Ecuador, South America, May 21 – June 2, 2013
“From the Galapagos Islands to the Amazon Jungle”
Ecuador is the second smallest country in South America. Nowhere else can you find so much natural diversity and rich culture. On the eastern side lies the Amazon Basin, which gradually rises westward, across the Andean volcanic range, sloping downward to the Pacific coast. 600 miles off the coast of the mainland are the Galapagos Islands, where a combination of isolation and geographical features created a unique wildlife population that inspired Darwin’s evolution theory. Quito is the capital of Ecuador, a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1978. The city is surrounded by volcanic peaks and rolling countryside, home to the local Quechuan people. A fascinating city but mostly a stepping-off point for this program’s adventures.
Lying on the equator 600 miles west of the Ecuadorian coast is the Galapagos Archipelago, consisting of six main islands and over a dozen smaller ones. Over many hundreds of thousands of years, animals and plants somehow migrated there. As time passed, they adapted themselves to Galapagos conditions and came to differ more and more from their mainland ancestors. Thus many of the species are unique and quite tame. The islands were uninhabited until 1535, and the animals and fish still have little instinctive fear of man. Due to constant ocean currents providing an endless food source, the wild life of the Galapagos, above and below the ocean, provides amazing ecological sightseeing and adventure. Activities include boat exploration of rural rock formations and beaches, volcano hikes, visiting the Charles Darwin research Center, staying on San Cristobal and Santa Cruz Islands of the Galapagos Archipelago, sighting giant tortoises and marine iguanas, snorkeling, exploring and identifying marine life, and discovering pristine beaches.
Beyond the cloud forests of the eastern Andean foothills is the Amazon rainforest. This is home to 50 percent of Ecuadorean mammals and 5 percent of all the earth’s plant and bird life. Rubber boots are required to tread through its forested hills, wetlands, river zones, and black-water lagoons. Equally fascinating are Ecuador’s rainforest people and cultures, which have needed to adapt to modern culture while preserving their traditional way of life. Students will visit the Yachana Ecological Reserve to study ecotourism—a vital factor of the conservation of the tropical Amazon rainforest. Activities include river canoe transports, jungle hikes, plant identification, animal and bird sightings, visiting local communities, and participating in the Yachana Foundation effort, which involves working with local communities to educate and preserve the rainforest.