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Let’s face it. A trip to the Yasuni National Park is expensive and requires spending some hard-earned dollars to make it happen. But that doesn’t mean you can’t save some money along the way. Here are a few tips to make this dream trip more affordable.
Many lodges do not advertise their rates. But if a lodge is going to offer a deal, they will advertise to their email list first. Then they will take to social media and offer discounts to followers on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.
Search for sales. Rather than waiting for the offer to come to you, make sure you haven’t missed a deal. Visit the websites, cruise the social media pages, and ask a few questions while you’re at it. It never hurts to tweet the question, “When is the cheapest time to travel?”
Call and talk to a salesperson. Explain that you are planning to book a trip and want to get the best price possible. Some lodges will discount a trip if you book and pay up to a year in advance. Just make sure you ask about the refund policy. Natural disasters are not uncommon in Ecuador and a volcanic eruption that prevents you from flying into Quito could be the end of your travel plans.
When you make that call to ask about a discount, ask if the lodge has a campsite. Some locations offer raised platforms for pitching tents and a discounted tour price for those willing to rough it for a night or two. Make sure to ask about food, as you won’t find a local grocery store around the corner.
That said, after the April 2015 earthquake in Manta, tourism in Ecuador suffered greatly, even in places where the earthquake had zero impact, like the Amazon Basin. When an emergency happens, consider calling lodges and ask if they have any last-minute cancellations to fill.
Because the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin is practically on the Equator, seasons do not vary greatly. In fact, many lodges will tell you that year round travel is possible. While this is true to a certain extent, the rainy season can make it tough to visit. However, January and February, traditionally very wet and rainy months in the Ecuadorian Sierra and parts of the Amazon Basin in Peru, are generally dryer in the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin. Also, tourists still plan trips based on American holidays. Therefore, trips easily sell out May through August and sometimes in December and early January. Don’t expect to find great deals during those times.
If you have time rather than money, ask the tour operator if you can take the bus to Coca rather than fly direct from Quito. The savings could be about $100–200, depending on the time of year. This isn’t always an option when a lodge has other travelers booked for your same trip. If it’s all people you know, it is easier to plan this option.
Which brings us to becoming a Tour Leader. Several lodges will discount your stay or help you charge your rate to the guests you choose to lead. It means a certain amount of work, but many teachers lead students using this model. Your friends and family may accept this deal if you are willing to put in the hard work of organizing the trip.
There are not many opportunities to volunteer in the Yasuni National Park, but it doesn’t mean opportunities don’t exist. Many of the projects require scientists working on specific research or teaching English or sustainable farming practices to local communities.
Last but not least, consider changing your destination. The nearby Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is not as well known, and some of the lodges operating in this area still cater to camping and backpacking tourists. The trips aren’t inexpensive but they cost less than the all-inclusive resorts in the Yasuni National Park.