Exoticca Travel Review

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Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Can a bargain-priced international trip provide a full-sized experience? SheBuysTravel 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.

4) TrustPilot had positive customer reviews.

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.

exoticca travel review - equator sign
Equator sign. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

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!

exoticca travel review - Quito sign
Photo credit: Kim Orlando

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.

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.

SheBuysTravel 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!

exoticca travel review - Otavala Indigenous market
Otavalo Indigenous Markets. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

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
  • Tips…..$150
  • Additional food/drinks…..$250
  • Galapagos parks fee….$100
  • Covid testing……$150
Exoticca travel review - Galapagos sign
Galapagos sign. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

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.

exoticca travel review - Suchipakari Lodge jungle tour
Jungle tour at Suchipakari Lodge. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Summary

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 SheBuysTravel so stay tuned!

9 responses


  1. I am speaking from my personal experience, so if you find what I am writing here offensive in any way, my apologies to you in advance. Nevertheless, I must be honest with you, and I do this only after having shown forth a LOT of patience with this company, which has been given more than adequate time to respond to us and make things right. But our patience has grown thin. This should not, needless to say, come as a surprise to them when they read this.

    My wife and I trusted Exoticca with our time, money, and high hopes for a trip to Morocco in late May 2022. The gentleman who booked this trip for us was friendly and a delight to work with; we have no qualms with him. However, when we received the airline reservations approximately two months in advance of the trip, they booked us on Air Canada for what was apparently the least expensive ticketing. We were to depart from Las Vegas and travel through Montreal and Lisbon en route to Casablanca.

    I let Exoticca know immediately that the layover in Lisbon was very short, in fact, too short to make the connecting flight to Casablanca. After a very, very long hold time, and having to endure the repetitively annoying music in the meantime while waiting for a representative, I emphasized my concern that we would not be able to make the connecting flight if the flight from Montreal was even a little late. The rep tried to assure me that there would be no problems. I was, of course, skeptical of his “reassurance,” having heard such things before. But he told me that they would get it changed and email me with the new itinerary. When the email came without either an itinerary change or an explanation, I called again and waited on another long hold, only to explain my concern once more to another rep, who tried to assure me that we’d be OK in making the connection in Lisbon. I couldn’t help but get the distinct feeling as she spoke that I was getting an earful of hot air and fluff, despite sounding sincere and genuine. She likewise told me that we would hear back very shortly with an adjusted itinerary, but the email once again came back unchanged, just as if my concern had been completely disregarded and my time wasted.

    I attempted other calls to Exoticca, but each time the hold time seemed to get longer and longer. I gave up trying to contact them and just went with the itinerary they had provided. We left Las Vegas on time and waited for eight hours at the airport in Montreal. The flight from Montreal was delayed, causing us to run like crazy to the departure gate for Casablanca, only to be firmly told that the gate had closed and we would not be permitted to board. Our greatest fear was realized. Fortunately, for the most part, the airline agents in Lisbon tried to be helpful. Nevertheless, we were then redirected from counter to counter to counter by airline and airport reps, who weren’t able to do much for us. But after several hours, we finally managed to book a flight on a different airline.

    As expected, our bags were not present upon our arrival in Casablanca. The lady at the desk that handled such situations had apparently become tired of dealing with angry Western visitors and would not let us make a claim. In desperation, we went to the Swissport office, where the gentleman tried his best to assist us. But we were not able to file an official claim. Our tour guide patiently waited for us and tried to assist us the best he could, but we left the airport without our luggage and didn’t have it the entire 11 days of the trip, forcing us to wash clothes every night. Repeated efforts to get our bags resulted in continual disappointment. To make matters worse, we learned from fellow trip members that we could have been booked directly from Montreal to Casablanca without that unnecessary and unfortunate layover in Lisbon. We were the only trip members to have to change flights there. Imagine that!

    Despite this major setback, we did our best to enjoy our time in the country. We had a great tour group and guide, and were able to see many fun and interesting sites. So, why am I writing all this if we managed to have a decent time? Well, it certainly is not to thank Exoticca, who contracted with a decent in-country travel group. Days after our return, we were contacted by the Exoticca Customer Car Team. I responded to their email by stating that I was displeased with some aspects of the trip and asked to be contacted by the team. “Julie” replied that they were “so sorry to hear that some aspects of this tour did not meet” our expectations. After a couple of failed attempts to reach me while I was at work, I told her by email that I’d make myself available at a certain time that would be convenient for both of us. She apparently ignored my emails and attempted to call again two weeks later, again thanking me for my initial review and noting that she was still not able to reach me successfully. She even asked me to let her know if I’d like for her to contact me either by phone or email, as she said she’d be very grateful for further feedback, which, as she stated, would be “a very useful tool to assist in improving our service and products in the future.”

    I never heard from her again. Another rep, “Ivan,” called me a month later and informed me that Julie had been taken off my case “for personal reasons,” which I now believe was BS – the case was simply passed on to him because Exoticca didn’t know how to (or simply didn’t want to) deal with my issue. I was never mean, threatening, or vulgar in any of my interactions, either by phone or email. “Ivan” and I seemed to have a helpful conversation, wherein I was able to explain my situation. We agreed that he would call me back one week later at a designated time and that he would be able to make things right. Well over a month later, that call still has not come.

    It’s apparent to me that Exoticca, while providing a great menu of very desirable-looking tours, is horribly unresponsive and not really interested in assisting travelers if there’s an issue of any kind. Be forewarned… and a word to the wise: They book the trip and hope like hell the contracted company in country does its job, because they certainly aren’t doing theirs, and they’re not going to help you if things go south! They don’t want to hear any complaints about their service (or lack thereof)… nothing negative. They will simply stop communicating with you if that’s the case. I gave them opportunity after opportunity to redeem themselves.

    I wanted so much to disregard all the negative reviews I had read online before I signed up for this trip. Nevertheless, I made the fateful decision to disregard those reviews and give Exoticca a chance to prove those reviews were simply untrue and biased. At this point, I can no longer do that and feel that I must make my feelings very clear. The sad part in all of this is that I had wanted so badly to give them another chance and take advantage of other seemingly fun deals, but heaven help us if something were to go wrong… they wouldn’t be there to care in the least. Trying to contact them by phone has also been a nightmare, with very long wait times and reps that will tell you what you want to hear, but will not follow through with what they promise. I have always been better off booking with reputable companies like Gate 1 Travel, where I’ve never gotten any of this. The various tours Exoticca offers are quite tempting, and they’ll likely be good once you’re in country; however, just pray nothing goes wrong!

  2. Hi, I booked my trip to Portugal with Exoticca about a month ago. At time of booking, I was so happy that I found this trip package, but now I’m beginning to wonder if this company is legit. They are changing my flight arrangements and demanding extra fee and for remaining balance to be paid immediately without any confirmation that my flight from JFK will be direct flight (which they promised, but now demanding extra $340) I’m trying to talk to someone, but reaching the customer service on call is impossible. Can you tell my how they booked your flight. When did you get flight information?? Is it safe to trust them?

  3. I have had a terrible experience with Exoticca and would never use them.

  4. I was thinking about the same trip. We’re the hotels OK, and was the Galapagos portion enough time to see at least some of the sites.

  5. What were the 3 optional Exoticca excursions you did? I can’t find any details about them on this webpage. And also the personal day trip. We are doing a similar trip in September and are trying to determine if any of the optional Exoticca excursions are worth it. Were they in general?

  6. I’m not one to tell anybody how to spend their money but I would advise you not to spend any with Exoticca. The extra C is not for comfort, consideration or care.

    When we first engaged with them in July of 2021 we were assured that we’d be able to secure whatever flights we wanted from our various locations. We were a group of six girls that wanted to avoid an extra flight if possible to fly to South Africa. M1 told us that we’d have all the options in the world for us and was very reassuring as we lay down 60% of our total fee for our tour to be taken in May of 2022.

    As late as January 2022 another employee M2 assured me “you cannot choose airline, you however can make a request to fly on a specific airline and the dedicated team can check if the request can be accommodated.” “Yes, it would be possible to book a return flight to a different destination (additional charges may apply) We would need to have the confirmed new location 60 days prior to departure.” And “No direct flights expected on your booking. As mentioned on your trip summary page 7 it is expected no more than 2 stopovers.” NONE of that was true.

    It was now March 2022 and time to make full payment and we discover flights have already been booked without consultation. We again asked if we’re going to be able to make changes. Crickets no one replied, numerous emails went unanswered we were stuck with the flights assigned. All flights originated in Atlanta so that required me buying an extra flight. As a result I took 3 planes traveling over 33 hours to get to South Africa with five stops. The last flight was with random air carrier called Asky that made two stops before we landed in Johannesburg, South Africa at 1:30AM in the morning. (Our Exoticca airport pickup was also a no show. We were at least reimbursed for our cabs to hotel.)

    The flights home were even worse, it took over 38 hours to get back to my home in Florida. There was a random stop in Dublin, Ireland for refueling and change of crew that left out of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. No new passengers got on the flight in Ireland, still not sure why we needed to change flight crew. We should have gained time coming home this detour was absurd.

    Talking to other Exoticca customers whilst on the trip we learned we were not alone, they shared similar stories and travel challenges in their dealings with them too. I do not recommend you use Exoticca you can get the same on the ground experience we did by booking it on your own or at least looking at other companies with similar products. GOOGLE those companies too, wish we’d done the same with Exoticca.

    1. It’s so disappointing to hear that Exoticca did not deliver for you. I really enjoyed my trip and my flights were fine. The whole reason I booked a tour is so that I would not have to make all of the arrangements. Good info for me as a new tour leader (Bhutan in October) – transparency and clear communication is key. Oh and own it when you make a mistake.

    2. Hi, I’m having similar experience with my flight arrangement. At the time of booking, and happily paying 60% deposit, they promised me that my flight will be direct flight with Delta from JFK to Lisbon. Now about a month later, they emailed me some confusing flight options to choose from which required me to spend the entire day hopping planes all over Europe which I refuse to do. They are asking extra $340 to make my flight direct, but now I’m beginning to think that they won’t even deliver that promise with me paying that extra cost because they’re saying they can’t promise it will secure that flight. Now I’m digging through all these reviews, and wonder if I should let go my 60% deposit and save other 40% and extra $340. What do you think?……. I told them what they are doing is total “bait and switch” tactic but they are saying they’ll keep my 60% deposit if I cancel booking.

  7. They are fine if you don’t have any problems. The 2nd leg of my return flight (booked thru Exoticca) was cancelled and their response to my request for assistance was “it’s not our responsibility.” The flight was booked on Royal Jordanian but American was the airline for the 2nd leg. American says talk to Royal Jordanian, Royal Jordanian says contract your travel agent and Exoticca refuses to help at all.

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