I’ll be the first to admit, we used to be the type of people that “didn’t need” a tour guide.
We believed this to be a waste of money and preferred to move at our own pace without being stuck to a third wheel for several hours. This all changed when we met Eduardo in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. Eduardo is a local guide who had been providing volcano and jungle tours in the area for more then twenty years. He just so happened to be setting-up shop in front of a restaurant that we had chosen for the evening and he had such a friendly and warm demeanor that it was impossible not to engage him in conversation on the way out. After a twenty-minute conversation, and some negotiating back and fourth, we had agreed on a six-hour tour the following morning. The plan was to meet at 7:00 AM for coffee; we would be driving in our rental car and he would direct us where to go. The itinerary was to hike the Arenal volcano in the morning, visit the hanging bridges park, take a dip in the natural hot river, and then finish the day with a typical lunch at his favorite local spot. We saw more and learned more about the area in that one day than we would have in a week on our own, and all for under $100. Was it worth it? Absolutely! Here’s our top 5 reasons on why you should choose a tour guide on your next jungle adventure.
Because they are experts and you are not
Could you teach yourself how to do almost anything yourself on Google? Sure. Does that mean you should try your hands at driving stick shift for the first time in downtown San Francisco during rush hour traffic? Probably not. Point here is there is a lot of great information and resources on Google but pick and choose when it is worth a DIY and when it is not.
I would factor in the size of the area you wish to explore, what you are looking to see during the hike, how rough the terrain is, and how much time you have. Expert guides know exactly where and when to go to certain places and have the experience to deal with any curveballs mother nature throws their way. You could easily waste four hours of your time on a wrong turn or walk for hours and not see a single piece of wildlife. The more you communicate with the guide what your priorities are, the easier it will be for them to give you the tour you want.
They pay for themselves
We are all about saving money while traveling, and most of the time that means cutting out unnecessary expenses and what we would now consider “luxuries”. A tour guide is one of the few things along the way that not only pay for themselves, but if you factor in the time saved (time is money), are actually a return on investment. Depending on where you are or what you want to see, there will probably be some admission fees to parks or attractions along the way. Local guides will have discounts already worked out ahead of time so you end up paying about 20-30% less then if you paid on your own and if you visit multiple places in one day the savings can add up enough to cover almost half of the guides fee. For example, our six-hour tour with Eduardo was $100. Once you factor in the $20 each he saved us on admission to the parks, we were basically paying him $60 for the day which comes out to be $10/hr. Now if you factor in the time you saved, because we packed three days’ worth of activities into one, it actually ends up paying a return on investment.
Because you value your life
Having a tour guide is much, much safer. This is especially true when you are hiking in remote areas, off-the-beaten-path, rough terrain and/or weather, and of course if dangerous wildlife is present. All it takes is a snakebite or a nasty fall and broken limb to put you in a real-life dangerous situation. And then its going to come down to who you are with and how they know to handle the situation. What happens when a group of monkeys starts getting aggressive? I’m not sure and I don’t want to find out but I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t be too worried about it with my boy Eduardo present. You probably had no idea that tree sap that rubbed against your leg was poisonous and will leave a really nasty rash if you don’t wipe it off right away, but Eduardo does. These examples are unique to Costa Rica and each geographic landscape is going to present different dangers but a local guide will be aware and know the best thing to do in each situation. At the absolute least, you have peace of mind not worrying about all the “what if’s” and that to us it is worth more then the $10/hour you will spend on a guide.
You have a much greater chance of spotting wildlife
Most local guides have a pretty extensive guide circle that they are connected with most, if not all, of the other tours in the area and communicate with each other often on nature-related things including where animals have been spotted last. Nature is their passion and for them it never gets old. They will get just as (if not more) excited about seeing wildlife as you will be so rest assured they will help you find the animals you want to see and they will know exactly where to look.
Another bonus is that you will learn fun facts about plants and animals you might not have ever known. Its one thing to see a monkey swinging from a tree. Its even cooler to learn that it just so happens to be the loudest land mammal on the planet (howler monkey). We recommend telling your tour guide ahead of time what animals you would really like to see and although they can’t make animals appear, they will try their best to find them for you.
You will learn a lot about the local culture.
Hey, you might even get lucky and walk away with a good friend that can plug you into the culture, we did! There is a certain “intimacy” if you will about be exploring a new place with a local guide. Little things like taking a water break together, sharing a tree for shade while you are sweating to cool down, become bonding moments. The mutual appreciation of nature is enough to break down any cultural walls or prejudices that exist. Chances are, especially if you are vibing with your guide, you will have a lot of conversations. This is completely up to you, some people prefer to just keep it quiet and enjoy the sound of the world around them, that’s totally cool too. But if you feel like talking, and enjoy the company of your guide, you can learn a lot about the local culture while on your tour. They can give you anything from history about the area, to best local places to eat, to avoiding tourist traps and saving money.
There are going to be some places such as protected areas or national parks and monuments that may require a certified guide to enter. In this situation, depending on your budget, you may opt for a group tour by default. Group tours, although not our first option, can be a great way to make friends and link up with fellow tourists who may share similar interests. Another nice thing about group tours is that they are usually offered by a reputable company and have reviews online to read. The above article was written with a private tour guide in mind, which can be a little trickier to find depending on where you are or how much time in advance you are planning. In our experience, your two options are either to book a private guide through a tour company or find an independent guide on the street. Tour companies are going to charge more but they will be more reputable. Independent “street guides” will be more flexible and much less expensive however be sure to ask for credentials, examples of tours provided, literature, etc to make sure they are legit.