My family loves to travel without a detailed plan. We’ve learned that guidebooks are often outdated or written by misguided souls who don’t really know a place. That means we often head on a trip without strict timelines or to-do lists. If we arrive and find that we need help, we hire a local guide.

Local guides know the intricate details of a place

A great local tour guide knows their neighborhood. Just ask Australian Blogger Lucinda Price. On a recent trip to Ecuador, she credited their Quito guide, Mayra, for giving her group “the insider access and background to what we were doing.” Mayra was an integral part of the trip, connecting a group of international travelers to local Quiteños in a way that can only happen with a guide who truly knows their community.

We have found this again and again while traveling throughout Ecuador. For example, when visiting the small town of Pacto, I really wanted to see the petroglyphs along the Rio Chirapi. Finding quality information before our trip was next to impossible. However, once we arrived, I asked the hotel owner about the trail. She told us that the petrogylphs were hard to find though the trail was easy to follow. Her son, Nacho, knew exactly where we wanted to go. He knew where to climb past the waterfall, where to ford the river (twice!), and where to climb over a hill instead of heading directly upstream. We could have spent hours navigating this trail and still never have found those petroglyphs. Hiring Nacho saved our day.

The Rio Chirapi, Pacto, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake

Local guides get the best prices

A local guide will know if a hostel owner is over-charging or if a restaurant offers a special lunch of the day instead of the more expensive a la carte menu. If you are visiting a location with an entrance fee, a local guide can often arrange for a discounted entrance fee. Especially if they have built a long-lasting relationship with business owners in their communities. We sometimes half-jokingly ask if we are being charged the “gringo” price. Most guides can’t hide that look of shagrin if they know we are unfairly being charged more than the going rate. While we understand that foreign tourists can afford more and that some private reserves offer discounts to local residents, we also want to see fair pricing that works for everyone involved.

Christian and Klever Leiva and Nacho Cifuentes, our local guide | ©Angela Drake
Lunch on the Rio Chirapi with Nacho Cifuentes, our local guide | ©Angela Drake

Local guides know Their Communities

Great tour guides know their communities. It might mean that they understand the local customs and can tell you when it is okay to take a photo in a questionable situation. It could be that they know when to invite you to participate in a local celebration. Or it could be a knowledge of the history of a place, such as an understanding that the Inca were not the first indigenous tribe to build structures across the Andes.

If you’ve read our pages for a while,  you know that we love the outdoors. We have honed our spotting skills over the years. However, our eyes cannot beat those of a local guide who knows the wild places around his or her home. A great birding guide, like Nelson Apollo, will know which season is best to see the Plate-billed Mountain Toucan in the Tandayapa Valley.

If you have a list of must-see species, you need to hire a guide that knows his or her area. Furthermore, if you hire a birding guide from the north to take you down south, ask questions about their experience outside of their home province. Make sure they have at least visited before. Without some base knowledge, they won’t be able to point out the nest of baby hummingbirds or the roost of sleeping owl.

Hiking with a birding guide at Cabañas San Isidro, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake

Local guides open doors to cultural experiences

If part of the reason you travel is to immerse yourself in a different cultural, hire a local guide. They will be your invitation to dance with neighbors during Inti Raymi, to explore a sacred forest rarely visited by tourists, or to wear a a purple-robe and join a Good Friday procession in Quito, Ecuador.

If you are unsure about making these connections in country, we want to help you connect before you even arrive. Let us introduce you to a guide who might be a good fit. Have a conversation with them in our private forum or via private messaging. Test their English and test your Spanish. Access their email address or their WhatsApp number and ask questions BEFORE you hire them to see if they are a good fit.

Most of the guides in our registry would rather plan a day specifically for you and your family and friends than try to fill a tour. If you see a trip they have advertised on our events calendar and like it, ask them to plan one just for you!

Sharing a Meal, Kapak Raymi, Quito, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake / Not Your Average American
Taking of the Plaza, Children, Cotacachi, Ecuador| ©Angela Drake

The NYAA Guide Registry

My go-to-guide in Quito is Jacqueline Granda. She has a passion for the culture and people of the Pichincha Province. She loves adventure, history, and local foods. But we have other guides who know Quito that might be a better fit for you. Our goal is to grow our list of local guides and to have their customers rate and review them. We are looking for:

• Knowledgeable guides. These are birding guides who know their birds; archeology buffs who know their history; naturalists who know their flora and fauna.
• Inspiring guides. These are tour guides who love their region, their culture, and their community and can share that excitement with their clients.
• Guides with a sense of discovery. A guide who is excited about learning something new brings fresh eyes to every trip.
• Guides with access to authentic experiences. These guides know the best hiking trail, the favorite local restaurant, and the street vendor who washes their hands. Better yet, they also know where the cleanest bathrooms can be found!

Our Guide Registry is a tool meant to help you connect with local guides in the neighborhoods, regions, and wild places that you want to explore in Ecuador.

Most of our readers who have traveled in Ecuador will have met guides like Mayra, Nacho, and Jacquie. I hope those readers encourage the best local guides to advertise their services by joining our registry. We want other tourists to find them as well. We know that a vibrant community tourism model starts at home with locally grown guides.