"We loved every minute of it, learnt a lot and came away with much to reflect on"
Liz and Alex McVey, from the UK, volunteered for 2 weeks
My son (19) and I would rate this experience as a 5! We loved every minute of it, learnt a lot and came away with much to reflect on. The trip was complicated by the pandemic but we received excellent support from WorkingAbroad and the project hosting us. We worked with the project to ensure arrangements were put in place to help minimise any risk of us transmitting COVID-19 to the vulnerable island community, including keeping outdoors as much as possible and residing in separate accommodation rather than in the foundation building.
The staff at the project and particularly our manager, Emilio and his mother Sarah, made volunteers welcome and were extremely generous with their time, teaching us about the sea turtle conservation programme as well as the other work of the project in leading sustainable development on the island. We learnt that in the early days, the islanders, who used to eat the sea turtles, had been resistant – the first Galapagos National Park building was burnt down! Nowadays the work of the project and the staff are highly respected by the community; it was a privilege to be a volunteer.
Four hours of work per day didn’t sound like a lot but somehow it filled the days which started early, around 6am and finished around 10pm. The ‘office’ was the most stunning beach imaginable, littered with iguanas and other wildlife. At night, taking measurements of nesting turtles, using our red lights to avoid disturbing them, was exhilarating! On relaxed days, we had a favourite snorkelling spot, donning masks and fins between indifferent sealions, marine iguanas and Sally Lightfoot crabs sunning themselves on the wooden steps. On a good day we would snorkel with turtles, rays, white-tip and black-tip reef sharks and even penguins. One day we took a boat trip to snorkel with hammer head sharks and manta rays. At the weekend Emilio took us on a cycle ride to see the Wall of Tears and the wild giant tortoises which were abundant as they liked the tropical rain we were experiencing.
There was a penny-drop moment as we watched tides, higher than typical due to rising sea levels, flood some turtle nests that should have been safely above the high tide mark. This more than anything else highlighted the global importance of adopting sustainable lifestyles to control climate change. A high-point was receiving videos and photos of the hatchlings on our volunteers WhatsApp group after we left – so exciting, although a reminder of how tough the life of turtles can be. I think you will be able to tell from the photos that it was a very special trip.
"It was so fun working with the tortoises every day and I learnt so much about them whilst I was there"
Victoria Kerr, from the UK, volunteered for 4 weeks
Firstly Vicky, thank you so much for all your help with re-arranging my dates etc before I finally managed to leave the UK. My travel from the UK to Galapagos went smoothly.
All in all, I loved the volunteer programme. It was so fun working with the tortoises every day and I learnt so much about them whilst I was there. Obviously feeding days were my favourite, just because it was so fun to see the tortoises actually RUN for food, which was hilarious. Emillio was also great, he was so welcoming and gave me a really good introduction to the programme and showed me around Puerto Villamil. I was also really impressed with the accommodation, I expected to be in dorms, so it was so nice to know I had my own room. I think I also got lucky with the volunteers who were there at the same time, as we got on really well and we plan to see each other in September – if COVID lets us.
I would highly recommend working aboard and will definitely be using you guys again! Thank you again for an unforgettable trip.
"My experience overall was amazing."
Ellyn English, from the US, volunteered for 4 weeks
Words cannot describe what a wonderful time I had working at the Tortoise Breeding Center on Isabella Island. My accommodations were way beyond my expectations. Emilio and Sara were wonderful. The food and people of Isabella were fantastic! I felt like I had purpose working at the Center and I fell in love with the Tortugas! They are gentle giants. My experience overall was amazing. I even learned to surf at the young age of 61! It doesn’t get better than that. Muchas Gracias.
"I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the trip I've just done to Galapagos"
John Charnock, from the UK, volunteered for 4 weeks
Without meaning to sound too much like a romantic American movie, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the trip I’ve just done to Galapagos. I really admire the jobs that you do, and appreciate so much the help and encouragement that you gave me prior to leaving. As you know, with Covid I was super worried about pretty much everything haha! But it all turned out fine in the end. Just to give you a sense of how happy I was to go there, just try to think of a place on Earth that you’ve always wanted to go to your whole life and how you would feel if you were finally there, despite all the obstacles that were put in your way. It was wonderful to be there and, rather unexpectedly for me, it was also wonderful to meet such great people. The other volunteers and even some members of staff for the National Park. I really think I’ve made some friends for life thanks to this experience. So, again, a big soppy thank you from me!
Another really positive aspect of the trip was actually just that it all happened as you said it would. To explain in other words, when you’re a potential volunteer like me just looking for trips on the internet, and not actually being in a position where you can meet the people you’re speaking to via email etc, it’s actually really difficult to know what is legitimate and what’s not for things you find online. I guess this is just an unavoidable side-effect of doing things on the internet, but one of my big worries early on at least was not knowing for sure whether or not everything was for real. So, having gone to Galapagos and having had such a great time, I know for sure that both the project and Working Abroad are totally great, and believe me if I’m welcome back I will definitely try to organise future projects with you.
Muchas Gracias Amigos.
"I would definitely recommend the experience"
Sue Bissell, from USA, joined for 1 month
Overall it was very positive. I especially appreciated the help from Philippe with various things. The Galapagos itself is so amazing and I liked working at the Tortoise Breeding Center. Also I appreciate that Katherine was able to find a bicycle for me to use during the month, that was extremely helpful in the heat. I would definitely recommend the experience. I think having a home stay is better if you speak Spanish well, as my Spanish was minimal. It made it more difficult to really get to know the family. The other volunteers were great.
"I learnt so much about the islands, nature, animals"
Linda Bene, from Hungary, volunteered for 4 weeks
I had the most amazing time on Galapagos Islands. I went for a month volunteering in the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre. I have to say, that from the beginning to the end the information, directions and the program from yourselves and the project was great. Everyone was very helpful, extremely friendly and a joy to work with.
The volunteering was on Isabela, but given free time on the weekends, I managed to discover another 5 islands (so altogether 6). I took thousands of photos and go-pro videos. I learnt so much about the islands, nature, animals. This is truly an experience everyone should have once in their life. You are so close with the animals in their natural inhabitants. I was swimming with sharks, turtles, seahorses, sea lions, penguins. I took the most amazing nature and animal pictures. The work in the breeding centre was very educational. Feeding these giants were the best part of my job. Thank you for this great experience.
"It was really good to see them up close and play a part in their conservation"
Amy Sykes, from the UK
I had an amazing time in the Galapagos, thank you! The project was great. Although it was mainly cleaning and feeding the tortoises, it was really good to see them up close and play a part in the conservation of the species. I loved each day as it was a good balance between working in the morning and then having free time in the afternoon to relax or see other parts of the island. The people were great as well and I felt that I could go and see them if I had any issues at all. I wish I had stayed there for longer!
"Working with giant tortoises is definitely a once in a lifetime experience!"
Sandrine Brunet from Switzerland
It seems that dreams are there to be made. My dream was to go to the Galapagos Islands to work with giant tortoises and discover this unique and wonderful place. So I gave the means to realize my dream and left for the adventure.
During one month, I had the opportunity to feed the tortoises at the breeding center, to see the birth of baby tortoises and even to measure them. Despite the prejudices about the slow speed of the turtles, taking care of giant tortoises is not that easy but always brings great moments and memories. Moreover the way to take to go to work is already an amazing experience as I met everyday about 15 flamingos, many marine iguanas and other lizards or birds on my 30 minutes walk.
I really enjoyed my free afternoons to visit the islands, to go on excursions around the island and to simply relax on the beach. This a very good rhythm that allowed me to discover a new culture and a new place while gaining professional experience in a wonderful environment.
The staff was great, always ready to help me. Living in a host family was a very nice experience as well to learn more about their culture and improve my Spanish skills. Working with giant tortoises is definitely a once in a lifetime experience!
"Local gardens have also been a big component in saving endemic species"
Reforestation volunteer Alex
The task assigned to the volunteers today consisted of removing foreign plants and various vegetation that has outcompeted endemic plants in the garden. In addition, various lava rocks and boulders were temporarily removed from the garden for later use.
The entire garden project consists of removing the shrubbery and rocks from the garden, leveling out the garden area, bringing in fresh soil, and planting nineteen to twenty-five different endemic species. The endemic species include papaya and sweet limes. The two large resident coconut trees will remain in the garden (It should be noted that coconut trees are not native to Isabela and were introduced to Puerto Villamil to provide a more “tropical island” experience for tourists).
Invasive species have continued to be a main topic of concern for the Galapagos National Park. Targeted invasive species that the Galapagos National Park has attempted to control include blackberry, higuerilla, guava, and cabuya. These invasive species are highly destructive to the island’s endemic species. Invasive species and endemic species constantly compete for light, water, and nutrition.
In addition to the National Park’s efforts to cut back and burn down invasive species, a growing number of local gardens have also been a big component in saving endemic species. Furthermore, endemic plants, including button mangrove, black mangrove, manzanillo, sesuvium, and white mangrove, are being used in a Reforestation Project on Isabela. The Isabela Reforestation Project has been utilizing a nursery located in the highlands to distribute various endemic species to community gardens and mined areas undergoing reforestation
"I think this program offers a great opportunity to study and live in the Galapagos Islands"
Katherine Masih, from the USA
I have spent two periods of time on Isabela. The first time, I was a study abroad student, and I was volunteering at the local hospital. That was a three-month experience. I also returned this past August for three weeks. In addition to volunteering at the hospital, I worked on two public health projects. One was on women’s health and hygiene and the other was assessing possible mercury poisoning due to environmental factors and lifestyle choices.
As far as accommodations and cultural issues, the staff were extremely helpful. Three positives were the ability to be hands-on, the convenience of being in a small town, and the friendliness of the people. A negative is the restrictions due to the presence of the national park. Overall however, I have such a positive impression of Isabela, and plan to return yet again in June for an extended period of time to visit my host family and work on another public health project.
The standard of housing varies based on which host family you stay with. However, all accommodations have “hot” water, your own bedroom and bathroom, and two meals a day provided at home and an additional one at a local restaurant. I think this program offers a great opportunity to study and live in the Galapagos Islands, and for that reason I would recommend it to other volunteers.