Volunteering In Ecuador: Quito vs. Santa Elena
Thinking about volunteering in Ecuador? International Volunteer HQ offers two volunteer programs in Ecuador - from Quito, the world’s highest capital, through to Santa Elena on the Pacific coast. Each location offers a unique set of volunteer opportunities, so to help you understand the differences between the two programs and identify the best option for you, we’re sharing some helpful comparisons below.
Location and Climate
Quito is a cosmopolitan city, where colonial architecture blends with modern life. In its colonial center, (“Old Town”) Quito has narrow cobblestones streets, a maze of churches, and is steeped in history and tradition at every corner. The volunteer program is based in south Quito and volunteers should land at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO). The city is located at altitude in the mountains (9350 feet/2850 meters), so keep in mind that the air is dryer and thinner. It’s wise to take it easy during your first few days so that you can acclimatize and make sure that you stay hydrated!
Due to its high altitude and position on the equator, Quito has a constant, mild to cool climate. At noon, it is typically 77ºF (25°C) and the typical night-time low is 43ºF (6°C). The average temperature is 64ºF (15°C). The city experiences only two seasons: the dry and wet seasons. The dry season, June through September is referred to as “summer”; the wet season, October through May, is referred to as “winter”.
Santa Elena on the other hand is a slower-paced town in southwestern Ecuador, and is the capital of both the province and the canton of the same name. Santa Elena, originally called Sumpa, is located on the Ecuadorian peninsula near the city of Guayaquil (around 2 hours away). Based on the Pacific Coast, it offers a warmer climate and a more relaxing and rustic volunteering experience. Santa Elena is well suited to adventurers who want to kick back and quickly become part of the local community. Volunteers should aim to arrive into General Ulpiano Paez Airport (SNC) on the Sunday before their Monday start date.
Santa Elena is classified as having a hot desert climate. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 63 to 82°F (17 to 28°C). The warm season, from January to April, has an average daily high temperature above 79°F (26°C) and low of 75°F (24°C). The cool season, from July to November, has an average daily high temperature below 72°F (22°C) and low of 63°F (17°C).
Culture and Cuisine
A great reason to visit Ecuador is that its world renowned cuisine is as diverse as the country. Local dishes include unique combinations of beef, pork, seafood, beans, rice, yucca, potatoes, and for more adventurous eaters, there’s guinea pig, or cuy. When you travel to Ecuador, you can expect plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and freshly squeezed juice is readily available. Although the volunteer meals are similar in both destinations, there tends to be more seafood served on the coast. Breakfast and dinner is provided at the program accommodation in both destinations, so you just need to arrange your own lunch and our local team will be happy to show you’re the best spots.
Quito is where you need to head if you’re interested in cutlure, as its historic center is the one of the first World Cultural Heritage Sites. Learn about Quito’s history, legends and pre-Columbian cultures in the historical center of the city. If you’re also interested in a night out, karaoke is popular in Quito and the La Mariscal neighborhood in Plaza Foch, is the main nightlife zone filled with bars, clubs and restaurants.
Santa Elena is regarded as the location of the most important and best documented archaeological site in the country: the Lovers of Sumpa. This ancient site is a noted archaeological center, as a pre-ceramic settlement, has been successfully excavated to reveal parts of houses, a garbage dump and a cemetery. This museum can be found just a few miles southeast of Santa Elena.
Accommodation and Living
In Quito, you can expect to be accommodated with other volunteers in either a home-stay or volunteer house. The volunteer house is essentially like a large home-stay, as it’s still managed by a family who live there also.
In Santa Elena, all volunteers are accommodated in a 2-storey volunteer house, based in the small community of Ballenita Beach. There are hammocks available in the courtyard and if you’re up for a swim, the beach is only a 5-minute walk away.
In both of these destiantions, volunteers can choose from a range of different project options which they can join for 1-12 weeks.
Volunteer Projects Avaliable In Quito And Santa Elena:
- School Break
- Teaching English
- Community Development
Volunteer Projects Unique To Quito:
- Street Children Support
- School Support
- Teaching English
- Physical Education
- NGO Support
- Shelter Support
Volunteer Project Unique to Santa Elena:
- Environmental Education
- Sports Education
Tourism Activities In Ecuador
There are plenty of things to see and do in Ecuador - you can explore the magic of the Amazon jungle, soak up the breathtaking Andes mountains (which include over 20 volcanoes), relax in the warm Pacific Ocean, or even visit the legendary Galapagos Islands.
Main Attractions In Ecuador:
- For smaller beach towns, there’s Montanita, a surfer hippie escape with open-air cafes and bars.
- Near Quito, you can visit El Centro del Mundo “Middle of the World” AKA the equatorial line - you can place one foot on each hemisphere and visit the museum giving the history of the equator (1 hour travel time each way from Quito).
- Weekend market at Otavalo and other Otavalo attractions (2 hours north of Quito).
- Weekend trip to Los Baños - soak in hot springs, ride mountain-bikes and quad runners. Los Baños is also the gateway town into the Amazon jungle via Puyo and Misahuallí.
- Take the El Teleferico (cable car) in Quito for beautiful views of the city and surrounding volcanoes.
- Horseback riding and hiking is available to the Guagua Pichincha volcano summit.
- Coastal region of Salango for snorkelling, Silver Island, and the beaches of Los Frailes.
- Jungle excursions can also be arranged to experience the nature and unique wildlife such as toucans, parrots, and monkeys.
For more inspiration on trips and free time activities that you can make the most of during your volunteer program in Ecuador, check out these must dos in Ecuador.
Can You Volunteer In Both Locations?
Can’t decide which volunteer program in Ecuador is going to the best option for you? You can always join both! This is the ideal way to experience city vs. coastal living in Ecuador and gives you the opportuntity to support and be immersed in two different communities. In order to join both programs, all you need to do is submit an application for each program, and then register for each. And because you’ll be registering for two programs, you will receive a 10% registration fee discount for your second program.