About volunteering at Alto Choco


Work on the Reserve - 2007

Most of the projects for volunteers at Alto Choco focus on conservation of the area's outstanding biological diversity.

Environmental projects
Community projects
Life on the reserve

Environmental projects

Planting trees
Botanical garden
Path clearing
Organic garden
Tree nursery


One of the key initiatives on the reserve is our cloud forest reforestation program. There are about 48 hectares still to be reforested.

This program involves collecting seeds and cuttings from native trees on the reserve and growing them in our tree nursery. When they are large enough the seedlings are planted out in deforested areas of the reserve or given to other local reforestation projects.

The Botanical Garden

The reserve's botanical garden was established as part of our community education program. It is around one and a half hectares in size and contains around 60 varieties of orchid and a similar number of bromeliads.

Tasks in the Botanical Garden include:

  • Maintenance to keep the garden in good condition, such as rebuilding orchid containers and clearing paths.
  • Identification of plant species in the garden. (To participate in this task volunteers must be sufficiently knowledgeable to identify the species present).
  • Collecting plant species for the Botanical Garden. This involves accompanying project personnel on walks within the reserve to locate and collect species not found in the garden. Collected species will then be identified, pressed and dried.

Marking Reserve Boundaries

It is very important that the reserve boundaries are clearly marked to prevent woodcutters inadvertently felling trees within the protected area. This involves walking to the limits of the reserve and erecting signs.

Helping in the Organic Vegetable Garden

Some of the volunteers' food is grown in our organic garden. Here you can help with planting and tending the vegetables.

Wormery construction

  • Wormery construction
  • Wormery maintenance
  • Making worm feed

Bamboo harvesting

Cut, transport and process bamboo for use in other projects.

Native plant and tree collection

  • Collection of native plants and seeds for cultivation in the nursery.

Monitoring signs of Spectacled Bears and Pumas

The Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) is catorgorised as vulnerable by the IUCN (The World Conservation Union) due to its low population and the fragmentation of its habitat. There are many gaps in our knowledge of these bears and more information is needed to aid their protection.

There are many gaps in our knowledge of the lives of neotropical mammals. In particular, there is much still to discover about the habits of the Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus). More data is needed to help protect these animals. Fragmentation of habitat and low population has led the IUCN (The World Conservation Union) to catogorise them as a vulnerable species. The aim of this program is to collect more information about bears and pumas living on the reserve.

Volunteers will be trained to track bears and pumas and then hike through the reserve collecting evidence of their activity. Walks will generally take from 6 to 8 hours and ascend to an altitude of around 4200 metres. Some of the tracking will be done at night and may involve camping out so more remote areas can be monitored. Data, photos and videos will be entered into a GPS (Geographical Information System).

Ecotourism Project

Marking and maintaining trails.


Work with the local community

Women making Cabuya handicrafts
Cabuya handicrafts

Environmental Education with the community - no set timetable

Participating in educational activities with children on the reserve and in local schools.

English Teaching - no set timetable

English classes in local schools.

Cabuya handicrafts Project - 4 days per month

Cabuya is a natural fibre extracted from a local plant. The Intag Womens Environmental Group use these fibres to create handicrafts which are sold to supplement their income. Work takes place in a purpose-built workshop on the reserve. On this project volunteers will help:

  • Find and collect Cabuya plants
  • Prepare Cabuya fibre
  • Cultivate the plants used to make natural dyes
  • Make natural dyes
  • Learn how to create Cabuya handicrafts
  • Create new designs and colours



The Lodge
The Lodge

While you are volunteering you will be staying in shared accommodation at the Alto Choco Lodge. The Lodge has flush toilets, hot showers and a kitchen and sleeps up to 22 people. There is no electricity at the Lodge so we provide candles for lighting, however it is recommended you bring a torch/flashlight and batteries.


The nearest health centre is in Apuela, about 30 minutes from the reserve. There are excellent hospital with English speaking doctors in Otavalo (2 hours) and Quito (4 hours).

Volunteers must have their own health insurance and will be asked to sign a form resolving Zoobreviven of responsibility in case of accident or illness.


Travel to from Quito to Alto Choco is by road and takes around 4 hours. The return journey costs $5 US.


There are 2 seasons at Alto Choco; the wet season and the dry season. The dry season is roughly from June to September and the rest of the year is the wet season. During the dry season there's plenty of sunshine. In the wet season although there may still be warm sunny weather, there is also mist and rain and it can get quite chilly.

Weekend activities

Volunteers are expected to work a 5 day week (usually from Monday to Friday). Possible weekend activities include visiting the market in the nearby village of Apuela, visiting the thermal baths at Nanguve (35 minutes by bus) or travelling to Otavalo (2-4 hours by bus). Otavalo is a small town famous for its indigenous craft market. It is also the nearest place to offer a wide range of facilities including bars, restaurants, hostels, cyber cafes, banks, hospitals, Spanish schools and travel agencies.

What to Bring

  • Torch/Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • Rubber boots
  • Sandals/flip-flops
  • Sun hat
  • Warm clothing in the wet season
  • Waterproofs
  • Sleeping bag
  • First aid kit
  • Water bottle
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Work clothes
  • swim suit
  • Small pen-knife
  • ziplock bags to keep binoculars, camera etc. dry

Conduct on the reserves

  • Ecuadorian culture and the culture of the communities around the reserve is different from your own
  • Please respect the differences. Please maintain a respectful attitude towards members of the local communities, other volunteers and the reserve personnel
  • Don't make promises to people or to the community if you are not sure you can keep them
  • The staff on the reserve will provide any help you need. If you have questions or special requests, consult Zoobreviven staff
  • Minimize the foreign products you bring on to the reserve
  • Reuse plastic, metal and glass as much as is safely possible
  • Help separate rubbish generated during your stay in the two waste receptacles provided for inorganic and organic waste.
  • Participate in keeping the reserve clean
  • Take all rubbish away from places you have camped or walked on the reserve. Disposing of waste is everyone's responsibility
  • The use of drugs and excessive consumption of alcohol is prohibited
  • Keep the lodges facilities clean

About Ecuador

Considering its size of 230,000 square kilometers, Ecuador has an incredible natural, cultural and racial diversity. Along with Brazil and Colombia it is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. This is due to its location on the equator and the presence of Andean Cordillera. These factors lead to a surprising diversity of ecosystems, including the amazon jungle, cloud forest and paramo. The Galapagos Islands, famed for their unique natural history are also within Ecuadorian waters.

Ecuador also has much to offer in terms of outdoor activities, hiking, rafting and diving are all possible throughout the year.

Ecuador is small enough that it is possible to have breakfast in amazon jungle, take a 30 minute flight to Quito, visit museums and colonial churches in the afternoon and with another 30 minute flight to the Pacific Coast, watch humpbacked whales in the evening.

The Ecuadorian population is composed of indigenous peoples, Afro-Americans and Mestizos. Each with its own distinct culture and traditions.