Small group travel is not large group travel scaled down. It is modelled on independent travel – but with the advantage of a group leader to take care of the itinerary, accommodation and tickets, and dealing with the language. It’s easy to tick off the big sights independently – but finding those one-off experiences, local festivals, travelling markets and secret viewpoints is almost impossible for someone without the insider knowledge gained from years in the field. If you’re heading off on a gap year your, perhaps – but for those with a two-week holiday, a small group tour will save valuable planning time.
The leaders are not guides – they’re not there to shepherd you around. Instead, they’ll let you know which local restaurant serves great value food – without running the risk of travellers’ tummy. They’ll allow you to avoid hour-long queues at train stations and attractions.
We like to think of small group travel as the Goldilocks option. It is independent travel without the fuss, worry and bunk beds – and organised travel without the coaches. And it’s cheaper than a tailor made tour. It’s sits somewhere in the middle – and we think it’s just about right.
What are the main benefits?
Have big, life-enriching experiences that would be impossible to organise without lots of time and insider knowledge.
Make the most of your holiday time by letting someone else do the hard work and boring logistics!
Peace of mind
Small group tours take care of the security aspects – and provide a safety net should anything unexpected happen.
Who is it ideal for?
Travellers who are short of time
If you don’t have three months to spend exploring, small groups trips let you cover more ground in less time. Your days are not spent queuing for tickets or finding hotels – so you can squeeze more into your holiday.
Solo travellers who’d like company
Likeminded travel companions plus peace of mind for those travelling alone. Single supplements are usually available – providing privacy if you want it.
Less confident travellers
Stray from the tourist trail without worrying about getting lost, and meet local people without dealing with the language barrier.
“I won’t get any privacy!”
Couples and friends have private rooms, and you can choose to eat alone or not. Single supplements give solo travellers their own room.
“There won’t be any free time”
Free mornings or afternoons let you explore on your own, or just relax.
“The accommodation will be basic” Trips are as high or low end as you like. Though off the beaten track destinations won’t have luxury hotels, this is all part of the adventure.
“I won’t like the other travellers!”
Tour operators try to create groups with a similar demographic – age, families, activity levels... Chances are, you’ll even make new friends.
“Will we be following an umbrella?”
Meet a group Leader
Name: Valerie Parkinson
Story: The first British woman to climb Manaslu, Valerie climbed Everest for her 50th birthday. She’s spent fourteen Christmas Days trekking to Everest Base Camp, and is involved insetting up Responsible Tourism initiatives in the Himalayas.
Meet a local guide
Name: Roshan Fernando
Story: Roshan has led over 130 trips – he adores showing travellers around Sri Lanka. He won the company Leader Award in 2010, but his career highlight was working on their Tsunami Project – which earned him a responsible tourism award.
Responsible tourism: Ecuador holidays, Andes to Amazon
Conservation: We visit the Amazoonico Rescue Centre for animals in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The centre is dedicated to providing a safe and natural environment for animals that have been illegally captured or injured. As a result of the cruelty they have experienced, some animals suffer behavioural and physical effects which disallow them to live safely in the wild, whilst others are able to re-enter their original habitat. Here our entrance fees and purchasing of souvenirs go towards this valiant effort to stop animal poaching and trafficking. When we enter Chimborazo National Park and Cajas National Park, we also pay entrance fees which are contributed towards conservation efforts in these areas. Regardless of where we are, we use a ‘leave no trace’ policy.
UK Office: It all starts at home so we have first worked at reducing our carbon footprint in our UK Offices. Through energy conservation measures and recycling policies, we are proud to be actively reducing the waste produced and our impact on the environment. We support various projects all over the world to try and give something back to the places we visit.
Accommodation and Meals: We spend 11 nights in hotels and haciendas (Spanish colonial estate houses) and 2 nights in a jungle lodge. All accommodation is locally owned and staffed, which is of great advantage to surrounding communities in providing alternative employment opportunities- especially in more off-the-beaten-track areas. This also ensures that income earned is re-invested back into the area. Where meals are provided, locally sourced ingredients are used as much as possible. For lunch and dinner, the tour leader will recommend various options in convenient locations, usually booking restaurants and eating with the group.
Local Craft and Culture: There is included excursion to visit the Otavalo Saturday market. The market is always busy and is one of the most well known in the region. We become accustomed with the pristine, traditional costumes of the indigenous people from surrounding villages; women wear embroidered blouses and long wool skirts whilst the men wear felt hats, navy blue ponchos and calf- length trousers. There are plenty of souvenirs to buy such as Panama hats, exquisite weaving and jewellery. Another cultural highlight is visiting San Clemente- a small agricultural community consisting of a number of local families. We take a guided tour here and are introduced to native plants, taught traditional embroidery techniques and are taken through some day to day activities. The visit includes homemade lunch, prepared using produce grown in the village.
A Fair Deal: We work closely with our local operator and ensure that local guides are being employed and that in exchange for their expertise they are paid and treated fairly. This way the local area benefits as income stays in the area and goes directly back into community businesses. These tours have been verified by the Rainforest Alliance, which means they have been vetted for ecological, social and economic benefits to the community. The leaders will give a briefing on responsible tourism issues to help you understand how you can help reduce your impact and maximise the benefits to the local people from your visit. Our chefs, sous chefs, camp staff, mule drivers and other transporters are also all locally hired.
Charity: Our local operators support conservation and social projects such as the Verde Milenio Foundation, which is a non-profit organisation in Ecuador. Verde Milenio run environmental education and research projects which contribute towards reforestation, classification of flora and fauna, veterinary control and rescue of native animals. They also donate regularly to a school in Tumbabiro village and help local Afro-Ecuadorian communities like La Victoria by supporting the pottery works which are the basis for their economy.
Group Size: This small group tour has a maximum of 16 participants, meaning that we have a low impact on the environments and communities we visit and are able to ensure that we do not disrupt or lead to the displacement of local people. The small number also allows us to stay in unique, family-run hotels that cannot benefit from coach tours and other mass tourism due to their limited sizes.
Reviews of Ecuador holidays, Andes to Amazon
You can trust Responsible Travel reviews because, unlike many other schemes, reviews can ONLY be written by people who we have verified have been on the holidays.
I am reborn! Simply the best holiday I have ever been on
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
It was OK
A bit disappointing really
Reviewed on 19 Aug 2006 by Rachel Furnell
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?
2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?
Take walking boots.
3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?
Reviewed on 26 Feb 2006 by Susan Sargeant
What a wonderful and memorable holiday in Ecuador. Many thanks for putting me in touch with this operator so that I could join their Andes to Amazon trip. Fabulous unspoiled country and with such differing altitudes such a variety of countryside and wildlife.
The highlight of the trip had to be the few days in the jungle lodge el jardin aleman. A fabulous location, amazing tropical jungle surroundings, wonderful food and the adventure of walking through both primary and secondary jungle, not to mention the 2 hour trip downstream on the Napo River in a motorized canoe. It had to be the muddiest, wettest experience but such an experience.
We stayed in some fabulous haciendas and lodges, walked in the high Andes and cloud forests, tropical forests and dry forests.
It's not a holiday for the faint hearted, but if you like beautiful scenery, don't mind driving for many miles on unpaved and hair raising roads, and can cope with exploding volcanoes, local riots and so much more, this is a destination not to be missed.
I did feel the holiday benefited local people - we stayed in locally owned accommodation, used local tour guides and spent money in local markets.
So far as star rating is concerned I'd certainly give it 9 out of 10. The only drawback was that we were in each location for such a short time - it would have been better if the trip was slightly longer so we could have spent three days in each location rather than just two nights.
I look forward to contacting you again when I am planning my next trip. Many thanks.