How to Choose an Adventure Tour Operator

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Whether you want to swim with sea lions in the Galapagos, see elephants and giraffes in Africa, or explore ancient Inca culture in Machu Picchu, going on a guided adventure comes with bonuses.

In a group adventure you share your enthusiasm with like-minded folks or family, and you can forget about such tedious planning details as finding lodging, restaurants, and transportation from place to place.

The tour operator takes care of that and much more. International Nature & Cultural Adventures (INCA), started in the 1970s as Inca Floats and grew into INCA in 1996. INCA offers guided group and custom trips to Africa, Alaska, Antarctica, Galapagos, Patagonia, Peru, and Turkey. Bill Roberson, INCA’s president, talks about the popularity of nature and adventure trips and how to choose a vacation that’s right for you.

Marine iguanas on Isabela Island in the Galapago

An INCA guest photographs marine iguanas on Isabela Island in the Galapagos.

Are adventure vacations increasing in popularity?
There’s always been a great interest in nature and culture trips, but, yes, interest is increasing. Travel to Antarctic is bigger than ever, travel to Africa is increasing, and travel to the Galapagos has risen dramatically.

Why do you think adventure and nature trips are increasing in popularity?
The pressures and tensions of the world make people seek out more remote areas and move away from the gloss of high-end hotels. People are looking for more substance in their lives.

How should one choose a nature adventure trip?
People have to have some idea of their expectations and why they are doing this trip. People should have a level of preparation of what they want to see, how long to be away, how much to spend and what level of comfort they need?

What should people ask about trip details?
People need to become well-informed of the details of the trip. They need to make every effort to talk to folks who are actually delivering the tour. Most people talk to resellers who may not have been on the trip. People have to push to find out if the company they are talking to actually runs the trip. People on the phone may be reading from a script. You need to get to the actual supplier.
Ask: Have you been on the trip? What was the highlight of the trip? What was eye-opening about the trip? What are the qualifications of the guides? Fundamentally, the guide makes the trip. We use guides that are knowledgeable and have people skills.

Anything else people should ask?
People don’t ask about safety. It’s the most bizarre thing. For a Galapagos trip, ask who owns the yacht, where do they live and who maintains the yacht? If the owners live in the Galapagos, then they are there to run and operate the yacht. Ask when the yacht was last refit, last in dry-dock.

A baby sea lion is photographed

A baby sea lion is photographed; INCA’s yacht, ‘Integrity,’ is visible in the background.

How is INCA different from other nature and adventure companies?  
We are a small boutique, hands-on, family-owned, and family-operated business. We’ve been doing this for 40 years. We personally vet every trip and every detail. We know the hotels, the inns, and who is running the buses. We hand-pick our guides and set up the guide schedule a year in advance. The guide is the primary deliverer of the experience. We make sure every detail is perfect. Many A-list celebrities have traveled with INCA.