2024 Fall Creek Ecuador Conservation Expedition

Dear Families, Friends, and Travelers – Welcome to the 2024 Fall Creek Ecuador Conservation Expedition!  The Pre-Enrollment webpage is meant to share exciting highlights and important info that participants will want to know before signing up. Once enrolled, you'll begin using the Post-Enrollment page which offers a greater level of detail.  Please be sure to review the information thoroughly and get excited for a once in a lifetime experience in Ecuador! 
Travel Dates: June 5, 2024 - June 14, 2024
Dates are tentative until flights are secured
Group Organizer(s):
Program Tuition: $2,390 USD
Airfare not included in program tuition
Estimated Airfare: $850

What to Expect

Please read through all of the information below. More details will be added as your departure draws closer.

Itinerary

We do everything possible to run safe, engaging, and immersive programs for our travelers and given the unpredictable nature of international travel we must remain flexible in our planning. Changes to a schedule are uncommon but, we reserve the right to adjust programming in the best interest of the group. 

DayLocationDescriptionLodging
June 5USA – Quito, EcuadorToday we travel! An evening arrival to Quito is likely, afterwhich we'll transfer to the hotel, grab dinner and hold a short orientation to better prepare for the adventure ahead.Hotel San Francisco de Quito
June 6Quito – PululahuaWe'll begin the day with a walking tour of historic downtown Quito, one of the most well preserved colonial districts in all of South America. After lunch we'll ascend the spires of the Basilica del Voto Nacional and then visit the Intiñan Museum located on the equator where you'll feel the disorienting coriolis effect. We'll spend the night on the edge of Pululahua Volcano, one of the only inhabited volcanic craters in the world!El Crater Hotel
June 7Pululahua - OtavaloToday we'll drive between breathtaking mountains and valleys to Otavalo, where we will spend the day visiting artisan workshops and learning firsthand about Andean music, dress, and cuisine. Next, we'll either see a presentation from local expert musicians or visit a local weaver's cooperative. We'll finish the day with some shopping at the Plaza de los Ponchos, one of Latin America's most famous artisan markets. We'll dine near the square and have the chance to sample some delicious Ecuadorian street food.Las Palmeras Inn
June 8Otavalo – Santa LuciaWe're back in the bus this morning, descending to Santa Lucia, a community-run cloud forest reserve and conservation project where we'll be spending the next few nights. We'll hike into the Santa Lucia Nature Reserve, passing a multitude of unique flora and fauna along the way, and receive an introduction to the cloud forest ecosystem in one of the most biodiverse places on earth. We'll settle into our jungalows and fall asleep to the sounds of the cloud forest all around us.Santa Lucia Nature Reserve
June 9Santa LuciaIn the morning we'll take a biodiversity hike through the reserve with a naturalist guide. We'll then receive an orientation regarding the volunteer work with which we'll be assisting over the coming days. Depending on the time of year, our work will vary from working on reforestation projects, to setting remote cameras to track the movements of elusive animals like spectacled bears and ocelots, to documenting the biodiversity of the surrounding cloud forest. By night, we'll have group activities and lectures from resident and visiting researchers.Santa Lucia Nature Reserve
June 10Santa LuciaWe will continue our volunteer research work in the cloud forest. During our off time we will relax in hammocks, or assist with camp maintenance. Potential side-projects could include helping build and stock a butterfly and orchid garden, or constructing a bird observation tower.Santa Lucia Nature Reserve
June 11Santa LuciaWe will finish our volunteer research work in the cloud forest. At the end of the day, we'll have a recap of our work, and a presentation about local and national conservation efforts in the region. We'll enjoy a final thank you meal with project coordinators to celebrate our time together in the reserve.Santa Lucia Nature Reserve
June 12Santa Lucia – PapallactaAs we ascend into the mountains again, we'll either stop and go on a zip-line tour of Nanegalito's cloud forest canopy or go white water rafting in Mindo. Afterwards, we'll travel to Papallacta Hot Springs high in the Andes and spend our last night soaking in the springs under the stars. We'll make time for a structured reflection to digest our experience in Ecuador thus far.Termas de Papallacta
June 13Papallacta – Quito We'll have an optional short hike in the morning to see the ecosystems that characterize the Antisana Reserve, then travel from Papallacta to Quito. Later, we'll ride a cable car up to Pichincha Volcano and take in the panoramic view of Quito, then have a final goodbye dinner before our international flight tonight.Airplane
June 14USAArrive home!Your own bed, eventually!

Fundraising

Need to Raise Money? We Have You Covered.

Walking Tree Travel is proud to team up with Equal Exchange, a worker-owned cooperative that distributes organic coffee, tea, sugar, bananas, avocados, cocoa, chocolate bars, and more.  There is no limit to the amount you can earn, so the sooner you can start, the better!

Learn more here.

WTT coffee

Accommodations

In order to provide a safe and memorable experience, we follow strict guidelines when choosing program accommodations. Walking Tree partners with hotels and guest houses which are centrally located, clean and safe.  We vet and inspect the accommodations to ensure they uphold the ethos of our programs, are great values for our travelers and nice places to rest after enriching days of travel.  

Below are the accommodations we anticipate using on your trip, subject to availability. 
Hotel San Francisco de Quito

Step back in time and enjoy the beautiful accommodations of the Hotel San Francisco de Quito. Located in the heart of the historic center of Quito, one of the most well preserved colonial districts in all of Latin America, this unique hotel combines comfort with centuries of colonial history to provide its guests with an unforgettable stay.

El Crater Hotel

Situated on the precipice of the Volcano Pululahua, the hotel’s supreme location is unlike any other accommodation on the planet. Each room contains large windows from which travelers can admire the beauty of this setting and watch the quickly-changing climate of the area from the comfort of their rooms.

Santa Lucia Eco Lodge

Located high in the Ecuadorian cloud forest, this eco-lodge is only accessible by foot, but the 45 minute hike up to the lodge rewards guests with unbeatable views of the surround nature reserve. Selected for its dedication to conservation, it is also a convenient base from which to assist local researchers with their wildlife conservation projects in the area. Free Wi-Fi access throughout the building keeps everyone feeling connected. Students will be grouped in their rooms according to gender and availability.

Las Palmeras Inn Otavalo

This 150 year old ranch nestled in the highlands is designed in traditional Andean styles. A collection of garden cottages each with their own fireplace, Las Palmeras Inn provides supreme tranquility in a gorgeous mountain setting.

Las Termas de Papallacta

Las Termas de Papallacta is a lovely escape to nature with its collection of hot springs, comfortable accommodations, and beautiful mountain scenery. Whether soaking in the springs, star gazing, or taking advantage of any of the nearby hikes, Las Termas is an idyllic experience.

Group Flight

Once your flight has been confirmed, the itinerary will appear here.

Walking Tree will secure a seat on the group flight for each participant unless otherwise instructed.

Travelers are responsible for checked baggage fees. Please visit the airline’s baggage webpage to learn if you should expect to pay anything.

We will provide a group manifest – complete with reservation codes and ticket numbers – to the Group Organizer/s before departure, and travelers will need to check in at the airport in order to receive their boarding pass and have documents verified. We recommend arriving no later than three hours prior to the scheduled departure, but contact your Group Organizer for specific details on exactly where and when to meet on the day of departure.

FLIGHT INTERRUPTION, DELAY OR CANCELLATION 
Air travel can be unpredictable.  Regardless of proper planning, there may still be instances when a flight is delayed or cancelled due to staffing shortages, weather, mechanical problems, etc.  Please note that in such an event, Walking Tree Travel (WTT) is not financially responsible for unanticipated costs incurred by travelers en route.  Our programs officially begin and end in the destination country, and because our staff doesn’t fly with the group, Group Organizers (the traveling faculty member/s) become the front-line advocate for the group in the event of a delay. In most cases of cancellations or delays, the airline will be the one who re-books travel or possibly arranges a hotel and food the night.  Our primary role will be to  keep families updated and provide support to the Group Organizer to reach a  quick and effective resolution.

Host Community and Project Details

Situated in the cloud forest of Ecuador, the Santa Lucia Reserve is a prime example of a successful community-based conservation initiative. Local conservationists work with a variety of stakeholders to provide alternative livelihoods to people who once depended on extractive practices for their daily bread. Visitors have the chance to visit this internationally-recognized preserve, and work alongside scientists and locals to study and preserve a variety of species — many of which exist only here!

The reserve contains over 1,800 acres of primary cloud-forest ranging from 1,400 meters to 2,600 meters. Because of the differences in elevation, the small preserve of Santa Lucia is home to over 400 species of birds! Volunteers at the preserve have the chance to make a real and lasting contribution to wildlife conservation and the sustainable development of the local community. Examples of projects include working in local schools, helping construct organic gardens, maintaining trails, and assisting with biodiversity surveys

Packing List

What follows is just a guideline so please adjust per your needs and preferences.

For luggage,  we recommend you bring a larger piece of luggage like a roller, duffel bag, or backpack, as well as a smaller backpack that you can bring on hikes, weekend excursions and shorter activities.

Please note that seasons in South America are opposite ours in the United States so we will be traveling during South America’s late fall. With that said, late fall and early winter are the driest parts of the year and often the most pleasant times to visit. Most of our program will be spent at high altitudes where daytime temperatures can reach the 70’s and it can freeze at night. Layering is the best way to prepare for variable conditions.

CLOTHES:

Underwear
Socks
T-shirts, tank tops or work shirts
Long sleeve shirts
Sweatshirt/jacket
Shorts
Jeans/pants
Swimsuit
Rain jacket
Sturdy shoes (appropriate for lots of walking/athletic activity)
Sports sandals ie Chacos/Tevas etc. (optional)
Flip flops (optional)
Sun hat & a warm hat

TOILETRIES (IN ADDITION TO THE BASICS)

Sunscreen – you will use a lot.
Mosquito repellent
Band Aids and Neosporin, anti-diarrhea meds, basic first aid kit.
Hand Sanitizer
Medication in properly marked original container (better to pack this in your carry on luggage)

MISCELLANEOUS:

Sunglasses
Journal and pen
Book/s
Camera (digital, disposable, waterproof)
Universal adapter
Debit card/US Dollars (we recommend about $100-$200, depending on amount of desired souvenirs, extra items etc.)
Durable water bottle (optional personal water filtration system – Walking Tree will always provide drinking water)
1 quick-dry towel
Soap for washing your own clothes while in the host community
Flashlight/headlamp
Batteries, if needed
Deck of cards or other portable games
Student ID
Spanish/English Dictionary

Support Team

At a minimum, one experienced Program Leader will travel on every trip. In addition to this full time leadership presence, Walking Tree has additional support staff in all destinations and 24/7 support from our headquarters in Denver, Colorado. Below you’ll find a list of the team members involved in the planning, organizing, and leadership of your program.

Natalia Avila Angel
Natalia Avila Angel
Ecuador Country Director and Program Leader


International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus Rotterdam University – M.A. Development Studies, Environment and Sustainable Development

Born in Cali, Colombia, nestled in a family-oriented, tropical environment surrounded by dance and nature, Natalia grew up between two countries during her childhood and youth: Ecuador and Colombia. From a very young age she developed strong skills in intercultural understanding, particularly between Latin American sister nations. Through her passion and talent in athletics, she has had opportunities to travel to many different countries and cities in South America. Natalia studied at a university in Germany, which allowed her to travel around Europe, where she experienced a vast array of countries and Western cultures. She later pursued a master’s degree in social studies in Holland, focusing on environmental studies. She completed research on natural biosphere reserves in the Ecuadorian Amazon and the issues facing indigenous communities there. After many adventures and experiences, Natalia fell in love with Ecuador’s natural and cultural diversity and has lived and worked in several different places along the coast, highlands, mountains and Amazon regions of the country.

Luke Mueller
Luke Mueller
Co-Founder of Walking Tree Travel and Business Lead - Denver, CO


Emory University – B.A. Sociology and minor in Latin American History

During college, Luke spent a semester living and traveling in rural Mexico. His experience sparked a fascination with Latin America and a commitment to community service that continues to this day. Upon graduating from college, he joined WorldTeach and lived with a local family in a small village in Costa Rica while teaching elementary English. After this experience, he moved to San José, the capital and largest city of Costa Rica, and wrote for The Tico Times newspaper. Luke has since traveled to over 60 countries on five different continents.  Now settled in Denver with his family, he continues to crave massive helpings of rice and beans.

Group Roster

Below is a list of the travelers enrolled on the program.

Blog and Communication

During travel we will work hard to keep families updated as frequently as possible with blogs and photos, giving you peace of mind that your traveler is safe and thriving on their program.  Students regularly contribute to these posts, giving parents a great way to vicariously track the progress of the trip. You will receive an email notification when the first blog is posted, after which we recommend you check in regularly via the black “Program Blog” button at the top of this page.

Beyond this proactive approach to communication during the trip, most destinations are wired enough to allow participants semi-regular access to WiFi so you can also expect to communicate with your traveler directly. Ask your Walking Tree representative about the degree of connectivity on your program.

 

GLC Curriculum

Walking Tree has developed a curriculum of activities meant to help travelers get the most out of their trip before departure, during travel and after they return home. These simple and engaging activities are meant to spark discussion, frame experiences, and prepare participants to travel ethically and effectively both on this trip and on future adventures.

For more information about student learning objectives and the format of the curriculum, click on the ‘learn more’ button below.

Learn More About the GLC

To view and complete the Pre-Program Activities, visit our online portal at the button below.

Pre-Program Activity Portal

Standards of Behavior

In order to run a safe and successful program, it is important that we create an environment of trust, security and respect. All individuals participating in our programs are required to take responsibility for their actions and adhere to a high standard of behavioral conduct.

ABSOLUTE DISMISSAL

  1.  Possessing, consuming or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs.
  2. Associating with participants while they are in possession of, or are consuming, or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs.
  3. Behaving in a way that consistently damages the group dynamic or jeopardizes personal or group safety.
  4. This includes consistently displaying a negative attitude, intimidating or excluding other participants, sneaking out, disobeying group leaders, and any other behavior that is not conducive to an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect.

GROUNDS FOR DISMISSAL OR IN-COUNTRY CONSEQUENCE

  1. Getting a piercing or tattoo.
  2. Stealing, or deliberately damaging or defacing any personal property, buildings or materials.
  3. Threatening physical or emotional harm, or brandishing a weapon.
  4. Possessing, consuming, or distributing tobacco or nicotine, including vape pens.
  5. Riding mopeds, motorcycles, or any other type of unauthorized vehicle.
  6. Being out of designated area or accommodations after curfew.
  7. Breaking group rules.

These standards of behavior are essential for the successful completion of your program. Please take the time to review these as a family and make sure everyone understands and agrees to them.

Health and Safety

Walking Tree requires all travelers and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before travel with limited exceptions. We also require proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of travel.

Current Entry Requirements for Travel to Ecuador:

Upon entry to Ecuador, all travelers must provide:

  • Proof of a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to boarding the flight to Ecuador, and;
  • A COVID-19 vaccination card showing the traveler received a complete series of the COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior to entering Ecuador; and;
  • A declaration of traveler health (the declaration is available on the Ministry of Public Health website).

Beyond COVID, we strongly recommend visiting the CDC Ecuador website to get the most updated information on additional health and vaccination considerations in your destination country. We also encourage you to consult your personal family physician so you can be as informed as possible when making important decisions about vaccinations and other necessary health-related preparations before travel.

Our in-country staff prepare meticulously for all programs. Walking Tree will register our programs and travelers with the U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in case of emergency. In country staff also verify the safety records of our partner organizations, vendors, and transportation providers, thoroughly vet homestay families via in depth interviews and home visits, and keep up on important current events in the region.

Program Leaders are seasoned travelers who are CPR and First Aid certified, undergo thorough training in crisis management, and participate in a multi-day leadership training retreat. We do our best to prepare for any eventuality and have detailed emergency protocols for our leaders, in-country staff and U.S.-based staff.

We receive medical disclosures from all participants to ensure we are able to meet every students’ needs during the program. Please inform us immediately of any additional health issues that you did not list during your initial registration process. Program Leaders will also hold an online information session before your departure, as well as an arrival orientation in-country, in order to give participants important instructions on food safety, hygiene and preventing injury and illness. Leaders and in-country staff always respond immediately to any mental, physical or emotional health issues and follow comprehensive emergency protocols.

Insurance

While we work hard to ensure the safest experience possible for our travelers on program, experience teaches that travel is never without risk. For this reason, we recommend that all travelers consider a travel insurance policy with  two additional provisions: Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) and Bed Rest. Detailed explanations of both provisions can be found on the link below.

To provide families with a quality option, Walking Tree has partnered with Travel Insured International, one of the most respected providers in the industry.  Begin by getting a quote here.

IMPORTANT NOTE: in order to secure coverage with CFAR included, you must purchase the plan within 21 days of your deposit/first payment. You must also insure 100% of your trip cost, so program tuition + flight.

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