Take a Gap Semester Abroad in South America

Puerto Maldonado & Cusco, Peru
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

At a glance

  • Get Started: Download this trip's itinerary
  • Live with a group of students in the Amazon Rain Forest, engaging with the local environment and protecting endangered animals on a daily basis. 
  • Experience different areas of work from conservation efforts in the exclusive Galapagos National Park, to supporting eager students in their quest to master communication skills
  • Give your Spanish skills a major lift by fully immersing yourself in Spanish-speaking countries for 10 weeks 
  • Watch the sunrise over the stunning landscape and ruins of Machu Picchu
  • Participate in community enrichment projects with a group in Cusco and work together to achieve a specific goal in a short time.

Start Dates: 

Throughout the year

See Dates

Minimum Duration: 

Ten Weeks

Ages: 

18-24


A) Your Conservation Work In The Amazon Rain Forest Will Focus On: 

Data Collection

By observing and recording details about the species you see during surveys, you’ll help us better understand how to protect them. This type of work can include: 

  • Bird censuses conducted from a canopy platform
  • Collecting video footage using camera traps
  • Recording data on species characteristics during trail hikes

With the help of your work, we produce a technical report every year to demonstrate our environmental impact. The data for these reports comes directly from our volunteers’ daily observations. Thanks to this work, Taricaya is increasingly recognized internationally as a research center. It has contributed a number of important research papers at international conferences, especially in the field of ornithology.

Animal Release Program

At Taricaya, we run an animal release program. This work involves our project partner, Animal Defenders International (ADI). ADI confiscates illegal pets or circus animals, including Amazon rainforest monkeys. We then rehabilitate these rainforest animals at the rescue center, and release them into the wild if possible. These are usually endangered species like scarlet macaws, whose populations are steadily decreasing in the Amazon. 

You’ll help with feeding these animals and doing general maintenance. This includes tasks like cleaning enclosures or repairing fences. Although this may sound like menial work, it’s a chance to get up close to beautiful wildlife, while also helping prepare them for a life of freedom. For animals raised in captivity who can’t be released, you’ll be helping to give them the quality of life they deserve. 

Breeding Program

You’ll also help with our turtle breeding program and do things like patrolling riverbanks for turtle nests, collecting the eggs, and incubating them at the center. This protects them from poachers. When the eggs hatch, watching hatchlings scurry across the sand making their way to water is a heart-warming moment! It also makes a huge impact on the populations of these species in the wild. 

You’ll also help with catching and breeding endangered butterflies. Our butterfly catching methods are completely safe and leave the butterflies unharmed. We can then house them in optimal conditions for our rainforest animal research, help them breed, and study their behavior.

Pilot Farm

We have a pilot farm where we work on developing and perfecting sustainable farming techniques. We then teach local people about sustainable farming to reduce the negative impact of farming in the area. Your role is to tend the crops and help us raise awareness about sustainable farming. Sustainable farming will make Amazon Rainforest reforestation much easier.

We also run a mahogany program. We grow mahogany trees close together and study them. This particular Rainforest habitat project shows local loggers that this is a cost-effective alternative to cutting down trees from the rainforest. We are also able to share the timber from these trees to use in production. You will help with maintaining the plantation and taking measurements.

Raise Awareness

We work to raise awareness about conservation on both a local and a global level. Through research and publications, Taricaya provides groundbreaking data that draws attention to the work we’re doing in the Amazon rainforest and its ecosystems. You’ll be involved in collecting this data and contributing to large-scale research work.

You can also help with raising awareness about conservation in local communities. For example, you could run a recycling competition in a local school. Or you could conduct a workshop on the small things people can do to combat climate change.

Learn more about our Animal Rehab in the Amazon Rainforest 

 

B) Volunteering, Culture and Language Immersion in Cusco:

After completing your Amazon jungle experience, you might be happy to return to urban life in vibrant Cusco. Over the next 2 ½ weeks you’ll do a deep dive into the rich and diverse Peruvian mountain culture. There won’t be time for sitting around as you’ll go into the community and support essential local projects at schools and clinics. You’ll also have late afternoon Spanish lesions during this time to maximize the benefits of full immersion.

During your one week archeology project, you’ll work with experienced archaeologists as they continue doing research to discover more about the ancient Incan and Wari civilizations. These are the main areas you’ll focus on:

  • Assist with the discovery and registration of new archaeological sites
  • Maintain archaeological sites through clearing and maintenance tasks
  • Raise awareness about the importance of protecting cultural heritage in local communities
  • Attend workshops and presentations to learn more about archaeology work in Peru

Learn more about the Incan and Wari Archaeology Project in Cusco, Peru.

 

C) Giant Tortoise & Sea Lion Conservation in the Galapagos Islands:

Our partnership with the Galapagos National Park gives us exclusive access to the wilderness Darwin once studied. The work is hands-on, with the added benefit of learning from expert conservationists. You’ll do things like:

  • Monitor and survey wildlife, including Giant Tortoises at a breeding center, and sea lions and birds out in the wild
  • Help control invasive animal species that threaten the indigenous wildlife, which is critical for environmental stability
  • Eradicate alien plant species and help local plants thrive
  • Support the community by participating in beach clean-ups and raising awareness of how people can protect animals and the environment

Learn more about our conservation efforts in the Galapagos Islands.

Childcare

The biggest focus of our Childcare Project in Ecuador is ensuring that young kids learn the skills they need to thrive once they start school. We work in overcrowded and understaffed kindergartens, giving teachers extra support in the classroom. In addition to teaching Early Childhood Development, our volunteers also teach basic English and encourage the kids to practice good hygiene. 

Children learn through play, so you can do things like:

  • Plan and run educational activities, games, and arts and crafts
  • Teach songs and rhymes so kids can practice and remember the English they learn

You don’t need previous experience working with kids, we’ll provide training, workshops, and resources so you’ll have everything you need to do the work. 

Read more about supporting Early Childhood Development in Ecuador. 

Teaching & Sports Coaching

On your gap semester abroad in Ecuador, you’ll be able to add real classroom and sports coaching work experience to your resume. If you’re thinking about pursuing a career as a teacher, this is a great way to test the waters before putting in the time and effort to qualify to teach.  

Our Teaching Project has a lot of variety. A big part of your experience will be teaching English to school kids, but you can also participate in a program where you teach adults. 

Sports coaching takes place at a community sports club, and you can teach sports like soccer and basketball, and do activities like Zhumba. You’ll work with small groups of kids. 

Read more about Teaching and Sports Coaching in Ecuador

Experiential Learning: Capstone Project

As part of your gap semester program, you’ll work on a Capstone Project. It can take any form or medium, from an essay, poem, photo journal, or painting. You pick a topic and a question to think about critically and explore. This topic should relate to both your own experiences on the program and also the setting of the Galapagos Islands.  At the end of the program, you’ll present your project to the group.

Here are some sample ideas to get you thinking:

  • How are the everyday lives of the locals different from mine and what can I learn from them? You can answer this by creating a photo journal that paints a picture of the everyday lives of the islanders.
  • How are climate change factors affecting the Galapagos Islands? This could take the form of a scientific-like report that categorizes the effects of climate change on the islands and how we can address them. 

Where in Peru and Ecuador will I work?

San Cristobal

In The Peruvian Amazon Rain Forest

You’ll live and work at the central camp at Taricaya Ecological Reserve, which is located in the Amazon Rainforest. The camp is a one-hour boat ride from the nearest town, Puerto Maldonado, situated in southeast Peru near the border with Bolivia. Most of the work that you’ll do is based in and around the camp, and within the Taricaya Ecological Reserve.

In Cusco, Peru

You'll be based in the bustling city of Cusco. Cusco was once the capital of the ancient Incan Empire. You'll see countless reminders of this as you walk through the city today.

In Ecuador

You’ll live and work with your group on the island of San Cristobal. It forms part of the Galapagos archipelago, located about 1,000km from mainland Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean.

Even though it is the capital of Ecuador’s Galapagos province, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is still more of a port town than a city. It’s home to several pristine white beaches, but only two are for people. The others are all devoted to the protection of the local sea lion population.

 

Airport pickup, flights and visas

When you arrive at your respective airport, a member of Projects Abroad staff will be there to meet you. You can find more detailed information on arrival airports, orientation, and visas on our Ecuador Arrival Procedures page.


Why should I consider a gap semester?

What you do in a gap semester is completely up to you! Travel is a popular option for any student looking to:

  • Add global experience to their resumes
  • Live more independently
  • Experience cultural exchange 

In addition, the beauty of a gap semester is in the length. It can range anywhere from 1-3 months. You can fully immerse yourself in the experience without feeling the pressure of committing to be away from home or school for longer. 

If a full gap year feels like a tall order right now, a gap semester might be just what you need. With the right organization supporting you, and a flexible program built around experiential education, a gap semester can be equally fulfilling and productive. Throw travel into the mix, and your gap semester has the added benefit of exposing you to cultural exchange.

Everything is planned for you during our gap semester abroad in South America, and our staff will be there for you whenever you need them. The program covers a variety of areas, so you get to experience a bit of everything. This is hugely valuable for students still figuring out what they really want to do, and those looking to spice up their gap year with variety!

 


Can I take a gap semester abroad in Fall 2021?

As the world opens up and travel restrictions ease, it has become easier to plan ahead for your gap semester abroad. 

 Crucial conservation endeavors and the economy of the Galapagos Islands are in need of volunteers and visitors to help support them. 

Read about our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and our enhanced safety protocols.


Measuring our impact

Our projects work towards clear long-term goals, with specific annual objectives. Every volunteer and intern we send to these projects helps us work towards these goals, no matter how long they spend on our projects.


Every year we take a step back and look at how much progress we've made towards these goals. We put together a Global Impact Report, which documents our achievements. Find out more about the impact our global community of volunteers, interns and staff make, and read the latest report.


Food and Accommodation

In the Peruvian Amazon Rain Forest

You'll share accommodation with other Gap Semester participants during your stay at the Taricaya Ecological Reserve. This is a great way to get to know your fellow students, share experiences, and explore your surroundings in your free time together. Each bungalow will sleep 2 people, and has a private bathroom. 

In Cusco

You'll stay with a host family in Cusco. They will welcome you into their home, eager to share their customs and learn about your culture. We believe that this is the best way to immerse yourself in the culture of Peru and have a truly unique experience.  You will live alongside one or two other participants of the same gender at the host family. 

In San Cristobal

You'll share accommodation with other Gap Semester participants at our Conservation Lodge near Galapagos National Park during your stay in San Cristobal. 

In all three locations

Your lodgings will be safe, clean and comfortable and you’ll receive three meals a day.  Find out more about our accommodation.


Safety and staff support

Your safety and security is our prime concern. We have many procedures and systems to ensure you have the support you need to enjoy your trip with peace of mind. Our Projects Abroad staff are available 24 hours a day to help, and will be on-hand to make sure you settle in well at your accommodation and placement. If you encounter any problems, they will be available to help at any time.


Find out more about safety and backup.

When you apply you only pay a $295 deposit, which comes off the total program fees.

Things are changing rapidly these days. If you have ANY questions, please call us at (+1) 619 320 2424 and we’ll fill you in on the latest updates.

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