I really feel I have to write a separate article here about Toucan Travel. I've mentioned bits and pieces about them in other sections on my blog, but I'd really like to give them an unashamed 'plug'.
While I was researching ways to travel in South America, I started looking at specialised tour companies. It was my original intention to travel independently – using trains / buses etc. It's quite possible to do that, but I also had to consider the amount of organisation, distance and safety involved.
I'd looked at a few companies – Intrepid are one company that came well recommended. Toucan Travel had what appeared to be the perfect route – I did need to travel from Buenos Aires to either La Paz or Peru. The 'Gaucho 1' tour had an interesting route. It visited all the places I wanted to experience and the leaving date for the tour fit well with my plans.
I had to consider the cost, against a 'DIY' route. The tour came to around £900 in total. That included transportation (obviously), accommodation for 22 nights, most breakfasts and lunches and a few evening meals. Also there were a good number of tours and entrance fees included. At that time I didn't realise the value of a good 'tour leader'!
So at around £40.00 per night for all the above it didn't seem like a bad deal. To be honest – that is an understatement. In my opinion, if there's ever a company that undersells itself and then over-deliver it's Toucan Travel.
I had no idea really as to what to expect. For a start our 'Overland Expedition Vehicle' (Peggy) was just an extraordinary way to travel – as I've alluded to previously. Nikki, our tour leader is just fantastic. She's well experienced as a tour leader worldwide, a qualified ski-instructor, an 'all-action girl' and totally professional. Nikki always but always explained everything we needed to know – each morning, each time we arrived somewhere new and whenever needed on the journey.
The standard of hotels was much better than I expected for the price of the trip. We always had an en-suite room, even when staying in the most 'basic' towns in Bolivia.
As for Andy, our driver – well, we
all held him in such high regard. For me, he personifies everything
that a tour driver should be – not too fast, a comfortable ride
(roads permitting), always accurate with timings. He has a great
demeanour and personality – we became pretty good mates on the
This is possibly in part because in a previous life (well, three lives ago actually), I had worked as a tours driver for a coach company, touring both in the UK and mainland Europe. So, I know what it's like understanding that passengers (customers) have paid good money for their trip – and they have high expectations. Both Nikki and Andy really exceeded mine. I feel quite safe in speaking for the others on this trip as well.
The group dynamics were interesting. We were only six, so I guess that could go both-ways in terms of how we interacted. I have no previous experience of this kind of trip – and being together for three weeks, I like to think we all did pretty well together – I was impossible to write about all the 'funny moments' and there were plenty! We enjoyed each other's company and also had our space when needed. There was never any 'peer pressure' to undertake any activity.
So, I really wanted to write this to a) get my thoughts and thanks written down; b) to recognise the Toucan Tours Team; and c) that it may assist anyone reading this as research for a trip of this type.
Nikki, Andy – great meeting you both and heartfelt thanks. The pleasure was all mine!