Last Updated on April 24, 2023 by Maggie McKneely
Thinking of booking a trip through a travel agency, but not sure which one? Seen ads for Exoticca but don’t know if the company is any good? Check out my Exoticca review for all the pros and cons, and read to the end to save $200 on your trip!
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Exoticca Review: Egypt Tour 2021
I almost always do my own travel planning, from booking the hotels, to planning the tours, finding the restaurants, all of it. I’m one of those weirdos who actually enjoys creating their own vacation itinerary, so purchasing a pre-made vacation package, where someone else does all the work, has never appealed to me. I’ve also always assumed that packaged vacation tours can’t provide unique or unusual experiences, they only visit tourist hotspots, and are overpriced. So why on earth would I purchase one when I can plan my own trips?
But I had heard that Egypt was one of those places that you should really go to with a guide or tour group, no matter how experienced a traveler you are. And after having canceled so many trips in the era of COVID, I just didn’t have the heart to do all of the planning for yet another trip that probably wouldn’t happen. If I was ever going to make an exception to my “no vacation packages” policy, two years into COVID and for a country like Egypt seemed like the right time and place.
Enter Exoticca. When I had decided on Egypt as my next attempt at a trip, since they are fully open to tourists right now, I knew I wanted to book through an agency for the reasons above. I’d seen Exoticca’s ads all over the internet and in my email inbox. When I looked at their website, they offered a great-looking Egypt itinerary, they had excellent reviews, and the price was definitely right. So I rolled the dice and booked their 9-day Egypt tour.
Now that I’m back home, I can tell you about any drawbacks and if it was worth it with this in-depth Exoticca review (spoiler alert: OMG YES IT WAS WORTH IT).
What is Exoticca?
Before I get into my Exoticca review, first things first: what exactly is Exoticca?
Exoticca is an online travel agency. They offer package trips that include flights, accommodations, transfers, tours, and activities to countries all over the world. They do not themselves run tours (like Gate 1, for example), but partner with local companies in each location. They work with a team of over 50 curators who are experts extensively familiar with each destination in order to create holiday packages that provide unforgettable and unique experiences. And because they deal directly with the local providers rather than a middleman, they are able to keep costs low.
The Booking Process
The first part of my Exoticca review covers the booking process. If booking a trip is a hassle, that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the trip. Fortunately, the booking process with Exoticca was very easy.
Once you choose your destination and which package you want, you select which category of comfort you want. For the Egypt trip, we could choose either Superior or Luxury. We chose Superior, but several couples on our trip chose Luxury. The main difference was that they stayed in slightly nicer hotels than we did (but our hotels were just fine, by my standards!).
*Note: Most of us, and our tour guide, stayed in the Superior level locations, which meant we were always in the loop on what we were doing next, while the other people were not. I much preferred being in the same place as everyone else, even if it meant a less luxurious accommodation.
Next, you pick the dates of your trip. Exoticca’s helpful calendar tells you the price differences between different dates. You’ll then be given the option to add on any optional excursions, but you don’t have to make a final decision on that until 30 days before your trip. Along the way, Exoticca is completely transparent about the price of the trip, so you won’t be surprised by any additional taxes on the final payment page.
At the time of booking, you pay 60% of the trip cost and the final 40% is due 60 days before your departure date. Once you pay, you will receive an immediate email confirmation. Between booking and final payment, Exoticca sends multiple reminder emails, so there is no chance you will forget to either pay the final installment or book any optional trips you want to add on.
My only complaint with the process is how Exoticca handles booking flights. At least 30 days before your trip (it was about 2 months for me), Exoticca will book your flights and send you the flight details. The problem is that they don’t give you any flight options, so you are pretty much stuck with whatever flights they choose for you. My trip to Egypt included 2 layovers, both going over and coming home, and out of an airport I didn’t want to leave from. When I tried to change it, it was a big hassle and would have cost me a lot of extra change. I would love it if they let customers review their flights before booking them, but that is not how Exoticca does it, for now.
What about traveling with strangers?
Another reason I’ve never booked a package tour like this before is that I didn’t want to travel with a bunch of strangers I didn’t know. Because the fastest way to ruin a vacation is to be stuck in a foreign country with people you don’t like!
Most of Exoticca’s tours are, indeed, group tours, with a maximum number of 30 people. This is what I was most nervous about. Fortunately, a bunch of my friends decided that they wanted to join me on this trip, so in the end, I knew most of the people on the tour. And the small number of people I didn’t know ended up being perfectly nice.
I know this was a stroke of luck for this particular trip, and there is no way to guarantee that you will like all of the people on your tour. If you are REALLY concerned about this, Exoticca does offer a number of trips with a private tour option, instead of group tours (like this trip to Peru). So you can still take advantage of their great prices without the issue of a group tour.
The Local Tour Operators
The most important part of this Exoticca review actually has very little to do with Exoticca, but with the Egyptian company that they partner with.
As mentioned, Exoticca does not run the tour themselves but instead contracts with local tour providers. In the case of Egypt, that tour company is Planet Tours Egypt. Let me tell you, I cannot rave about them enough!!! I have never worked with a tour company that I liked as much as the gentlemen at Planet Tours. From the moment we landed in Egypt to the second we flew back out of Cairo, they took care of every single one of our needs and made sure every minute of our trip was amazing.
Planet Tours has someone based in each city to handle transfers and administrative details. When we landed in Egypt, Cairo-based Beemen met us inside the customs gate and helped navigate the visa process, the various checkpoints (the Cairo airport has many), and got us to our hotel (and was so excited to meet us, even at 2:30 in the morning!). Before going home, he made sure everyone had their required COVID tests taken care of.
In Luxor, when unforeseen events threatened to throw off our itinerary, Ahmed made sure the buses and riverboats were coordinated to save us time. And when we needed to get a new suitcase (oops, bought too much alabaster haha), Ahmed went into town to buy one for us!
Then there was our tour guide extraordinaire, Mohamed Raouf (if you ever take a tour with Planet Tours, you should request Mohamed – he’s THE BEST). Instead of being based in any particular location, like the other guys we met, Mohamed traveled with us for the entirety of the trip, staying in all of the same hotels, taking all of the same flights and bus trips. He was extremely knowledgeable, which was so important as most places didn’t have any signs or plaques to explain what we were looking at. There wasn’t a single question he couldn’t answer.
Whenever anyone needed anything or had a problem, he made sure it was taken care of. He helped us haggle with the street vendors and took us to off-the-beaten-track places that weren’t part of the Exoticca itinerary. He told us not to tip people unnecessarily (since everyone asks for tips), but he made sure that all of the local people we worked with were taken care of. He was both the tour guide leader we needed and just an extremely kind person. We all actually got a little teary-eyed when we had to say goodbye to Mohamed on our last day.
Having someone like Mohamed, a local familiar with the language, culture, and customs who was able to navigate everything for us, and who was an expert on Egyptian history, was worth every single penny of the trip cost. We could have very easily gotten into trouble without him.
As mentioned, Planet Tours is a separate entity from Exoticca, but they are proof that Exoticca does their research when deciding what local companies to partner with. If you don’t, for some reason, want to book with Exoticca, you can book directly through Planet Tours. They offer several Egypt, Jordan, and Israel packages that are different from what Exoticca offers.
Perks of Booking with Exoticca
One issue I had with canceling all of my previously planned trips during the COVID era was getting my money back, since all tours, hotels, and airlines have different refund policies. Exoticca relieves that major headache by offering free cancellation on all of their trips up to 60 days before your departure date. They also have a flexible booking policy. You can change your reservation up to 60 days from traveling with zero rebooking fees. Just pay the difference, if any.
Exoticca Quality Control
An important part of this Exoticca review is noting how the company ensures high quality while staying within budget. With such low prices, you might think that the quality of accommodations would be kind of meh. I can speak with experience that that was not the case in Egypt. Two of our three hotels were pretty spectacular – we stayed in a Hilton in Cairo, and a boutique resort in Luxor, right on the bank of the Nile, which was absolutely lovely. The third was the Nile Cruise ship. We did have a few issues with it, but no major complaints. It seemed like the ship just needed some upgrading.
When choosing hotels for their packages, Exoticca requires that they have a minimum of 3.5 stars (out of 5) on Tripadvisor. They also require that 65% of reviews left by customers be “excellent” or “very good.” That way you know you won’t be staying in any sketchy or rundown hotels.
Here is the one negative part of my Exoticca review. As mentioned above, I do not like how Exoticca handles flight booking. Had I been given a choice, I would not have chosen a flight path that took 24 hours of travel time, included 2 layovers, and left from the wrong departure airport. But I wasn’t given the choice, and it was too much of a hassle and too expensive to change it after Exoticca booked it. But, I know that traveling to a warm destination the week before Christmas made it difficult for them to find flights within the budget of the trip. If I book a trip with them during a different part of the year, the flight process might be better. Still – I wish they give flight options before just booking them.
Update 2022: Exoticca no longer does flights like this. Now when you book a trip, you can see your flight options at the time of booking, which is a HUGE improvement.
One other note is less a criticism and more just something to be aware of. There isn’t much flexibility with the itinerary. If there’s something you really want to do that isn’t already a part of the trip, you probably won’t be able to do it. For the Egypt trip, every day was jam-packed. We got up very early each morning and finished in time for dinner. I definitely didn’t feel like we missed out on anything, but if you are looking for a customizable trip, beyond the optional add-ons, this isn’t that.
I love the flexibility that comes with making my own travel arrangements, and I love being in control of the whole process. For me to hand over the reins to anyone else is a BIG DEAL. So the fact that I only have one major criticism of note in my Exoticca review is really saying something. The booking process was easy and smooth, the customer service was helpful, the local tour agency was AMAZING, and the price of the trip was a steal.
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