Gap Semester | North Carolina – Ecuador

Develop essential wilderness knowledge and skills — while living and learning in wild, beautiful places throughout the world!

Questions? Call NCOAE Support (910) 399-8090


From the rivers and coast of North Carolina to the peaks of the Ecuadorian Andes you’ll enjoy an entire semester of adventure travel! International programming with the National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE) provides unparalleled adventure. Our 60-day International Gap Semester offers cultural exchange, remote mountainside campsites, and dense jungle trails, along with the skills and tools to expand your education and your view of the world.

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60 days

Course Information

Adventure First

Explore some of the most beautiful forests, rivers, jungles, and mountains in the world!

Our classroom on this adventure will stretch from the Appalachian Mountains and rushing rivers of North Carolina to the snow-capped volcanoes of Ecuador and the magical greenery and lushness that the Amazon basin provides. Within this landscape, you’ll develop solid outdoor skills and explore issues in environmental sustainability, while integrating a sense of community and adventure.

Explore North Carolina’s largest wilderness area, Shining Rock as you practice map and compass navigation, plant and animal identification, and backcountry cooking – eating wonderful food we prepare ourselves. Ford rivers and hike through a majestic forest landscape, while learning to manage the risks in these environments.

Next, travel to Quito, Ecuador for the final leg of your adventure! Working with our local contacts at Palugo Farm, we’ll explore some of the most intricate techniques to sustainable farming, from gardening and cooking, to cleaning and animal work.

NCOAE’s 60-day International Gap Semester course is exceptional, with a unique combination of adventure and skill development, including: outdoor leadership, map and compass navigation, plant and animal identification, outdoor technology and more. You’ll develop technical skills with raft guiding, backpacking, basic mountaineering, backcountry cooking, wilderness camping, and international travel.

While in Ecuador, explore the Amazon and mountains of Cotopaxi National Park on multi-day expeditions, as you discover the dense ecology and rich biodiversity that the area encompasses.  Experience cultural immersion, through home stays, as you learn about the traditions of the local indigenous communities.

At the end of this course you’ll be able use these newly developed skills to travel & work in pristine locations around the world!

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  • Duration: 60 days
  • Minimum Age: 18
  • Tuition: $11,175.00
  • Credit Hours: 6

Education Always

  • Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification
  • Optional Add-on: Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course
  • Leave No Trace (LNT) Trainer certification
  • Itinerary
  • FAQs
  • Credits
  • Outcomes
  • Downloads


  • Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification
  • Leave No Trace (LNT) trainer certification
  • NCOAE Core Curriculum
  • Gain experience in international travel, risk management, environmental studies, backcountry navigation, teaching in the wilderness, outdoor technology, leadership, and more.
  • Optional Add-on: EMT certification with Wilderness upgrade (W-EMT)


  • Develop Backpacking, Whitewater Rafting & Mountaineering skills
  • Advance your knowledge of environmental sustainability & outdoor education curriculum— while learning in wild, beautiful places
  • Discover which areas of outdoor and environmental education are best suited to your strengths
  • Acquire the skills needed to travel in pristine destinations around the world!


  • Pisgah National Forest
  • French Broad River
  • Quito, Ecuador
  • Cotopaxi National Park
  • Amazon River Basin
What is the Gap Semester: North Carolina - Ecuador course?

The 60-day Gap Semester – North Carolina to Ecuador course takes you to the southern hemisphere. You’ll learn the skills you need to plan, prepare, and lead outdoor adventure-based experiential education courses. You will develop a wide-range of wilderness and leadership skills, including raft guiding, backpacking, mountaineering, backcountry cooking, wilderness camping, international travel planning, environmental and civic responsibility, leadership and communication styles, decision-making, and teamwork. No other program offers a combination of hands-on experiential educator training in an international setting.

Where in Ecuador will our course visit?

Your group will board a plane bound for Quito, Ecuador where you will be introduced to our local contacts. Soon after your arrival, you will explore some of the most beautiful mountains and rivers in the world. Ecuador is a land of extremes, and you’ll see it all.

Your course may include exploring the countryside and sustainable farming in Quito, Ecuador, paddling the Amazon River, backpacking and mountaineering in Cotopaxi National Park, and community homestays, and the Otavalo market.

Do I need to have any previous experience in outdoor adventure sports?

No. Previous experience is not required. NCOAE will teach you all the basics you need to know to thrive in the wilderness, and then let you apply them among your group of peers. We will train you in the skills necessary to become a competent wilderness leader.

How far will we paddle and hike?

While there are no predetermined distances, you may travel several miles one day and none the next. You will learn to embrace and appreciate the unknown and unexpected.

What activities will I engage in?

In addition to WFR trainings, you will engage in a wide range of experiential wilderness activities focused on outdoor technical skills, leadership skills, and environmental sustainability, including map and compass, wilderness navigation, international expedition planning, paddling, backpacking, mountaineering, camp craft, backcountry cooking, kayaking and wilderness risk management.  Specific time is included for relaxing and enjoying nature, journaling, engaging in rich cultural exchange, and reflecting in solitude.

Do I need to buy any special equipment or clothes for the course?

Yes. NCOAE provides all necessary group gear and food, but you will want, or be required, to bring certain items for yourself. We encourage you to contact NCOAE with all of your gear questions as early as possible. Start planning now by viewing the course pack list.

What do I need to do to prepare physically for the course?

Physical preparation depends on your fitness level. You don’t need to be a triathlete to participate, but you will be responsible for carrying your own equipment and some of the group gear while maintaining a positive attitude. The backpacking section will require you to carry 40 pounds or more over rough and rugged terrain, through various environments. The paddling sections will require sitting and paddling for long periods of time and walking on rugged, slippery shorelines or through the water while carrying or pulling your boat.

How many people will be in my group?

Each group has one to three instructors and eight to 12 students. We maintain an instructor-to-student ratio of no less than one instructor for every six students.

Beyond my tuition, what will I need to pay for during the Gap Semester?

Your tuition covers all major costs related to your room, board, and lodging, except when specified in the itinerary. You may request an optional meal out when we are in an urban area, which you would need to pay for separately. Additionally, you’ll need to budget a small stipend for your personal items, including souvenirs, extra snacks, and gifts.

How do I book my flight(s)?

You are responsible for your own transportation to/from NCOAE for the beginning and end of your course, including return travel from Ecuador.

All travel during the course is included.  All Travel Arrangements for NCOAE International programs are managed and facilitated by NCOAE’s trusted travel agency professionals, Travel Associates.  Travel Associates is a bespoke travel agency staffed by MaryJo Palmer and Heidi Cunningham, both seasoned Travel Advisors with years of experience behind them.  MaryJo and Heidi are based in Woodstock, Vermont but assist with customers based around the world.  While Travel Associates specialty is luxury travel, they are also highly skilled at complex itineraries and can provide guidance on everything from upgrades to Visas to Travel Insurance.  Upon enrolling in an NCOAE program, you will need to contact Mary Jo or Heidi at either 800-640-4137 or 802-332-3511, or by email at and  to secure your travel arrangements.

What is the average age of participants?

The average age is about 23 years, with a range of ages on every course. The minimum age to enroll in the course is 18.

Will we have any free time to ourselves?

Part of every NCOAE course is the solo experience. You will have the opportunity to spend a set number of days alone in the backcountry to meet your personal needs and desired outcomes.

Additionally, you will have the free time on re-supply days, in-between expedition portions of your course.  You can use this time to run errands, do laundry, or spend some time alone relaxing and preparing for the next leg of your course.

Is the Gap Semester course offered in other locations or on different date?

We offer this course and others in a variety of locations and during different periods throughout the year to accommodate the destination and schedule that works best for you. If you are interested in a shorter gap semester / year experience, check out our 42-day Gap Year / Semester course.  You can also explore Alaska, the Pacific Northwest,  North Carolina and Ecuador at various times of the year.

Is financial aid available? Can I earn college credits? How do I apply?

At this time, we do not offer financial aid.  However, if you are a college student you may be able to use your existing federal financial aid to help pay for your course, and you may receive college credits through a consortium agreement with NCOAE. If you are attending a college or university as part of a degree granting program, your advisor can determine whether your school will accept and transfer academic credits for participating in NCOAE courses from the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. If it does, consult your financial aid office to determine if, how, and which funds may be used toward your NCOAE course costs. For more information on the consortium agreement process, contact

Academic Credit

Your work during our 60-day Gap Year / Semester course is eligible for up to six college-level credits through The University of North Carolina – Wilmington.

  • EVS 485: Issues in Sustainability: 6 credits
  • EVS 592: Issues in Sustainability: 6 credits

Course Outcomes

This course is for you if you want to explore North Carolina, the Pacific Northwest, and Ecuador!  Throughout the course you will gain technical outdoor skills, experience cultural immersion, and discover issues in environmental sustainability. The trip also is excellent experience if your career game plan includes working full-time as an outdoor educator with international experience.

Where do you want to go (physically, mentally, socially, academic, etc.)?

NCOAE’s international programming objectives revolve around the concepts of self, community, action and impact; focus on authentic international learning and hands-on education; and involve locals and communities to create meaningful academic and personal connections.

A fundamental part of this course includes map and compass reading, wilderness navigation, water safety techniques, the fine art of setting up a campsite, “reading” rapids, paddle strokes and maneuvers, local ecology, and more.

How will NCOAE help you get there?

You’ll be immersed in 60-powerful days of the National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education’s (NCOAE) Core Curriculum — an approach to facilitating, guiding and leading that is unrivaled in the industry.

On top of all that, we can pretty much guarantee you’ll have an advantage over others if you want to apply for entry-level job openings in the fields of outdoor education, adventure-based education, backcountry guiding, college and university outdoor recreation programs, and others throughout the country.

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