Recently, a visitor to our website asked a simple question:
How much should hiring a guide in Ecuador cost?
The easiest response would be to place a pricing table on the website and update it annually. Eventually, we hope to get there. But in the meantime, I have to tell you an uncomfortable truth. There is no simple price structure for hiring a guide. And before we can answer even the most basic item, like an hourly wage, we have to ask you some questions.
What Type of Guide Are You Looking For?
First, what type of guide are you looking for? Do they need specialized knowledge of a specific region or subject?
We ask the guides who work with us to let us know their specializations for a reason. Many guides in Ecuador are required to have formal education or certification. For example, you don’t want to hire a white water rafting guide without double-checking their experience on the local rivers and their past education and training.
At the very least, a guide should be able to share some basic knowledge of a local region. But very often, we want to hire guides who can identify flora and fauna, who can talk knowledgeably about the history of an archeology site, or who have first-hand knowledge of native culture and traditions. Guides with more specialized knowledge can charge more for their services.
Do You Require A Guide Who Speaks English?
Second, do you need a specific language? Can you manage with Spanglish? Do you prefer a fluent English-language speaker? Or maybe you prefer a guide who speaks French, German, or Mandarin?
Visitors pay a premium to hire English-speaking guides. Costs for hiring a guide who speaks another European language can cost a little more. Finding guides who speak languages other than Spanish or native Ecuadorian languages like Quichua is rare.
We highly recommend coming to Ecuador with some basic Spanish and hiring a local guide who can manage a little English. We call it Espanglish touring.
Most trained guides have at least a partial university-level education and some experience speaking English. They may not be comfortable speaking the language. Many are definitely not comfortable speaking English over the phone or writing English in emails or WhatsApp. And I understand that. When I first learned Spanish, understanding the language over the phone was next to impossible.
That’s where we come in. We can help guides with little English-language experience translate their services and help assess how much you will be able to communicate with them. We can even assess your Spanish language abilities and help your guide understand how well you can communicate in Spanish. Just ask!
Where Are You Planning To Visit?
Third, do you know where you want to go? Will you focus on Quito, Cuenca, or Guayaquil? Or are you planning to explore the diversity of regions with a trip that combines the Andes with the Amazon Basin or the Pacific Coast?
While not a firm rule, guides in rural areas tend to cost less than guides in cities. And the Galapagos guides cost more than those on the mainland.
Let’s take birdwatching as an example. Any reader of our website knows that we often hire a local birding guide when we travel. We generally ask the lodge to recommend someone with regional knowledge and a good idea of where birds might roost, nest, and feed on a daily basis.
Our reasoning is that the more local the birding guide is, the better the chance of spotting unique birds in that region.
However, local birding guides tend to only know the names of the birds in their region. Even when they have the names of birds memorized in English, they may pronounce them in ways that are hard to understand. It means that they aren’t great candidates for guiding outside of their own neighborhood or province.
The main point is that guides who only work in their home regions tend to cost less than guides who work throughout Ecuador. That means it may be more economical for you to hire guides by region rather than hire a single guide for your entire trip.
A guide who travels with you needs to be lodged and housed just like you do. A local guide who meets you for the day heads home each evening. If you do hire a guide who claims to know all of Ecuador, ask for their references. They should have no problems sharing them with you.
I want to add a caveat to this advice. There are a few guides who we recommend because they know many different regions and have developed relationships with business owners to arrange for their personal stay to be discounted or free. In those situations, it might be worth hiring a single guide for the entire trip.
How Large is Your Group?
Fourth, how many people will be in your travel group? Are you a solo-traveler or are you plannning a small group trip?
Maybe it should be obvious, but individuals pay a premium for guiding services. Many guides charge a flat rate for the first 5 people. That means a single person hiring a birding guide at $100 per day pays the full rate on their own. A group of five people would spend $20 per person and the guide would still receive his base rate of $100. But, he or she would probably do better when it came time to tip. That’s why many guides ask for a minimum group.
Be warned, guides that undercut other guides in price may plan on placing you in a larger group. Make sure you ask if the contracted price is for solo guiding. If not, ask if there is a limit to the size of the group the guide plans on taking out. It is very unpleasant to learn that your morning hike is with a group of 10 people and that half of them are not really birdwatchers. Or, they may be like me, a casual birdwatcher who also loves to spot orchids, lizards, frogs, or any other cool creature that wanders in my way.
We pre-plan our group trips to include a good mix of folks and try to understand the needs of each as we plan the itinerary. While we talk a lot about birding when it comes to guiding, this advice remains true for a city tour or a community visit. Your best trip will always be with a guide dedicated to you and your travel companions.
Budget For Hiring a Guide In Ecuador
But none of these answers help you budget before you arrive. While it can be difficult to direct hire a local guide before your trip without using a go-between like ourselves, we still encourage you to hire local!
We know from experience that it is possible to hire local guides last minute. It may not be ideal but we can help you figure out a budget. We keep a list of current guides by region for our clients. We also have started to track standard itineraries for the guides and have a good idea of what some of the more popular trips should cost.
If you are still curious, send us a note with the answers to the above questions. Then we can send you some suggestions of what you should expect to pay in each location you visit. We will send you an honest appraisal of what your tourist dollars can afford while you travel the backroads of Ecuador!