Gap Semester

Gap Semester — North Carolina, Ecuador

Ages 18+  |  60 days  |  Starting at $11995
Develop essential wilderness knowledge and skills — while living and learning in wild, beautiful places throughout the world!
A lounge area in the NCOAE Ecuador basecamp.

Adventure First

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.

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 to use these newly developed skills to travel & work in pristine locations around the world!


  • Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification
  • Optional Add-on: Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course
  • Leave No Trace (LNT) Trainer certification
  • Teaching-level knowledge of the NCOAE core curriculum, including leadership, outdoor skills, and environmental science lessons

Course Details

60 days
Credit Hours
Wilmington International Airport (ILM)
Alternative drop off/pick up locations
Please contact the NCOAE office.
Register for Course
Skills Acquired
  • 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!
Academic Credits

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
A student with backpacking gear.


  • Gain new skills in leadership, expedition travel and emergency medicine
  • Make new friends and lasting memories
  • Explore wild and remote North Carolina mountains from the trail to the rivers
  • Explore the Amazon jungle by katarafting the Amazon River
  • Eat amazing backcountry foods and Ecuadorian meals
  • Travel through the glacier mountains of the Andes
  • Challenge yourself like never before
  • Earn college credit

On the Map

  • Pisgah National Forest
  • French Broad River
  • Quito, Ecuador
  • Cotopaxi National Park
  • Amazon River Basin

Talk to Us

Have any further questions about the course location, what you'll learn, or what else to expect? Contact us, we're here to help!



No Activities found for Package (id:86) “GAP SEMESTER – (NC & ECUADOR) D”

No Activities found for Package (id:87) “GAP SEMESTER – (NC & ECUADOR) F”



Frequently Asked Questions

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 NCOAE pack list for this course.

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)?


All travel during the course and to Ecuador is included. Upon enrolling in an NCOAE program, you are responsible for securing your flight to and from Wilmington, NC (Airport Code: ILM). You can do so by either, calling our trusted travel agent partner, Fly My Group, or another outside source if you choose to do so. All flights must arrive on day one (1) of your course between the hours of 11:00am and 3:00pm at ILM airport where you will connect with an NCOAE staff member and the rest of your group.

While NOCAE will manage travel arrangements to Ecuador, since we have many students who choose to stay beyond the course dates or fly to another location, you are responsible for securing your flight back from Ecuador (Airport Code: UIO). Again, you can contact Fly My Group or use another outside source to secure your return flight.

Fly My Group:
Phone: (866) 374-5043


North Carolina

All travel during the course is included. Upon enrolling in an NCOAE program, you are responsible for securing your flight to and from Wilmington, NC (Airport Code: ILM). You can do so by either, calling our trusted travel agent partner, Fly My Group, or another outside source if you choose to do so. All flights must arrive on day one (1) of your course between hours of 11:00am and 3:00pm at ILM airport where you will connect with an NCOAE staff member and the rest of your group.

Fly My Group:
Phone: (866) 374-5043


What is the average age of participants?

The average age range for this course is 18-23 years old.

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 Semester course. You can also explore Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, North Carolina, Patagonia, 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

Request More Info


An instructor showing a student a map.

Participating in an NCOAE course has been one of the greatest experiences of my life!
It helped me to grow emotionally and taught me skills that I am able to transfer into my everyday life. I am truly grateful and lucky to have been a part of this program

Aaron Marshall, NC Teen Adventure Graduate