Ecuadorian Amazon and the Galápagos High School Expedition

Misty rainforest canopies and the wildlife-rich Galápagos Islands have put Ecuador on the map as a biodiversity hotspot. In recent decades the country has embarked on an ambitious program of environmental conservation. Discover ecological treasures ranging from the Amazon’s macaws and monkeys to the endemic marine iguanas and giant tortoises of the Galápagos.

June 20 - July 4, 2019
June 27 - July 11, 2019
Airfare is not included. We have arranged round-trip group flights from Miami to Quito, Quito to Coca, Coca to Quito, Quito to the Galápagos, the Galápagos to Quito, and return to Miami.

Trip Highlights

  • Venture to the Amazon jungle to explore the incredible biodiversity of Yasuní National Park, documented by five photographers for a National Geographic magazine story.
  • Snorkel with playful sea lions and penguins in the Galápagos Islands, and use your camera to capture the action.
  • Stay at an active research facility in the Amazon, and work with scientists to conserve the unique wildlife of the region.
  • Get up close to endangered Galápagos giant tortoises at a National Geographic–supported captive breeding program.

Itinerary | 15 days

Day 1

Located at more than 9,000 feet in a high-Andean valley, Quito is the second highest capital in the world. Spend your first night in the mountains surrounding the city, getting to know your group as we prepare for our trip into the primary rain forests of the Amazon River basin.

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Days 2-6

Rise early for our flight to Puerto Francisco de Orellana, also known as Coca and gateway to the remote jungles of the Amazon River basin. Transfer to Yasuní National Park—considered one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, with incredible numbers of mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, tree, and insect species found here. Our home base is the Yasuní Research Station, where we’ll meet a team of scientists who conduct fieldwork in the park. Hear an introduction to their research and conservation initiatives, then break into your On Assignment teams to start brainstorming your own projects investigating the surrounding primary rain forest.

Pull Quote
It is a privilege to study to the unique environment of the Galápagos—a natural laboratory for marine sciences.
Salomé Buglass, National Geographic Expert

Set out on daily adventures to discover what’s hidden under the jungle canopy. Follow the calls of howler and squirrel monkeys emanating from the treetops, and scan the forest floor in search of jaguar tracks and tiny insects like spike-headed katydids and kaleidoscopic butterflies. Visit a Waorani village to learn about indigenous traditions, and document the effects of oil extraction on the health of native habitats and communities. Ride a longboat down the Tiputini River with an indigenous guide, who will help us spot turtles, tapirs, and caimans bobbing at the water’s surface. Join our scientist hosts in the field for a macro photography workshop, setting light traps that allow us to capture up-close photos of some of the Amazon’s innumerable insect species. Hone your wildlife observation skills by identifying some of Yasuní’s nearly 600 bird species, including colorful toucans and the massive harpy eagle.

As you explore, develop your On Assignment project. Interview local researchers about their efforts to conserve this unique habitat, and photograph the intriguing jungle wildlife you encounter. Following your adventure in the Amazon, fly back to Quito and spend an evening near the airport before your trip to the Galápagos Islands.

Day 7-15

Set off on an island-hopping adventure in the legendary Galápagos Archipelago. These volcanic isles, cut off from humans for millennia, helped shape Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Alongside your National Geographic expert, discover the distinct character of each island we visit and get acquainted with its incredible endemic species.

Climb to the crater of an active volcano, and explore the remarkable landscape formed by recent lava flows. Peer into a coastal canal for up-close views of sharks, and go tide pooling to spot fire-red Sally Lightfoot crabs sunning on the rocks alongside spiky marine iguanas. Go on a behind-the-scenes visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station to hear about local research on seamounts, or underwater mountains. Learn about conservation efforts inspired by the late Lonesome George—the last member of one of the islands’ tortoise subspecies—then go trekking through the highlands of Isla Santa Cruz to spot these gentle giants in the wild. Get closer than you ever imagined to blue-footed boobies; and snorkel with penguins, sea lions, and sea turtles in one of the most fascinating and fragile environments in the world. On the final night of our adventure, share your On Assignment projects. Then return to Quito for our flight home.

Our high school expeditions are for students in grades 9-12, and offer opportunities to get out into the field and discover fascinating destinations across the globe through the lens of an On Assignment project. Each expedition offers a choice of two or three areas of focus, such as photography, geology, or wildlife conservation. Students travel alongside a team of highly-qualified trip leaders—college graduates with extensive experience in the field, who love working with students. A National Geographic expert joins for a portion of the trip (four to eight days) to share their insights, and inspire students with their passion for the work they do and the places they will discover. The group size ranges between 14 and 28 participants, and the student-to-trip-leader ratio is usually between six and eight to one and never more than nine to one.
We will be traveling at high elevations in Quito. Quito is at an elevation of 9,350 feet. Students should be physically fit and enthusiastic about the outdoors.
We will stay at a scientific research station in the Amazon, and family-run inns and small hotels in Quito and the Galápagos Islands.

Salomé Buglass, Marine Ecologist

Meet Our Experts

Salomé Buglass is a marine ecologist who is passionate about aquatic ecosystems and also deeply interested in the intersection of ecological processes, people, and sustainable development. She currently works at the Charles Darwin Foundation in the Galápagos, where she collaborates in several research projects that support the management of the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Salomé recently received National Geographic's Early Career Grant to lead a pioneer study exploring shallow seamounts, aka “bajos”, which are important fishing areas for the local artisanal fleet in Galápagos. Salomé believes healthy oceans and land resources are the foundation for human well-being, and her focus is to research policy-oriented solutions to counter their delegation while ensuring community-based sustainable practices. Salomé will join both departures of the Ecuador and Galápagos expedition.

On Assignment Projects

Practice your wildlife photography skills on the amazingly approachable animals of the Galápagos and the Amazon’s rainbow of insects, birds, and amphibians. Calibrate your images to create a photo-essay that tells the story of Ecuador’s astounding biodiversity, as well as the local conservation efforts aimed at protecting it. At the end of the program, present your images to your leaders and peers. There is a supplemental fee of $150 for this On Assignment project.
Study Ecuador’s biodiversity and conservation policies alongside experts in the field. Interview researchers and community members about efforts to conserve the Ecuadorian Amazon in the face of oil drilling threats. Learn about evolution and animal behavior firsthand by observing fascinating Galápagos species found nowhere else on Earth. Participate in the iNaturalist citizen science project, joining a network of biologists mapping biodiversity across the globe.