Volunteer Work at the Galapagos Islands

Jatun Sacha Foundation, Galapagos Islands. By Packing my Suitcase.

Back in 2008 – when I was still living in Brazil – I had a crisis that probably most of us have in the middle of University: is that what I really want to do for the rest of my life?! What about this boring internship? Who never? Oh well, that was my case. On the other hand, I have always been connected with nature and wanted to do something useful for this Planet, instead of making Power Point presentations all day.

I needed a getaway, but not for vacation. I was hoping to find a place far from home, where I could help others somehow; and I had to go alone, face whatever I had to face by myself. So I quit my internship after finding the Jatun Sacha Foundation on Internet; and decided to take part on their volunteer work program in San CristΓ³bal, one of the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.

Of course my mom freaked out about it and thought I wouldn’t come back home alive! Soon I bought the tickets and embarked in the most amazing experience I ever had in my life. After 12 hours at SΓ£o Paulo’s airport and 8 more at Lima’s, I arrived in Quito with a backpack, a lot of courage and no hostel reservation in the middle of the night.

Before embarking to the islands I had a briefing meeting at Jatun Sacha Foundation’s office, learned a lot about the work I would to do in the next 3 weeks and met amazing people, some were already coming from other reserves, others freshly arrived as me.

Arriving at San CristΓ³bal’s airport I knew there was no going back, there was, but not for me, I had to do this! Later on when I arrived at the reserve, located on the top of the rocky and volcanic mountain, I was introduced to my room, which I was going to share with some cool people and some ugly spiders! Wait, spiders? No one told me about that!

Seeing my face of fear they said not to worry, they are friendly and eat the mosquitoes! And I thought to myself: screw the mosquitoes! I’m going to sleep with the creature I am most afraid of in this life for 3 weeks! It didn’t take long for me to get to know the carmelitos – these mosquitos are little monsters – and thanked God spiders exist!

The reserve was in the middle of the tropical forest, green everywhere and that amazing smell of rain in the morning. Volunteers built the entire place, which was divided into 2 big houses made to accommodate new volunteers, each with 4 to 6 rooms for a minimum of 4 people, terraces with hammocks and separated showers and toilets just outside the houses. Additionally, there was the main house, where the kitchen was located and where we had our meetings.

Focusing on the work now, everyday we would have a briefing on what to do and the tasks were always divided into groups of people. We had many activities to do, from collaborating in the kitchen to cleaning the coastal area around the National Park. However, our biggest project was to protect the native plantings, by eliminating intruded plants, collecting seeds from the native plants and planting them. Of course we did a lot lot more, and here you can find all the work done at the reserve.

I didn’t mind the hard work; it made me see how this Planet needs us in so many ways. It was also great to plant and eat later; most of what we ate came from the trees the volunteers have planted along the years – lemons, oranges, coffee, etc – this fact was very rewarding.

After a long day of work, we all gathered at the main house, where we normally had our meetings and meals. Our coordinator would play the guitar and sing a Spanish song, and I would play with sweet “Linda” and “Nego”, the dogs. Then we would all head to the only bar nearby and have some fun all together, dancing and singing.

On the weekends everyone would go to the city – which was down at the beach, far from us at the top – and enjoy what it had to offer: cafes, bars, restaurants, and of course, more nature. Snorkeling, diving, camping, hiking, all there for us to make the most out of it. Some would enjoy the time to get a diving certificate, others would just go to the beach and get tanned, and I decided to travel around other islands, but this will come soon in another post!

When I left the Galapagos, I knew I was going to miss everything about it: the friends, the work, the hammock, the bar, the old man who owned the bar, the beach, the Pacific Ocean, the turtles, sharks and sea lions, even the spiders! But thinking again, I wouldn’t miss the carmelitos – they almost ate my back! And I knew I was leaving something behind: my heart.

So I proved my mother wrong – just kidding mom! – and came back alive, more alive than I left home! I got to know a part of me I didn’t know of, I will never forget that.

For all future volunteers:

Jatun Sacha Foundation is an amazing organization, their work is highly valuable in Ecuador. Apart from the San Cristobal Biological Reserve, they also offer other locations in many other places in the country. At the end of your volunteer work you receive a recommendation letter!

I could give you thousands of tips, but apart from telling you to bring something called “after bite”, the only advice I am giving you is the only one you will really need: go because you want it and with an open heart.

Jatun Sacha Foundation, Galapagos Islands. By Packing my Suitcase.

I would like to thank and dedicate this post to all the special people that made part of this unforgettable experience together with me (you know who you are) and the Jatun Sacha Foundation for the incredible work you do, taking care of the most special place I have ever been in this World.

About Allane

A Brazilian living in Germany. Married to W. mommy to a baby girl and a Golden Retriever. Traveler, writer, aspiring photographer, diver, wine appreciator, Formula 1 fan, avid reader of historical and young adult fictions books. City girl, nature lover, believer of a better world, one little change at a time.

  • This overseas volunteer experience sounds priceless. It looked like you lived in the middle of the forest, actually. But I am sure it was just as comfortable as it is at home. Everything looks so simple there πŸ˜€ Spiders? They eat mosquitoes? I am terrified of spiders too and the ones in your photo look huge…did they crawl all over you and were they poisonous? There’s even a spider chart. Eeeee!

    From your photos it looked very cloudy in the Galapagos when you were there. Hope it didn’t rain too much πŸ˜€

    • It was amazing indeed Mabel πŸ™‚ a unique experience! Well, I must say it wasnt as comfortable as home, but after a few days I was completely used to it!

      These spiders weren’t poisonous, they were afraid of us, and they only ate mosquitoes. Our bed had nets so they wouldnt crawl on us, thank God hahaha, but It was horrible to wake up with them all over my net πŸ™ and the chart about the spiders was to inform us that they were friendly! πŸ˜€

      As the reserve was at the top of a mountain, in July was very rainy, it rained almost everyday… but at the beach was always sunny πŸ˜€

      • I still would be terrified of the spiders with a net around me, haha. Oh dear, you must have woken up to many, many, many spiders handing right above you πŸ™ At least you didn’t crush any spider, that would be horrible and they wouldn’t be your friend anymore πŸ˜€

        That is good that the beach was sunny. A good place for you to relax after volunteering. I hope there were coconuts πŸ˜€

        • hahahahaaha yes thank God I didnt step in any of them!! I was terrified about them, always afraid that they would jump on my face πŸ™

          The beach was amazing… there were no coconuts, but thousands of sea lions, pretty cute πŸ˜€

          • Once there a spider crawled onto my bedroom wall through the window in summer. It was as big as my hand. My mum sprayed insect repellent on it and it shrunk to the size of a coin πŸ˜€

            Oh, no coconuts. Pity. I thought all beaches have coconuts. Awww, sea lions. They must have put on a cute show for you all πŸ˜€

          • Ohhh God really??? When I was a kid some poisonous spiders normally appeared at our garden and my mom would set fire on them, ohhh bad memories!!

            No, the vegetation at the Galapagos is a bit different! And yes, the sea lions were the best!! So cute!!

          • I hope the sea lions clapped their hands for you πŸ˜‰ I’m sure you won’t allowed to feed them but animals are always entertaining/

          • hahahaha I saw babies… they were the cuttest thing ever! But to be honest, as they are wild animals they are a bit dangerous, we couldnt approach them so easy, they would go away or try to attack us hahaha its normal, its their way to protect themselves! I had fun watching them anyways πŸ˜€

  • I enjoyed reading about your experience. Thanks so much for sharing this!

    • Thank you Helene for taking the time to read it, Im happy you liked it! πŸ˜€

      • I wish I had the chance to do this during my younger days. Unfortunately, such an exchange/internship scheme is not available in my country. The only thing that turned me off was the photo of your outdoor toilet! I don’t envy you in that aspect! πŸ™‚

        • Its a great opportunity… but you can do these kind of volunteer work all over the world, before deciding to go to the Galapagos I considered going to Costa Rica or Africa πŸ˜€ there are great options out there. Some you can teach English to kids, other take care of monkeys πŸ™‚ ohh yes, the toilet wasnt my favorite part hahaha

  • Kan

    Sounds like a very rewarding experience Allane. Thanks for sharing it. Those spiders are HUGE! Brave of you to have lived with them πŸ™‚

    • Thank you Kan πŸ™‚ yes they were big enough to make not sleep for the first week hahaha I survived, and learned a lor! πŸ™‚

  • Oh my god! This is awesome! I always wanted to do the same (central Africa would have been my choise) Now I only dream about it. Everytime I talk to hubby about it his eyes turn watery (remember the cat in the Shrek movies? That’s exactly how he looks!). And then he says “…but what about me. I don’t want you to be so far away from me..” Haha. It totally works on me.
    Kudos to you for being so brave! πŸ™‚

    • Awesome! Before going there I had Africa as an option, but at that time was a little too expensive for me! hahaha poor hubby, I did it when I was single, but today when I mention something like this to mine he also makes the Shrek cat face hahaha take him with you then πŸ˜€ its a very rewarding experience to be a volunteer!! And thank you, it wasnt easy at the beginning, but I got used to it, some people stayed there for 3 months, some even more! πŸ˜€

  • Well done for doing this Allane!!! You’re indeed a brave, brave person to sleep with Spiders!! I would have fainted there and then!!! Lol!! And mosquitos love me as I’m always the one being attacked! Amazing read and very inspiring indeed
    my dear friend!!

    • Thank you dear Farianti πŸ™‚ today I believe I was brave, back then I was very afraid of them hahaha
      The mosquitoes also love me! You have no idea how my back looked like after 3 weeks!! Im happy you liked it πŸ˜€

  • Interesting! Please post more!

    • I will πŸ˜€ there’s lots more to come!

      • Any underwater photos?

        • Unfortunately not πŸ™ at that time I didnt have any water proof camera! But some nice photos of the marine life will come

          • Ok, waiting!!! πŸ™‚

          • Hahahaha it might take a little while as I have other posts waiting, but soon!!

  • looks and sounds like a dream!

  • What an incredible experience. Thanks for sharing!

  • traveolani

    Very nice, Allane! I enjoyed reading your post. The spiders sound terrifying! I was considering myself doing some volunteer work. My options were Equador, India or Africa but it is not going to happen now. I have a toddler and I don’t want to leave her. But it is definitely an option for me in the near future.

    • Hi irina, thank you for the kind comment! Im happy you enjoyed reading the post. A volunteer work is very rewarding, I hope you can make it someday, at least for a few weeks to try it πŸ˜€ you wont regret! Thank you for reading!

  • You did amazing work by volunteering in such organisation in beautiful nature like Galapagos. Remarkable work. May your post will inspire more to do similar noble activity just like you did!

    • Thank you Indah!!! I really hope it does inspire more people, its such a great experience for us human beings to be close to nature, it makes us cherish it and respect it! It was amazing!!

  • Haha, I didn’t have my crisis till my 30s, but I’m sure glad it happened eventually. What an amazing and life-changing decision it must’ve been for you. Galapagos is high on my list of travel wishes… spending 3 weeks there must’ve given you a view into the place that few tourists get to enjoy. πŸ™‚

    • hahaha dont worry, I still have crisis!! It was an amazing decision, and I would love to do something like this again! As soon as you have the opportunity dont think twice, go to the Galapagos, you will never regret it…and of course, stay as long as you can πŸ˜€

  • I volunteered with Jatun Sacha at this reserve in October 2013. It brought tears to my eyes to read another person’s experience on this same reserve. What a truly unique and unforgettable experience.

    • Ohhh really??? It makes me happy to know more people that had this same experience! It was amazing wasn’t it? I can not imagine how is the reserve now, somethings must have changed!! I really miss this special place! πŸ˜€

  • Sooo much amazingness!!

  • Doing volunteer work abroad is such a fantastic experience and it completely changes our outlook on life. I did volunteer work in Africa working with children and animals and it is without a doubt one of the most amazing and rewarding things I’ve ever done. Doing it in such a gorgeous place as the Galapagos must have been brilliant!

    • Wow Ayla really? Amazing!! I also considered going to Africa but it was very expensive for me at the time…. but yes this experience was unforgettable for me, the Galapagos is a dream!! I am sure you have amazing memories of the time you were there, its surely a very rewarding experience!! Congratulations for being a volunteer too! πŸ˜€

      • I guess you are closer to the Galapagos so it must be slightly cheaper to get there for you. For us to take a trip there from the UK is so so expensive! Yes some of the best memories are from our time volunteering – it’s something I would recommend to everyone so love reading about other people’s experiences.

        • When I used to live in Brazil yes it was cheaper than flying from Germany, but still was a bit expensive to fly from my city. Yess I also recommend volunteering to everyone, its amazing and we learn so much

  • Sha

    You had such noble thoughts…when I was in university, I was only thinking of graduating as fast as I could and start earning money. Of course, once I started working, I wished that I was back in school. Haha….:)

    • hahaahahaha I dont know whats worse, my thoughts or yours!! Everyone have their crisis hahaha…of course I also wish I was back at University, life was easier I must say! Poor us thinking that adult life is easier!

  • What a beautiful post Allane! I bet your mother would have been proud of you! It is utterly important to listen to one’s heart sometimes and takes a lot of courage to not get lost in the race of life. I admire you even more now. πŸ™‚

    • Ohh thank you Radhika for the lovely comment! At that time my mom was really worried, but today she is proud of it, and she loves the pictures from this trip πŸ˜€ And you are right, it takes a lot of courage not to get lost in the race of life, I couldnt agree more with you! It was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life! πŸ™‚

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  • I went on a volunteer trip in 2008 and haven’t again since. You just reminded me of how much I enjoyed it. I need to look into making another volunteer trip soon. Hopefully with my family this time.

    • Thats amazing! Where did you do your volunteer work?? Thats a great idea to go with the family… There are so many amazing options around the world! I also would love to do it again, especially with animals

  • Wonderful! I love to hear about volunteering. I can tell from the energy of this story that it was a really special experience. So inspiring!

    • Hi Rosanna, thank you for the lovely comment!! It was indeed a veeeery special experience for me, and it sure has a special place in my memory! πŸ™‚

  • Reading this post make me feel very nostalgic about this place πŸ™‚ I do remember the camelito. I was so badly bitten by then that I had to go to the hospital for a shot of antihistamine because I had an allergic reaction πŸ˜€ I remember that priceless day, the doctor couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Spanish.. oh god πŸ˜€

    • ohhhh noo really??? Poor you!! Thank God I wasnt allergic to them, but they really did bad things to my back hahahaha Thank God you survived!! A friend of mine had an allergic reaction to a wasp, pretty bad too, but all ended up well πŸ˜€

      • I survived, but I had to go twice to the hospital. The injection in the bum didn’t really work, so intraveinous the second time and it was all better πŸ™‚

  • Fab

    Thanks for sharing your experience, can’t wait to be over there (mid-Oct 14 – Apr 15) and discover what looks to be an amazing place…!

    • Wow really?? Amazing, you will love the experience and the place!! Take time to visit the other islands too πŸ˜€ I wish you good luck and safe travel to you…should you ever need tips let me know πŸ˜€

  • Thank you πŸ˜€
    It was an unforgettable experience, and I really wish to return there someday. It’s the most special place I ever visited so far πŸ˜€