Ecuador and the Galápagos Middle School Expedition

From pristine cloud forests to the spectacular wildlife sanctuaries of the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador is a small country harboring an incredible range of species. Alongside knowledgeable trip leaders and a National Geographic expert, gain unique perspectives on this biodiversity hotspot—whether exploring jungle treetops on canopy tours or enjoying face time on the ground with blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, and sea lions.

June 30 -July 12, 2019
July 7 - July 19, 2019
Airfare is not included. We have arranged round-trip group flights from Miami to Quito.

Trip Highlights

  • Snorkel with playful sea lions and penguins and encounter endangered Galápagos giant tortoises—capturing it all on camera.
  • Zoom through the cloud forest canopy on a zip-lining excursion, and spot exotic birds in the treetops.
  • Learn about medicinal plants, and cook a traditional Ecuadorian dish alongside local cooks.
  • Lend a hand with reforestation efforts in the cloud forest, and participate in a beach clean-up in the Galápagos.


Days 1-2

Arrive in Quito, the world’s second highest capital city, located at an elevation of more than 9,000 feet in a high Andean valley ringed by snowcapped volcanoes and mountains. Stroll along streets that have scarcely changed since the 17th century, past the well-preserved buildings of the Spanish Empire. Step into the bustle of everyday life in vibrant city plazas, where Andean music fills the air. Ride an aerial tramway, called a teleférico, high into the Andes to photograph a panorama of the city below.

Days 3-7

Travel to the town of Mindo, nestled in the Andean cloud forest. Hike to tumbling waterfalls and hone your wildlife observation skills as our guide helps us spot and identify some of Ecuador’s more than 1,500 bird species. Get an introduction to wildlife photography in the pristine cloud forest of the Bosque Protector Mindo-Nambillo reserve, home to exotic birds such as the toucan barbet and golden-headed quetzal. Zoom through the forest canopy on zip lines, then float down a jungle river on a tubing adventure.

Get to know young Ecuadorians as you play soccer together; and work with a local school on service projects, including teaching English to primary students. Help members of the community with reforestation initiatives, and interview local researchers about their efforts to preserve this unique habitat in the face of oil and natural gas extraction. Return to Quito, where we’ll spend the night at a small inn near the airport and prepare for our trip to the Galápagos Islands.

Days 8-12

Depart mainland Ecuador and set off on an adventure in the legendary Galápagos Islands. This volcanic archipelago, cut off from humans for thousands of years, helped shape Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Learn about the history of these unique islands and the stories of the people and species that call the Galápagos home. Discover the distinct character of the islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal and get acquainted with their incredible endemic species. Spot fire-red Sally Lightfoot crabs sunning themselves on rocks alongside spiky marine iguanas. Focus your camera on dramatic sunsets over the dry, cactus-dotted landscapes.

Meet with scientists from the Charles Darwin Research Station and hear about the late Lonesome George—the final member of one of the islands’ tortoise subspecies— and the conservation efforts he inspired; then hike to the highlands to encounter Galápagos giant tortoises in the wild. Take part in beach clean-up efforts, and learn about the impact of plastics on the health of the world’s oceans and coastal habitats. Come face to face with blue-footed boobies; and snorkel with penguins, sea lions, and sea turtles in one of the world’s most fascinating and fragile natural environments. Spend the final days of your trip sharing your photos and stories with your new friends as we celebrate along beautiful Galápagos beaches. Return to Quito and catch an overnight flight home.

Our middle school expeditions are for students ages 13 or older in grades 7-8, and offer students the opportunity to discover exciting destinations in a fun, engaging, and safe environment. With guidance from trip leaders and a National Geographic expert, students explore a number of themes that enhance their experience and encourage them to deepen the interests they already have, while discovering new ones along their journey. 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 expedition group size ranges between 14 and 18 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 while in Quito (9,350 feet) and Mindo (6,000 feet). Students should be physically fit and enthusiastic about the outdoors. On this program, student will spend an estimated 10 hours on community service projects. At the end of the program, students will receive a certificate stating the number of hours completed. Projects described in this itinerary are examples and vary depending on the needs of the community.
We will stay in family-run inns and small hotels throughout the expedition.

Kevin McLean, National Geographic Grantee and Ecologist

Meet Our Expert

National Geographic grantee and ecologist Kevin McLean can often be found high up in forest canopies, studying some of the world's least-known wildlife. Kevin combines camera trapping and GPS technologies with field science to study wildlife living in tropical treetops. As he collects his scientific data, he writes stories, take photos, and create videos to provide a view of his life as a researcher and the interesting species he encounters. Kevin is a Research Fellow at the University of California Davis, and recently traveled to Malaysian Borneo and the Ecuadorian Amazon as a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling fellow, surveying canopy wildlife in two of the most biodiverse areas of the world. Kevin will join both departures in Quito and Mindo.

Program Themes

Explore each of these three topics over the course of the program:

Grab your camera or strap on a GoPro and document Ecuador’s diverse landscapes, vibrant cultures, and captivating creatures. Learn the basics of wildlife photography, zooming in on giant Galápagos tortoises, sea lions, and other creatures unfazed by your presence. Practice portrait photography and capture the swirl of colors at a Quito market.
Learn about evolution and animal behavior firsthand by observing jungle wildlife and the unique species of the Galápagos in their natural habitat. Hear from researchers and community members about intensive ecotourism and conservation efforts geared towards protecting Ecuador’s incredible biodiversity.
Alongside volunteers and researchers, help with reforestation efforts in the cloud forest and work with locals on a beach clean-up in the Galápagos. Discover how service can be integrated with conservation efforts to preserve Ecuador's delicate ecosystems.