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.

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


GATA’s Guide to Choosing a Destination

Not every trip can be nor should be an epic, life culminating “dream trip”; but every travel experience should excite, invigorate and inspire you in some way.  If you have the time, money and occasion to take that “dream trip” you’ve always wanted, great! Go for it! Unfortunately, most of our opportunities for travel do not meet this criteria.  Most of the time we have a finite amount of time or money or both, and sometimes even if we have the requisite resources, it’s just not the right time. For example, I have always wanted to go to Scotland.  As a kid, I was obsessed. I would buy ridiculously overpriced books on the country and spend hours drooling and dreaming over pictures of the highlands and the Isle of Skye. I have now travelled to over 30 countries….but still have not been to Scotland, even though that has been my dream destination since….forever!  Well, that changes this summer, as I have saved up some money and am planning an epic trip to celebrate my 30th birthday. I will be spending 3 weeks in Scotland with the man I love to celebrate the occasion–I have the time, the money, and the occasion to make it a trip worthy of all my years of dreaming.

Here’s another story about planning a trip and choosing a destination….  A few years back in the days I spent working a desk job like a “responsible” adult (overrated, not recommended),  I found myself with an accumulation of three weeks vacation. Obviously, I was going to have some sort of international adventure; the question was where?  At that point in my life, I had already traveled most of South America and much of Africa and Europe. I was (and still am) saving New Zealand (and with it Australia)  for a time when I have months to spend instead of mere weeks. So the obvious choice was Southeast Asia. All backpackers and free spirited young folk do Southeast Asia.  It is a backpacker’s paradise and a staple in any serial travelers country collection. In fact, it was hard to believe that I hadn’t already checked it off my list.

So, I started planning my trip (see “GATA’s Guide to Planning a Trip”).  Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. Sounds amazing, right? Right? RIGHT?!  I kept trying to psych myself up, but I just was not feeling inspired. I wasn’t excited.  I was planning a trip to somewhere simply because it was somewhere that I hadn’t been before and that lots of other people go to.  Not good enough reasons.

No, when I thought about it, I realized a few things…. First of all, Southeast Asia is hot and swampy.  I hate being hot. I HATE BEING HOT. It is a region renowned for its beautiful beaches and crazy partying.  Well I’m not much of a beach goer, and I loathe drunken, drugged, loud, hostel-staying backpackers…. So, no wonder I wasn’t excited.  

Now, this isn’t to say that I will never go to Southeast Asia, nor that I wouldn’t enjoy traveling the region.  It just wasn’t a good fit for me at that time, and my reasons for going, mainly, that it was somewhere I hadn’t been, were not sufficient to justify the trip.  

I stopped my Southeast Asia planning and instead started thinking of what I love — mountains, wilderness, hiking, being challenged and far from crowds and cities.  At that point a beam of sunshine pierced through the dismal grey Michigan sky and shone upon me, and it was clear. NEPAL. 3 weeks trekking through the Himalayas–yes please!  It is everything I love, and it was somewhere new that I had never been! It was so obvious and so perfect, and I was immediately EXCITED. That excitement and renewed passion was, and is, how I know I have chosen the right destination.  (My trip to Nepal was epic and amazing and incredible in so many ways….unfortunately, not the actual topic of this post).

The point of that story is the following:  The opportunity to travel is a privilege. Don’t waste it by going somewhere simply because it is somewhere that other people like to go or because it sounds exotic.  Really examine why you want to go somewhere, and if you are not feeling excited or inspired by your destination, reevaluate and consider what it is that makes you feel most alive.  What inspires you? Take the time and money you have and chase that–wherever it may be. Remember that it’s okay to save your ultimate dream trip for another time, for when you have more time or more money or have the right person to be your companion.  

If you are still having trouble deciding where to go, contact us and we would be happy to give you some ideas.

The GATA team carefully crafts every tour we offer to ensure that our standards of sustainability and quality are met. We are committed to social and environmental responsibility and work only with the best and most trusted providers in order to deliver the most authentic and memorable experiences for our travelers. At GATA, we hold ourselves accountable to both our clients and our providers and work to maximize our
benefit to local communities and businesses–never to exploit them. Social justice and environmental stewardship
are the heart of our operation and the compass that guides our business.

By Participant December 2016

Sorry for the late post guys, but I am finally back in the states and currently suffering from Ecuador withdrawal. I’m still trying to cope with the fact that it’s all over. Well Ecuador, it has been a total blast. I’m lucky enough to say that for the very first time ever I visited a third world country and helped out people who needed it the most and actually became what I consider my friends. Between all of the traveling from place to place (from Quito to Yunguilla to Mitad Del Mundo to Papallacta and finally back), delicious food, and the community service (did I just forget an intense soccer game?), I couldn’t have possibly asked for anything more. I’m also going to be brutally honest: this experience opened my eyes to way of life that I admit to not fully understand or ever begin to imagine, yet still appreciate at the same time how people in this society help out another in times of need. It truly makes me grateful for all that I have in my life. I will never forget any of the friends I encountered here, nor any of my experiences, nor the breathtaking scenery within this incredibly beautiful country. This might as well have been one of the best weeks of my whole 22 years. Ecuador, you will be greatly missed.

By Ashley Simon

Today, we arrived in the hidden village of Yunguilla. For those of you who are not so geographically savvy, Yunguilla is about 1-2 hours away from Quito, in the middle of, well, basically nowhere. Even though this small town lives off one small store and the working mentality of its citizens, I don’t think I have ever seen such humble and content people. Upon our first day of arrival, we were greeted by the friendly smiles of home stay families. For the next week, we would be emerged in the houses of these strangers who we knew nothing about. Little did I know that these “strangers” did not posses any qualities of being “weird” or “strange.” My homestay mother welcomed Lilly and me into her home with a warm smile and fresh popcorn. Within the first few moments, I knew that I felt right at home in this hilltop abode. One of the moments that has touched me the most since I have been here is when I was working in the artesian shop with one of the most warm hearted women that I have had the chance of meeting. Being able to help out “Leely” with making crafts to sell in the little store was an experience that I would never of thought could teach me so much. As we began to work, she told me about the paper that we were drawing on. Every single piece was recycled and the materials were either second-hand or completely natural, such as leaves or flowers. As I began to draw, I realized that I did not really have room to mess up. I didn’t have paper and fresh markers at my beck and call as I do in the United States. These recycled paper cards were sold to villagers and tourists in order to further gain profit for the community. As Leely and I began to talk, she told me that she works three days a week and each day, 8 to 10 hours. She does this while balancing raising two daughters and working as an avid member and citizen of Yunguilla. Her story inspired me. Seeing her be so passionate about the glitter paint and colored pencils that went into making these heart-felt crafts reminded me of how blessed I am to be able to take art class and visit museums and buy a fresh poster board and markers any time I have an upcoming project. Being here in Yunguilla is an eye-opening experience for me, and I have become more thankful for the little things, such as making Mother’s Day cards in a little shack with the presence of genuine companions.