing client expectations!
Included in the trip tuition are all activities and entertainment described, breakfast & dinner daily, lunches as indicated on your specific program, gratuities, taxes, land transportation, accommodations, and fanatical customer service from our full-time team and summer Communication Centers. This can add up to tremendous value!
We provide clean and comfortable accommodations. Please don’t expect luxury resorts and at the same time we know you need a good night’s rest to perform community service as well as have energy for our many other included activities. For quality and consistency of the group experience, we do not have any homestays. Each student has their own bed. For more detailed information on any specific program, visit the section marked Where We Stay.
A big part of a program’s success depends on how well you eat. We are proud of the fact that year after year we are complimented for our quality and quantity of food and variety of options. Meals vary by destination. Part of your travel experience will be immersing yourself in the local cuisine and culture so please bring with you an open mind and a willingness to try new things. For example, in Ecuador the food will be a mix of “typical food” including chicken, beef, potatoes and of course ceviche, and other great local options. They also have North American style options on the menu. In Ecuador, we recommend against drinking the local tap water and we provide clean water for our travelers.
We have satisfied the choosiest of eaters and gladly accommodate most special dietary requests including vegetarian, anaphylactic food allergies, lactose intolerance, celiac disease and kosher style. We welcome discussing your individual requirements with you and have extensive personal experience in this area. International travel may present more challenges than domestic locations and we are happy to review your personal needs and help you select an appropriate itinerary.
On our Ecuador & Galapagos programs, you’ll ride in air-conditioned professional driven vehicles (from motor coaches to smaller passenger vans). Travel to the Galapagos Islands is on regularly scheduled jet planes. On the islands, you will travel on land by buses and on water excursions on professionally captained boats that can seat 10 to 16 people.
You only need to bring one week’s worth of clothing as outlined in our packing list as we have the opportunity for laundry weekly.
On our international programs, every week you will drop off your laundry at a local wash and fold service and then pick it up clean, folded and ready to go.
While you’re out having the summer of your life, your parents should feel like they are in on the action as well. We post updates to our blog and Facebook page and e-mail photos approximately once a week so those at home can be in on the fun. Parents also have access to our dedicated office Trip Monitors 24/7 for any questions and/or concerns. We’re as in touch as any trip operator could possibly be via smartphones with e-mail and text. The goal is uncompromising safety and peace of mind, day after day, hour by hour, minute by minute. Participants may bring their personal cell phones.
In last summer’s surveys, 98% of responding teens and parents said they would recommend us to others. We must be doing something right!