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Q & A with Popkje van der Ploeg, Co-Founder, Julio-Verne Travel, Riobamba, Ecuador.
This is an independent tour business based in Ecuador that serves both individuals and groups who are traveling to Ecuador in South America. “Inspiring world travelers with unique experiences.”
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF YOUR COMPANY?
Julio Verne Travel was founded in 1995 by the Ecuadorian naturalist guide William Reyes and by Dutch travel agent Popkje van der Ploeg. We are specialized in nature expeditions and adventure trips throughout Ecuador and the Galapagos islands. Our company is named after the famous 19th century author Jules Verne who wrote many novels about fantastic and extraordinary journeys – which is precisely what we want to offer to clients. We are located in Riobamba. This is a city located in the center of Ecuador and surrounded by several mountains with snow-capped peaks - including Chimborazo which is the highest mountain of Ecuador.
HOW DO TRAVELERS DISCOVER YOUR COMPANY?
Most of our clients find us on the internet – our website is in 4 languages and contains detailed descriptions and videos of all our travel programs, from single-day sightseeing tours to customized tour packages that include all the highlights of Ecuador. Other ways are by past customer referrals, guidebooks, or by recommendations in the local hotels.
HOW MANY TRAVELERS DO YOU SERVE IN AN AVERAGE YEAR?
For all the different activities and tours combined, it comes to about 3,000 travelers per year.
Actually more than half of our clients - about 60% - are from western Europe. They are coming from Germany Switzerland, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium. The remaining 40% are travelers from Argentina, Brazil, the United States, Canada, Australia, and some other countries. I should also mention that we organize tours for Ecuadorians who want to explore the amazing diversity of their own beautiful country!
WHAT SORT OF COMMENTS DO YOU HEAR FROM TRAVELERS WHEN THEY FIRST ARRIVE TO ECUADOR?
Ecuador may be not as famous as its neighbors Peru and Colombia, but most travelers are very positive. People are always impressed to find so many different worlds – each with its own natural reserves, history, culture and cuisine – in such a small country. The travel distances are very short and so you can visit many places in a small amount of time. Travelers also mention the kindness of the Ecuadorian people. Indeed, most Ecuadorians like to have contact with foreign visitors, chat with them about daily life, and show them around their hometowns. So if you like having this kind of cultural exchange while on vacation, Ecuador is a great destination!
Without any doubt, the Galapagos Islands are among the absolute highlights of Ecuador! This is the volcanic archipelago where Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution. Due to its isolated location, the animals here don’t have natural enemies and are not afraid of man. You can snorkel with sea lions, observe giant tortoises and iguanas, and swim with native penguins in the Pacific Ocean.
But the mainland of Ecuador is also great for nature lovers and photographers due to our variety of ecosystems. For example there is the Amazon rainforest which by itself is a true biodiversity hotspot. Between the high Andes elevations and the lower areas you will find pristine cloud forests which are excellent places for watching birds. And along the Pacific Coast there are some well-protected mangrove forests.
AREN'T THESE CRUISES EXPENSIVE? ARE THERE OPTIONS FOR THE BUDGET-CONSCIOUS TRAVELER?
Even though the Galapagos cruises are relatively expensive, yes there are options for all budgets. We have some small and basic boats at the Standard Class level, and from there the options go all the way up to the spacious and very comfortable vessels in Luxury Class. Budget travelers also can choose the less expensive island hopping tours. In any case, you have to make at least some allowance for transportation and overnight accommodations to the Galapagos because these islands are more than 900 km (560+ miles) off the coast of Ecuador!
Just bring your hiking boots, warm and waterproof clothing, and a medium-sized daypack. We will provide the camping gear which includes spacious 4-season tents, thermal rest mattresses, warm sleeping bags with fleece sheets, and even a thermos bottle for a hot coca tea! On our climbing tours we provide all the mountaineering equipment including double-lined climbing boots, crampons, ice axe, harness with carabiner, a climbing helmet, and more.
WHAT ARE EXAMPLES OF WILD ANIMALS TO BE SEEN?
The Andean highlands are home to vicuñas, white-tailed deer, the Andean fox, the Andean Condor, and the Chimborazo Hillstar which is an endemic hummingbird living in the Chimborazo area. The tropical rainforests are home to more than 500 species of birds including colorful macaws and the peculiar hoatzin. You may encounter many types of frogs, snakes, fish, river dolphins, monkeys , sloths, and jaguars or ocelots.
If you want to conquer the summit of Chimborazo, of course you need to be in an excellent physical shape and have sufficient acclimatization. But we also offer easy hiking tours and sightseeing tours that are apt for all travelers and do not require any special preparation.
SHOULD ONE TIP THE TOUR GUIDES?
We say tipping is not mandatory; it is entirely at the client’s discretion. If you offer a tip it should reflect your level of satisfaction with the guide's service.
AT THE END OF THE DAY, WOULD YOU SAY A TRIP TO ECUADOR IS A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE?
Yes because it is a very enriching experience. You can learn about one of the most diverse countries in the world in all senses - cultural, natural and geographic. Where else can you explore a rainforest, hike in the Andes, and visit the unique animals of the Galapagos all within a very short period of time?
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