Charles Participant Testimonial


Rating: 10/10

Yes, I recommend this program

Connect and Explore

Jun 27, 2018

My experience in the village we stayed in was so moving and fulfilling. The ability to see new things, meet new people, practice a new language, all the while making a difference was really special. The staff were very professional, informative, and attuned to the needs of our group. This made for a great experience for our school group, and had many of the participants looking to return to this community to be of more service in the future. I think the best part of the whole experience were the connections that were made with the local people we met. I would certainly do it again!

What would you improve about this program?

More awesome downhill biking experiences:)

Prince Student Testimonial


18, Male

Fullerton CA

Rating: 10/10

Yes, I recommend this program

Greatest experience of my life

Jun 27, 2018

I had one of the most incredible expierences traveling to the cloud forests and witnessing the incredible beauty the country had to offer. It truely was one of the best trips of my life, one that I will never forget. Getting the opportunity to live with villagers and interact with them taught me a lot about overcoming language barriers and allowed me to expirence the authenticity of Ecuadorian culture. The best meals I had were probably with the families we stayed with. I would recommend this program to anyone with full confidence that they will fall in love with Ecuador.

Ashley and more Student Testimonial


Age: 18, Female,Colorado

Rating: 10/10

Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing Experience in the Mountains of Ecuador

Jul 6, 2018

From the bustling town of Quito to the quiet village Yunguilla, it is safe to say that no matter where we were, the leaders had tons of awesome activities in every location. I went to Ecuador last spring (school trip) with this organization, and can honestly say that this was one of the best trips I have been on. The food was amazing, the people were so genuine and kind, and the culture was so welcoming!

What would you improve about this program?

Awesome trip- not much to improve on, however, maybe less time biking and more time spent in the towns.


Female , Cypress Califorina

Rating: 9/10

Yes, I recommend this program

Immersed in culture

Jun 29, 2018

I went to the cloud forest with 15 students for an educational abroad program and through this experience, we were all touched by the kind hospitality of our host families. Everyone was friendly and we enjoyed the home made Ecuadorian dinner. The village is in a beautiful location of hills and full of lush vegetation. Initially, it was hard to acclimate to the elevation. Especially since we started our trip with planting trees up in the hills, but once our bodies stabilized, it was just taking in the breathtaking views. The best part was riding in the back of pick up truck’s to the forest planting sites. Perhaps it was a bit dangerous but honestly the fresh air, the wind blowing through your hair, the feeling of being one with nature, and the slight roller-coaster effect made for the best memories.

What would you improve about this program?

Don’t have the groups go during their party nights. There was loud, booming music all night into the morning hours.


18 , Male, United States

Rating: 10/10

Yes, I recommend this program

An Authentic Travel Experience

Jun 27, 2018

I have traveled to many different countries and experienced them both as a native and a tourist. I can confidently say that this program provides you a genuine experience when traveling. The guides on our trip had real human connections with the people in the community we stayed in which shows the work they put into providing a genuine adventure travelling abroad, as their name states. They were committed to making our time in the Nimbo Cloud Forest enjoyable and prepared us well for our time with our home stay, helping us learn about the local community.

Indigenous People’s Day

59671823_650238402069733_5577196260001054720_oIn case you didn’t know October 8th, is Indigenous People’s Day–Hooray!  This is a fairly new holiday that has gained notoriety in the past few years, but still has a ways to go before it is a mainstream day of recognition.  In case you have never heard of it, or are confused as to what exactly it is, I did a (very) little research for you all. Here’s what I dug up.

Indigenous People’s Day started in 1989 as a counter celebration to Columbus Day, both recognized the second Monday of October.  Columbus Day is a federal holiday in the United States that celebrates Christopher Columbus’ historic landing in the Americas. Since socially sensitive folks have come to see Columbus’ arrival in America as an invasion as opposed to a discovery, the idea started 30ish years ago to instead celebrate the history and culture of America’s indigenous people instead of the explorer who marked the beginning of centuries of oppression and annihilation of these peoples.

Indigenous People’s Day has been adopted by various local governments in the United States since 1990, however the federal government and most citizens still know the day as Columbus Day.  To confuse matters more, in 1994, the United Nations declared August 9th as International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. I have never heard of this before today, so clearly I either live under a rock, or the UN’s day never caught on in the mainstream.  The UN’s August 9th day is specifically for all indigenous people of the world, while the October day is geared more towards the recognition of Native Americans as it’s correlation with Columbus Day.

GATA’s Indigenous Community Partners

GATA works with quite a few communities in Ecuador and Colombia.  We value our personal relationships with the people of these communities, and are passionate about giving our travelers the opportunities to create their own relationships across cultures.  This is a vital part of our mission, but also a delicate one. We are very conscious of our impact within communities and the effect of globalization on the indigenous people we visit. While we encourage cultural exchange, we by no means want to “whitewash” the communities we visit, and we certainly don’t ever want to exploit them.  We have designed our business to maximize the value of our trips for the local communities, and to encourage learning and respect for their cultures, languages, and traditions. We promote authentic interaction with communities, not just photo opportunities.

All that being said, here’s a very quick look at just 3 of the indigenous communities that we work with.  


Sinchi Warmi:  Sinchi Warmi is a woman-lead community of Amazonian Kichwa people.  “Sinchi Warmi” means “Strong Women” in the Kichwa language, and in this amazing, close-knit community, women are not just respected, they are the bosses.  The men also play an important role in the community and are valued as well, but it is the women who lead the community. They are dedicated to sustainable development and sharing their traditional way of life with travelers who come to stay with them.  They have a cocoa farm where visitors can help make their own chocolate. Sinchi Warmi is a fascinating balance of managing volunteer tourism with their ancestral way of life in the Amazon Basin.


Tsachila: The Tsachila of Santo Domingo, also known as “los Colorados”, are a vibrant and distinct indigenous group in Ecuador.  Santo Domingo is nestled in the tropics between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Coast, and is their ancestral homeland.  The men are easily recognizable, as they have a uniform hair style that is shaved on the sides and back and then slicked forward on top and painted bright red with achiote seeds.  The men wear black, blue, and white woven skirts and no shirts, while the women wear brightly colored striped skirts. They also paint their bodies with black horizontal lines. They speak Tsafiki, their native tongue, and their shamans are renowned for their healing power and knowledge of medicinal herbs and remedies.  

Today, there are only about 2,000 Tsachilas who maintain their traditional way of life, the sum total of 8 communities.  GATA has a close relationship with one of these communities and work closely with them on their sustainable development projects.  Visiting the Tsachila is a truly unique and special experience, as this vibrant and endangered culture is so special and has an incredible history.  


Andean Kichwa:  There are many varieties of Kichwa culture and languages in Ecuador and across the broader region of northwest South America.  Kichwa is a Quechuan language that connects its many speakers under one umbrella, but the millions of Kichwa speakers actually form many distinct cultures and across geographic regions.  The language itself has more than a dozen different dialects, depending on region. The indigenous people I am referring to now are those that live in the Andean highlands of Ecuador. Even in this specific region, there are distinct communities and dialects, but also many commonalities.  


Kichwa people are the most populous of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, with over one million people still using their traditional language and dress.  Women wear long, wrapped woolen skirts–either navy blue or black, with white blouses, colorful woven belts, red or gold necklaces, and white closed toe sandals.  Men also where the closed toed sandals and grow their hair long and keep it in a single braid. The Andean Kichwa people traditionally live off of subsistence farming, planting corn and “chochos” on steep mountainsides.  GATA partners with several of these traditional farming communities to bring travelers to live and work alongside Kichwa. There is much to learn from their ancient culture, as well as how they have adapted to survive in the modern world.  Today, many Kichwa live in big cities and are very visible in daily modern Ecuadorian life. They have retained their traditional way of dress, culture, and language while adapting and living in a modern globalized world.

21 Items to pack on every trip


I subscribe to various travel industry newsletters, which means that I get an average of 27 emails from Travel & Leisure (T&L) every day. Mostly I just skim the headlines, but occasionally something will snag my interest and I’ll give it a read. This happened a couple weeks ago, with a headline that read: “21 Items to Pack on Every Single Trip”. I was curious as to what the T&L found to be the 21 most important and versatile travel items–and, well, I wish you all could have seen my face when I read what made their list. I’m sorry, I’m not trying to troll T&L, but their list is ridiculous. It did, however, get me thinking…what would make my list?

Thus, “GATA’s 21 Items to Pack on Every Trip” was born. While a few of T&L’s items did make our list, I think it’s safe to say that GATA and T&L are not catering to the same market. Here’s our list, followed by a link to T&L’s list–see how we compare, and let us know what your most essential packing items are!

Rain coat
A good rain coat is like travel armor and an absolute necessity for any and all trips. I personally do not take a step outside my house without my raincoat packed. It is worth investing in a good one, preferably gor-tex; and I recommend ordering a size up, regardless of the brand, to allow for ample layering underneath. I also put a premium on pockets when it comes to raincoats. My number #1 pick for a raincoat is the Arcteryx Beta AR, but if you’re on a tighter budget, REI brand usually has some decent and affordable options.

Yes, dental hygiene is important; no, that’s not why floss makes the list. Floss is incredibly versatile and very small and packable. Read this to learn just a few of the many non-dental uses for floss!


Water filter
Regardless of where you are traveling, drinking water from unknown or untrusted sources is never a great idea. It is also logistically challenging as well as environmentally and financially irresponsible to only drink bottled water. Simple solution: take your own water filter everywhere you go. I recommend Sawyer water filters–I always have one that can screw onto any basic water bottle or faucet. It’s lightweight, about the size of bratwurst, and filters 99.9999999999% of the bad stuff. Whether you’re camping in the wilderness or exploring a foreign metropolis, you’re covered.

No, your cell phone flashlight is not sufficient. Headlamps provide hands free illumination for whatever you are doing–whether it’s spelunking, trying to start a fire in the rain (so frustrating), reading in a dark crowded dorm room, or trying to change a flat tire on your rental car in the middle of the night. Take a headlamp. Always. My personal favorite headlamps are made by Petzl, followed by black diamond.

Bandana or buff or similar light cloth scrap like accessory. You can use it for sun, wind, or cold protection for you head, ears, and/or neck. It can serve as a towel in a pinch, a rag for cleanup, a hankie, an eye mask, a dust/pollution mask, keep your hair out of your face, tourniquette; the uses are limitless. I once used a bandana as a fishing net to catch fish in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Tie it on the outside of your bag–takes up no space.

Essential pills
I always travel with a small plastic container about the size of a ping pong ball with a few of the following meds:
That should take care of 95% of your traveling ailments.

Hiking boots
Footwear is vital, and if your raincoat is your body’s armor, hiking boots are armor for your feet. I put my hiking boots on and I am invincible–my feet are comfortable, protected, and can take on any terrain any place any time. The key is to get quality boots that fit you well. Not all hiking boots are created equal, so choose carefully. Again, I always recommend gor-tex for waterproofing. I am currently loving these Ahnu boots, because they are durable, have good ankle support, comfortable, waterproof but also lightweight. I love my old school Vasques too, but they are much heavier and more rigid, so I reserve them for my more rugged mountain climbing excursions, whereas my Ahnu’s are my go everywhere boot.

Extra socks
Wet socks are the worst–don’t ever wear wet socks. Your feet will stink, you’ll ruin your boots, and you’ll get blisters and fungus and all sorts of gross stuff. It’s worth it to always pack 2 pairs of socks more than what you think you will need. Just do it.

Cliche? Maybe. Still, I live in my Chacos. Plus, you really can’t get away with traveling anywhere with just one pair of shoes (hiking boots), so you really need a comfortable, breathable option that is still functional enough to get you around town in. Chacos are the solution. You can wear them in the water, you can hike in them, you can wear them with a dress, or–my personal style go to–wear them with socks! Chacos + socks = Sockos–the ideal airplane/airport footwear choice. They are durable but comfortable, and when you are freezing in your tent in the middle of the night but really have to pee, you don’t want to be trying to get hiking boots or even sneakers on….no, you just stumble into your Chacos and hit the bush–quick and easy like.


Warm layer
No matter what, even if you are going somewhere tropical and warm, be prepared for cold. This could mean a lightweight down jacket, or an insulated long sleeve layer or a fleece–but bring something cozy and warm. First of all, warm clothes are like a comfort item–it’s always good to have something snuggly when you’re far from home. Second, even if you aren’t wearing it, you can use it as a pillow. Third, even if you’re not expecting cold weather, you never know AND sometimes we get chilled even when it’s warm out. Example: sunburn–the night after you get roasted to a crisp in the sun, you will get chilled. Also, sometimes we don’t get warm showers — nice to have something to warm you up after a frigid shower or dip in a glacial lake. Don’t argue, pack at least one warm item of clothing no matter where you’re going.

Baby powder
Baby powder is another versatile and underrated product. Shoes stink? Blisters? Chafing? Ran out of deodorant? Greasy hair? Sweaty nooks and crannies? Baby powder has you covered. It is the catch all solution for when you are stinky, dirty, greasy, and/or sweaty but don’t have the resources at hand to actually clean yourself. I once hiked the entire Annapurna Circuit in Nepal using only baby powder as deodorant. Truth.

Blisters are debilitating. No matter how tough you are, blisters will disable you. Best to avoid them by using proper footwear and good socks, but sometimes that’s just not enough and blisters happen. Moleskin is the solution. It is a lifesaver–do not leave home without it.

Fishing hook
Is fishing fun?–most of the time. Is that why a fishing hook is on this list?–no. In an emergency survival situation, a fishing hook can be combined with that floss you will always bring with you to actually catch fish. That’s cool and could potentially save your life in the wilderness….assuming you are near a body of water. But a fishing hook can also be combined with that floss to use as a needle and thread to mend clothes and gear. Here’s how.
It’s another small, multi use tool that could come in handy or even save your life–pack it!

Collapsible water bottle
Obviously for a water filter (mentioned above) to work, you need a water bottle. While there are all sorts of trendy stainless steel water bottles out there, I highly HIGHLY recommend a collapsible water bottle. I swear by Platypus. Why collapsable? Because when it’s empty it doesn’t take up any space…duh. Or, if you only need a little water, you can fit it into a daypack or purse with small dimensions. Rigid water bottles make no sense. I like the platypus bottles because they fit with my Sawyer water filter (and most other filters), they are durable, you can get a bite hose attachment (think camelback style),and they have a small opening which makes drinking easier and spillage less likely.

I hope I don’t need to explain why sunscreen is important. I personally like to travel with sunscreen sticks–solid form, like giant tubes of chapstick. I go with the solid so that a)I don’t have to worry about exceeding 3oz of liquid in my carry-on and b)I don’t have to worry about sunscreen explosions in my bag. I will say that you should take care not to leave a solid sunscreen stick in direct sunlight, as it will melt.

Dr. Bronners
A travel sized bottle (or bar) of Dr. Bronner’s Soap will go a long, long way. It is environmentally friendly, all natural, no synthetics, no detergents, no foaming agents, organic, fair trade, etc etc etc; and you can use it for everything. Wash your body, your hair, your dishes, your clothes, your gear, your floor, your dog, your boat, your car, your whatever…Dr. Bronner’s does it all, and a little bit goes a long way! Check it out here.

Duct tape
As we should all know by now, duct tape is magical. Fix things, create things, stick things together–you should never be without duct tape. I recommend wrapping a little bit around a pen or marker so that you don’t have to haul around an entire roll of duct tape…just enough in case of emergencies.

External battery
While we’d like to pretend like electronics and technology aren’t vital….they are, for most trips at least. Don’t get caught with a dead phone or ebook or camera–bring a power bank. They are small and affordable, and can save you in a pinch.

A daypack is essential on all trips. Whether you go for a small, lightweight backpack, a comfortable and functional purse, or a minimalist fanny pack; your essential items need a home–water, sunscreen, phone, camera, snack, raincoat, etc. I personally like to pack bags within bags–so I have my backpacking pack with all my stuff in it…inside that I have a lightweight backpack with my daily items inside, including a small fanny pack with my most essentials–passport, phone, sunscreen, cash.

As the former director of a library (long story), I love books….real books, the kind with paper. That said, ereaders have their place in this world–and that place is in my bag when I’m traveling. It is not reasonable to haul a half dozen books around with me whenever I travel…one little Kindle with hundreds of books on it?–That makes sense. I use the Kindle Paperwhite.

Waterproof stuff sack
It always pays off to have a waterproof stuff sack of some sort and size on hand. Even if you just have a small one, at least when it starts pouring rain you can through your phone, camera, passport, etc. in there and don’t have to worry about it getting wet. If you have a larger one, you can keep you clothes, shoes, and/or sleeping gear dry. I know packing cubes are all the rage these days, but I would take a waterproof sack every time if given the option. I pack all of my gear in waterproof sacks, so when it rains, I don’t have anything to worry about.

So that’s our list–see how we compare to Travel and Leisure here.

Chocó, the never ending Pacific Coast



Travel and Leisure has named the Pacific Coast, department Chocó as one of the 50 best places to travel in 2018, and I would have to agree!  We arrived on a airplane that probably was state of the art in the late 50s, to a dirt runway that was lined with palm trees and had an old airplane that had crashed probably 25 years ago at the end.  





A lovely Afro-colombian woman directed us to a fishing boat that took us up the bay and into one of the most ecologically diverse places on the planet.  I have never seen so much coast that was not interrupted by highways or buildings. It was just pure natural beauty that kept everyone in the boat in silence.  The most magical night of my life was when I swam in the bay with bioluminescent plankton that glows when it moves. Check out what Travel and Leisure has to say about Choco:

Travel and Leisure


Gear Spotlight: Arcteryx Beta AR Jacket



The Arcteryx Beta AR jacket (women’s) is quite possibly the best garment of any kind that I have ever owned.  It is also the most expensive garment I have ever owned. So here’s the question: can a raincoat really be worth $600+ dollars?  

Short answer: yes.  

Here’s what makes the Beta AR jacket so awesome:

  • It is seriously, absolutely, completely waterproof.  While wearing this jacket, you will not get wet….at least not the part of you that is covered by the jacket.  I am currently weathering the rainy season in Ecuador and it pours rain every single day. When I say pours, I mean that I literally have to ford the rivers that were once streets on a daily basis.  I put on my Arcteryx Beta AR and it’s like I’m wearing bulletproof armor; no umbrella needed. This is not a raincoat that keeps you dry for the first 10 minutes of a downpour and then the water starts to seep through to your skin.  No, this jacket will keep you dry. Period.
  • Hood design.  Most people probably have never put much thought into the design of hoods, but, let me tell you, you will have a new appreciation for it after donning this jacket.  The hood is large enough to fit over a helmet (think: biking, rock climbing, etc.), but is fully adjustable to fit snugly on whatever melon–helmeted or not. One adjustment and my hood is secured with zero slippage.  The brim is firm enough to actually keep water off your face, and BEST OF ALL there is no vision impairment. NONE! I have a full range of view with my hood in place….no more turning your head to just to talk to someone hiking next to you…nope, you get to have your hood and peripheral vision too!
  • Length.  The jacket is long enough to cover my butt AND is fully functional while wearing a harness or backpack with hip strap.  
  • Pockets.  Large functional pockets that are accessible even when my backpacking pack is strapped on with watertight taping.  Plus an inside pocket for important stuff. I also love that I don’t have to worry about whatever is in my pockets getting wet (see bullet point #1)
  • Size.  This is a functional jacket made for active outdoorswomen–none of that slimcut nonsense that makes it so you can’t lift your arms up.  Granted, I ordered a size up so that I would be able to layer considerably, as this is my primary jacket. So mine is a little baggier than usual due to personal preference, but it is a comfortable functional, but still good looking and flattering jacket.  
  • Windproof.  Nothing is getting through this jacket.  Nothing.
  • Breathable.  The material itself (some special magical form of gortex) is breathable, and it has armpit zippers!  I discovered recently on a rainy run in the park that I can actually slip my arms out of the armpit vents and tie the sleeves behind the hood to turn the jacket into a vest.  Definitely not an intended use, but it served me well!


Now, for me, this jacket is absolutely worth the price, but I am an outdoor professional who is often exposed to the elements from mountain tops to the Amazon Rainforest.  This is also my primary jacket. I use it everyday and I have a legitimate need for some serious rain protection. So, whether or not you are willing to shell out $600ish dollars for a jacket depends on a)your personal finances and b) your lifestyle and need for such a heavy duty garment.  I will say that in this case you are buying more than just brand-bragging rights, this product delivers. I also intend for it to last me many years, and, seeing as I use it every day, I do feel like I am getting my money’s worth out of it….it also makes me feel invincible, like a superhero outfit.