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Exoticca’s tour of Ecuador and the Galapagos bucks the norm: groups moving en masse from one activity to the next. These tours take a different, more flexible approach, which worked better for SheBuysTravel Founder Kim Orlando. Here’s why.
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.
The fact that Exoticca Tours includes lots of free time in its tour itineraries was a big draw for me. We were not expected to do everything together as a group. Our group of 10 represented ages 12-80 and a variety of interests. We did a lot of sightseeing together but we also had plenty of independent time to do our own tours or do nothing.
The walking tours that were included in our trip were easy-paced and good for all ages.
All other excursions like snorkeling, hiking the volcano and a cacao farm visit, are optional and range from relaxing to rigorous. The Exoticca guides explained each one in detail the morning after we arrived.
Organized Activities Included in My Exoticca Tour to Ecuador
Activities in the Amazon
In the Amazon, at Suchipakari Lodge, we took an easy hour-long guided night hike along a path into the jungle, shining our iPhone flashlights on tarantulas and other bugs and stopping to absorb the positive energy from the ceibo tree. The trunk of the ceibo tree is shaped like a C and large enough to hold at least 20 of us. The ceibo tree is special to the indigenous people of the Amazon, radiating a positive energy. Our guide said he would often visit the ceibo for meditation and prayer. I felt the energy of the forest and the tree when I went back another night for a shaman blessing.
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We did a day hike too, to learn about medicinal plants in the jungle that cure everything from headaches to mosquito bites. Our tour guide added a cacao preparation lesson and local fruit tasting for $15 per person that everyone in the group joined.
Visiting the Galapagos
After the visit to the jungle, we returned to Quito (our second stay at the Mercure Hotel) so that we could fly to San Cristobal, one of the many Galapagos islands.
Upon arrival in the Galapagos, all guests pay a $100 (cash) entry fee at the airport, which includes a visit to Tortuga National Park.
Only native, trained guides are allowed to give tours in the Galapagos. On day 2, a local guide took us on a tour of Tortuga National Park to see the enormous 100+ year old tortoises and the babies and to learn more about what is being done to protect them.
Exploring San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos
I loved the vibe of San Cristobal and even though we spent 3 nights, I would love to spend more time there. I felt very safe. Every morning, before our activities started, I walked all over the town and into the neighborhoods by myself. People are friendly. When there is a soccer game, all eyes are on TV. The local lunch – soup, freshly squeezed juice, fish and rice, is $4 and delicious.
On day 1, the local Exoticca guide took us on a quick walking tour of the main street, pointing out ATMs, good food, and excursion companies. She warned us about the huge sea lion population on San Cristobal island. They are not always friendly and they need plenty of space when walking past them. Sea lions are everywhere – store fronts, on the beach, in the water (while you are snorkeling) and they are not shy.
Excursions Included in Our Exoticca Tour of Ecuador
The activities included in the base tour price exceeded my expectations. There were more than I expected and the guides were very informative.
On our second trip to Quito, our guide took us on a street food tasting tour. We took an Uber to a park where there were several food trucks set up. Our menu included fried pork, tripe, fish, plantains and a taste of local moonshine. Our guide, Diego, was not required to go with us but we were happy to have him show us more of Ecuadorian culture.
During our stay at Suchipakari, our guides led a night hike in the jungle, spotlighting tarantulas, bugs and animals.
In Guayaquil, a bustling Ecuadoran city, we stayed at Unipark across the street from Seminario Park, aka Parque de las Iguanas, named for its large population of large iguanas. A local Guayaquil guide took us on a 90-minute walking tour through the park and downtown Guayaquil.
Our regular guide, Diego, took us around the streets of Old Town, an area of the city that looks like Europe with small winding streets and baroque architecture. We tasted local candies, visited churches and watched street performers.
Exoticca Tour Guides
A good tour guide is ALWAYS the key to a great tour experience. Our first guide, Diego, was with us throughout the Ecuador and Amazon portions of the trip. He is exceptional. Not only does he speak very good English, his comprehension is fantastic. There were different levels of mobility among the group and he accommodated all.
He is fun, knowledgeable, caring, attentive and sweet. At the end of our trip, when we left Guayaquil for the US, he stayed with us until every last one of us was on a plane. That kind of attention made the trip so enjoyable and stress-free.
He set the bar pretty high for the other guides and a couple of them didn’t measure up. The guide in the Galapagos took us on a tour that was too brief and she was difficult to reach via phone or WhatsApp. This was an issue because we did have an incident with a group member who needed medical attention.
Our guide in Tortuga National Park was kind but uninterested and slept most of the time on the bus. The guided tour in Guayaquil was a waste of time. That guide was on a mission to finish by a certain time and our group was tired, not able to keep up with his pace.
We spoke with another Exoticca group that had completed their trip and they said their experience with the guides was similar – started out strong and dwindled once the main guide left.
Additional Activities NOT Included in Exoticca Tour Price
Tina and I chose to spend our free time on upgraded experiences, such as a $60 visit to the spa at the Mercure Hotel in Quito.
Here’s what we did and how much it cost:
ToursbyLocals Guayaquil Day Trip – $175 per person (including the tip)
I found this tour via Google search, emailed the guide several times, and booked it before the trip. There were similar tours offered by Exoticca but this one had the advantage of a personal driver and could be tailored to our requests. I had not booked with Tours by Locals prior so this required communication and a little leap of faith. Mario’s great personality and familiarity with American culture was a bonus.
A third member of the tour joined Tina and me on this day trip to explore areas outside the city of Guayaquil. As soon as we met our guide, Mario, we knew we made the right choice. He is a fantastic guide and a wonderful human.
Mario picked us up from the hotel and modified his tour to include the things we wanted to see and do. For example, we stopped at a roadside market to taste coconut water, cake and fruits. We hiked Manglares Churute Ecological Reserve with a local guide who pointed out families of howler monkeys. We saw loads of them. At the end of the park hike, Gonzo, the river canoe captain, motored us through the mangroves where we spotted spoonbill birds, blue footed boobies, ospreys and other beautiful wildlife.
Lunch was at Hacienda Cacao & Mango, a farm owned by Albert and Ninfa. They served ceviche (a special no-onion version for me) and a main entree with locally sourced food. Albert and Ninfa showed us how to make chocolate and we each made our own specially flavored bars. We visited Ecua-Andino, where Panama hats are made and later met with Andrea Tello, a well-known local jewelry maker who set up in Hotel Parque in Guayami.
And while all this was happening, Mario was filling us in on history, local flavors and idiosyncrasies. It was like hanging out with a friend we had known for years. You can book Mario directly here.
Otavalo Excursion – $110
We booked this day trip through Exoticca. The full day trip to Otavalo, Ecuador, to visit a Ketchwa couple who make blankets, ponchos and scarves from alpaca wool. We also shopped in a local indigenous flea market. The wool making demo by the Ketchwa couple was interesting and I did buy two blankets there but it was a very long drive for that. Most of the market vendors sold the same stuff and much of that could be purchased in Guayaquil. I would pass on this.
Snorkeling Excursion – $155
Another tour we booked through Exoticca, I highly recommend this one. We spent a full day snorkeling around Kicker Rock. We were a little irritated when we were asked to pay an additional $5 for full wetsuits instead of shorties. It was only $5 but why couldn’t that info have been provided when we signed up?
Our snorkeling guide, Luis, was amazing. His English is fluent and he knew how to cater to every guest’s comfort level. He was able to accommodate the experienced scuba divers in our group and he used a lifesaver ring to “tow” those who were not comfortable snorkeling on their own.
Tubing – $15
During the Amazon jungle portion of the trip, many of us opted to pay $15 for a tubing adventure down the river that runs alongside the Suchipakari Lodge. As we floated towards the small rapids, we were entertained by local kids jumping off a high platform into the river. There were lots of jokes about piranhas (at least I think they were jokes) and the rapids were not huge. We all liked it so much that we did 3 floats down the river.
Cacao Demonstration & Local Fruit Tasting – $15
Our guides arranged an indigenous fruits tasting and cacao demonstration at Suchipakari Lodge, which was well worth the extra $15. Each person learned to roast and shell the cacao beans and there were plenty of fruits like the naranjilla (looks like an orange but sweeter), the tree tomato (my favorite – not tomato-like at all), and the chirimoya – hard PASS! HAHA.
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