Ecuador group tours – are they worth it?
Ecuador group tours are becoming more and more popular nowadays. In today’s everyone-for-themselves DIY culture, tourists have begun to take a new approach to traveling. Solo travel, especially among women, has never been as high. Similarly, we’re seeing record numbers of cycle tourists carrying only the bare necessities (and their ipads) on their bike racks. We’re witnessing a gradual withdrawal from traditional tourism, in large part because of the wealth of information online, and as travelers wish to discover places for themselves, not with a guide.
As a traveler myself, I can completely relate. I like to explore off-the-beaten-path, I’m extremely frugal and I despise group photos. But I will admit, that there are instances when organized tours are worth it. In the following blog, we’ll dissect some of the times when you should consider going the Ecuador group tours route as well as some good Ecuador tour options to choose from.
Is purchasing Ecuador group tours necessary?
I like to think of packaged tours like those round trip plane tickets that are a few hundred dollars more expensive, but also reduce travel time by 7 ENTIRE HOURS. So. tempting. But the money! But my butt! BUT THE MONEY! I’ll hover over that “Select” button, knowing very well that if I hit the Refresh button, the option may no longer be available. (Top tip: always search for plane tickets in incognito mode”.
Since I speak Spanish, have lived in Ecuador for nearly a decade, and have done quite a bit of exploring in that time, I would rarely purchase a private, organized Ecuador tour. However, if I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know the country as well, there are many reasons why I would invest in Ecuador group tours. Here are some of the common reasons why you SHOULD purchase an Ecuador tour versus planning your own trip:
Investing in a private tour while traveling in Thailand was one of the best decisions I made on that trip. I honestly wish I’d had a good friend there to show me around instead, but I didn’t, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to pick up enough Thai to get by. So I opted for a private tour.
If you don’t speak Spanish, you should seriously consider this option while traveling in Ecuador. Spanish is significantly easier to learn than Thai, and chances are you already know a few useful phrases, but going on a private tour that provides interpretation ensures you’ll more fully understand what’s going on, the history of a place, and what to eat/not to eat (this one’s important!).
It can really make all the difference, and until you learn Spanish for yourself, it may in fact be a more authentic experience, rather than fumbling through your Spanish-English dictionary on the Plaza de los Ponchos.
Access to National Parks in Ecuador
There are a few instances while traveling through Ecuador where you are required to have a certified naturalist tour guide or mountain guide to access an area. Unless you have a direct contact to a guide, going with an authorized tourism operator is your best bet as they already collaborate with local associations that provide professional guides.
Investing in a private tour to the Galapagos Islands is generally suggested since most people that travel here want to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. You don’t want anything to go wrong, you want to see all the best islands and dive at all the best dive spots.
Since most tours are all-inclusive, you don’t have to worry about a thing, including food. And, many private tours operating from cruise ships or yachts offer you access to islands that you would otherwise be unable to visit.
That said, you can definitely explore the Galapagos Islands without a private tour, and information is becoming more readily available online. Planning your own tour also saves you quite a bit of money since you can opt for cheap meals (local lunches only cost $2.50) and hostels, versus more expensive hotels and meals.
Jump down to explore some of the Wanderbus Add-On tour options, or visit our Extra Tours page.
Yasuni National Park
As one of the most biologically diverse places in the world, the Yasuní should be on your Ecuador bucket list, right up there with the Galapagos Islands. However, to enter the Yasuní National Park, you are required to go with a certified naturalist tour guide.
By doing so, you are also supporting the local economy and the livelihoods of the local guides and their families.
The easiest way to access a local guide is to buy a packaged tour to the Amazon, which usually involves day trips that are accompanied by local guides. However, you can also find local guides directly, it might just take a bit more effort.
When I went to explore the Yasuní, I decided to go the cheap, DIY route. I jumped on a bus from Quito to Coca for 8 hours, then onto a boat for 9 hours until I reached Nueva Rocafuerte (on the border with Perú). There, I asked around for a local guide who eventually agreed to take me and a friend through the National Park for a few days. There were pros and cons to this approach. It was amazing, and definitely cheaper than an organized tour, but I’m not sure I’d rough it quite as much next time! Also, we almost couldn’t find a guide because of local festivities occurring at the time.
Do you want to visit the Amazon in Cuyabeno? Jump down to explore some of the Wanderbus Add-On tour options, or visit our Extra Tours page.
Climbing volcanoes above 5,000 meters
Ecuador is the land of the volcanos, and many people travel here to summit peaks like Cayambe, Cotopaxi and Antisana. However, even if you’re an experienced alpinist, you’ll need a guide to climb most of the larger peaks, especially those above 5,000 meters. It’s strongly suggested you go with a guide since trails aren’t always marked and it’s easy to get lost AND DIE.
There are a few local companies that specialize in taking small groups up mountains. Prices are reasonable, they know the way, and also know who to call in case of an emergency.
Ecuador offers travelers a lot of rough and adventure-full terrain. If you’re planning of getting that adrenaline pumping, make sure you take the necessary safety precautions and also make sure you have travel insurance that covers extreme sports.
Piggy backing off the last subject of safety, if you plan on participating in an Ayahuasca or San Pedro ceremony, both of which are available in Ecuador, make sure you also have a reliable spiritual guide.
For the most part, these are medicinal plants and will heal, not hurt. But in order to be taken safely, you should only try them under the guidance of a reputable shaman, taita or maima. This is yet another instance where you might consider going on a private ayahuasca retreat or tour.
Your mental health
Yet another valid reason to opt for a private tour, ESPECIALLY if you’re traveling with your family, is to maintain some degree of mental sanity. Think about it, why do people hire a wedding planner for their own wedding?
Especially if your family is comprised of individuals with contrasting personal preferences and lifestyles (currently describing my own family), it will save you quite a headache to just select a tour, specify any dietary restrictions and leave it at that.
Departure times, meals, guides…everything is taken care of, and if something goes wrong, they can’t blame you, they can just take their frustration out in a TripAdvisor review! Truly a win-win scenario.
(My parents and siblings are about to visit me for a month and just writing this has convinced me to go with a private tour.)
How to choose the best Ecuador group tours
Unless one of your personal contacts highly recommends a tour company (depending on your Ecuador destination), you’ll quickly become overwhelmed with the Ecuador tour options available. To choose the best one, I suggest focusing on the following:
A lot of information regarding private tours and companies can be found online through TripAdvisor or a regular Google Search. However, keep in mind that, while many companies might have a domain name, that doesn’t mean they’ve invested in SEO or Google Ranking. You might have to dig around quite a bit!
As you’re researching Ecuador groups tours and companies, make sure to explore Google Maps, its ratings and also Facebook. Private companies in Ecuador use Facebook for official business, and you’re often more likely to receive a response from a Facebook message than by email or a chatbot.
More for your money?
Let’s face it, we all want to get more for our money, there’s no shame in admitting it. The reality is that a company that offers more inclusive tour packages for a better price are probably doing a better job. The logic? They’re able to reduce their rates, while still offering competitive benefits, because they’re bringing in enough clientele. They’re investing in marketing and they’re optimizing, at least that’s my logical reasoning, but I studied anthropology, not business, so I might be way off…
On the other hand, all businesses have to start somewhere. Not all of them have angel investors or family trust funds to invest initial capital. Some businesses might not have hundreds of reviews, they might not have the best infrastructure or facilities, but they might offer something more important: genuine interest in their guests’ experiences.
When scouring through reviews, keep an eye out for keywords like “inviting”, “home away from home” and “family”. Ultimately, these are the connections that matter most, even when traveling. Especially when traveling. It’s that personal connection that makes a difference, and you might find the most genuine types of connection at more humble beginnings.
Speaking of quality care, and just it make your life a little bit easier, I’m going to go ahead and promote a relatively new selection of add-on tour options through Wanderbus, which you can find on our main menu (“Extra Tours”) on our homepage.
No beating around the bush here. These are Wanderbus tours. We benefit directly from them, as do the tour operators themselves. Everyone does it, we just do it transparently 😉
Among our multi-day tours are:
Galapagos Tours – starting at $699 for a 3 night/4 day tour
We have 3 available add-on tours for the Galapagos Islands:
If you only have a few days to spend on the Galapagos Islands, go to the island of Santa Cruz. Here, you’ll experience Galapagos nature first hand, which is really what everyone is after!
Daily activities include hiking, snorkeling and sailing, thereby seeing the wealth of natural diversity both above ground and underwater.
The Santa Cruz and Isabela Galapagos tours gives you access to numerous astonighly beautiful beaches, not to mention island wilderness that you won’t find elsewhere (literally). Hike, snorkel, kayak your way around the two largest islands of the Galapagos archipelago.
While it may seem obvious that we try to sell you a longer tour to the Galapagos, it’s with good reason. If you’re ready to invest in a plane ticket to Ecuador and then another one to the Galapagos Islands, risking food poisoning and all sorts of diseases that aren’t really a threat, stay for a friggin’ week! Make the most of it! YOLO!
This weeklong tour gets you to the nicest spots on the Galapagos archipelago. You won’t leave feeling like you missed out on a Galapagos top destination. You’ll leave thoroughly satisfied knowing you got the full Galapagos experience before global warming caused ocean levels to rise, taking these amazing islands with them. The clock is ticking.
Amazon Rainforest Tours – Starting at just $262
Perhaps you don’t believe in global warming or simply don’t want to accept that the Galapagos Islands may one day disappear. I can relate (to the second). Human beings are naturally optimistic creatures, believing naively that the worst won’t ever happen to us.
So, let’s forget about the Galapagos Islands for now and consider an Amazon Rainforest Tour, shall we? Our Cuyabeno Amazon tours take you deep into the Amazon where you’ll likely see more tropical wildlife than ever before, including enormous anacondas, pink river dolphins, monkeys, reptiles, piranhas, and more.
You can choose from short, 2 night / 3 day tours ($262) or longer 4 night / 5 day trips ($406). The short tours are a popular option since they leave you with enough time to visit another region of the country (dare I say, the Galapagos?).
For some reason, private, organized tours in Ecuador (and elsewhere) are sort of looked down upon by modern-day travelers. It’s as if they don’t offer as authentic of an experience to travelers as the DIY alternatives do.
To be fair, in many cases this might be true, but I think the factors that determine an “authentic” experience have more to do with the length of your journey, your approach to travel and inter-cultural exchange, and your language skills.
Usually, the longer your journey, the more authentic the experience. I honestly encourage people to travel for longer than 10 days (3 months is great!), but this isn’t always possible because of our everyday obligations. If you don’t have the time to DIY every aspect of your trip, you should really consider the private tour option. It doesn’t mean it won’t be a meaningful, adventureful, and eye-opening experience.
Private tours are convenient and, while often a bit more expensive, they’ll ensure that you experience worry-free exploration and real relaxation.
You just have to approach it like you’re 60+ years old. By the time you’re 60, you don’t give a hoot what you look like, you put on that khaki safari vest because it’s comfortable, convenient (keyword: “pockets”) and dries quickly. You take amazing photos of all the animals and get to return home refreshed, and with a bunch of fun stories and a tan. Don’t think about it too much.