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Volunteer in Santa Elena, Ecuador with International Volunteer HQ

Volunteer in Ecuador - Santa Elena

Volunteer in Ecuador - Santa Elena with International Volunteer HQ, the world's most affordable and trusted volunteer organization. Volunteers are based throughout Santa Elena, a coastal town in southwestern Ecuador. You can choose from 6 volunteer project options, including Teaching, Environmental Education, Kindergarten and Sports Education.
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Watch IVHQ volunteers abroad in Ecuador

At a glance…

  • Available year-round
  • 6 meaningful project options
  • Projects based in Ecuador’s coastal city of Santa Elena
  • Accommodation in volunteer house
  • Program fees include airport pick-up, orientation, accommodation, breakfasts, dinners and 24/7 in-country support
  • Program fees from $315 for 1 week
  • Affordable Spanish language lessons available
  • Between 5 and 20 volunteers start this program each month
  • Most affordable fees - as the world leader in affordable volunteer travel, we’re able to keep our fees low by partnering with a local organization in Ecuador to support meaningful community projects and local employment.
  • Superior support - your experienced IVHQ Program Manager, teamed with our local team in Ecuador will ensure you feel supported every step of the way - from planning to volunteering.
  • Responsible projects - we’re dedicated to ensuring that our projects are responsibly run and have sustainable positive impacts that are supporting local needs.
  • Online training - as soon as you register on an IVHQ program, you will gain access to our interactive volunteer training to ensure you’re well prepared for your program.
  • Safety-first - volunteer safety is a top priority for IVHQ and we have clear standards for risk management on each program. You can feel confident that you are placed with trustworthy institutions, organizations and families that have been screened by our local teams.
  • New friendships - as an IVHQer, you’ll always be in the company of friendly locals and like-minded volunteer travelers who will quickly become your life-long friends.
  • Epic weekend adventures - you’ll have your weekends free to explore Ecuador with your new-found friends.

The IVHQ Ecuador - Santa Elena volunteer program has volunteer placements located in Ecuador’s coastal city of Santa Elena and surrounding areas. On the Pacific coast, Santa Elena is in close proximity to some of Ecuador’s best beaches and archeological history. Despite this aesthetic beauty, there is a great need for volunteers to assist with the development of this city and its communities, especially as tourism to the area grows.

Volunteer programs begin every Monday. Volunteers can choose to volunteer for periods ranging from 1 week to 12 weeks.

Environmental Education

The Environmental Education project focuses on educating the local community, both children and adults, about techniques for restoring and preserving the local habitat while fostering social and economic development. The work on this project involves a range of activities, including beach clean ups, community upcycling and recycling programs, assisting with environmental clubs and gardening programs in local schools, tree planting programs and leading community workshops. While speaking Spanish is not a requirement for this project, the tasks you are able to assist with may depend on your Spanish level. Volunteers should have a strong work ethic, commitment to collaboration and be flexible with the tasks they perform in order to be impactful volunteers on this project. This project involves a US$40 surcharge to cover materials and logistics which will be quoted to you when you apply.

Community Development

The Community Development project provides volunteers the opportunity to work on a range of initiatives in support of the local community. As a volunteer on this project, you will assist with maintaining, cleaning and renovating local schools, community centers and playgrounds. The project also conducts community workshops on topics like nonviolence, women’s empowerment, school support, human rights and peace. While speaking Spanish is not a requirement for this project, it is recommended to have at least a beginner Spanish level, as the tasks you are able to assist with may depend on your Spanish level. Volunteers should have a strong work ethic, commitment to collaboration and be flexible with the tasks they perform in order to be impactful volunteers on this project. This project involves a US$40 surcharge to cover materials and logistics which will be quoted to you when you apply.

Kindergarten

Volunteers on the Kindergarten project assist Ecuadorian teachers in primary and kindergarten classes, teaching pre-school math, writing, reading and art lessons, as well as helping out with lunch and playtime. Classes are held in either a school for girls or a private school for low-income families with each class having 15 to 35 students. Volunteers play a crucial role in supporting the local teachers to take care if the young children. This project is a great option for aspiring teachers, volunteers with no experience in planning curriculum or teaching, as well as those wishing to improve their Spanish skills. Volunteers should have a strong work ethic, commitment to collaboration and be flexible with the tasks they perform in order to be impactful on this project.

School Break

The School Break project provides educational support for local children while schools close in March and April, to stimulate enthusiasm for learning and to ensure education is seen as a priority. Volunteers on this project teach a range of subjects including English, music, art, recreation, sports, geography, health and ecology. Volunteers will support local instructors in working with students in a range of ages, with lessons structured around a specific concept and a supporting activity. This project works toward a final presentation at the end of the school break, in which the students’ parents are invited to attend. This is incredibly important as it not only increases the children’s confidence, but shows the parents the value of education, which they may have not been privileged to have themselves. This project involves a US$40 surcharge to cover materials and logistics which will be quoted to you when you apply.

Sports Education

On the Sports Education project, you will work in local schools to develop and assist physical education classes run by a local teacher. You may support the whole class, individual students or the teacher in physical education lessons, games, motor development, movement activities or specific sports such as soccer, basketball or aerobic exercise. During the school break in March and April, volunteers on the Sports Education project shift into a day camp, where they work on a range of activities with local children, including sports and physical activities. The types of activities you will be asked to perform will depend on the needs of your placement, your Spanish level and any interests or preferences you mention in your application. The local team will do their best to factor your preferences into your placement assignment but it’s important to be flexible and willing to support your placement in a range of activities.

Teaching English

Volunteers on the Teaching English project assist the local community by providing affordable access to English lessons, which are typically very expensive in Ecuador. English is becoming increasingly important due to globalization, and volunteers contribute value by encouraging the correct usage and pronunciation of English in conversation, reading and writing. Teaching English volunteers can choose whether they assist local teachers, lead a classroom independently or lead a group of adult students. Volunteers who choose to work with children may also supervise their playtime or provide supplementary English tutoring. Work is generally 3 to 4 hours each day in classrooms of up to 35 students. To be successful in this project, you should have a basic to intermediate level of Spanish ability, stable health, team work skills and patience. As volunteers work with the support of IVHQ’s local team and placement staff, they do not need to be qualified or experienced teachers to participate. However, we encourage volunteers to come prepared by completing some relevant training, like a teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) course. Visit our Online TEFL Course page to learn how to gain an internationally-recognized TEFL certification at a discounted rate.

The program orientation begins every Monday and volunteers need to arrive in Santa Elena on the Sunday before orientation.

After you have registered for the program, please book your flights to arrive at the General Ulpiano Paez Airport (SNC) in Salinas. Your airport pick-up is included in your Program Fee.

When you arrive, you will be greeted at the airport by a member of the local team and transported to the volunteer accommodation in Santa Elena. Your accommodation is covered by your Program Fee and includes the night before your program orientation.

If you are traveling in Ecuador prior to your volunteer program, we can arrange for you to be picked up in Santa Elena on the day before your program orientation.

Orientation is hosted by our local team at the volunteer offices in Santa Elena. Orientation begins the morning of your chosen start date and covers everything you need to know for your volunteer program in Ecuador – Introduction to Ecuador, Ecuadorian Customs, Language Training Details, Rules and Expectations, Safety, Travel Opportunities in Ecuador, Introduction to your Project and Placement. The orientation will also give you a chance to meet other volunteers and make plans for weekend travel and socializing.

Weekdays: Please note that volunteering on the Ecuador program is held Tuesday through Friday (expect to participate for full days, unless you’re also taking Spanish language lessons, in which case you will volunteer for half days). Therefore the weekends on the program are Saturday through Monday.

7.30AM Breakfast at the volunteer house or homestay.

8.00AM Volunteers leave home and travel to their placements. Work and hours are dependent on the project and placement that each volunteer is working at. There is a break for lunch and volunteers are responsible for the purchase of this meal.

2.00PM - 5.00PM Work at the placement usually ends. Volunteers are free to travel home, prepare for the next day, or do some shopping and sightseeing. If volunteers are taking Spanish language lessons, these will usually take place in the afternoons and last between 2 and 3 hours.

7.30PM Dinner at the volunteer house or homestay.

Evenings: To ensure the safety of our volunteers and respect of others in the volunteer​ ​​accommodation, a curfew of 1​0:30​ PM has been put in place​ from Monday to Thursday and a 1:30 AM curfew for Friday to Sunday.

Please note, this schedule will vary depending on the project the volunteer is participating on. If a volunteer is taking Spanish language lessons, they will usually volunteer for half the day and spend the other half (3 to 4 hours) taking Spanish language lessons.

Volunteers on the Ecuador program can also join social clubs arranged by the local staff. The social clubs give volunteers the opportunity to meet volunteers from other projects and share in their experiences on the program. Club activities include free conversational Spanish groups, Ecuadorian movie nights and salsa lessons! All of the club activities are held in the afternoon, after volunteers have finished at their placement, and range in cost from US$7 - 10.

Volunteers are accommodated alongside other IVHQ volunteers in a volunteer house. Bedrooms can be comprised of single beds or bunk beds, in rooms shared with up to 5 other volunteers of the same gender. Living is comfortable and the volunteer house has electricity, running water and western bathrooms. There is WiFi available and a great patio area with hammocks for volunteers to relax and socialize after volunteering. To ensure the safety of our volunteers and respect of others in the volunteer​ ​accommodation, a curfew of 1​0:30​ PM has been put in place​ from Monday to Thursday and a 1:30 AM curfew for Friday to Sunday.

WiFi is available in the cafe across the road from the volunteer accommodation, or you can purchase a local SIM card with data for an unlocked phone when you arrive in Ecuador.

Volunteers are provided with breakfast and dinner, 7 days per week while on the Ecuador volunteer program. Breakfast generally consists of tea or coffee, cereals, local breads, condiments, and fruit and cheese. Dinners will be a mixture of traditional Ecuadorian meals (meat or vegetarian stews, rice, vegetables or potatoes) and western meals. Carbohydrates, such as potatoes, bananas, plantains, bread and rice are common ingredients for Ecuadorian dishes. Please note that it is not possible for the local team to accommodate a vegan diet on the Ecuador - Santa Elena program. IVHQ offers plenty of destinations which can cater to a vegan diet, so please get in touch with us if this presents an issue for you. Otherwise, if you have any special dietary requirements, please let us know when you apply for the program so we can make arrangements for you. However, we need to stress the point that you should not expect to eat as you normally do at home. We will do our best to see that you are well taken care of, but as a volunteer, there is a need to be flexible.

During the weekends (Saturday through Monday), volunteers have spare time and usually just relax or take the opportunity to explore other parts of the Ecuadorian coast, Guayaquil and Ecuador. Long weekends can be taken to travel further afield to explore the amazing national parks of Ecuador or Galapagos Islands. If you are interested in art, culture and history, you can check out Guayaquil, Ecuador’s most populous city. You can visit the coastal region of Salango for snorkeling, Silver Island, and the beautiful beaches of Los Frailes. Jungle excursions can also be arranged to experience the nature and unique wildlife such as toucans, parrots, and monkeys.

See our Ecuador Travel and Tours page for more volunteer travel options in Ecuador!

Capital Quito
Population 15.49 million
Languages Spanish
Currency US Dollar (USD)
Time zone UTC-05:00

Weather and climate: The climate of Ecuador is composed of a number of microclimates that separate into four distinct zones. La Costa (Costal Lowlands) is tropical, La Sierra (Andean Mountains) is temperate; and El Oriente (Amazon Region) shares the jungle climate of the upper Amazon rain forest.

Volunteers need to be 18 years or over to participate, unless volunteering with a parent or guardian. All volunteers are required to have adequate volunteer travel insurance and provide a criminal background check to IVHQ’s local team on arrival in Ecuador.

Free Interactive Volunteer Training - All volunteers are encouraged to complete our interactive pre-departure training, which is available exclusively to registered IVHQ volunteers. The training is designed to build an understanding of important aspects that need to be considered before embarking on an IVHQ program. It helps volunteers to prepare in the right way by providing advice on what it takes to be a safe, responsible and valuable volunteer. Try a sample of the training here.

Spanish language lessons are available for all volunteers regardless of their ability. IVHQ strongly recommends these for all volunteers unless they are fluent in Spanish. Volunteers with a basic level of Spanish should strongly consider these lessons to allow them to work and communicate more effectively during their program. These language lessons are organized upon your arrival in Ecuador during your program orientation. The language lessons are tailored to each volunteer’s current level of Spanish and must be paid for in Ecuador to our local staff. The cost is very affordable and offered exclusively to IVHQ volunteers.

  • 12 hours/6 days = US$96 (or 3 days intensive)
  • 20 hours/10 days = US$150 (or 5 days intensive)
  • 30 hours/15 days = US$225 (or 8 days intensive)
  • 40 hours/10 days intensive = US$290
  • 60 hours/15 days intensive = US$435
  • 80 hours/20 days intensive = US$560

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