La Hesperia Biological Reserve and Research Station - Ecuador



Ecuador is considered one of the 17 mega diverse countries in the world. The nation’s drastic geographic and climatic variations have led to evolution of thousands of species of flora and fauna. In Ecuador there are 10% of the worlds plant species, (i.e. 25,000 species of trees), approximately 8 % of the world’s animals and 18% of the planet’s birds (i.e. 1,640 bird species, 4,500 species of butterflies, 350 species of reptiles, 375 species of amphibians, and 1,550 species of mammals, 800 fresh water fish species, and 450 salt water fish species). Ecuador has 46 ecosystems that go from sea level to an altitude of around 6,400 meters in its total area of 256, 370 km². Despite its tiny size, Ecuador is home of rain forest, cloud forest, mountains, islands, deserts, valleys and snow capped volcanoes. 


aLa Hesperia is a nature reserve located in the western range of the Andes at an altitude of 1100 – 2040 meters above sea level. With an area of 814 hectares, it is located in the center of the Rio Toachi-Chiriboga IBA (Important Bird Area, declared by Bird Life International and Conservation International) and it is part of two important bioregions: The Tropical Andes and the Chocó Darien – Western Ecuador, considered within the top five biodiversity hotspots on earth. The station works in natural conservation, combating deforestation, protecting existing forest, restoring degraded areas and searching for sustainable activities that enable us to support the reserve and to offer a better way of life for the local community as well as those who work and live at the reserve. 

frogLa Hesperia encompasses three types of forest: pre-montane evergreen, low montane and high montane (cloud forest). Within the boundaries of the reserve there are 287 species of birds, 40 species of mammals, and 63 genera of butterflies (several lists available). The vegetation is typical of the cloud forest, which has the highest diversity of epiphyte plants. In the nursery several endangered tree species are reproduced.

Some of the common animals are: White-fronted capuchin monkey, Tayra, Agouti, Paca, Peccary, Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Wattled Guan, Pale-mandible Araçari, Crimson-rumped Toucanet, and Lineated Woodpecker. There are also records of some of the Chocó endemic birds like: Dark-backed Wood-Quail, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Empress Brilliant, Violet-tailed Sylph, Tucan barbet, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Chocó Toucan and Black-chinned Mountain-Tanager.


The work that we do at La Hesperia is extremely important in terms of preserving the biodiversity of the cloud forest and protecting local watersheds. Our work focuses on protecting existing forests through reforestation, monitoring humanactivity and its impact and conducting environmental education. La Hesperia is also striving to become a model of integrated farming where agricultural practices complement our primary objective of preserving the natural forest. Combining conservation and agriculture will enable us to sustain the reserve and promote economic activities that are environmentally friendly and beneficial for the local inhabitants. 

La Hesperia’s main goals are:

Protecting existing forest

Maintaining the reserve as an IBA (Important Bird Area)

Working toward sustainable development

Creating programs to foster community development

Restoring degraded areas within and outside the reserve

Educating the public about conservation and ecology

Conducting scientific research 

Sharing our experiences with nature enthusiasts, local communities and volunteers.

For better achievement of our goals we are open to cooperation agreements with conservation and social institutions. At the moment, we have partnerships with the Tangaré Foundation, Prague University, Great Wilderness and Earth Restoration Service.




AndreaPlantingAt La Hesperia Biological Station & Reserve we have designed three different programs for our volunteers: (A) Conservation in the Cloud Forest; (B) In the Way to Sustainability, and (C) Social Development. Even thought you share accommodations and will receive the same services as other volunteers, you will participate in activities focused on your interest. In addition to participating in our programs you will have the opportunity to learn and practice Spanish.

Chose the program that best matches your interests! 

If you consider yourself as a generalist and you want a taste of everything it is possible, just let us know.

Program A: Conservation in the Cloud Forest

Ecuador is considered one of the seventeen MEGADIVERSE countries, with forty-six different types of ecosystems; the country is the most diverse in the world with respect to its surface area. Ecuador holds second place in the world for its diversity of orchids and amphibians. Even though, its biodiversity an average of 200.000 hectares of the Ecuadorian forest disappear every year.

The cloud forest has the highest diversity of epiphyte plants and has one of the highest endemism rates in the world. The most important goal of La Hesperia is to protect part of this amazing ecosystem and to fight against deforestation. However, this fight is not easy and we need as much help as we can, everybody should participate in conservation efforts, because conservation is a shared responsibility.

The details of this program are given below and outline the areas which the volunteer is involved.

Volunteer’s Profile: This program has been designed for volunteers with an interest in nature, conservation, research, botany, wildlife and outdoors life. 

commitment: 2 weeks

Forestry Program: Restoring Degraded Areas

The station is working to restore several areas through natural regeneration and by reforesting them with tree species important to the natural environment. The main activities of this part of the program are to cultivate plants in the nursery, to prepare the old pastures for reforestation and to open reforestation lines. Volunteers assist in collecting and planting seeds, maintaining the
nursery, transplanting seedlings, tree care, opening reforestation lines and conducting forestry inventories of planted trees to evaluate their growth and survival.

Sustainable Wood Production

GroupShot1Due to the worldwide demand for hardwood it is important to plant trees for sustainable use, instead of cutting old-growth trees that belong to the natural forests. Since the steep geography of the region does not permit intensive agriculture and cattle farming, the best economic alternative is wood production. In addition to trying to resolve poverty, forestry also contributes to the
fight against global warming; an average of twenty tones of carbon dioxide is absorbed per year by one hectare of trees in growth. Also since some of these species are rare, cultivating them will help to maintain their genetic viability.

At the station we are planting several species of trees for sustainable use, including mahogany, cedar, colorado and tangaré among others. As we research the best methods for sustainable development, we will share our knowledge of agro-forestry with local communities to encourage and enable them to adopt a similar approach.

Wildlife Program: 

Birds inventory (volunteers with expertise in bird-watching). Volunteer are in charge to plant botanical species that will provide food for the wild animals. Also they will report any mammal sight, for our Mammal sight-frequency research, monitoring nests when found. 


Volunteers will collect and analyze data from the different research areas. Hard wood trees’ phenology, germination success of important species. In addition, volunteers will collect basic weather information like temperature and humidity.

Organic Vegetable Garden

Volunteers will research of plagues, manufacture of insect traps, when needed.

NOTE: If you are only interested in conducting research, you will not be considered as a volunteer. The conditions and price of your stay will vary. To conduct research at the station, you are required to submit a formal proposal before arriving and to have all the legal national permissions.

Trail Maintenance:

Volunteers will maintain or create the trails of the reserve with a machete.

Medicinal Garden:

Volunteers will maintain the medicinal garden.

New Ideas:

Volunteers with the relevant experience may contribute by helping to write grant proposals and other communications on behalf of the reserve.


Program B: In the Way to Sustainability

The availability of natural resources, especially the energy resources in the world, is decreasing. According to scientific studies, with the present average world energy consumption and the present population, the fossil fuels will disappear in 200 years. However, if the population and the desire of countries to develop continue to increase, fossil fuels will disappear in 18 years if all consumption was equal to that of the developed nations! (Neville 1978; Hoeneisen 2005)

The modern world is competitive and therefore all are striving to be more efficient and so, unfortunately, the irrational use of chemicals, hormones, bad treatment of animals as well as deforestation are extremely common. In addition to this, the ever increasing demand for vehicles and industrial production contribute to the alarming rate of global warming increase. To combat these issues, before it is too late, we feel it is necessary to learn to live in harmony with the environment in a sustainable way. By reducing our energy consumption, reducing our waste, producing and eating organic and healthy food, and by beginning tolerant but aware: We should develop in education and not in consumption. Highly aware of the situation in the world today, La Hesperia is striving to become a model of sustainability. We encourage anyone and everyone to be part of our volunteer programs.

During your experience you will not only help us achieve our goals and contribute to the conservation of the environment, but you will also develop new skills and you will learn about sustainable wood production, alternative animal production, organic agriculture, organic food production, alternative energy and eco construction. This program will not only let you travel to a new country, it will get you back to time when there was less consumption and life was more simple. The details of this program are given below and outline the areas which the volunteer is involved in.


Volunteer’s Profile:

This program has been designed for volunteers with an interest in nature, sustainability, agriculture, animal breeding, food production, organic vegetable garden and outdoors life.

Minimum commitment: 3 weeks

Organic Vegetable Garden:

Those activities consist in preparing soil, planting seeds, weeding, harvesting and general maintenance.

Production of Organic Fertilizers and Pesticides: 

Maintenance of compost heaps, biodigestor, manure tea, mulch, etc.

Organic Agriculture: 

Maintenance of banana, coffee, sugar cane, citric fields (clearing with a machete, weeding, fertilizing, pruning, harvesting mature products).

Alternative Animal Production: 

Cows, pigs, chickens, horses, mules. Volunteers will participate in activities like: feeding these animals, planting the crops to feed them, maintenance of pastures, fencing, milking and taking the milk on the mule into the town.

Organic food Production:

Volunteers will participate in the process of preparation of some home-made products like cheese, butter, yogurt, chocolate, coffee, pasta, bread, melcochas and pizza.

Forestry Program & Sustainable Wood Production:

Wood production of native species can become an economical alternative to local communities in Ecuador. In addition to trying to resolve poverty, forestry also contributes to the fight against global warming; an average of two tones of carbon dioxide is absorbed per year by one hectare of trees in growth. Volunteer activities could include: Collecting seeds, nursery maintenance, trail maintenance, tree care and reforestation.

Medicinal Garden: 

Volunteers will maintain the medicinal.


Construction with COB, bamboo and wood depending on the time of the year.

 Alternative Energy: 

Volunteers will learn about alternative energy like solar and biogas. In addition, volunteers will mantain the sugar cane field for future energy projects.

New Ideas: 

Volunteers with the relevant experience may contribute by helping to write grant proposals and other communications on behalf of the reserve. 


All volunteers living at the station will participate in maintenance and development of the station infrastructure. Volunteers are not tourists and are expected to work full days as all other employees of the station. They should be able to undertake strenuous and sometimes tedious labor under basic conditions. 


 Program C: Social Development. Education

Ecuador is a country rich in culture, fourteen ethnic groups co-exist with their own language and Cosmo vision. However, in a country where 80% of the people live below the poverty line, opportunities for volunteers abound. Education is considered the most effective way to reduce poverty and to increase the quality of life of local communities. Therefore, at the reserve, in 2010 we created La Hesperia School, where the children learn using mainly the Montessori Philosophy, which respects the children`s need and desire to learn. At the moment we work with children between 3 and 6 years of age. The idea is to add grades every year until completing a full primary school (until age 12).  Details of this program and an outline of the areas in which volunteers can be involved are given below.

 Volunteer’s Profile:

This program has been designed for volunteers with advanced or medium levels of Spanish language, with interest in education, social development, cultural exchange, practice of Spanish and working with children.

 Volunteer activities

Option 1. Teaching English position. - The intern will teach English using the Montessori Methodology and other prepared curricular materials. For this, the intern will receive a short course on the Methodology upon their arrival at the reserve. However, we highly recommend, before applying to this program, that interested candidates conduct their own research about the Montessori method. In addition, the intern will teach English to the staff in the afternoons for one hour.  The minimum commitment for this position is six months (school year is from April to December). The intern will receive accommodation at the volunteer house and food at the reserve, although they will still need to pay the application fee.  This position is only available for one person at a time; therefore, you must contact us in advance.

Option 2.-  Teaching special subjects.-  The volunteers will work at the school for one hour per day during their stay, and they will lead special workshops on topics about which they have experience. Fields that we encourage are: Arts (Music, painting, sculpture, acting, dancing, and singing) and sports. Volunteers can combine this option with activities of program A and B. Before the acceptance on this program the volunteer should send us a letter explaining their field of interest, as well as relevant experience in this area. (Please include this information in your application form). The minimum commitment is four weeks.

 New Ideas:

Volunteers with the relevant experience may contribute by helping to write grant proposals and other communications on behalf of the reserve.

ALTERNATIVE RURAL EDUCATION NETWORK (RED ERA): The Reserve´s School is part of the RED ERA. The Network fosters a quality education, with emphasis on respect, liberty, autonomy, creativity, the rescue and the valuing of cultural identity and the innate desire of learning, using alternative teaching methods such as Montessori.

Thanks to RED ERA, there is an exchange of experience, knowledge and resources among its members, thus ensuring an excellent education for the children in the educational centers. The network encompasses three schools: La Hesperia, Quitsato and Despertar. The Tangaré Foundation can coordinate visits or volunteer activities in the other schools. 


Additional activities:

Spanish classes:

We offer Spanish classes. Classes are one hour a day for four days a week (Monday to Thursday). Classes are conducted in small groups according to the level at US$ 6,00 per hour. 

Hikes and lectures: 

The staff offers hikes and lectures according to the volunteers´ interests. Topics may include: The World Energy Situation, Conservation and the Human Element, Ecology of the Cloud Forest, Reforestation, The Political and Economical Situation of Ecuador, Ecuadorian Culture, Agro-diversity and many more. 


La Hesperia is located in Ecuador in the Pichincha province, 90 kilometers from Quito and is located up the hill from the community of La Esperie. The community is on the Aloag-Santo Domingo road, eleven kilometers past the town of Tandapi (sometimes called Cornejo Astorga on maps). Once in the village, you will see a stone arch that is directly across the road from the school and this marks the entrance to the reserve. Volunteer accommodations and the other buildings of the reserve are ten minutes from the entrance by jeep (or thirty minutes on foot), about 1.5 km up a path.


Accommodation in the Volunteer House, in shared rooms (2 - 5 volunteers per room). The house has running water, electricity, public telephone and excellent views of the forest.  Bedding (pillow, sheets, and blankets) will be provided but a sleeping bag may be necessary if you are planning to travel to colder parts of the country or camping at the reserve. We offer a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals that includes traditional Ecuadorian food. Private rooms with en-suite bathrooms are available for couples at an extra charge.


Volunteers can enjoy of their free time in or outside the reserve

Activities INSIDE the reserve that volunteers can do by themselves:

Walks through the cloud forest and along streams and waterfalls

Bird watching around the volunteer house or within the primary forest

Horseback riding *

Relaxing walks through the self-guided orchid, medicinal and meditation gardens

Night hikes to search for nocturnal animals

Camping *

* Volunteers will be charged extra for these activities 

Attractions OUTSIDE the reserve:

One hour from La Hesperia

rafting or kayaking on the Blanco and Baba rivers (starting from the station)

Santo Domingo de los Colorados (from the bus terminal in Santo Domingo you can travel to any town within Ecuador)

the native Tsáchila (Colorados) community of Chigüilpe.

Two hours from La Hesperia

Quito, the capital of Ecuador

Perdernales Beach

Cotopaxi National Park and El Boliche Reserve

mountains: Corazón, the Ilinizas, and Pasochoa. 

Three to four hours from La Hesperia

the Quilotoa loop

Latacunga and the Saquisili Market

the traditional market in Otavalo 

La Mitad del Mundo, the equator line and museum

mountains: Cayambe, Imbabura, Cotacachi, Pichincha

Four to six hours from La Hesperia

coast towns: Canoa, Montañita, Atacames, Mompiche

Chimborazo Mountain, the highest peak in Ecuador

Baños, known for its thermal baths and adventure sports (hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and rafting)

Riobamba, the starting point for the Devil’s Nose train ride



All volunteers located at the field station will participate in maintenance and development of the station infrastructure. Volunteers are not tourists and are expected to work full days as any other employee of the station. They should be able to undertake strenuous and sometimes tedious labour under basic conditions.  

Education:  University study is not a prerequisite to acceptance into the program.  However, prospective volunteers should have an interest in conservation and related human issues. 

Work Schedule: Volunteers work 7 hours a day, Monday through Thursday. Volunteers do not work on Saturday and Sunday and have a hike every other Friday.

Duration of Volunteer Work:  La Hesperia requires volunteers to make a minimum time commitment of two weeks. Volunteers planning on staying in Ecuador longer than 90 days require a visa extension. If your stay is more than one month you will have the opportunity to coordinate and lead new volunteers.

Application Process: 

Before coming to volunteer in Ecuador, you must sed: 

A letter of application indicating 

experience in conservation activities

future interests

reasons for choosing la Hesperia 

Date of participation (needed to guarantee space availability).

A resume or curriculum vitae

If you are applying to teach, you must include a criminal background check and a child abuse history report (required to teach in the U.S.)

Do not send any money by air mail. 

Introductory Meeting:

Before volunteers begin work at the station they must attend an introductory meeting. Please contact our office manager, Carmen Játiva, ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) to set up a meeting at the La Hesperia office in Quito during the week.

You need to bring to the introductory meeting:

If you have an special physical condition please bring a recent health certificate, including any medications that you are currently taking and/or mentioning anything that we should know (in case that you have any important disease like hearth problems, diabetes, epilepsy, etc. for us to solve an emergency during your stay, due the distance to the nearest hospital) It is for your own safety.

Two (2) passport size photographs

A photocopy of your passport.

Health Insurance:  Volunteers must have their own travel health/accident insurance plan and must sign a waiver to release La Hesperia or Tangaré Foundation from responsibility from any illness or injury incurred in Ecuador.

 Application fee: To apply for the volunteer program, there is a one time application fee of USD $ 47. 

 Payments: Volunteers are allowed to pay the volunteers fees in cash or with traveller’s checks (only $ 100 denominations or lower).




Prices: Volunteers must pay their own expenses, including airfare to Ecuador and living costs while in the country.  The contribution for volunteering is:

2 weeks: $ 344 USD

3 weeks: $ 486 USD

4 weeks: $ 641 USD

5 weeks: $ 769 USD

6 weeks: $ 918 USD

7 weeks: $ 1039 USD

8 weeks: $ 1154 USD

9 weeks: $ 1296 USD

10 weeks: $ 1417 USD

11 weeks: $ 1559 USD

12 weeks: $ 1674 USD


* Fees include: 3 meals a day plus lodging in cabins that are shared with other volunteers and researchers.  Volunteer fees must be paid in advance and the fees are non-refundable.




Special Services: We offer special services for volunteers during their stay at the station with extra charge (consult our prices)

Airport transfer, hotel reservation in Quito.

Private room with private bath (single or double beds)

Horseback riding


Note: With the participation of 5 non-Ecuadorian volunteers, La Hesperia will provide funding for one Ecuadorian person to volunteer at the station. 


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