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Travel With a Purpose
Intermixing with local culture, enjoying wonderful sight-sees and participating in an array of activities are a must when vacationing. Whether it be relaxing by a pool or beach side, a thrilling jet ski or boat ride or gallivanting around in an unseen town catching a view of the best landmarks, vacations are fun, rejuvenating and a get-a-way. Amongst these usual vacation activities, however, a new trend is arising that combines giving back to the communities that travelers love to visit, providing a unique enhancing experience.
The Cotopaxi Conservation Project, a unique Ecuadorian adventure, provides a vacation with a twist of volunteering. Pairing mountain biking, zip-lining and horseback riding with replacing national park signs and trail maintenance, Adventure Life combines an effort to have fun while countering deforestation.
“We have this idea, travel with a purpose,” says Jonathan Brunger, Adventure Life’s Operations Director. “These volunteerism trips are based on a demand we have seen from our travelers.”
Having first begun trips that work with the local community in Peru, Brunger and Adventure Life decided to expand to Ecuador. As a popular travel spot for the Galapagos Islands, the rolling hills and beautiful views of the mountains and volcanoes had a demand for volun-tourism.
“People enjoy the work and love the scenery,” says Brunger. “They are getting out of it a combination of having fun, doing canopy tours and horseback riding.” Travelers participate in these activities all while they work alongside locals.
The five-day, four-night excursion includes a fast-paced itinerary of horseback riding, hiking, tree planting and conservation, mountain biking, and a canopy tour complete with trail maintenance. Included in the trip package, which costs about $930 plus international flight expenses, are lodgings for four nights, 13 meals, five days of private guide service, gear rental, park entrance fee and supplies for service projects.
“It is a good way to enhance a person’s experience,” says Brunger. “We don’t want to give travelers the idea that they will save the world with this trip, but it is a good way for travelers to give back to the place they are having an experience in.”
Adventurers depart from Quito and trek to a hacienda set high in the Andean paramo, where they will stay for the next three nights. With spectacular views of the Cotopaxi Volcano, participants then get acquainted with horses and head out for a ride.
“When you are staying at the hacienda, there are families that live and work up there,” says Brunger. “You get to see how they live and how the Chagras (a term for Andean cowboy) live.”
After travelers intermingle with the cowboys they will trek down on the second day of the trip to the Hacienda El Provenir to plant trees and regenerate forests. The program has planted over 200,000 trees to date and shoots for the addition to climb to one million. Following the reforestation, travelers get in touch with their creative sides by designing and painting interpretive signs.
“We are not going to change the world, but you are doing good and hopefully enhancing your experience,” says Brunger.
On the third day, adventurers will visit the Pucara Del Salitre, a military fortress of the Inca Empire, head down to Chirimachay Springs and then hop on mountain bikes for a thrilling ride down. Stopping at El Tambo, a pre-colonial Inca refuge and stockyard, visitors will stay amongst fantastic views of Cotopaxi at the hacienda that has the original handcrafted stone floor of the Inca tambo.
The fourth day leads travelers on a hike to Quilindana Volcano on the Eastern Andean Cordillera, towards Yurac Cocha (White Lake) and Verde Cocha (Green Lake). After the hike, visitors return to the Hacienda El Porvenir for a delicious meal.
The excursion ends with a canopy tour. Exploring the forest by coasting zip line provides a great vantage point for bird watching (Look out for these endangered species). Along the way, the group will help park rangers (of the Cotopaxi National Park) perform trail maintenance and rehabilitation.
With all the activity this trip provides, it is said by visitors to go by fast. However, there are chances to extend the trip by adding visits to Quito or to add more of a favorite part.
“We have this flexibility to customize it and add extra days to relax or do more horse back riding or visit local communities,” says Brunger.
Whether travelers choose to take the normal tour or extend their visit, a unique experience is provided as giving back to the environment and a fun vacation merge.
“This idea of volun-tourism is really coming on and people are looking for unique authentic travel experiences,” says Brunger. “Eco-tourism is expanding and people want to get their hands dirty."
Check out this great hub on Cotacachi, Ecuador here (a great way to extend your trip!)
Want to find discount air travel? Read the advice here.
Excited for a volun-tourism trip? Book your adventure here