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Land-Based Tours: GAP or Active South America?

Anchorage, Alaska
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3 posts
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Land-Based Tours: GAP or Active South America?
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Hello,

Several friends, my husband and I are planning a trip to the Galapagos next summer. After much thought, we decided to do a land-based tour. We have now narrowed it down to two options: a GAP adventure tour and an Active South America tour. The itineraries are almost identical but the GAP tour is about $900 cheaper than the Active tour. One of my friends is pushing really hard for the GAP tour because it's cheaper and because she's travelled with GAP before and enjoyed herself.

I'm concerned because I've read some VERY NEGATIVE online reviews about GAP tours in South America that give me pause. Some have said that GAP prices its tours cheaply and does a bait-and-switch once you're there, charging extra "local fees" and tips that are not advertised in the written materials. Others have said that GAP tour guides cater to the "drink til you drop" crowd at the expense of other travelers. (I'm 33 years old and my beer bonging days are over.) Still others have said that the tour guides are unhelpful, inexperienced, and even dangerous.

Does anyone know whether we'd be likely to have a better experience with GAP or Active South America? Basically, while $900 is a lot of money, I'd be willing to pay the extra if it meant I was going to have a substantially better travel experience. This is a trip I'll only do once in my lifetime, and I want it to be great.

Thanks in advance for any advice you can provide!

USA
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1,420 posts
2 reviews
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1. Re: Land-Based Tours: GAP or Active South America?
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Given that GAP has a long reputation for charging a lot for what you get I shudder to think about the price of the other tour. GAP has a handful of their own employees scattered around the parts of the world where they offer tours. Actually meeting a GAP rep is a rarity. What they possess is a long list of websites, phone numbers, email addresses and fax numbers. They put together a tour by contacting locals who are contracted to provide services. If the locals do their jobs you are most likely fine. If someone on site looses the slip of paper with your name on it... you are out of luck with often only a contact back home. Galapagos aside since there you have to connect with a tour... are you willing to give some info about your land trip? I've been through the region several times... some just travel... others working. And I've written under some of my other lives about travel. You are young enough so I presume all in your group is mobile. Where do you want to go? How long? Budget? In dollars not adjectives. Spanish level? Fear/paranoia level? Tours are great for the elderly and the limp wristers, but at any given time the majority of folks on the road in South America are doing it solo... at a price far lower than GAP would charge. If you have room in your luggage for some common sense, a few phrases of Spanish and a set of cojones you can plan your own trip.

Anchorage, Alaska
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6 reviews
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2. Re: Land-Based Tours: GAP or Active South America?
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Hi Bob,

Thanks for the information. At this point we are only planning on hitting the Galapagos, which means we have to be hooked up with some kind of tour. We may decide to do some land traveling in Ecuador as well, but I have relatives there and we would probably stay/travel with them, so there is no need for a tour or anything on that end.

Our main concern is getting a good Galapagos tour. One of my concerns is that GAP's published price is low ($2500 each) but that I've heard that they like to add on fees that aren't listed in the catalog. One review mentioned a "local payment" of $300 from each tour participant that had to be made to their guide (I believe this was on a Peru trip) before he would start their tour. Also, the GAP tour does not include as much as the Active tour (you are responsible for all the tipping on the GAP tour - which I hear can really add up - as well as more of your own meals) . When you add up all these extras, I don't think the GAP tour will be that much cheaper than the Active tour -- maybe $300 or $400 cheaper, but not $900.

My other main concern is that in my internet search I've read almost nothing but negative feedback from people who have taken GAP's South America (including Galapagos) tours. Mostly, they say that the guides are terrible, and that there isn't anyone around from GAP to complain to. Probably the pivotal difference between the two tours for me is that Active sends one of their own guides/reps on each tour with the local guide. I think this probably goes a long way toward ensuring that each group has the best possible experience.

But really, I don't know. I was hoping to get some feedback from people who had travelled with each company to help us make up our minds.

Edited: 12 years ago
Kiawah Island...
Destination Expert
for Kiawah Island, Charleston
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12,281 posts
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3. Re: Land-Based Tours: GAP or Active South America?
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Why don't you look at some of the boats themselves and contact their brokers? We did our trip on the Samba, but had a 13 day tour through the company we went with. Here's a listing for one of the brokers who books Samba cruises...

http://www.galapagosislands.com/html/samba.html

We had a marvelous time on this boat, not the first complaint. I will tell you this, we were up and off the Samba by 7:00 every morning (to beat the heat and to get the best light for photos), many times when we were heading back to the boat, after spending several hours hiking, the GAP boat would just be arriving. We seldom saw other tours on the islands while we were there.

Also, Juan, who is the guide for many of the Samba tours, is one of the best in the Galapagos.

Good luck w/booking your trip!

Kiawah Island...
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for Kiawah Island, Charleston
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4. Re: Land-Based Tours: GAP or Active South America?
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Just noticed that you have chosen a land based tour, how did you make that decision?

USA
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1,420 posts
2 reviews
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5. Re: Land-Based Tours: GAP or Active South America?
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I've never used either agency. But I don't have to. I go direct to the source and cut out the middle man. Been going for decades. I have also been writing a long time in different locales so I've come across a lot of other folks experiences. GAP seems to be always negative. I've heard many of the same nickel and dime... OK $50-300 stories. Galapagoes is Ecuador's cash cow. Just like MP in Peru it is all they have. So everyone wants their piece. Twas a time when you showed up and as soon as the captain of the boat was sober you worked a deal. Then every island, every town started to tack on fees. They changed year by year. In this respect GAP is being legalistic. Rather than say they have a one price covers all... and face it.. some book months in advance. What happens if someone adds another fee? GAP gets a shaft. I guess they presume it's bettert to quote only costs they know and at the bottom of the brochure put an asterisk and OTHER. Here is something you might try. In many third world countries there are two prices... Gringo and local. Since you have family... have they looked into seeing if they can purchase the trip at a lower price?

Quito, Ecuador
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651 posts
2 reviews
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6. Re: Land-Based Tours: GAP or Active South America?
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Hi!

Although I havent used the other company, I do know that GAP charters out

two boats out here, and they are not owned specifically by GAP. I know there are alot of companies offering tours (both land based AND cruises), and it is hard to know which option is the closest to what you want! I would suggest dealing with a local company in Ecuador, or with the boats directly as Bob mentioned, if you decide to cruise.

Ottawa, Canada
Destination Expert
for Galapagos Islands
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4,835 posts
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7. Re: Land-Based Tours: GAP or Active South America?
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With all due respect to GTBob, beyond Galapagos, there is a wealth of fantastic things to see and do in Ecuador. They are just not on the mass tourism radar screen and cater to smaller groups, are more locally owned and operated, and for which most profits remain in the communities and/or country. By definition, they are harder to know about - but they are out there.

Warmest regards,

Heather Blenkiron

Toronto, Canada
5 posts
8. Re: Land-Based Tours: GAP or Active South America?
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My name is Lyndon, and I am an employee of Gap Adventures.

I love this discussion, and wanted to add a few comments to help clarify a few points on this thread:

1) We have an office in Quito with approx 20 staff. One of these staff meet every group in Quito prior to, and on their return from the Galapagos.

2) Yes, we used to charge a 'Local Payment' which was payable at the start of the tour. For over a year now, we have had the 'Local Payment portion of the tour cost rolled into the overall tour cost pre-paid, and no additional payments are due upon joining the tour. The exception to this rule is the Galapagos, where some charges are levied by third parties. USD$10 is paid at the airport in Quito when departing to receive your "Transit Control Card" as issued by the Galapagos National Park. The second fee of USD$100 is payable directly to the Galapagos National Park upon arrival on Baltra Island in the Galapagos.

3) All food is included while aboard our boats.

4) Tips are not included - this is commonplace in the Galapagos, and indeed in the service industry. Tips are at the discretion of the consumer who rewards good service. Or not. For a full list of what is included and what is not included on our tours, please refer to the 'Trip Details' section on any tour you are looking at on our website: http://www.gapadventures.com

5) We have a range of tours to the Galapagos from our lead-in "Basic" service level to to our "Comfort" service level to accommodate all tastes and budgets. Further information on our vessels and tours can be found here: http://www.gapadventures.com/marine/galapagos-island-cruises/

6) Yes we do charter our vessels - but so does every major wholesaler. Some tour operators just book space on other companies vessels. We charter the entire boat and have some operational control on the crew and support staff.

7) I have just returned from the Galapagos on one of our tours, and absolutely loved it. I am happy to answer any questions you may have about the region in general, or any Gap Adventures specific questions.

California
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7 posts
66 reviews
31 helpful votes
9. Re: Land-Based Tours: GAP or Active South America?
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Just throwing it out there, but I just got back from a land-based trip with ROW Adventures and really liked it. We did see a few GAP tourists, and they did seem like a younger crowd (I'm also in my 30s and not at all a drinker). ROW is a bit pricier, but I don't regret it at all.

And BTW, i'm SO glad i did a land-based tour as the waters were really choppy, it was cold, and i would have been sooo sick if i had to sleep on a boat for 9 days!

USA
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1,420 posts
2 reviews
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10. Re: Land-Based Tours: GAP or Active South America?
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Heather, maybe the English is confusing to you. I'm quite aware of what is available in Ecuador. I've lived and worked there (non-tourism) and have visited on several occasions. On the mainland I book everything myself. The only exception to this over the years was one group I took onto Shuar (sp) land and we used an NGO sponsored agency. You don't look old enough to have read my pre-internet stuff on cheap travel in Ecuador.

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