To Take a Tour or Not

I have spent the majority of my career in tourism selling tours and here’s what I’ve found: most people like tours, once they try them. OK, let me dissect that statement.

First, a “tour” is simply an event that pre-planned and organised with at least some elements pre-paid where the participant(s) move around and see or other wise experience a destination.  There are group tours and individual tours; there are guided tours and non-guided tours. (Argue with me later if you disagree.)

Most people today seem to prefer less structured tours and with fewer other people on the tour, if any. You can do this quite easily with private tours now days.  This is a really great way to travel because you get a private local guide, and driver and they know everything. They are your translators, your travel companions, your sources for information abut all the things you see as you travel and can’t quite figure out. They get you into their own favourite places and let you have quite an authentic taste of local life. One example. In Ecuador, on our way to Casa Mojanda,  Jorge our driver guide stopped at some little village or town, and took us to his favourite bakery. He told us this town specializes in “bizchochos”.  It is kind of like a “garment district” but all about pastries, and generally about pastries for occasions. Of course we stopped, and tried a kind of flaky, buttery type that was less sweet and more salty.

guagua de pan in Otavalo

Guaguas de pan at Otavalo Market

A few days later, All Soul’s Day, (or day of the dead, “dia del muerte”) we saw very special baked items

called “Guagua de pan”. (read more on this tour here if you are interested) This made the connection back to the little town that makes the pastries and reminded us off the espresso and “bizcocho” stop.

The cost of private guided tours can be high, some times very high if you plan a long tour. You can break it into more manageable bites though.

You can organise a reasonable facsimile by hiring a driver to shuttle you from lodge to lodge or place to place. You pace your stay out so that the driver can return to home at night and pick you up a few days later to go to the next lodge. Most lodges have guides you can hire for local touring and onsite exploring. If you are really looking for lower cost and still a good experience this is a good option.

Or, the least expensive option, you can sometimes make use of public shuttles or buses that operate between lodges and you ride with others. I’ve tried lots of these. They are hit and miss on the level of comfort. Some are good, others are too crowded and are back-aches waiting to happen. I would not plan a whole tour around these except for very simple, short transfers.

On the other side, there are guided group tours. This is what most people think of when they hear the word “tour”. Tour companies will say that you save money by sharing the cost of the vehicle, the driver, the guide and sometimes the accommodation. It is sometimes hard to establish if this is the case or not because there are so many dynamic factors. For me, it’s not the biggest reason I would opt for a guided group tour.

There is a certain group spirit that develops when you experience something together. You often make really good friends and sometimes make new travel companions for future tours. The guide, or tour director, keeps everyone on schedule and they do make very good use of your time. Generally, group tours allow you to be more gregarious and social.

It’s really up to you and your personal preferences.


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