There is minimal risk for serious illness in the northwest region of Ecuador, and most volunteers will not need to obtain any additional vaccines in order to travel there. However, many volunteers do get a stomach bug or altitude sickness during their stay. Volunteers who get sick are treated at very low costs from doctors and can obtain medications at the many pharmacies in Otavalo.
Volunteers who have not been vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B should be vaccinated. Other than these, there are no vaccines required for travel to Quito, Otavalo or the countryside where the project takes place. There is no risk of malaria or yellow fever at or near the project site.
If you plan to travel outside of the project, you may need yellow fever, malaria, typhoid, or other vaccines, depending on your plans. For more information, please visit the Center for Disease Control’s Health Information Page for Ecuador.
Because Quito and Otavalo are located high in the Andes, the altitude sometimes causes volunteers to feel sick in the first few days. Symptoms of altitude sickness include nausea and lack of appetite, fatigue, dizziness, and drowsiness.
Altitude sickness usually dissipates in a few days. However, while experiencing symptoms, they should avoid alcohol and strenuous activity, and drink plenty of fluids.
Most volunteers get some sort of stomach bug while working on the project. Symptoms vary in intensity from mild nausea to vomiting, stomach pains, and fever.
We recommend that volunteers bring along Pepto Bismol, Tums, or other stomach medications in the likely event that they encounter stomach problems while on the project.
Healthcare on the Project
Otavalo has many doctors and pharmacies, and most are able to make housecalls. Sick volunteers are asked by the program to consult with a doctor immediately. Typically, a doctor will come to the hostel and write a prescription, which someone from the program staff will pick up.
If more serious issues arise, there are hospitals in both Otavalo and in Ibarra, a neighboring city.
Doctors usually charge small fees from $10-$20 for house calls and other services. It would be wise to set arise $20-$40 in case you get sick and need to see a doctor and / or buy medicine.
Prevention and Safety
The best way to avoid sickness in Ecuador is to be careful with what you eat and drink. All meals served by the project at Hostal El Geranio will be safe to eat. When deciding whether it’s okay to eat food outside of the project, following these guidelines from the Center for Disease Control:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially before eating. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand gel (with at least 60% alcohol).
- Drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated (bubbly) drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes. If this is not possible, learn how to make water safer to drink.
- Do not eat food purchased from street vendors.
- Make sure food is fully cooked
- Avoid dairy products, unless you know they have been pasteurized.