1. Where is Reserva Mundo Verde and how do I get there?
Reserva Mundo Verde is located near the township of Las Tolas, which is where you will sleep. Las Tolas is roughly 70km from Quito, in the Pinchinca province. It is 6km up a dirt track from Tulipe, the nearest town located on the main road. Other nearby major towns include Nanagelito, Pacto and Mindo (a very popular tourist destination). See the map below – Las Tolas is only 1.5 hours away from Mindo.
In order to get to Las Tolas, you need to catch a bus from Quito. Ask any taxi driver to take you to the Ofelia bus station, which is in the city’s north. From there, a bus leaves at 5:30pm every day and goes directly to Las Tolas (it is the last stop so you can’t miss it!)
Be aware that there is a small town on the outskirts of Quito which is also called ‘Las Tolas.’ Some volunteers have been told to catch the wrong bus heading to this town! Be sure to catch a bus from the ‘Cooperativa Tras Minas’ bus company, and note that Las Tolas should be the last stop (the bus will have ‘Las Tolas’ on it as its destination). If asking for directions to catch the bus, mention that Las Tolas is located near Nanagelito, should take 2.5 hours to get there and will cost $2.00.
Alternatively, from Ofelia bus station in Quito you can take a bus (from Tras Minas or Tras Otavalo) to the town of Tulipe for $1.50. Tulipe is only 6km from Las Tolas, and you can organize to be picked up and taken to Las Tolas by car for a cost of $5.00. Call 0988600401 to organize the private pick up from Tulipe.
2. Is it safe?
Reserva Mundo Verde and its neighboring towns are very safe. Luis and other members of his community have been hosting volunteers from all over the world for at least a decade, and consider the safety of their volunteers as a top priority. Volunteers continue to come and recommend Reserva Mundo Verde to their friends and family not only because it is a life changing experience, but also because their personal safety, and the security of their goods is always looked after. Las Tolas is a trusting and safe community, where everyone knows and looks after everyone else, and where volunteer guests are cared for and treated like members of the community.
3. Can anyone volunteer?
Reserva Mundo Verde welcomes all volunteers over the age of 18, or those under 18 that are accompanied by an adult guardian. You do not need to have any specific skills to volunteer with us. However, you must be able to enjoy being in a remote place without all the comforts of home, be happy to do a hard days work and contribute to the community, be fit enough to handle some pretty steep slopes in the reserve, be adaptable to language and cultural differences and not be too precious!
4. Do I need to be able to speak Spanish?
Luis speaks some English and is used to communicating with volunteers who do not speak Spanish, and his wife Wyndi is from the USA with English as her first language. Therefore the volunteer experience at Reserva Mundo Verde caters for of all Spanish language abilities. However, Las Tolas and the region in general is Spanish-speaking, and most people do not speak any English at all. The more Spanish you have the more you will be able to contribute to the community and learn from your volunteer experience. If you don’t know Spanish start some lessons before your trip and do bring a phrase book (the Lonely Planet one is good) and/or a dictionary.
5. How long can I volunteer for?
Reserva Mundo Verde prefers volunteers who can commit to a month or more, simply because it takes time to learn how things work and those that stay for longer periods can be truly helpful and have time to really understand the local culture. There is a discount in fees for those who can commit to a month or longer. However, we realize that not everyone has a month to spare and also welcome volunteers who can only come for shorter periods of time.
6. How many hours a day am I expected to work?
Volunteers are asked to help out around the reserve or in the community for 4 – 5 hours per day. The rest of the time can be dedicated to activities that you want to do (such as hiking or birdwatching), brushing up on your Spanish by chatting with the locals or site-seeing around the region.
7. What amenities are accessible from Reserva Mundo Verde?
The town of Las Tolas has an internet cafe, and cellphone services from the companies Movistar and Claro. Given its location high up in the cloud forest however, internet and phone connections can be patchy and slow. Some families in town have conventional telephone land lines. There is a bar and a general store which has most basic supplies.
There is no ATM or credit card facilities in Las Tolas, so it is important to bring cash with you (although if you run out you can always top up from an ATM in a town about 1 hour away.) Try to bring notes of small amounts ($1 – $20) if possible, as many shopkeepers won’t accept bills of $50 or $100.
Las Tolas has a health center staffed by a nurse, but for emergencies the nearest hospital is in Nanegalito, only 20km away from Las Tolas. Emergency vehicles can quickly access Las Tolas and the town has an emergency police radio.
8. Should I take out travel insurance before volunteering at Reserva Mundo Verde?
Yes. While a safe place which has been receiving international volunteers for many years with no health or safety issues arising, Reserva Mundo Verde takes no legal responsibility for its volunteers, who participate in any activities at their own risk. Volunteers are encouraged to only partake in activities with which they feel comfortable.
9. When is the best time to come?
Reserva Mundo Verde takes volunteers at all times of the year, so come when it best suits you. However, there are some festivals and celebrations that the town of Las Tolas celebrates that are a lot of fun, and worth seeing if you can be there for them.
They are as follows:
• Carnaval (5 February): A very traditional festival, at Carnaval everyone enjoys themselves. A public holiday throughout the country, there are parades, face painting and music. And kids throwing water bombs! It’s all part of the fun.
• San José de Las Tolas (20 March): This popular festival attracts everyone in the region. With loads of fun activities including professional volleyball, soccer and other popular games. At night time there are fireworks, visiting artists from other towns and everyone involved dances all night until sunrise.
• Easter Holy Week (April): A time to remember the death of Jesus, but also to celebrate his resurrection with a feast of special dishes. It is a special time for everyone, with people from the neighborhood and other regions getting together to enjoy ‘fanesca’ – a popular Ecuadorian dish prepared with many different grains, along with fish.
• Fiesta for the Virgin of Tulipe (early October): A festival that spans around 2-3 days, the neighboring town of Tulipe celebrates the Virgin Mary. A statue of the virgin is taken from the Las Tolas church and is marched on foot ahead of a brass band to the town of Tulipe. The whole town joins in the march and sings along to the band, and everyone celebrates with fire crackers. The march ends with a huge party and lots of food in Tulipe, and parties continue for the following few days.
• Dia de los Difuntos (November): People remember their loved ones who have died by visiting them at cemeteries and taking along their favorite dish to share with them. Traditional food on this day includes ‘guagas de pan’ (bread biscuits shaped like a person) along with a drink called ‘colada morada.’ The purple color of the drink symbolizes the grief and the blood of loved ones who are no longer with us.
• Christmas (24 December): Similar to Christmas celebrations in other parts of the world, in Ecuador Christmas is a special time for families. In Las Tolas, the community celebrates together with special food, Christmas carols and presents.
• New Year (31 December): Also similar to other parts of the world, New Years Eve in Ecuador is one of the biggest party nights of the year, with lots of beer drinking and dancing. You will also see large dolls that look like scarecrows all over the streets, which are often made to resemble famous people, or people who are generally disliked. At midnight, the scarecrows are lit on fire to symbolize the end of the last year and the coming of a new, better one.
10. What should I bring?
As the climate can be cool and wet, with warm days also, we recommend that you bring the following:
- Rain boots
- Sweaters (both light and warm)
- Short sleeved and long sleeved shirts
- Sun hat and beanie
- Sturdy hiking boots and sandals
- Small backpack for day trips
- Binoculars (if you want to go birdwatching)
- Bathing suit
- Basic medical kit
11. What is the food and water like?
As part of the volunteer experience, you’ll have 3 big, delicious meals cooked for you each day. If you’ve never heard of ceviche de palmito, tamales de yuca, empanadas or patacones you are in for a treat – these mouthwatering Ecuadorian staples will become part of your daily routine.
What is really nice about the food at Reserva Mundo Verde is that the majority of the fruit and vegetables are fresh from the local organic gardens, the milk straight from the cow that morning and the chicken meat and eggs from the chickens found wandering around the town. If you have any dietary requirements they will be catered for, but be sure to advise Luis prior to your stay.
The drinking water in Las Tolas is predominately rainwater, collected in water tanks. Although pure and clean, it is thoroughly boiled for all volunteers as a safety precaution for their health. Volunteers can also buy bottled water from the general store in town.
12. How much money will I need to bring?
Given that the cost of your volunteering experience covers your food and accommodation, you will only need additional money to pay for any outings you may take in your free time, and for additional services you may like to use in town such as the internet cafe, international phone calls, extra food and drink purchased at the bar or general store, or gifts purchased at the local craft shop. As a rough guide between $4 – $6 per day should suffice, although you could spend less or more than this, depending on how many additional activities or items you wish to buy. Be sure to bring small notes if possible, as many shop owners in country Ecuador don’t like taking $100 or $50 bills.