What Makes a Perfect Shore Excursion

 

Shore tours are a great way to get a bite sized taste of a new country and culture. The time may be sort but a well planned and executed tour should be very enjoyable and illuminating. So what wake a good Shore tour? We have been working on this idea for many years and think we have it pretty well pinned down. A lot of things are down to the tour operators and their staff. They will make or break the day out for sure. That said there are also points that the tourists should think about beforehand and can greatly help with their experience. So let’s break it down.

The tour rises and falls on the back of a good guide

The tour guide is the most important factor in making a travel experience you’ll either want to tell everyone about or an experience that will soon be forgotten.  The best guides I’ve had have left me wanting to go back to the destination or have left me feeling like I’ve made a new friend. There’s a lot that goes into selecting and training a good guide. They should be friendly, funny and easy to get along with. They should have a natural interest in getting to know there clients and help the group get to know each other. He should recommend what is truly the best place to eat, drink, sleep or shop and gladly take you there en route or after the tour.

Colourful commentary is a must. We all want to avoid monotonous boring speeches. A great story teller that can weave in personal anecdotes about what it’s like to live there including the good, the bad, the ugly and the hilarious. Understanding the local culture and how it compares to other cultures is paramount too. Ecuador has some strange ways of doing things compared to the USA or Europe. If the guide can pick these differences out, showcase what makes this place unique, then he has a much better chance of connecting with clients and probably having a good laugh with them.

Proper planning and execution

The 6 Ps’ come into play on a major scale when it comes to shore excursions. You have a large volume of clients made up of a mixed bunch different ages, with different interests, needs and physical capabilities. You have an unbreakable responsibility to get back to port on time.  This section is so vast we could write a blog post all of its own. Not a bad Idea, I think we will a little later. Some of the areas include things that are obvious. Making sure the transport is on station in excellent working conditions is imperative. Nobody wants to have to wait 20 minutes for a dirty bus with no air conditioning. Making sure the drivers are reliable, certified and know the route is another one. Local authorities will stop a tour and send everyone back walking if an unlicensed bus driver gets flagged down at a checkpoint. Don’t even mention getting lost.

Other parts are more nuanced. How long does it take to walk from the museum to the hat makers shop? What if one of the group has trouble walking? Does the restaurant use ingredients that could cause allergy issues? The list goes on but the overall point is the tour has to be broken down into all its component parts. Each part should have contingencies for unforeseen issues or hiccups. Enough of a margin should be built in to allow for flexibility. If we are having a great time in one spot, no need to rush off to the next area. We can extend this section a little. This happens a lot in some of the museums. Some clients want to soak up every line of text and photograph every clay artifact. Other want to get to the beach and crack open a cold one. I’m a sucker for the chocolate tasting. I could stay there all day.

Gather Enough Information and Plan Ahead

Cruise excursions can be tricky if you do not know what to expect. Therefore, it is always better to research everything and book well beforehand. Surf the Internet and find the best cruise excursions in Manta to make sure every place you wish to explore is a part of the itinerary.

In addition to that, check if you are travelling in the right time of the year. We see a lot of tourists booking whale watching tours outside the season from June to October. They will climb aboard a less than reputable boat in January not knowing the whales are in Antarctica by then.  Another pitfall we see happen a lot is attractions that are closed on the weekend. It seems silly to say but you should make sure your operator works with attractions that will be open on the day you get there. Many operators have no foibles about telling customers that they can visit the tagua factory because is closed right now.

Mix it up a little

You can also make the trip a more tailored experience by traveling beyond the main options and booking a private custom tour. A custom tour offers a unique itinerary to ensure it meets all your interests. By opting for a Private cruise excursion, can have a much more intimate group and will be able to set your own timeline.  If you enjoy small groups this is a great option.

In some cases, the standard tours can also be customized to better fit your group’s needs. Manta Tour Guides became one of the most sort after operators in a large part because we will go the extra mile to accommodate client’s needs. We have no problem making an extra stop or switching out one attraction is asked. At the end of the day the guides and the tourists want the best day possible and a little flexibility is key to making that happen.

Good Communication is the Key

Most cruise lines appoint guides that offer interesting insights about the destinations. Having a great guide can double the fun of a cruise shore excursion. To avoid being stuck with an unenthusiastic guide, choose a tour operator with guides who are interactive, natural story tellers, and a joy to be around.

If possible, take time beforehand to get to know who your guide is going to be and ask for a small introduction. Later, communicate with him your specific preferences – what kind of places would you like to visit, what interests you the most in Manta, what do you want to spend most of the time doing, etc. A great guide will show interest and make changes to the trip according to what you tell him. He will also be open to show you additional attractions on request to make the journey an exciting, unplanned adventure.

Mingle with the Locals

The time on land will be limited so you should take advantage of every opportunity you get in there and mingle with the locals. While ordering lunch, asking for directions, making a purchase. Talking to locals often leads to the best take-home stories. They give interesting insights of the place and can also guide you to do something unplanned, spontaneous, and fun. Small talks and a picture of/with a vendor will make great add-ons to your tour memories. Every encounter, no matter how short, adds another layer to the shore excursion experience. We gravitate to kind hearted friendly collaborators and weed out the less desirables. I always look for people that we enjoy visiting and catching up with every time we have a tour. I’m sure you will like them too.

Pay Attention to Every Word in the Excursion Description

Read the shore excursion description carefully and attentively to best understand how you will be spending your time. Are they specifying how much time will be spent on the bus?  I see a lot of tour taking people 2 hours p the coast for a 2 hour tour then 2 hours back to manta. Not the best use of one’s precious shore time.  If it’s not 100% clear, I highly recommend finding out.

With the right tour provider, this won’t be a problem. The guide will manage time and will be willing to be a little flexible with the timings too. There won’t be any rush and the tour will feel exciting rather than tiring. Ensure you get this smooth sailing experience by calling or emailing the operator before booking. This will also give you a chance to see how fluent they are in English. Do not hesitate to ask if there are any extra costs. Many tour providers offer short tours and add extra dollars for every stop. Look for a tour operator with transparency. A website with vague and insufficient description is big NO NO.

Take a good look at the Operator’s Website

Another tip to make your day in the Manta one of the best is to take a virtual tour of the provider’s website. Browse it and look for videos and photographs. A website with few media files may not be a positive sign. Pick a tour provider whose website is a visual stunner with high-quality photographs that give you good vacation vibes. With the quality of the videos, you can estimate the sincerity and pride of the tour provider towards his job. A passionate one will have his site be a glimpse of what the tour will be all about.

Checking the website will also allow you to see if there are any English mistakes. More than one or two grammatical errors are a sign to look for an operator who is fluent in the language. Minimizing the communication gap between you and guide will always result in a better tour.

Make the Most of the Day

You definitely don’t want to go back and narrate the excursion with a disappointing “we had to wait here for ages” or a regretful “that part was pretty boring”. Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Make sure when you step on the land, you do everything you dreamt of doing! Experience the history of Manta, taste the food, and completely dive into its vibrant culture. Mix with the locals and learn all about the city as much as you can. Stand with your feet sinking in the wet sand and enjoy the calming sound of ocean’s gushing waves. Watch dolphins and whales or catch a world record marlin – there is a lot offered by this incredible city. Even if you don’t participate, you can always spend time watching the water sports from the comfort of a beachfront bar with a cold cocktail in hand…

Make the most of a late departure time

A late-night departure can turn out to be one of your best shore excursion experiences. You could go for a sunset meal, hit a nearby bar or restaurant, or wander around the bustling nightlife on shore. Alternatively, you could lie down and let the sound of high waves wash away all your weariness.

The nightlife in Manta is quite popular with a number of restaurants serving local specialties such as ceviche and viche de pescado. We can arrange a great evening for anyone who is looking to get to know manta after dark.

Satiate the Tongue with Local Dishes

If you are a foodie or an avid traveller who likes to experience all of the city, then tasting the local food may be one of your best parts of the day. Known for their excellent and unique cuisine, the locals of Manta can transform what’s available to them into some exceptionally flavourful dishes. Since the city is located on shore of the Pacific Ocean and on nutritious tropical soil, it is a home to a variety of fruits, vegetables, and sea food. Thanks to the favourable climate and location, the variety of these edibles is available all-through the year. Even the everyday staple of the locals can taste exotic and flavourful because of the unique blend of spices and ingredients used in the dishes.  Even if you aren’t a foodie, the local food of Manabí cuisine might awaken one in you! I love the Tongas, Bolones and a Ceviche goes down a treat too.

The guide will lead you to some of the more famous eateries around and will gladly recommend the best dishes to order. Remember to communicate any allergies in advance. The local LOVE to cook with peanuts, Shellfish and many other delicious but potentially dangerous ingredients. Some of the more rustic locations may not have the best food practices and will need to be advised very clearly about the necessary allergy precautions.

Look for transparency

When travelling in a city like Manta, at some point a foreigner or as we are colloquially known “GRINGOS” are going to get overcharged for something. I once paid $5 for a bottle of water that should have cost 25 cents. It’s part of the learning curve.  Some vendors will tag shore excursion clients as wealthy and ask for prices that are evidently hiked up. While, the Internet can tell you all about the some of the right prices, a lot of things will be trial and error. The best way to deal with this is to look for tour operator that hires honest local guides and works with hand-picked vendors that display authentic prices on their goods. This will save you a lot of time and money.

When you shop with a good local guide, he will not only tell you the best price for everything but also suggest the most interesting items to take home as souvenirs explaining what makes them so iconic.

Pro tip: If possible, keep shopping at the end. This way you will save yourself the trouble of carrying everything around the whole time. As a backup, we can store things securely on the bus if you just can miss that bargain.

Dress Comfortable and Carry Less

This is a pro-tip! Unnecessary layer of clothing or gear will only weigh you down, tire you sooner, and make the trip less fun that it could have been. Nothing worse than wearing shorts and sandals to a mosquito filled forest… or high heels to the beach. Dressing down will also give an impression of being modest. Since cruise ship passengers are often considered to be affluent, in cash-poor communities, dressing modestly can help give a better first impression. It will make locals more comfortable to openly converse with you. Remember a lot of these guys make less than $400 a month.

Carrying less stuff, especially money and heavy bags, will give a sense of safety and ease throughout the trip. Make a short list of only the most important things you will need at the shore. Use a small tote bag to carry them.

Don’t hold back on accurate Feedback

While, this won’t make the already-spent day any better, your feedback will help the future shore excursions and passengers get a better and improved experience. My British upbringing make it uncomfortable to tell a waiter the food wasn’t very good. I know there’s no need to go 100% Gordon Ramsay on them, But I have forced myself to communicate my opinion for everyone’s benefit. A quick word letting them know the fish was dry and chewy will help them identify and fix a problem. When giving your feedback, include good as well as bad pointers. This will help the operator improve what’s working and fix what’s not. Whether it was the food offered or the guide who led you, tell them how you felt about it.

Well that’s all the main points we think go into making a great shore excursion. Did we miss anything out?  If you want to taste the Ecuador that won my families hearts, then let us take you on an amazing tour.

TOM D.

Creator of Manta Tour Guides