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Last updated on June 4th, 2020

I volunteered with UBELONG at the Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve in San Cristobal, Galapagos, for four weeks in June 2016. I’ll try to be objective as possible in this Ubelong review. It’s not exhaustive.

Also, there are several intermediaries that work with Jatun Sacha, so this Galapagos volunteer review is not only applicable to UBELONG.

First of all and to get to the chase, I recommend volunteering with UBELONG and Jatun Sacha. I learned a gold mine’s worth of knowledge about Galapagos’ ecosystem while contributing to Planet Earth and the locals. I am grateful for the journey.

volunteer cutting blackberry (mora)
el junco crater lake
macro photo blackberry
bird project chart
child carrying seeds
preparing compost
man in a tree
ubelong review galapagos setting up the nursery
ubelong review galapagos young plants
filling up a small compost bag

My UBELONG coordinator was in contact with me via email and answered all my questions.

The volunteer coordinator at the reserve, Cesar, is a stand-up guy and provides insight about the Galapagos. He also sings during camp fires and plays the guitar. Cesar really likes Take Me Home by John Denver.

But as expected, it’s not all peaches and roses.

Duties While Volunteering On The Jatun Sacha Reserve, San Cristobal, Galapagos

  • pick endemic daisy tree (scalesia pedunculata) seeds for plantation
  • plant tomatoes and cucumbers
  • cut down invasive plants including blackberry (mora), passion fruit (maracuya), and guava (guayaba) with a machete
  • teach new volunteers the duties
  • contribute to the islands’ self-sustainment
  • teach the importance of conservation at local schools
  • renovate volunteer accommodation
  • build fences around the garden to keep wildlife out
  • help build an oven for the kitchen (still in the works)
  • help with meal preparation

Pros of Volunteering On The Jatun Sacha Reserve

  • assist in the conservation of the Galapagos and the planet
  • see more of the Galapagos before or after volunteering, or on weekends
  • go on educational hikes and see the landscape
  • make lifelong friends
  • learn about the fragile ecosystem
  • camp fires
  • see the milky way from the reserve
  • play volleyball and soccer
  • carve a wooden turtle
  • see beautiful birds including the yellow warbler
  • be on one of the greatest places on the planet
  • help maintain the Galapagos
  • teach what you learn to your family, friends, and strangers after the volunteer project
  • make a difference

Cons of Volunteering On The Jatun Sacha Reserve

  • rats run around at night in the bedrooms
  • rat feces are in the showers
  • shower water can be dirty brown sometimes (water is from the river I believe)
  • cow and horse feces are everywhere on the reserve (the animals are not fenced)
  • sometimes the meals are unacceptable
  • correct tools are not available to complete work efficiently due to outside interference
  • wild roosters or roommates can wake you up at night (no soundproof in accommodation)

Sleeping With The Enemy

If you can’t handle the cons, this project may not be suitable for you. But you shouldn’t let me tell you what to do. Maybe this project will make you more rugged and edgy. Maybe it will make you appreciate what you have and where you are. I don’t know, but you do.

Things To Know

There are three dogs on the property, two of them are pit bulls (Rufo and Whiskey) and very friendly. Whiskey is actually owned by the neighbours but prefers the reserve. The other one looks like a labrador mix (Negro) and unfortunately age has caught up to him. He is still a handsome boy.

There is also a tabby cat, Miguelito.

There are extra rain boots, sleeping bags, and mosquito nets on the property. You don’t have to bring your own.

There is no alcohol permitted on the reserve. The neighbour has a bar, if you can call it a bar. He sells a bottle of rum, 750 mL, for $20 and beers for $3 each. There is a free pool table. The bar has a sound system so bring your USB enabled music if you want to play your own tunes.

Several volunteers go to El Junco, Galapaguera, and Puerto Chino on Fridays, and then go directly to town for the weekend via taxi. The round trip is usually less than $20. The three sites have free admission. It’s considerably less than if you went on your own. There is an additional small taxi fee to return to the reserve on the Sunday.

Puerto Chino
Puerto Chino

Laundry should be included with the volunteer fee. The price is $1/kg. I usually wash my clothes in the sink.

There is no Wi-Fi on the reserve. This is important for me because I work remotely.

Don’t expect to travel the Galapagos cheaply by volunteering unless there is no volunteer fee. The project is not a vacation.

Passion fruits and oranges can easily be picked from nearby trees. They are my favourite fruits on the island. It’s bitter sweet though. The passion fruit is invasive, so we cut some of them down. The oranges are introduced, but they are controlled.

You’ll hate blackberries after this project. They are the mother of all invasive plants on the Galapagos. Their thorns are guaranteed to prick you. They grow rapidly and the endemic plants can’t compete with them. A single blackberry plant can have more than one root (they grow new roots when tips of branches curl and touch the ground).

Whichever volunteer organization or project you choose, just make sure it’s for positive and accountable change.

Read my guide on how to visit the Galapagos on a budget.