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 Riobamba. 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.
Quintillano Sanchez is a public elementary school in the city of Quito that hosts 580 students between 4 to 12 years old. Public schools in Ecuador do not require fees to attend and are designed to be accessible to all students. Unfortunately, many schools struggle to maintain and improve their infrastructure after many years of little funding. The administration, parents and students of Quintillano School are working to try and improve the state of their school. Students will be joining our groups on their summer vacations.
Tierra Nueva is a medical non-profit that provides health services and educates youth and families, especially those from low-income neighborhoods. Each year Tierra Nueva treats 500,000 individuals. The organization also sets up multiple social programs including a center for children living with disabilities and a day center for the elderly.
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.
MEDLIFE is an organization that partners with low-income communities to improve their access to medicine and education, as well as invest in a community development initiative. You will take part in such a project that directly benefits the community. Past MEDLIFE projects include installing modernized bathrooms, basic kitchen upgrades, and putting in fencing to separate farm animals from living quarters.
This organization looks to strengthen the environment and community of the Galapagos Islands. You will make a positive impact on the ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands by planting indigenous plants to restore native and endemic species, and by installing new water pipelines for the community.
The goal of the Ranchos Primicias Reforestation Project is to reforest the natural habitat of the Giant Tortoise as well as the endemic species of Darwin Finch. You will learn about balance in ecology and help to plant indigenous trees. We also work in the ranch’s garden where we plant seeds.
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.
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.
Travel high in the Andes to the small town of Baños. Whitewater raft down the thrilling Pastaza River and enjoy a beautiful hike to the Pailon del Diablo waterfalls. Stroll down Ambato Street choosing from many international restaurant options.
Enjoy the sights and sounds of the Amazon jungle. Visit a wildlife rescue center to see toucans, parrots, monkeys and jaguars. Spot even more wildlife during a float down the Napo River.
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.
Visit the most popular island and home of the Charles Darwin Center. Learn about the volcanic formation of the islands and the giant Tortoise breeding program.
Hike to Tortuga Bay known for its beautiful white sand beach and multitudes of marine iguanas. Kayak in the mangrove protected salt water cove and snorkel among amazing marine life. Climb, crawl and hike through natural lava tunnels and walk around the edge of Twin Craters. Snorkel the crystals blue waters and see abundant natural life.
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 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 Toacazo. It is a lovely wooden log cabin style lodge. The rooms are simple with bunk beds, bathrooms and Wi-Fi. There’s a large lobby area with restaurant, wood burning stove and comfy chairs.
This Spanish colonial inspired hotel has stunning views of Chimborazo Mountain. Features include Wi-Fi, safes, and a restaurant serving both Ecuadorian and international dishes.
The Monte Selva Lodge offers comfortable rooms with TVs and Wi-Fi. The hotel facilities include basketball and volleyball courts, and a pool.
Surrounded by rainforest, on the shores of the River Arajuno, the Liana Lodge is only to be reached by boat. Experience the rainforest with indigenous guides and enjoy some chill time in your hammock in tropical surroundings. Your lodge forms part of the rainforest project “Selva Viva” and boasts its own protected forest and an animal rescue center. In the rainforest, you’ll enjoy tranquil evenings by candlelight. Our cabin, built on stilts, is made out of local materials (mainly bamboo with traditional palm thatched roofs) and you’ll be surprised by just how comfortable you’ll be. Every room has a private bathroom and all windows have mosquito meshes.
This hotel, though basic, is clean, has internet, and all rooms have comfortable beds, private baths and air conditioning. It offers a nice patio with gardens and hammocks to enjoy where we can chill and laugh about the excitement of the fish we saw on our amazing snorkeling expedition or the sea lions we met!
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, and teaching children to read with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hawaii. Last summer we completed 23,201 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 adobe 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 your hours of service and listing the work 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 208 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, 99% of responding teens and parents said they would recommend us to others. We must be doing something right!