Volunteering at Parque Marino Valdivia near Ayampe, Olón and Montañita.

Whether you’re a first-time volunteer or a tried and tested marine biologist, we wanted to give you the rundown on a volunteering stint at Parque Marino Valdivia. Helping out at the aquarium is both fulfilling and exciting - where else do you get to help animals in need and learn about Ecuador’s wildlife through an unforgettable experience.

We had a fantastic experience so here we’ve tried to answer all the questions you may have about volunteering at Parque Marino Valdivia through Outdoor Ecuador! However, if you’re still searching for answers, have something you want to clarify or are looking to apply, please reach out to Ivonne or Luis by messaging on Whatsapp on +593 99 962 4398 or dropping an email to info@outdoorecuador.com.

Preparing beforehand

What should you pack

A day bag is pretty useful for a day volunteering at the aquarium. The bag will be stored in the comically named ‘animal canteen’, which you’ll have access to all day. Note there are other volunteers or workers, who are all trustworthy, but there are no lockers. Our packing list was as follows:

  • Camera (plus batteries or charger)

  • Water or water bottle

  • Suncream

  • A hat

  • Notepad

  • Wallet

  • Rubber/latex gloves

There is a hot and cold water dispenser to fill your water bottles, but aside from maybe a little fruit for snacking, there’s no need for a packed lunch.

What to wear when working in an aquarium?

We weren’t too sure on our work uniform for the aquarium, but your outfit should be tailored to the tasks you’ll perform - so lifting heavy things, often full of smelly liquids, live animals and whatnot.

We’d recommend sports clothing; shorts, a tee or tank top with a hat and a pair of old trainers. It’s pretty hot, especially when working in the sun. We’d recommend not wearing flip flops or sandals as you’ll be climbing up ladders (when feeding the penguins) and emptying the turtle tanks.

Do I need cash?

Aside from the $1.50 you’ll need to catch the bus each way, you won’t need any cash whatsoever as the aquarium is pretty isolated. There is nowhere to buy lunch, snacks, drinks or food. If you need cash, you can get it out in Montañita and Olón, though we found the ATM in Olón was not reliable. 

Where is Parque Marino Valdivia?

The aquarium is based between Valdivia and Libertador Bolivar, about 12 km south of #Montañita on #Ecuador’s #Pacific (and only) coast.

Where can I stay that’s near Parque Marino Valdivia and the Outdoor Ecuador school?

Outdoor Ecuador provides accommodation for their volunteers, however, if they are fully booked, there are plenty of other hostels in Olón. If you’re looking for more of a party vibe then nearby Montañita has even more choice. We opted for a quiet place to stay whilst taking the bus to Montañita if we fancied a few drinks!

Getting there

How much does it cost and paying

To pay, the bus attendee will approach you when you’re on the bus. Just state where you are going and hand him the change - mention "Puedo tener mi cambio, por favor" (can I have my change, please) if you’re paying with a note. If he doesn’t come to get the money from you on the bus, he’ll expect it when you get off.

How frequent are the buses

Buses from #Ayampe, #Olón and #Montañita to the aquarium every 20 minutes, but are pretty sporadic. You need to catch the green or blue buses, not the red ones.

We never had to wait more than half an hour, but sometimes you’ll see a few in a short space of time, then none for a while. We spent the wait practicing our Spanish or chatting about the day’s events.

Where is the bus stop?

From Ayampe, Olon or Montañita, pretty much anywhere on the E15 (the main road that goes up the coast through these towns). Just stand somewhere in a clear view of the drivers, then stick your hand out when you see a blue or a green one approaching. 

There are large bamboo bus stops, but you don’t really need to wait at them, though it might be more practical to reduce the number of stops for the driver and existing passengers.

How long does the bus take?

The bus takes anywhere between 20 and 50 minutes, depending on the number of people hopping on or off. So make sure you get to the bus stop early - we’d say get out onto the road for about 7:50am to be safe. Try not to fall asleep!

How do I know when to get off?

People will push past so try and get a seat when you can as the buses get busy and are pretty packed at times. It also helps to be towards the front as you will be able to A) hear the driver when he shouts that they have arrived at your stop, and B) you can actually get off. 

Mark your hostel and the aquarium on Maps.so you know roughly when you’re approaching both, then you can get out of your seat and fight your way through those standing in the aisle. Even if you tell the driver when you get on where you are going, it will likely be forgotten, so being prepared to get off is advisable.

At work

What are routine tasks performed when volunteering at Parque Marino Valdivia?

Tasks performed when helping out at the aquarium vary massively, depending on the animals hosted at the centre. Though you’ll start with the simpler tasks while you get to grips with the role, each day is different yet consistent. Tasks include:

  • Cutting up fish, shrimp, fishmeal for the sea critters

  • Cutting fruit and nuts for the birds

  • Feeding all of the animals daily

  • Cleaning out the baby turtle tanks 

  • Cleaning out the bird enclosures

  • Building new homes for the birds

  • Cleaning the glass of the fish tanks

  • Tidying the canteen

  • Assisting Javier, the marine biologist, in weighing animals, taking measurements, moving them to new enclosures

  • Giving the baby turtles a shower!

Is there a toilet/shower

There are toilets and showers at the aquarium, though we’d recommend showering afterwards back at your hostel as you’re bound to get a little hot while waiting for the bus (and sometimes sweaty when packed on them!).

Toilet roll and soap are provided, but other items, such as sanitary items, towels and whatnot, aren’t so you’ll have to bring your own if you need them.

What are the working hours? When do I start and finish?

Usual hours are 8:30 am to 12:00 pm, though sometimes you might have to stay a little later to finish a task. In terms of breaks, such as coffee, the toilet or just a little respite from the sun, take them whenever you need really. It’s pretty laid back.

Parque Marino Valdivia is closed to the public on Monday and Tuesday, though you’re still expected to work as these are maintenance days. On the remaining 5 days of the week, visitors are welcomed into the aquarium at 10:00 am. This means you’ll spend most of your time feeding and sorting the animals out, then cleaning cages before guests arrive.

Do I work on weekends?

You can work over weekends if you like. Though if you don’t want to, you can work on Saturday then take a break on Sunday to explore the area.

Who will I be working with?

Alongside the animals of course, your colleagues at the aquarium will pretty much include everyone working there. So whether you’re cleaning out a cage with a janitor, assessing the health of a new arrival alongside marine biologists or chasing Pepe around the garden with the security guards, it’s one big, balanced team. Pepe is a parrot who likes wandering out of his pen, by the way!

It’s a lovely working atmosphere, where even the most decorated employees aren’t frightened to pick up a mop or dustpan and brush.

Do I need to know Spanish?

It certainly helps to have a grasp of #Spanish, though it’s not fully needed to enjoy the experience and help out in the role. Many of the people you work with will have very basic English, so #Spanish will help your daily life easier at the aquarium. Try and learn words and phrases that are relevant to the role beforehand, so animals, verbs, adjectives and so on.

As part of the two weeks programme, 1.5hr #Spanish #lessons are provided by Outdoor Ecuador. The usual daily rhythm for us was working in the morning and Spanish lessons in the afternoon (usually followed by some surfing). The lessons provided by Luis were fantastic, he explained concepts and grammatical rules in a way that we could easily follow, he was very flexible tailoring the class to what we wanted to know. 

What if I’m scared of animals

Daily tasks at the aquarium include feeding the animals, moving them from cage to cage and, at times, even cleaning them. We’re not saying you need to be Steve Irwin to help out at the aquarium, but you’ll be expected to handle birds and animals in close proximity. Even holding baby turtles and giving them a good scrub with a toothbrush. Terrifying, eh?

What if I’m allergic to nuts or foods?

A routine task is cutting up a feed for the animals, so very hands-on. If you are allergic to anything, please make sure you make this obvious before starting any tasks. Typical food you’ll handle includes shrimp and shellfish, fish, seeds, nuts, eggs and fresh fruit and veg. It’s mostly stored in the fridge, so have a look beforehand. It could also be a good idea to wear latex gloves, should you have any handy.

The animals

It’s called an aquarium, but it’s really a conservation and rescue centre for all kinds of animals. This means animals, including birds, amphibians, fish and so on, come and go. The centre typically hosts the following, some of which are long-term guests, others short-term and of whom hope to be revived and returned to the wild. Some of the animals included #tortugas & #tortuguitas (turtles & baby turtles), Tortuga Gigante de las galápagos (Galapagos giant tortoises), pinguinos (penguins), el pulpo (the octopus), cocodrilos (crocodile), caballitos del mar (little sea horses), Los pelícanos (pelicans), blue-footed boobies; Los Loros (parrots), macaws, otros pajaros (other birds), las langostas (lobsters), y un pez globo (puffer fish).

Getting back

How to get a bus back?

Getting the bus back from the aquarium to Ayampe, Olón and Montañita is pretty straightforward. Much like getting there, you simply stand by the side of the road on the zebra crossing and hail down the blue or green buses.

One important note is the hill, which obscures a full view of the road, making it eerily silent, even when a bus or lorry is approaching at speed. If you’re going towards Montañita and beyond, cross the road carefully via the zebra crossing and stand here to hail down buses, otherwise they won’t see you.

How to apply to volunteer via Outdoor Ecuador.

If you’re looking to apply to volunteer via #OutdoorEcuador, you can do so by contacting Ivonne and Luis via info@outdoorecuador.com or +593 99 962 4398.

What is the minimum or maximum length of time to volunteer at Parque Marino Valdivia?

Typically a month or so, as the staff at the aquarium will need to train, teach and guide you through the first week or so, then you’ll have a little more time to get to grip with the job - and the animals. The minimum time commitment would usually be two weeks, there isn’t a maximum. The longer period the better, but if you have any questions, please reach out and Ivonne and Luis will try to answer and accommodate.

Thank you for reading!

Joe & Helen

Volunteers - February 2020

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