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Can a bargain-priced international trip provide a full-sized experience? TravelingMom Founder Kim Orlando had to find out. So she booked an 11-day tour of Ecuador and the Galapagos for just $1,600 – a deal that even included air travel from New York City. So, the burning question: Did Exoticca deliver more or less than she bargained for?
What kind of international trip can you really get for $1,600? I had to know. During the pandemic, prices were dramatically reduced and the free cancellation policy made a trip with Exoticca Travel Tours to Ecuador a no-brainer for me. Exoticca is an online travel agency and tour company based in Spain.
A little context: I am not a hop-on-hop-off-bus-tour kind of traveler. I want to explore destinations at my own pace, hit the touristy must-sees but spend most of my time on local flavors and experiences. My husband, on the other hand, needs organization and isn’t keen on surprises.
Why Choose Exotica Travel Tours?
I chose Exoticca’s Ecuador tour because:
1) The price included airfare.
2) I knew I would need help navigating the Galapagos.
3) I thought my husband would like Exoticca’s very organized itinerary.
A proper tour seemed to make the most sense to get my husband to go with me. But my logic did not pan out. He bailed a few months before the trip, claiming a need to golf. So his adventurous, up-for-anything cousin, Tina, went with me instead.
What Does a $1,600 Trip Include?
I have to admit I was more than a little nervous about the types of travel experiences and accommodations that would be included for only $1,600 (from New York). To boot, Tina is a luxe traveler, so the pressure was on.
I actually used the phone number on the Exoticca site and spoke with a travel agent more than once. I was on hold longer than I would prefer, but I cut them some slack considering the travel issues around Covid and the pandemic. And, when I finally got someone on the phone, I was able to get answers to all of my questions.
I learned that Exoticca offers a variety of moderately priced travel packages from 14 day excursions to South Africa, Morocco and Asia to shorter 8 day trips to Portugal, Peru and other European countries. The company’s 60-day cancellation policy is fair to me and full payment is not due upfront. I really wanted this trip to work out so that I could start planning my next trip with Exoticca!
General Exoticca Tour to Ecuador Details
We covered a lot of ground in 11 days: Quito, Tena (Amazon), San Cristobal (Galapagos), Guayaquil. All of the hotels included on the Exoticca Tour to Ecuador were at least 3-star (comparable to Holiday Inn Express, with breakfast included daily), and each had the option of upgrading to a 4-star property. I was happy with the accommodations – we didn’t spend much time in our rooms anyway.
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Our flight was easy – coach class on American Airlines into Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. Upon arrival, we were met immediately by an Exoticca representative.
Travel on the ground was via comfortable touring buses. There is no bathroom on the bus, but we made plenty of stops. The rest stops became part of the adventure. Our guide introduced us to local snacks (including grubs – more on that later!) and drinks. The bathrooms were always clean. Some required a tip or a fee of 25-50 cents.
TravelingMom Tip: Check the COVID requirements often before any international trip as rules change frequently.
Transportation on Our Exoticca Ecuador Tour
Another reason I am sometimes hesitant about organized tours is because the ground transportation is via coach bus. I always thought of this as being herded like cattle and assumed I would not like this part of this tour. It turns out that I was happy to check out the interesting landscapes along the way and not have to worry about driving.
One of the rest stops included the option of eating grubs – grilled or raw – to improve our respiratory health. I somehow choked down a grilled grub and have a video to prove it!
Extra Costs on the Exoticca Ecuador/Galapagos Tour
There are opportunities to upgrade your trip, including escorted tours (read about the tours that are included and optional in this post), and upgrading to a nicer hotel. In addition, some meals are not included.
And then there are other charges not included in the Exoticca tour price that are required.
Mandatory Additional Fees
Those fees are:
- Galapagos Entry/Parks Fee of $100. Everyone who visits the Galapagos is required to pay the national park entry fee. The park entry fee has to be paid in cash.
- Two Covid PCR tests at $75 each for a total of $150. Visitors to the Galapagos are required to show a negative test before entering the islands and Americans are required to show a negative test before boarding the plane to head home.
- Tips for our guides. While tips technically are voluntary, I included them under “mandatory extra costs” because this is how tour guides make their living and a good tour guide is the key to a good tour. Tina and I spent $150 each on tips.
My Final Cost: $2569
- Exoticca trip…$1599
- 3 Exoticca excursions….$295
- Personal day trip….$175
- Additional food/drinks…..$250
- Galapagos parks fee….$100
- Covid testing……$150
What I Would Improve
Two of the Exoticca city tour guides were sub-par. The one in Guayaquil didn’t have the patience for our older travelers. The guide in the Galapagos was difficult to reach when we needed her help. Aside from that, the trip went smoothly and we saw a lot during the time we were there.
The one thing that could use improvement is more advance communication. For example, there is plenty of free time built into the tour and Exoticca offers several optional tours as add-ons. We didn’t know about them until we arrived in Ecuador, though.
I would like for extra excursions and tours to be presented in advance of the trip – even if only the day before – so I have time to think about them. At the time of my booking, there was only one excursion available. Others had been added, but I never received an alert.
When we first arrived, the Exoticca reps hosted a meeting to explain the schedule and the COVID requirements. They also went over the many excursion options. But we had to book on the spot. I was happy to have more options, but it would have made planning easier if that information had been made available prior to arrival. I like to know what things will cost upfront, so the surprise extras felt ingenuine.
Additionally, we found out after we arrived in Ecuador that we would need to pay the Galapagos fees in cash (no credit cards accepted). We all scrambled to find an ATM or bank the day before we left for the island.
If you are considering bringing kids, you know them best. If you think they will be OK on a bus for 4-5 hours at a stretch, then bring them. Wifi is available, but it is spotty. We had one 12-year-old on the trip and he seemed happy to hang with his mom on the bus. He opted out of some of the activities but enjoyed others. Everyone in the group enjoyed having him. My adult kids all want to do this trip, despite the long bus rides.
Would I do another tip with Exoticca? You bet. Ecuador with Exoticca was a great trip with a great travel company. It was well worth the $1,600 I paid to have all of my flights, taxes, covid tests, local questions, breakfast and lodging taken care of. Tina agreed.
Even though I think there is room for improvement, I liked the value so much that I have applied to sell Exoticca trips on TravelingMom so stay tuned!