Tucan Travel Negative Review.

Below is a portion of the letter of complaint I wrote to Tucan Travel for their “Villarrica” tour from Santiago, Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina. I normally do not submit such lengthy reviews, nor do I publish them on my blog, however the issues from this tour were so severe that it is necessary that people are made aware before booking with them in the future.

****

The first week and a half of the tour was of extremely poor quality from the part of not only Tucan but from the driver Richie and the guide Kim. I felt that myself amongst this large group of 27 (much too large for a tour of this kind) was a burden on both Richie and Kim’s vacation. I was hesitant to ask questions because the reaction and attitude I received in reply had an undertone that I was asking far too many, and that they were annoyed and frustrated with any question. Anytime there was a miscommunication between guide and group (of which there were many), the response was that we as a group did something wrong and that we were at fault as we misheard. There was never any accountability for mistakes or misunderstandings, all of which were on the part of the guide and driver for not relaying the correct information. Examples include details that every tour guide should know such as the location of the official tourist information offices, the activity levels and degrees of difficulty of the optional activities, the up to date prices of these activities, and the names of the restaurants that we will be having group meals. Much of the time neither guide nor driver knew the answers to these questions, or if they did they were incorrect.

In Bariloche we arrived at 7pm and we only had an hour before group meal to sort out the excursions for the next day, exchange money, do laundry, and do any food shopping. We 
weren’t given a map or told what types of activities there are to do in any detail, 
only she pointed out the tourist office which was actually not the correct center. I ended up leading a group of frustrated and frantic retired-aged women to the tourist office where I translated all of their questions and helped them with their itinerary for the next day. This was not my responsibility whatsoever, and furthermore does not make for an enjoyable first day in Argentina. If Kim had properly informed us of what to do and physically brought us to the information office, the whole fiasco would have been avoided. I 
did not pay thousands of dollars to be everyone’s translator and tour guide.

Tucan Travel imposes all the responsibility to Kim to be the point-person for every single aspect of our tour, which as a result led to a poorer quality experience. If the driver could also be a resource for questions, health concerns, or general know-how of a particular region, we as travelers would not have to overburden Kim as a group of 27 constantly asking her to help us. Richie has been a driver for many years, and he knew nothing beyond the task of physical driving. Even when asked about the name of the restaurant that he always goes to in a city for group meal, he could not even be bothered to remember the answer and would just reply “I don’t know.” Every single answer to a question would be, “I don’t know,” or “that is not my area of expertise, ask Kim,” or “I am just the driver.” This is quite frankly a poor attitude to have, and whatever Tucan has in place as a system to just give responsibility to Richie as merely a driver is wrong and is not at all what we pay for. One person for 27 people is not enough.

It is unacceptable that our tour guide and driver spoke limited Spanish. I speak a very good amount of Spanish, and if I wanted to go through the trouble of negotiating and working logistics I would have traveled on my own. On almost a daily basis I was translating for everyone in the group, helping them with ordering drinks to asking for directions, and at times I would be overwhelmed with addressing to their needs while also trying to sort out my own. Furthermore, neither guide nor driver have a phone that works in Argentina or Chile – Kim working for 5 years in south america, 2 of them in Patagonia, one would think that Tucan would provide inexpensive SIM cards and data plans that would allow the ease of making and confirming reservations. It is unsettling that should there be an emergency, no one has cell phone service that would be able to call for help. I had to turn on roaming and use my own US-based data plan to email the ice trekking provider to try and set up the activity. I did not pay thousands of dollars to have to think about booking an excursion and spending money on roaming, incurring very high charges.

Tucan Travel‘s slogan is “adventures with passion.” There was not a single time when I felt the passion in showing us the beauty of Patagonia. Patagonia speaks for itself, and were it not for such an incredible destination, far less people would be blind by the tour itself. The guide and driver did the bare minimum for their participants, and the fact that it takes the traveler to make a complaint about the lack of infrastructure and systems to make the process easier for them is appalling – after many years on the road one would think to take the initiative to ask for cell phone service, for example. One would think that the tour guide and driver would make the observation that the eldery people on this trip were not even made aware that this tour included intense days of 8-9 hour trekking, and to inform Tucan that the website does not even make a special note of this. There is no indication whatsoever on the website of any high level of physical activity, and I am appalled that Tucan does not specify and remind people of the difficulty level of this trek. I know that less people would book the trip had they known of the amount of hiking. This only shows me that Tucan would rather take people’s money and throw them under the bus instead of helping ensure they have made an appropriate decision.


In Torres National Park, we were given one guide for all 25 of us at the park at the time. This would prove extremely frustrating, given that the group clearly divided into two fitness levels, one that would move far quicker than the other. Based on previous hikes Kim should have informed Tucan so that we could be given an additional guide in Torres. The amount of money I paid for this trip to hire proper guides that would only cater to a slower paced group is unacceptable. Day 1 of Torres National Park we did not even complete the Peninsula trek around Grey Glacier because the group moved so slowly that we wouldn’t have enough time. That is incredibly unfair for those who are able to complete the hike, but cannot do so legally in the park without the aid of a guide. Furthermore, on Day 3 in the French Valley, because I had experienced the slow pace and wanted to make sure I reached the summit in time before the last Catamaran would take us across the lake, me and a few others had to run ahead of the guide and make it to the top. 
I was horrified by the quality of included meals that Tucan has allowed for on this trip.
The only meal that was of the correct portion size, was hot, and had adequate 
amount of protein was the last night in Torres del Paine, which Kim made a curry with rice. All other meals consisted of a small bowl of pasta salad with no protein, ham and cheese sandwiches (of which I could not eat either ham or cheese), and empanadas. Given that breakfast includes usually a meager bread, coffee, and 
jam for breakfast, our included lunches on the road were not at all sufficient. We 
were left hungry and almost every time had to purchase snacks to make sure we were satisfied. I am a petite young woman, and I can only imagine how the large men on this tour were able to cope with the small portions and little protein. The 
amount of money we have paid to only have a handful of provided lunches is 
unacceptable. Over half the trip we had to go to the supermarket and provide our 
own packed lunches for the day, and without kitchens in the hotels (except 
Pucon) we had to resort to eating sandwiches, the very same food we were given as included meals.

On Christmas Day in El Chalten, we were told that we had a late morning and that we would leave at 12pm. Check out of the hotel was 10am, and so we were ready 2 hours beforehand to leave because we couldn’t stay in our rooms to relax. All of us were in the lobby ready to go, and neither guide nor driver were anywhere to be found. We found them in the room having just come out of the shower, and they proceeded to accuse us that we were told we were only leaving at 12 the night before, even though during breakfast Kim told us if we were all packed up early after check out we could leave for El Calafate earlier. Every single one of us were waiting in the lobby while the two of them were going about their personal business, all on our dime.

The end of our trip in Ushuaia was left on a sour note as well. On the day trip to Tierra del Fuego National Park, Kim came onto the hired tour bus at the last minute to tell us she would not be joining us on the hike. She quickly pointed to a map and said that the trails are easily marked and that we would have no trouble figuring it out on our own. We were left without an English speaking driver, and I had to translate for everyone’s questions. Still, there was a terrible misunderstanding of where we would be dropped off and picked up, and for over half a us we did not have a chance to properly explore the trails, as there were lots of different ways of seeing the park and some of them would not allow us to make it in time for the 3:30pm bus. We are not paying to be thrown on a tour bus without any knowledge of where to go.

Tucan has a company should be taking far more care in ensuring we have fully qualified, professional guides and drivers, ensuring our safety, that we are properly fed, that we have the resources to seek help, that we are well informed of the activities and their difficulty levels, and that we are, more than anything else, having a really amazing time. Tucan has done none of those things for me, and I will make sure that others know of my experience so that they can book a tour with another company that will provide for them in the ways I was not.

Pucón


This past Saturday was by far the most memorable part of my journey thus far. I am proud to say that I attempted and succeeded in something that I have never done before – I climbed a volcano. And not just any volcano – Volcán Villarrica is the most active volcano in Chile. I was pushed mentally, physically, and emotionally in a way that I haven’t felt in a really long time.

I am not a seasoned hiker – I’ve hiked only a handful of times in my entire life. The most challenging hike I had done prior was climb the steep mountain of Huayna Picchu, which offers an incredible view of Machu Picchu down below. Typical of how I do things, I decided to jump right in; not only would this be the longest hike I’ve ever done, but it would also be in entirely different conditions. It would be a proper ice and snow climb, complete with ice picks, waterproof gear, cramp-ons, and sturdy waterproof hiking boots fit for a climb of Mount Everest.

View of Volcan Villarrica from Huerquehue National Park

Volcán Villarrica is 2,847 meters (9,340 feet) high. It is active, having recently erupted in March of this year. The volcano has recently been deemed safe
to hike only 3 weeks ago, so we arrived at the perfect time. We were so fortunate to have had a beautiful, clear day on the day of the hike. It was warm, no wind, and not a cloud in the sky. Often these hikes are cancelled due to even the slightest chance of poor weather, but for the day of my hike we were quite lucky to have had a perfect day.

We began our climb without a chairlift, which would have brought us quarter of the way up. Instead we climbed from the very ground up.

We started hiking at 8:15am, and 1,447 meters (4,747 feet) and 6 hours later, I reached the summit. On my way up I felt a roller coaster of emotions. From the very start the nerves in my gut were acting out, and on the drive to the base of the volcano I could feel anxiety take hold of me. But I vowed to reach the top and to not give up, no matter what it took. At one point on the way up I felt scared, unable to look down as I feared the steep slopes on the way back. We were told we would be sliding down the mountain with a little makeshift plastic sled that we carried in our backpacks. This sounded fun in theory, and we were told it is the best part of the hike to slide all the way down. But, looking below as I climbed, the downward slopes looked terrifying. One minute I was afraid of heights, the next I was giddy with excitement about sledding downwards. I kept thinking I wasn’t going to reach the top, that I would give up on the first ridge where so many people turned around and descended, but then when I got to the ridge all I wanted to do was keep going. We had about six breaks before reaching the top, and there were times where I wanted to skip the breaks and keep going. I would tell myself that I was going to slip and fall any second as we created fresh steps in the wet snow. Five minutes later, I felt a sudden sense of ease and with each step I felt more energy and strength. I thought, how easy is this! This hike will be over in no time, and it’s not half as bad as some of the other things I’ve done. One of the thoughts that came to mind was my PADI scuba diving training in Koh Tao, Thailand, where I had to learn how to take off my mask in the water at 17 meters deep. I remembered how mentally challenging it was to be able to work through that, and I realized this climb was perfectly do-able. During this climb I wasn’t as physically challenged as I thought I would be – my legs never gave way and although my heart was pumping at an extraordinary rate, I wasn’t breathless. The hike was tiring in that it was very long (the way down took 2 hours, making our way off the mountain by 3:50pm) and required a lot of mental strength.

The climb was a test in my ability to support other hikers. It is not a solo trek – there was a group of 12 of us, with 4 guides. Three people went back down with one guide after reaching the ridge, so most of the journey was with 9 of us and three guides. It’s an incredible challenge to make sure everyone is able to keep the pace of the guide, and to be sure that if someone falls behind that they can be motivated to keep going. Hiking can be individual sport, but in the case of a challenging ice climb of an active volcano, working as a group is as motivating as it is essential. One of the girls in our group had a bad knee, and she told me she didn’t think she would make it to the top from the very beginning. But one of our guides was with her the entire time at the end of the line, gently pushing her to keep going. We all made an effort to make sure she was okay and motivated. She reached the top, and I felt so much in awe in the strength of the human body.

At first I thought only crazy people climbed a volcano and actually paid money to do it, but after having done it I realized that we as humans crave pushing our bodies. Our mind is so powerful in controlling our bodies and our perceptions of what is “difficult” and “crazy” and what is “safe” and “easy.” World-class climbers and adventure seekers are not off the deep end, they are merely testing the limits of their bodies. Which, after having hiked for 5 hours the day before at a Huerquehue National Park, only proved to me that despite the enormous physical challenge, our bodies can indeed keep up and keep moving. If I, a city girl who grew up soaking up the sun on the beach as my only outdoor pastime, can find a way to push myself in this way, then so can anyone. It’s truly amazing how we can push through; with a shot of adrenaline and a clear and purposeful intention in your mind, we can do anything.

Over the ridge and halfway up to the summit.


View from the volcano during a mid-climb water break.

Any bad day at work, any challenges with friends and family relationships, any small hitches in health – none of these seem as big of a deal to me now. I came out of the hike stronger, and just a little bit addicted – I never thought that a beach bum would even consider hiking as a pleasurable activity, but now I have a glimpse of why people hike around the world for their entire life. This is definitely not the end of hiking for me – if anything it has just begun, and I can’t wait to take on more challenging treks.

The center of the volcano makes gurgling noises and emits sulfur into the atmosphere.
Our group that made it to the top of the volcano.

View of Volcan Villarrica from the center of Pucon.