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If you’re a traveler or you know someone who’s got the travel bug, you know that there’s all kinds of creative ways to enhance your travel experience beyond just staying in hotels and going to resorts. Living with a local family has become trendier in the travel world, especially amongst young and solo travelers. It’s a completely unique and unforgettable experience, and it’s an incredible way to experience a culture firsthand, improve your language skills, and learn what it feels like to have Ecuadorian parents, siblings, and community. 

Photo Credit (Heather Kovar)

At Outdoor Ecuador, we know how valuable a homestay can be for our students and the ways that it can enhance their experience here in Ecuador, so among our accommodation options we offer the opportunity to live with a local family during their trip to Olón. Our host families are warm, welcoming, kind, and eager to share their homes and customs with our students.

If you’re traveling through Ecuador and are interested in diving a bit deeper into our local culture, here are some things you can expect from the experience and some suggestions on how to be a great guest to your host family!

La Familia Gabino-Suarez

La Familia Gabino-Suarez and student Fiona – Photo Credit (Heather Kovar)

This beautiful Olonese family is warm, friendly, close-knit, and full of life. Every member of this family can always be seen with positive energy and a big smile, ready to welcome you with open arms. La Señora Cecilia Suarez, the family matriarch, is the one who will welcome you and take you in, and assure you from the moment you arrive that you’re in safe and sweet hands. Those hands will be making you breakfast and dinner every day, and she will often invite you to cook with her if you’re interested!

Typically in traditional Ecuadorian families, there is a “man of the house”, and in the Gabino family, that’s Leonardo Gabino, who is a dedicated woodworker, and works hard every day perfecting his craft as well as collecting food for their animals with Domingo Suarez, his father-in-law.

Leonardo, Cecilia, Roger & Denis

Other than Cecilia, Leonardo and Domingo, there are a bunch of other family members who you’ll no doubt become good friends with once you arrive, and who you’ll stay in touch with after you leave!

One of their sons, Oswaldo, is a local math teacher. He leaves early in the morning, coming back in the afternoon to work for their local family business, the “Cyber OK”, a local internet cafe which has everything you need from stationery to printing services to a working computer. If you show some interest, they’ll likely invite you to join them at the store on occasion to learn a little more about what they do for the community.

Their daughter Denis also plays an important role in the family business and is the mother of Roger, who is the star of the family. Roger is beloved by the whole family and very cheeky. As soon as you meet him you’ll love him! He loves to play and if you show interest in him you will get bonus points from the family and he will definitely invite you to hangout with him.

Roger Gabino celebrating Christmas, 2023

Expect la familia Gabino Suarez to treat you just like family. They’re charismatic and sweet and will eagerly tell you lots of stories, and you’re encouraged to tell them yours! The Gabino family worked in the hotel and tourism industry for a long time, so they know the value of cultural exchange and the importance of a comfortable and memorable stay. For them, sharing local experiences with you is extremely important, because sharing experiences is sharing culture, and these are memories that you’ll take with you forever. And these moments will be just as memorable for them as they will be for you.

La Familia Orrala

David, Paulette, Adalberto, Aura, Anahí & Alicia – Photo Credit (Paulette Louwers)

The Orrala family is a big and fun family who since the start of our program have absolutely loved welcoming in students to share their culture and customs with. They are very friendly and close-knit, showing a beautiful example of what a loving and supportive family looks like.

La Señora Alicia Orrala, the matriarch of the family, is a sweet, kind woman with energy and strength who despite the difficulties of life continues to fight every day for the well-being of her family. This love and care is something you will feel as soon as you step into her home. She is always smiling and always excited when new students are visiting so she can share her world with them learn new things from our students.

Aura, Alicia & Anahí Orrala

Alicia and her family are artisans, and they have a family business where they manufacture different kinds of boxes and products by hand out of wood and recycled products. It’s been a labor of love since 1989, and they sell their products to large craft transportation industries internationally, which has been a great support for their business and helps them sustain the family when there isn’t as much tourism in town.

Alicia’s eldest daughter Aura is a hardworking businesswoman. Other than being an integral part of the family business, she is also a seamstress, a saleswoman and a clothing designer and is dedicated to helping her mother around the house with whatever the family needs. Aura has a twin brother Fransisco who is a skilled repairman of motorbikes and bicycles.

Adalberto is their younger brother who is retired from the military and currently focused on learning English to help his mother with her homestay guests. He is very sweet and friendly and loves to interact with our students, eager to learn from them and brush up on his English.

The man of the house in la familia Orrala is David, and he is very dedicated to the wellbeing of his family. In the family business he’s the one in charge of cutting the wood pieces to be formed by Alicia, Aura and Anahí, and in addition to this he does electrician and plumbing work to support the family.

16-year-old Anahí, the granddaughter of Alicia, is also an essential part of the creative side of the family business, making and distributing the products with Aura and Alicia. She’s always curious about travel stories and the experiences of our students and loves to share her own stories with you. She’ll be a close friend if you let her!

Apart from their business, the family is also part of the A.I.D.A program, a local association of artisans, that host various workshops at the community center in Olón such as English courses, electrician’s courses, home decoration courses, and pastry and cooking courses.

What you can expect during your stay

A comfortable and clean place to settle during your stay in Olón

Our host families offer comfortable private rooms equipped with private bathrooms, fans for when it’s hot, extra blankets for when it’s chilly, and complementary wi-fi. The rooms are always accommodated for either a single person or a couple, and the families are currently working on setting up new rooms to be able to receive even more members of the program.

Both families live close to the beach, close to the school, and walking distance from everything you’ll want to experience in Olón, including all of the best cafés, restaurants and markets. 

Delicious home cooked breakfast and dinner

La Señora Alicia making bolones, a traditional Ecuadorian breakfast

Every morning you’ll get to look forward to a delicious Ecuadorian breakfast made especially for you by La Madre de la casa. Since these families have their own schedules, you may not always be eating breakfast at the same time as them, but don’t worry, your Ecuadorian madre will wait for you to let her know when you’re ready to eat and she’ll cook up a wonderful breakfast for you. If your diet is different don’t hesitate to communicate that with her, she will have no problem preparing something vegetarian or vegan or something adapted to your food restrictions. 

However, it’s important to be mindful that these are local families preparing traditional meals with local ingredients and won’t be able to take specific meal requests similar to yours back at home or what you could find at a hotel. But this is one of the best parts about living with a local family, it’s the perfect opportunity to try the absolute best of the local cuisine, made with love!

Christmas dinner celebrations at the Gabino-Suarez house – Photo Credit (Damien Schaffer)

La madre will always appreciate some company in the kitchen while she cooks and this is a perfect time for you to practice a little bit of Spanish! She will eagerly share stories if you ask her some questions and maybe you can even learn how to cook some local delicacies with her. 

It’s customary in Ecuador for families to eat together, so if you’re eating at different times than the rest of the family she will certainly sit with you to make sure you’re not eating alone, another lovely opportunity to get to know her a little bit more and to practice your Spanish skills before you head to class for the day!

To be treated like family

When you live with a local family you’ll always feel taken care of. You’ll see that very shortly after you arrive, they will care about you as much as their own children! They care about your safety, your health and well-being, that you’re eating well, and that you’re sleeping well. In an Ecuadorian family, love and attention are always a priority.

One of the best parts of the homestay program is being included in family activities, whether it’s birthdays, cultural celebrations, or local projects that they’re working on. If you’re lucky and you get to celebrate your own birthday there, do not doubt that they will throw you a huge party! And if you show some interest in their work whether it’s their family business or in cooking or taking care of animals, they’ll bring you along on their daily routines when you’re not busy with your studies.

Our student Heather celebrating her birthday with the children of the host family in 2018
Heather’s birthday celebration, 2018 – Photo Credit (Heather Kovar)

These families know you’re far away from home and that you must miss your family, so especially during times like Christmas and New Year’s, expect to be included in all of the family festivities. They want to make sure you feel at home with them as much as possible.

You’ll also automatically have local friends who you can go to the beach with, ask for tips on the best local restaurant or coffee shop, and who you can ask questions to directly whenever you’re curious about something cultural or something happening in town.

A lot of our students keep in contact with their homestay families after they go back home, and even call every so often to keep up the language practice!

It’s always important to remember that love can be shown in different ways in different cultures, and in Ecuador love is shown often with big laughter, banter and jokes, so if an Ecuadorian madre raises her voice a little bit, she’s not angry, she’s speaking with passion! She loves you!

Cultural exchange

Heather with la familia Gabino-Suarez – Photo Credit (Heater Kovar)

Living with a local family is the perfect way to learn about culture. Just by living in their home and spending time with them each day you’ll learn from each other, you’ll learn about each other’s cultures, and you’ll go back home with unforgettable memories that you would never have made if you stayed in a hotel!

This kind of immersion will give you a more direct approach to Ecuadorian culture, you’ll learn about food by cooking and eating, you’ll learn about cultural traditions by celebrating them together with the guidance of a local, and you’ll learn some regional Spanish that will make it easier for you to make local friends during your trip through Ecuador.  

Living with a local family is the best way to find community while traveling, to feel like you have new parents and siblings when you miss home, and new knowledge and memories to share when you go back home.

Some things to keep in mind before your stay

You are a guest in somebody’s home

Local family enjoying a home cooked meal

Although you are a paying guest, you are still a guest. This means that you should approach this experience with the same amount of respect and openness that you would have when visiting the house of a relative or a friend, instead of seeing it as a hotel or a rental. These families treat each new guest like a new family member, so you are encouraged to see them the same way.

When it comes to their homes, it’s a labor of love and our host families are always doing their absolute best to host, cook, and be accommodating to every guest’s needs. For this reason it’s important to keep your space clean, clean up after yourself and be considerate as you go about your daily activities, and this will help all of you enjoy the experience to the fullest!

Always be respectful and mindful of local customs

Local family conversing with their student outside their house in Olon Ecuador
Alicia, Aura, Adalberto & Selina

Since you’re traveling to a new country, you’ll discover many different cultural customs, most of which you’ll discover once you’re there, but some of which you can make efforts to be mindful of before you go.

One great example of this is that in Ecuador, families of multiple generations live together, so you will most certainly see the respect for elders held in high importance in your family’s home, which is a very important thing to follow and respect as well. 

When sharing stories, certain cultural differences can come up, which is normal, but it’s important to be aware that some families from smaller regions in Ecuador aren’t exposed to cultures from other countries aside from what they see in the media, so keeping a humble approach when talking about the life you come from will help them feel comfortable around you, as you would like to feel around them.

Be curious about them just like they are about you!

a student getting to know her host family at the breakfast table

These are families who are extremely excited to learn about you, your culture and your interests during your stay in Olón, and are preparing their space as much as possible for you to have a comfortable and enjoyable stay, so in the same manner, showing up with a willingness to learn about them and their world will ensure you all have a wonderful time together.

Ecuadorians aren’t shy and they love to tell stories, but they may not be the first to initiate a conversation to try to not be rude or to give you your space. So showing a bit of curiosity in them or asking a few simple questions about them can help break the ice, and once you do start talking, the conversations will be flowing for the whole time you’re there, we promise! 

Our homestay experience has been one of our most successful programs over the years and is an incredible way for our students to add something extra special to their surf and Spanish packages during their stay in Olon.

“What a dream to stay with Cecilia and her family! Cecilia created such a warm, welcoming and joyful experience for us. Her home was only a few blocks away from the beach and vibrantly painted with tropical flowers. Her whole family was amazing and she cooked the best food! They felt like family after a month-long stay. We would highly recommend her home to anyone interested!”

~ Heather Kovak, 2018

If you’re interested in learning more about our homestay programs or you’d like to inquire about availability, you can view the program details here, or reach out to us directly at info@outdoorecuador.com