in Ecuador

Volunteer sitting outside rural house in Ecuador with local children
Volunteers in forest, Ecuador
Volunteer teacher and students in Ecuador
Volunteer working in community development, with local farmers in traditional dress
Volunteer on Galapagos beach in Ecuador with sealion pup
A conservation volunteer in the mountains of Ecuador.

Volunteering in Ecuador
is tough but rewarding.
Choose your volunteer opportunity with care
to get the most from your working holiday.

Volunteer in Ecuador

Volunteering in Ecuador is a great way to get to know people and become more involved in local life.  A volunteer program, internship or voluntary work allows you to get off the tourist trail and understand more about Ecuador's culture.  Volunteer work in a developing country is not a soft option so be prepared for a challenge.
Volunteer positions vary greatly.  Some are simply unskilled manual labour, others specialist voluntary roles where professional skills and experience can make a great impact.  Decide what you want to gain from your volunteering and what you have to give.  Are you taking your brain off the hook for a fortnight's volunteer labour in the fresh air as a change from your office job?  Or dedicating three months to change your life, gain experience and improve your career prospects?  Or taking an internship to complete your studies?  Think about what you type into a search engine - the difference between "volunteer vacations" or "volunteer jobs" may help you to understand whether your priority is to volunteer abroad for the travel opportunities or to do some charity work abroad with the focus more on the work aspect.
Volunteers usually take a while to settle in - you are likely to 'take' more than you 'give' for the first few weeks, unless you have very specialist skills (e.g. surgeons), or are doing very simple manual tasks, or are slotting into an existing work structure such as nursing or data collection.
In developing countries such as Ecuador, good job opportunities are limited, especially for those with little education.  Try to ensure that your fun volunteering experience is not depriving local people of work.  Look for sustainable volunteer programs, i.e. you bring skills or knowledge not available locally and you train a local person to continue your work, or you help develop a marketing plan / website / organic agriculture system, etc. which will have a lasting benefit.
Volunteer agencies also vary.  Some are charities wanting help with worthwhile community-based projects.  Others are commercial enterprises profiting from your good intentions, though they may be more professional and organised than some of the smaller charities.  Some volunteer programs offer genuine opportunities to develop your skills, others just exploit paying tourists to get work done for free.  It's your decision, but do ask questions first.  Find out where your money will go and what support you will get.
Recently there have been doubts about some "scientific" type volunteer vacations, which charge a high price to participate in surveys of wildlife in beautiful overseas locations, recording animal tracks in the forest or counting marine life off a beach.  Some volunteers have found they are simply repeating the work of previous tourists.  A few gap-year volunteer opportunities have also turned out to be "manufactured", building schools for which no teachers are available or working on spurious projects in which local communities to do not want to participate.  There are stories that some pharmaceutical companies are using unwitting volunteer researchers to extract samples of biological materials from the rainforest so that they can take out patents and deprive native people of any rights on potential cancer cures or other medicines.  Do your research carefully before choosing your voluntary placement.
You will probably have to pay to volunteer abroad.  If not, ask yourself why the organisation is subsidising you rather than employing a local person.  Is this really best for Ecuador?  Most volunteer programs in Ecuador will require you to cover the cost of your board and lodging.  This is usually at least $20-$35 a day - which is still probably less than it would cost to stay at home!  Volunteering at this level costs about the same as independent travel in Ecuador, i.e. around $20 a day on a shoestring budget and staying in shared dorms, and more like $30 - $40 if you want your own room and more variety in meals.  For higher quality accomodation, nicer restaurants, and to be able to hire a birding guide or do activities like ziplining or horseriding, you'd need a travel budget of perhaps $40 to $50 a day.  Volunteering in the Galapagos Islands will cost more, because costs there are much higher, so a reasonable contribution there would be perhaps $50 - $80 a day.  By volunteering, you get local contacts and introductions, and your supervisors are likely to be just as knowledgeable about the local area as a guide would be.  Some organizations charge a fee for organising volunteer jobs, others ask you to do some fundraising before you arrive.  Charities might use volunteer fees to help cover project operating costs.
Younger volunteers (and their parents) may be more secure with an organised working holiday program from a well-established organisation, even though these are often rather stage-managed and have limited benefit for local communities.  Older volunteers with more life experience and professional skills may prefer more authentic but less structured voluntary work with a small local charity or NGO, dealing with genuine challenges and the often frustrating reality of daily life in a developing country.
Gap year volunteers with little work experience can boost their C.V with a well-chosen working holiday.  Choose a volunteer vacation in the same field as your planned career, e.g. conservation, education or business; or charity work using relevant skills, such as teaching, web design or carpentry.  Volunteering in Ecuador is a chance to practise speaking Spanish.  Be realistic - you won't change the world in a week, especially with no language skills or work experience.  Give yourself enough time, be open to new experiences, stay enthusiastic and positive and treat it all as a learning opportunity.
Community volunteers need to speak a reasonable amount of Spanish to be useful and to get the most from volunteering in Ecuador.  This may be less important for environmental volunteers.  Be cautious about any agency or organisation which tells you you do not need to speak Spanish to volunteer in Ecuador, unless your volunteer work does not involve local people or the project offers a coordinator or interpreter.  If you are not able to communicate with local people, either directly or through a coordinator, your enjoyment, if not your input to the project, will be limited.  I suggest you either learn Spanish (at least the basics) or find a volunteer opportunity in an English-speaking country.
Volunteers in a group usually spend most of the time speaking their own language and socialising with other volunteers.  It can be fun, but interaction with local people is limited.  Solo volunteering is a tougher challenge but you will develop language skills faster and see more of the real Ecuador.   Only you know which volunteer experience is right for you.
So, learn some Spanish, bear in mind your unique requirements and abilities as a volunteer and research potential voluntary work opportunities with care.  See more specific information about teaching abroad as a volunteer and volunteer work on wildlife conservation projects, then choose the best volunteer opportunity or internship  program for you and for the communities and ecosystems of Ecuador.
Most volunteers and interns in Ecuador can usually travel on a tourist visa, providing they are not being paid for their work.  The free tourist visa issued to visitors from most countries on arrival lasts for up to 90 days.  For 91 to 180 days (i.e. approximately 3 to 6 months), you probably need a 12-IX (Actos de Comercio) visa, stating "tourism" as your reason for travel, from the Ecuador Consulate in your home country - check with them for the latest information.
Volunteering for more than 6 months involves the organisation you are volunteering with in a costly and time-consuming application process which includes guaranteeing to pay your costs.  They are unlikely to be willing to do this unless they know you well, and they will need a "RUOS" (a relatively new, special tax number), which many charities do not yet have.  Ecuador visa information (in Spanish) from the Ecuadorian government.
Travel insurance tips for volunteers going to Ecuador.

Volunteer work in Ecuador
Tips for international volunteers, information & advice for voluntary work in Ecuador.  Working holidays, volunteer programs, volunteer opportunities overseas and how to get the most from volunteering abroad.  No responsibility can be taken for the content of external websites.  Assess potential volunteer opportunities carefully, based on your unique requirements, before making your decision.  Contact your local consulate for appropriate and up to date visa information.