South America: Andes & Amazon Gap Year Semester

Video and Photos

Exploring La Amazonia
Exploring La Amazonia
Los Yungas
Los Yungas
Reaching a pass at 17,000 ft
Reaching a pass at 17,000 ft
Thanksgiving in the Amazon
Thanksgiving in the Amazon
Los Andes
Los Andes
Morning Mist en Los Andes
Morning Mist en Los Andes
Llamas Trekking
Llamas Trekking
Todos Santos Cemetery
Todos Santos Cemetery

About

From sparkling glaciers to lush tropical forests, this Gap Year program takes you through a dizzying tapestry of landscapes and cultures, exploring the links between land and people, past and present. The ancient Land of the Incas encompasses a fascinating blend of history and vibrant cultures, placed in a modern context of political change and social transformation. Through intensive Spanish language courses, trekking through a wide range of ecological backdrops, exposure to remote indigenous communities, and an extended home-stay, Andes & Amazon students connect deeply with the local culture while exploring a rich panorama of Andean and Amazonian realities.

On the Dragons South America Gap Year program, expect to hone your Spanish skills while discovering the links between vibrant indigenous peoples and the diverse and breathtaking landscapes they inhabit. Students will come away with a a first-hand understanding of day-to-day life in some of the earth’s most dramatic locations.

Highlights
  • Engage with issues in resource management, modernization and globalization, indigenous movements and political representation, urbanization and rural poverty, environmental conservation, and community and sustainable development.
  • Enjoy a three to four-week homestay outside of Cochabamba, with two possible shorter homestays in the Amazon and a remote mountain community.
  • Engage in three to four weeks of personalized language instruction with local teachers for 16-20 hours a week, in addition to opportunities for language immersion throughout. Quechua lessons also available.
  • Participate in multi-day treks moving from the high Andes to the Amazon basin in Bolivia. Wilderness exploration also includes travel through remote rainforests of Bolivia and Peru, and a challenging trek in the Ausangate range in Peru.
  • Explore land use and relationships, social and political activism, and indigenous identity and representation. The semester also delves into pre-Incan and Incan history and culture, the coca leaf, sustainable agriculture, and the arts.

Questions & Answers

Reviews

95%
based on 6 reviews
  • Housing 8.3
  • Support 9.2
  • Fun 9
  • Value 9
  • Safety 9.2
Showing 1 - 6 of 6
Default avatar
Ned
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Incredible Connections and Landscapes

All in all, a semester spent with Dragons in South America is filled with amazing hiking, fun homestays, and all sorts of eye-opening new experiences. The strong connections Dragons has with local communities, organizations, and guides provides for experiences that you otherwise could never obtain on your own. On the Andes and Amazon Gap Year Semester, you get a little bit of everything--language instruction, backpacking, homestays, work with indigenous communities, and lots more--which I think is an incredible pro and my favorite aspect of the program, but could rule out a participant who is searching for one central focus. For example, immersion and instruction in Spanish undoubtedly improved my Spanish speaking abilities, but if you're looking for a program with a very heavy focus on language instruction, I wouldn't necessarily say this program has that central focus you might be looking for. Regardless, traveling with a group of other students and amazing instructors is an experience that I will never forget and one that I likely won't ever have again. In looking back on my semester, I am continually amazed at how each day brought on a new challenge, perspective, and experience, which led to an expanded worldview and yearning to experience more. That's not to say that there weren't a few hardships and rough patches along the way, but dealing with those challenges and growing as a group were part of the amazing experience that is a Dragons semester. Ultimately, I continue to look back fondly on my semester with Dragons, and I aspire to seize each day as much as we did when traveling through the Andes and Amazon!

What would you improve about this program?
One thing that I would maybe improve upon is clearer communication in terms of plans for the semester at the beginning of the semester. I think my semester may have been unique because it was Dragons' first time doing homestays in Urubamba, Peru for the Andes and Amazon Gap Year Semester (which could have accounted for some uncertainties at the beginning of the semester), but there were a couple times where I felt as our plan was slightly too loose. For example, I thought we were going to be doing our long homestay in Cochabamba, Bolivia when gearing up for the trip until hearing directly from my instructors. That said, my time in Urubamba actually ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip and any kind of plan or itinerary has to be loose when considering international travel. Additionally, I really enjoyed being able to tailor our itinerary and plans to our group's interests.
Default avatar
reilly
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Andes and Amazon

This experience allowed me to understand how to navigate group dynamics and a foreign country! I now feel confident in my traveling abilities which was one of my main goals when signing up for this trip. It was very unique and dug deep into the cultures that we experienced. We went to the jungle and to the tops of ice peaked mountains. My favorite part was the backpacking trips where we would go from the Andes down into the Amazon. It was amazingly beautiful and we got to meet wonderful people along the way.
I would recommend it to anyone wanting to learn how to travel safely but not to anyone who values independence. There was not much time for personal growth or doing anything on your own but lots of time for group bonding. There was also lots of time spent in cities and probably two weeks in total spent outside. That is important to note.

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
I would take advantage of every single opportunity :)
Default avatar
Margo
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Do this

Do this program- i don’t know if there is a more unique, immersive, and educational way to travel. This program has a amazing connections in these countries that allowed us to do things like trek in high altitude mountain communities, do multiple homestays, get talks from people like a man whose worked closely with the current indigionous Bolivian president, get a mine tour (and dinner) with a young man who was in a documentary on being a child miner in one of the most dangerous and profitable mines in Bolivia, learn how to graffiti from local extremely talented artist, learn how to weave, stay in Amazonian community, and so so much more. Do this!

Default avatar
Abby
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Tranformative Semester

I decided to enroll on the Where there be Dragons Trip because I knew I wanted to take time off before the next step in my life. I felt very burned out after being in a very competitive academic environment, and did not know what I wanted to study in college. I also didn't feel experienced enough to travel completely on my own terms., so I chose Dragons as a program with. I wanted a unique, individual experience. And I got exactly that.

Dragons is unique for so many reasons. In terms of travel, Dragons allows students to go places that are completely off the beaten path, and transforms the experience into one of travel rather than tourism. I backpacked through Andean Mountains to communities of the last Incas, went inside networks of mines, and saw a huge range of 2 incredibly diverse countries. Dragons allowed me to focus on two countries and explore them in depth, form terrain and geography to culture, history, art and politics. If you like to travel to unusual and unique places, Dragons the trip for you.

What I also loved about Dragons was the group that I traveled with. I vitally wanted to only travel independently, but I would not have been able to go to the paces that i went and have the same learning experience if I had gone alone. Dragons trips are maximum 5 students with 3 instructors. I was able to ask questions and share experiences with people who became my lifelong friends. I was also still able to have my own time to be independent on the trip. The trip follows a flexible itinerary which allows students to help plan components of the course.

Dragons is unique in that it follows a 9-component plan for all of its courses, regardless of the location: Rugged Travel, Language Studies, Focus of Inquiry, Comparative Religion, Development Studies, Learning Service, Trekking, and Homestay. These are all huge part of dragons trip that allow you to have the most immersive, valuable experience while also being a respectful traveler in the places you go.

Fun memories: Eating piranha for Thanksgiving, hiking to Machu Picchu, exploring vast markets in the cities of Bolivia, seeing the sun rise over huge mountain peaks, meeting my best friends, etc.

What I will say about Dragons: If you want an easy, fun, vacation for 3 months, do not sign up for dragons. This course will test you, push you out of your comfort zone, will be challenging. However, it will also give you moments of joy and awe, create intense bonds with others, open your mind, and you will leave the trip a different person if you are willing to let it.

I am constantly using my experiences from my trip and applying it to my life today, whether that is in my classes at college, when engaging with others, or with my own personal goals. Dragons is definitely one of the most unique programs to go on and I highly recommend it!

What would you improve about this program?
I hope to see the accessibility of Dragons trips improve. I think that the audience for Dragons programs tends to only be for those of higher socioeconomic background, and I would love to see that change. Having a diverse background of students on these trips is essential for inclusivity and would create an ever more meaningful experience for all students on the course. I hope to see more scholarship opportunities for Dragons.
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man, skiiing
Benjamin
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Transformational Experience

Dragons is an incredible community of passionate and inspiring educators and students. Dragons pushes students to engage in deep learning about the world and about themselves. My Andes and Amazon semester was transformational, and I came home with a difference perspective about my priorities and values.

While the communities in which we traveled are central to the experience, Dragons students and instructors really set the organization apart. Instructors are experts in their countries, and comprise a community of activists and change makers who carefully craft each individual program. The students on my program are some of the most inspiring, motivated, and passionate people I have ever met. Now, as a college student, my interests have been largely shaped by my experience in Bolivia and Peru, as I am interested in studying issues of development, anthropology, sociology, and Latin American studies. These interests were not even on my radar before my trip, but grew out of my gap year experiences.

What would you improve about this program?
My only complaint was that it was almost too short! It was difficult to say goodby to Bolivia and Peru and my Dragons group, but ultimately the experience of applying my new learning to life post-Dragons was equally valuable.
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Pixie
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Where There Be Dragons: Andes and Amazon

On the last day of my trip to Peru and Bolivia our instructors asked the group to brainstorm words that qualified in some way the trip we had just completed. Concentrating some of the most influential three months of my life into a word seemed like an impossible task, but as I talked to the people who had walked with me around mountains, who had stopped to examine tiny flowers on the ground and gotten distracted by an especially beautiful pebbles, who had danced their hearts away holding the hands of their host sisters and brothers, the word that I felt fit the most was Care. This program taught me that to care is so many things. I felt cared for by my instructors and the other students on my course, my host family fed me soup and tea with every meal when I got sick. I couldn't have asked for a better course on compassion and adventure, on culture and dancing and cooking and feeling. I think back a lot to the time that I spent in South America and the people that I spent it with. My life has changed a lot since then but the person I am since leaving this program is much more prepared to handle it all.

What would you improve about this program?
While we were at our longest home stay, one month long, we spent a few days with the Princeton gap year program run by Dragons. Their program stayed in the same place, with the same family, for most of 8 months. They took small excursions but spent a lot of time building relationships with their families. I wish I had more time to interact and live with my host family.

Interviews

Alumni Interviews

About Where There Be Dragons

Dragons programs are authentic, rugged and profound learning adventures that expose the beautiful and complex realities of the countries in which we travel. Featuring extended itineraries, Dragons programs encourage deep immersion into strikingly...