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Experiences during my first week of volunteering in Ecuador.
After over two weeks in Ecuador, I feel like I’ve had a very authentic local experience.
Getting to stay with local families has deepened my appreciation for the culture and improved my Spanish speaking skills.
Witnessing the natural beauty of the land has completely blown my mind.
So far I have explored the capital city of Quito and surrounding towns such as Valle De Los Chilios and Lloa.
I’ve also seen incredible areas of natural beauty such as Cotopaxi National Park, Laguna Quilotoa and the humble farms of Santa Ana Del Pedregal.
In this article, I’ll describe my experiences in each place!
But first, I’ll explain how I was able to find this volunteering opportunity, for anyone interested.
Volunteering in Ecuador with Worldpackers
I found this volunteering job in Ecuador on a website called Worldpackers.
Worldpackers is an international community where you can find hosts in different countries that allow travelers to work in exchange for free accommodation.
So I messaged a few hosts from Ecuador, secured a place working at La Hacienda Hosteria La Antigua, booked a flight, and here I am!
I’ll get into the work at La Antigua later on. But I just want to emphasize how easy it was to find this volunteering position!
I joined Worldpackers online, then just started sending messages to people about my work skills and the dates I was available.
Then they accepted me and I hopped on a plane.
Now I’m living with locals in Ecuador for free and immersing myself in the culture. Best decision I ever made!
Living with Local Families in Valle De Los Chilios
This small town lies in a valley outside of Quito, and I spent some time here living a local family.
The hospitality was amazing. Everyone treated me like family and welcomed me into their homes with no hesitation.
I’ve noticed that Ecuadorian families are very tight-knit.
Extended family members often live together and work together. And if not, everyone lives close enough to spend lots of time together.
When I applied for the volunteering position, I was messaging back and forth with a young man about the job.
I actually never even met him because he was away. But did I stay with his wife and kids, his parents, his brother’s family, and his in-laws.
Becoming part of the family
I really got to know the ins and outs of this family tree, and I love how hospitable and loving everyone was.
Some of the family lived right in Quito, so I was able to explore the city while staying with them.
While being shuttled around to different homes within the family tree, I ate delicious home-cooked meals, took care of the little kids, played soccer with the older kids, and helped clean the house.
I practiced my Spanish all day, every day since most of them didn’t speak English.
My Spanish speaking skills have never been better. And everyone is perfectly willing to correct me when I mess up.
As Ecuador’s capital city, Quito is full of culture, commercialism, and typical city life.
Looking down over the city from above is almost more amazing than exploring the city at ground level.
I first arrived in the city at night, and driving along the hills next to the valley where the city lies is incredible.
The huge, sprawling city looks like a maze of glittering lights nestled in cracks between the mountains.
El Centro Historico is my favorite place in the city.
It’s packed with magnificent government buildings, narrow alleyways, and stunning architecture with buildings painted every color imaginable.
Attending the Festival of Lights
A very special moment I had in Quito was attending the Festival de los Luces, or Festival of Lights.
For every night this past week, the churches of the Centro Historico acted as stages for creative light displays while dramatic music played over speakers.
I went with my host family, and I literally had to cling to their arms so I wouldn’t get lost in the crowds.
Though the city was so packed with people I could barely walk at times, the light shows were well worth the discomfort.
The entire night was gorgeous, and we finished the festival by buying a typical local snack called Choclo con Queso.
This is basically corn on the cob cooked on grills by the side of the road and covered in butter, mayonnaise, and cheese.
Visiting the Equator
Slightly north of Quito lies the Equator, or “El Mitad Del Mundo”.
I spent a few days in Quito staying with a Venezuelan girl named Carolina.
She works full time at the lodge I volunteered at, and it was cool to hang out with someone my age.
We took a day trip to the Equator and learned about indigenous cultures, the process of making chocolate, and the physics of the Equator line.
You could balance an egg upright on a tiny pin because apparently gravity is centered at the Equator.
During the tour, we roamed through a little village full of sun-themed artwork and little straw huts.
Visiting Cotopaxi National Park
This active volcano in the Andes Mountains is an impressive sight.
Driving through El Parque Nacional de Cotopaxi is not for the faint-hearted. The land is extremely rugged due to previous lava flows.
After resting by a peaceful lake in the park, the clouds parted a bit to reveal part of the massive, snow-capped peak of the volcano.
The altitude in the park definitely hit me hard while driving up to Cotopaxi.
I could only breathe in short, shallow breaths and my ears hurt a bit. But the incredible landscape was worth it.
(After adjusting to the altitude here in Ecuador, I had no problem working in Cusco, Peru during the following month, which is notorious for causing altitude sickness in travelers).
Day Trip to Laguna Quilotoa
Carolina and I went on another day trip from Quito to Laguna Quilotoa.
After many hours aboard three different buses, I was thrilled to see this gigantic lake in the middle of a volcanic crater.
We stumbled for half an hour down the steep, dusty pathway, then admired the warm glow of the setting sun in the glassy surface of the peaceful water.
Family Farm in Santa Ana Del Pedregal
One day I went with some family members to visit their grandfather’s farm up in the mountains.
This was a journey to remember!
The entire drive was steep, winding, and unbelievably bumpy as the roads were unpaved and covered in stones.
We passed wide green fields full of wild cows, horses, dogs, donkeys, and llamas.
Distant volcanoes and mountains leered in the distance.
Once we finally reached the farm, I was in love with the adorable farmhouse.
The dark red home covered in decorations stood out like a beacon of warm, cozy, family life against the vastness of the hills, mountains, and volcanoes.
Hiking to a nearby waterfall
After having lunch at the farm and feeding the llamas and goats in the backyard, we hiked to a nearby stream and waterfall.
When we returned back through the path towards the farm, three adorable puppies were waiting next to the car. As if this day wasn’t perfect enough already!
Another observation about Ecuador: there are dogs and puppies EVERYWHERE. That may be my favorite part so far.
Working at the Lodge in Lloa
Surprisingly, I only spent about 5-6 days of my two-week work exchange actually working.
I did a little housework and child care while living with the families. But the actual job I had applied for was working at the family’s lodge, La Hacienda Hosteria La Antigua.
I didn’t realize that the lodge is only open on weekends since it’s low tourist season.
But I’ve spent the last two weekends living and working at the lodge.
It’s located in a tiny village in the mountains outside Quito called Lloa.
The town center of Lloa can be fully explored in about 10 minutes. But it’s the luscious green hills and mountains surrounding the town that really draw people in.
La Antigua is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
The outside of the building is painted a rustic red and is laced with vines.
Inside, all the surfaces are dark brown wood except for the gigantic fireplace and floors which are all stone.
Unique paintings, photos, and decorations are scattered all over the place. The surrounding lands are full of animals, farms, and forests.
Experiences working at the lodge
I loved volunteering in Ecuador because, again, I got to know local people as well as the interesting travelers who came for dinner.
I helped clean all the gorgeous bedrooms, prepare the meals, and serve the customers.
One night I served dinner to 22 German hikers. My English actually came in handy since many of them spoke better English than Spanish.
But since I’ve been trying so hard to speak in only Spanish, it took me a minute to remember how to speak in English.
Overall, working at La Antigua has been a fun and peaceful experience.
The area is very remote, so I got to enjoy serene walks through the landscape and strolls through the tiny town.
The work was easy and exciting, and the girls I worked with are hilarious.
The best view at La Antigua is looking out the back door, where you can see the Volcano Pichincha and all the surrounding farmland.
I honestly could not stop staring at this view.
So I’ve loved volunteering in Ecuador so far!
I’m happy that I chose volunteering in Ecuador rather than just doing the touristy things.
Learning Spanish and living with locals is so much fun.
I have a few more volunteer experiences lined up, so keep checking my blog for articles about these.
If you’re thinking of traveling to Ecuador, visit iVisa.com to see if you need a visa!
To read about more of my travels in Ecuador, check out these articles: