South America

"Ancient Paradise in the Middle of the World"
February 13 - 19, 2013
Open to Youth and Adults

Click HERE for Frequently Ask Questions

Tropical forests, snow capped volcanoes, indigenous people living traditional lives, and pristine tropical beaches await you in Ecuador. Located, as its name suggests on the equator, in northwestern South America, just north of Peru. For its size, Ecuador is the most bio and culturally diverse country on earth. Spanning from the great Amazon Jungle to the west rising to 23,000 foot peaks of the Andes Mountains. It doesn't stop there, heading further west one reaches the tropical coastal pacific lowlands, over to the sea, finally reaching the world famous Galapagos Islands (not visited on tour below).

Day 1, 2: Arrive into the northern Inca and present day capitol of Ecuador, Quito. Roam the ancient Incan/Colonial city that's like no other in Latin America. Visit world famous indigenous art galleries and museums, shop for hand crafted artifacts, sample great Ecuadorian Andean cuisine, rest for further adventures.

Day 3, 4: Cayambe Vocano, Otavalo, Peguche. Traditional Quichuan village host us as we observe their world famous craft of back loom textile weaving and have the opportunities to experience shaman (medicinal and spiritual leader) ritual and tour sacred archeological sites.

Otovalo and Peguche: Words cannot explain or illustrate the Native vibe of this municipality. One of the most successful Indigenous groups of the continent, Otovalo and its townships have become economically sovereign and successful based on the promotion of their cultural heritage. One is quick to see their tradition is strong and people are healthy. Long braids from both women and men, traditional clothes, and festive music are the continued tradition. One can see this is a unique place in Native Country. One of the most prosperous and musically talented areas in the "Americas". We join musical festivals, recording sessions, and see what it means to be "alegre", happy, and in tune with our universe.
We will also accept a "special guest" invitation of Oton Township, to witness their parochial music festival.

Day 5: The lush and natural world of Mindo and Middle Of The World Monument. Stand directly on the northern and southern hemispheres! Finally arriving to our next destination. Mindo is one of the worlds most bio diverse places. High river or jungle canopy cable tour. Visit butterfly farm, hike up pristine rivers and then go tubing back down, lay in hammock... take it all in.

Day 6,7 Mompiche, Esmeraldas, Pacific Coast. We drop from the highlands of the Andes and head for the tropical climate of the coast. A very different scene of rainforests and beautiful warm water beaches. Both Indigenous and Afro-Culture mix in great color and cultural offerings. Special food, music and language is found along the coast. A chance to surf, witness Toucans, monkeys and fish. Learn to surf, go fishing, snorkeling or just observe the scene. A great way to round off our program.

Day 8: Departure

Costs: $1300
All-inclusive: Includes all guided tours, overland transportation, meals, lodging, surfing lessons, fishing and boat tours, canopy tours, and special events, weddings, airport pick-up/drop off. International Flight to Ecuador not included.

Priority Registration by December 1st, 2012
Small group size of 10.

Panama Intertribal Youth Delegation
Seeks Models for Sustainable Tourism in Ecuador
Copa Airlines Assists in
“Traditional” Indigenous Education

Panama is known as the hub of the Americas and to many as “Heart of the Universe”. For indigenous people, it is an ancient meeting place for continental and global exchange. The InterTribal Youth Program’s Jovenes Intertribal Panama (JIP) “Earth School” project proposed to re-establish traditional ways of education and traveled south to Ecuador to interchange ideas and bring the findings back to Panama.

The goal of the delegation was to seek successful sustainable models of tourism in relation to traditional agriculture, ecology, indigenous culture and the use of traditional foods for improved social health. Ecuador has shared the top two slots with Panama as the “best place to visit, retire and relocate” for many years. It also boasts a strong eco-tourism market and celebrates living indigenous cultures.

Copa Airlines assisted in upholding a cultural tradition of continental exchange. Copa Airlines’s, Vice President, Joe Mohan, took interest in Intertribal Youth’s 2010 inter-continental “Earth School” project which included a series of travel and research in the Americas. The first in the series was research in Ecuador. With courtesy from Copa Airlines, the field study became a reality. “Travel is a privilege for many, and it was a blessing to have Copa share in extending this benefit to indigenous youth”, said ITY Director, Marc Chavez. The delegation was diverse and consisted of youth and young adults representing the Indigenous Comarcas of Kuna Yala, Embera Wounan, and the Afro-Antillean urban area of Panama City. The delegates also represented an educational, cultural non-profit sector and aspiring eco-tourism business.

The comfortable Copa Airlines flight was direct and only lasted an hour and twenty-five minutes. Delegates arrived in Quito in the early afternoon. They were met at the airport by hosts, Pablo Guana Quimbiulco of the Cicay Museo in Cayambe, and Rene Pinanjota the mayor of the Oton community. Both men were indigenous to the area and lived in small towns along Ecuador’s ancient Inca trail. From the airport, we headed directly to the popular colonial historical area of Quito, elevated high in the Andes. Quito is surrounded by volcano peaks and all noted the coolness of the climate. Something else was quite different – the level of city noise - it was significantly lower compared to Panama.

The delegation’s goal to identify traditional foods and new varieties of fruits was satisfied almost instantly. With just steps onto the colonial streets, along the first block, one was met by indigenous vendors selling traditional dried corn, toasted lima beans mixed with ceviche-like sweet onions, baskets of avocadoes (5 for a dollar) and sweet-sweet cherries. As we walked the next block, we noticed an abundance of walk-up juice bars serving 100% fresh juice. These were not mixtures with sugar, but using juicers extracting all pulp, leaving the essential pure juice of alfalfa, carrots, mangoes, oranges, etc. Many bars also served the “Boronjo” (a name our guides pointed out, that is Embera in origin).

Ecuador is also part of the large “Choco” biological corridor that stretches from Panama to Ecuador. The cooridor’s rainforest and Embera people span three countries and touch the Andean indigenous nations to the south. After the quick flight, it felt like the delegation arrived almost instantly, on the opposite side of the Choco Rainforest; as if the group got on a short bus to Chepo and all of a sudden were in Ecuador. It felt good to have wings and swiftly fly to a land that is connected through ancient blood-lines and tradition, joined by a giant rainforest with our Andean neighbors. Within blocks, the group was munching traditional crops and fresh juice with our brothers and sisters to the south.

Tour guides, Pablo and Renee, were extremely knowledgeable and knew the country very well. We strolled the exteriors of the colonial churches and government palaces. A short amount of time was given in homage to the plazas of colonial Ecuador. In colonial America, cathedrals and plazas were often built atop destroyed ancient indigenous temples, pyramids, or places of worship. Our guides pointed out the extremely large ancient Incan stones which served as the base of their temples and later the foundation of the colonial churches which now stand. The interiors are intricately adorned with gold from floor to high ceilings. Many tourists find this a great attraction, however, for this delegation of indigenous people, it was a reminder of the genocide that took place for gold and natural resources. Silent moments were spent thinking of the people who built the colonial city and all prayed for the legacy that was left behind.

Our guides helped us find a healthy vegetarian restaurant for a late lunch within the city colonial hub of downtown. This was the first sit down meal in Ecuador and all noticed the cleanliness and order of the ambiance. Within a real iner-city setting, a small restaurant on the second floor, served “comida sana”, healthy food.

The lunch special was ordered and all were very pleased when they brought the “entrada” of Quinoa soup. The soup was divine and all sipped it with gusto along with perfectly ripe butter avocadoes. Quinoa is an ancient grain that has been harvested and eaten by the Incas and Andean people for thousands of years. It can be eaten in place of rice, for it has an abundant amount of nutritional properties that surpass rice and most grains. The main meal was an Asian-Andean fusion of gluten meat, “fake meat made of wheat”, served with brown rice, salad and ripe plantain. They served “aromatic water” which is a sweet warm fragrant tea and is commonly served in Ecuador. In addition, all ordered licuados, or fruit shakes. All mixed juices were made with panela or as known in Panama as “raspadura”, natural solidified cane sugar. They refer to most liquid waters as “la aguita”.

Complimenting this great meal were two vital strengths found to be essential to the success of Ecuador. First, the six of us ate a four course meal with licuados and bottled waters in a sit down, table cloth restaurant for $14. Second, the hospitality was impeccable and the cleanliness and order of the restaurant made ones feel like kings and queens. The people were so kind with their mannerisms and in the way they address people. The owner also came out and greeted us, served us, then took us on a tour of his other restaurant directly above on the next floor that served non-vegetarian food. It was nicely decorated with local art and fine wood finishing and tables. All the delegates felt a certain unexplainable peace and respect with the vibe of Ecuador.

Leaving Quito, the delegation drove north for and hour, over large passes and valleys, and arrived at the small community of Oton. A host family, a traditional Andean music group, and community awaited us. Night had fallen and the temperature dropped significantly. Our tropical climate delegates cried out for their warm clothes. We were met with a warm welcome, grace and hospitality. This cordial humble vibe gave all a good feeling and this was to be seen at every place we visited in Ecuador.

In Oton, we were celebrated as the first tourists to ever visit the community. Later that weekend, we were recognized and honored on stage during their annual “Nino Divino” Community and Cultural Festival.

The next morning we awoke to see the small community in early brisk morning light. All had plots of land along hillsides and plateaus, optimally producing. Ubiquitous was the evidence of Andean family sustainability; seen in the rows of corn, potatoes, Lima beans, squash and various other fruits and herbs. Renee, The Mayor of Oton and musician by heritage, took us around the area and showed us some of what Ecuador is famous for within 10 minutes. Within 10 minutes, we visited the largest Rose growers in the world, many sitting atop high plateaus and in high valleys. On an adjacent plateau, we looked out and around a 360 degree view, surrounded by 5-7 large Volcano Peaks. In the distance below, Renee pointed out the ancient Inca Trail winding up and through large land. Walking from there, off the main highway corner, a small immaculately clean cart served fresh made Aloe Vera sifted pulp with warm herb tonics and lime. We saw the high places.

We left out of Oton and headed 20 minutes north to Cayambe, a town that occupies a small space at the base of a huge snow-capped volcano known as “Cayambe”. Here is where we met again with our amazing guide, “Pablo Quimbuilco, who runs a small museum, and acts as a cultural resource and performer. He also charters climbing adventures up the snow-capped peak of Cayambe. The voyage is a 12-hour excursion, reaching the ledge of the Volcano at 6am. We would return to Cayambe later that week to participate in a small carnival parde to benefit children with disabilities.

From Cayambe, we went straight to the famous town of Otavalo which is known for its world-traveled merchants and huge Indian market. We arrived with high intentions of finding exotic fruits and traditional vegetables for our lunch feast. All our eyes widened as we saw the multitude of fruits and veggies from every color of the rainbow and from a diversity of climatic regions second to none.

This made for perhaps the widest variety of fruits and foods to exist in the world. From Tropical Coastal or Jungle fruits to mid and high elevation fruits to Amazon rare exotic abundance. Foods with colors of the rainbow that hold the ancient essence of life. We were very pleased to see how traditional foods maintained an important role in Ecuadorian every-day society. After lunch, we went to the middle of the earth, the equatorial line that separates the two hemispheres.

The group had a longing need to get a better glimpse of the Cayambe’s snow-capped Volcano peek. for much of the time it was hidden among the clouds. We traveled around the side of the mountain and into one of the largest valleys, fertile and occupied with mostly dairy cows. Our guides explained that the dairy cow farming have pushed much of the traditional indigenous farmers out and to undesired land and has endangered traditional lifestyles. We traveled these long back roads winding through the hills. We could not believe how green and beautiful everything looked as the road continued the whole way layed in cobble stone.

Slowly, mystically, and majestically Cayambe Volcano began to reveal itself in one of the most awe inspiring moments one can imagine - a large snow-capped volcano reaching up into the heavens. Just an awesome sight as the late afternoon sun made the cone glisten from the distance like a dreamy fairy tale looking painting. We all were humbled and in awe of Cayambe. It was the great example of the power and essence of Andean health and spirit. Embera delegate Omyra Casama, said “that Cayambe was the embodiment of natural life and when seen humans can instantly feel that they are witnessing the creator, God itself.”

That night the delegation was honored during an outdoor musical celebration held in a small “Otavalan” community. Indigenous musical groups and dancers were invited from areas of Ecuador and Andean Peru. The event was held as the night fell. Our guide Pablo blessed the event and held a special opening ceremony that included our delegates and indigenous people representing the 4 directions of east, west, north south and the two directions of above and below. Upon our arrival, we noticed hundreds of local indigenous people finely dressed. Males and females, young and old, all wore traditionally long braded hair. Ladies served aromatic teas out of large boiling pots.

After the ceremony, various music groups and dancers graced the stage and audience. A good family atmosphere prevailed, as there was an absence of heavy alcohol and drinking. Interactive, the audience took place in the dancing and circles of up to 50 people each appeared. Hundreds of people dancing with foam being sprayed and dust kicked up. All beautiful faces smiling at one another dancing and twirling. All the music was in Andean style, folk and modernized traditional music, with a true Andean spirit. Panflutes and base, multi-stringed guitars and cane flutes, keyboards. It was very high energy and before long the vibe of the crowd was overwhelming and all cheering. It was one of the best gatherings delegates had seen in a long time. The event was hard to put into words, but one of the most memorable times the group had

We stayed the night in Otavalo as the town prepared for the large weekend Indian market and most of the town was blocked or filled with market stalls. Otovalo Indians are one of the most successfully economic indigenous groups in the world. They are seen with long braded hair selling their music, textiles, and cd’s from New York to Europe. They continue to hold it down, illustrating one of the most beautiful countryside’s artisans, markets and loving people Ecuador has to offer. Beauty was complementing beauty as the people reflected day dreamscapes – all played to their own native soundtrack.

Delegate Omyra Casama gave important insight to words: “With every activity they ask permission from the spiritual directions. The people have not lost the faith and hope with the beliefs in their ancestry. With the good and bad, they know there is one god and it is nature, representing “Pacha Mama”, mother earth. This gives them strength and this knowledge is passed down to the new generations.”

The Andean experience peeked in Otovalo. All our senses were satisfied and especially as some of us visited thermal pools and parks of immaculate perfection. All felt respected, as we soaked in the one love of Ecuador, being hosted on the Inca Trail of 2010.

We loved what we saw and learned a wealth of information on traditional foods, exotic fruits, geography and fine examples of hospitality and service. Support of living indigenous culture craftsmanship is vital to the integrity of tourism. The world appreciates high quality and fair prices - with a friendly, humble approach. Our Panamanian people represent similar origins as we come from the graces of our natural environment. How can we focus on developing our natural talents and resources? How can we promote an indigenous “cultural elegance” that flows through ancient blood lines? How to promote and distribute traditional ways of nutrition?

Some of the lessons we learned were to utilize a collaborative cross-section of Panamanian national agencies and private organizations to create and present eco, agro, and botanical health tourism solutions. At the core of national product is indigenous ingenuity and hospitality based on a humble and cultural approach. We may train a team of “in house” consultants to assist in establishing and setting a standard for tourism destinations within indigenous communities. Panama’s beautiful green natural environment must be complemented with a high level of hospitality and service, an example of tribal cultural elegance.

Gracias Ecuador for keeping it real and showing sustainable ways to promote culture and patria. Thanks to Copa Airlines for giving us the wings to soar high, a great collaborate example to support the future of Panama - health, culture and tourism.

Select youth are soon to begin the second travel of the “Earth School” series with a visit to one the continent’s most successful agriculture and tourism centers - California, USA. A select few from Panama will travel during North America’s spring and summer time. They will study and practice in some of the most renown and progressive universities, tourist zones and organic farms in Southern California. The practicum will then continue in Panama during August, as the “Earth School” students look to establish a model of pre-Colombian sustainable agriculture, health and tourism project.

* For more on the Intertribal Panama Program see our page or website:

Que Viva Panama! Que Viva Ecuador! Que viva Copa Airlines!