“You really feel like you are part of a family while on the program and beyond... My experience in Ecuador has broadened my worldview even more than all my other travels. . . It has made me slow down and not to be so task driven. Relationships are most important.”
Join us for a Gardening Volunteer Vacation in the beautiful Andean highlands outside the city of Otavalo, Ecuador.
Get your hands dirty by working at the tree nursery in the community of Achupallas, planting trees in a local community alongside community members, or working with schoolchildren in their school garden. You will also have an opportunity to tour horticultural sites and learn about native plants and gardening techniques in the region.
When you are not having fun digging in the dirt, you will have a chance to immerse yourself in the local culture, soak up breathtaking scenery, and experience different biomes. You may visit the famous Otavalo market, take a cooking class at Kawsaymi Cooking School, hike to natural wonders, and meet local craftspeople.
After days filled with gardening and exploring, relax and socialize with your fellow volunteers at a comfortable inn in Otavalo.
Cost: $1,382 double occupancy, $153 additional for single occupancy. The trip fee covers all the basic expenses (food, lodging, transportation, activities) from when you land at the Quito airport until we drop you off there. Discount available if paid in full by check at least 6 weeks prior to program start - $1,350 double occupancy, $150 additional for single occupancy. (We provide one airport pickup on the first evening, and one bus back to the airport, on the last night. If your plans require different pickups or drop-offs, you will need to cover those on your own). Airfare is not included, and you'll want to bring extra money for personal expenses.
Sample Itinerary for Gardening Volunteer Venture:
Arrive in the evening and settle in. We provide one bus to pick up the group from the airport and bring you to Otavalo.
Have orientation and visit the world-famous Otavalo market.
Work at the tree nursery most of the day, and then visit Cuicocha volcanic lake.
Work with students in their school garden. In the afternoon, visit a master weaver.
Spend the morning at the school, planting more vegetables in the school garden. In the afternoon, have a picnic under Otavalo's sacred tree.
Day 6 Beautify a community by landscaping its newly-constructed community center. In the afternoon, learn about medicinal plants and enjoy a Pachamanka, a traditional dinner cooked in the earth.
Help in a minga, [community work party] planting trees in one of the communities. In the afternoon, participate in a traditional cooking class and learn about the plants cultivated by local families.
Visit the high-altitude páramo to see another biome and its endemic plants, have a celebratory dinner, then head back to the airport and fly out at night.
In Ecuador, we work primarily in communities of the Quichinche parish, Otavalo canton, in the Ecuadorian Sierra. Just outside the market center of Otavalo, this area is only 2 hours by bus from Quito but offers a rural tranquility and connection to the land very different from life in the capital.
The father and mother volcanoes, Imbabura and Cotacachi, stand guard over the valleys and hills where indigenous Otaveleño and mestizo families grow their sustenance. Diverse in their customs, residents are united by their need to work together to improve their communities. They farm corn, potatoes, beans, and other crops, weave textiles and baskets, and commute to Otavalo for secondary education or formal-sector jobs. The Otavaleño are one of Ecuador's indigenous groups most successful at preserving their cultural identity and traditions. Speaking both Kichwa and Spanish, they have learned to negotiate the power structures of their nation while retaining pride in their indigenous heritage. The people of Quichinche work hard and also love to celebrate. In general, they are very welcoming to visitors and enjoy sharing food, joking around, and discussing their culture with guests. The landscape that surrounds their home, meanwhile, offers high lakes, waterfalls, and volcanic peaks to inspire a sense of nature's grandeur. The region's 9000-ft. elevation and proximity to the equator combine to give it consistently comfortable temperatures (50's to 80's) all year round.
Scroll down through the story map below to learn about the communities we partner with and see their locations on a map.
The CDC recommends vaccinations against Hepatitis A, typhoid, tetanus-diphtheria and measles. Yellow fever is recommended for other parts of Ecuador but not necessary in the mountains where we work. Vaccinations are up to your own discretion.
I've heard about the Zika virus. Should I be concerned for my health?
The Zika virus is carried by mosquitoes that generally live below 1200 meters, but Tandana works at much higher elevations--typically above 2000 meters. So the chances of encountering a Zika-carrying mosquito while with Tandana is quite low. Moreover, the main concern for Zika is the damage it can do to fetuses if the mother contracts the virus; for others, the clinical symptoms are mild. Nevertheless, if you plan to travel in lower elevations before or after your time with us, you might want to take precautions with an insect repellant approved by the EPA.
What are the accommodations like?
Tandana's gardening volunteer venture participants are provided lodging at a wonderful facility right in Otavalo, Ecuador: Casa Latitud. Rooms all have private baths, comfortable beds, and outlets with the same electricity as the U.S. Wi-fi is available in the common area. Breakfast each day is a treat that offers fresh local fruits and juices, excellent coffee and a selection of hot breakfast items to start your day off right. The garden and patio area are an oasis with a view of 2 inactive volcanos. And the location is perfect for market shopping just 4 blocks away.
Will my electronic devices work in Ecuador?
Yes, Ecuador uses the same electrical currents and plugs as the United States does, so you don't need a special adapter.
What kind of clothing, etc. should I pack?
We will send you a "welcome" packet about a month before your departure, which includes a suggested packing list.
Should I bring my gardening tools?
You might want to bring personal hand tools, garden gloves, and boots or shoes that can take the mud. If you forget something, we do have an assortment of gloves and tools left behind by others. Just remember that some things are tricky for taking on planes. If you bring a soil knife, for example, you'll need to wrap it in a cardboard sheath and pack it in your checked luggage.
What if I don't speak Spanish?
It's not necessary to speak Spanish in order to do good work and have a good time on this trip. You'll learn the important basics during orientation, and Tandana staff will be able to translate for you.
Who leads the groups of volunteers? Who do I turn to when I need help?
All of Tandana's volunteer programs are led by a team of Program Coordinators who have first-hand knowledge of the region, speak both Spanish and English, have expertise in experiential education and group leadership, hold WFA (Wilderness First Aid) or other certifications that have prepared them to handle emergencies, and are caring and capable individuals. Our permanent local staff is always on hand to help with translation, activities, logistics, and anything else to make sure the volunteers' experience is the best it can possibly be. See here for bios of some Program Coordinators.
What if I can't find the answer to my question on the FAQ page?
Please email your question to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll answer it as quickly as we can.