Perils of booking day tours in advance

This item appears on page 29 of the October 2010 issue.

Although I ordinarily travel independently and avoid tours, for a visit to Iguazú Falls with a friend in March ’10 I requested quotes from the travel agencies listed in the Lonely Planet guide.

Carlos Melia of Pride Travel (Paraguay 523 2E, Buenos Aires, Argentina; phone 5218-6556, offered the best-priced tour, one with the hotel on the Argentine side, which I preferred, rather than on the Brazilian side.

The price was better than those I could obtain myself from websites: only $500 each for two persons, including round-trip air from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazú in Argentina, airport transfers, two nights at the excellent Hotel Saint George and tours of both the Brazilian and Argentine sides of the falls, plus $20 for airline-ticket and wire-transfer fees.

However, while the tour vouchers said “prepaid in full, (only) extra charges at the passenger’s expense,” it turned out that admission fees to the national parks, where the tours must be taken, were not included. At more than $21 each, the actual tour cost about $563 each plus the fees. (I subsequently learned that some tour companies do indicate that park admissions are additional.)

Carlos was unfailingly cordial, helpful and patient, but the tour went downhill from its beginning.

The departure of our Buenos Aires-Puerto Iguazú flight on an extremely cramped and uncomfortable Aerolineas Argentinas plane on March 30 was delayed for an hour.

Demonstrating workers then blocked the highway and stopped many vehicles, including the van taking us to our hotel in Puerto Iguazú. After waiting an hour or so, we were directed to walk a significant distance, carrying our luggage, around the blockade to meet another driver who would take us to our hotel.

As we were more than two hours late getting there, we were allotted 30 minutes to check in, change our clothes and present ourselves for the tour of the Brazilian side of the falls. Since we were not told that we had to purchase admission to the park until we got to it, it was mere luck that I had cash to do so.

The views of the falls from the Brazilian side were as spectacular as I had imagined them to be, and the guide provided by Argecam Tourismo was excellent, but we had only two hours at the falls.

The next morning we left at 8:15 a.m. for what was supposed to be an all-day tour of the Argentine side, but we soon were stopped again in a long line of vehicles because demonstrating workers had blocked the park entrance.

After about two hours we were returned to our hotel and told to wait. The guide appeared at 2 p.m. to inform us that the park was still closed and that no alternative activity was available, resulting in a completely wasted day at the hotel. (Another tour company provided an evening tour of the Argentine side after the blockade had been removed, but we were not told about that.)

My complaining to Carlos produced a magnanimous refund of $19.50 each for the all-day tour that Argecam did not provide.

The next day, our return flight to Buenos Aires was rescheduled from 11:15 a.m. to 2:25 p.m. and did not depart until after 3, requiring us to take a taxi (145 pesos, or about $37) from Buenos Aires’ domestic airport (AEP) to its international one (EZE) in order to make our departing flights. (Their shuttle is much cheaper but leaves only at stated times.)

The blockades on March 30 and 31 were attended by police and military, who did not intervene, and there was no indication that these incidents were unique. Perhaps thousands of travelers were deprived of tours for which they had paid.

Prepaying a tour to Iguazú Falls from Buenos Aires thus entails a significant financial risk. I believe I would have been better off by making my own air and hotel reservations. Were I to do this again, I also would wait until reaching Puerto Iguazú before purchasing tours of the falls. While a prepaid tour may appear to be cheaper, I would be risking my money by paying for a tour that might not be provided.

Please be aware that I have no complaint whatsoever about Pride Travel, other than their not specifying that their tour price did not include admission to the national parks that must be entered to take the tours of the falls.


Livingston, TX

ITN e-mailed a copy of the above letter to Pride Travel at and received no reply.