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Different point of view on popular Salta guide

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San Francisco
posts: 63
reviews: 2
Different point of view on popular Salta guide

My wife and I just spent a week in Salta/Jujuy during which we used Angie's (also known as Giena on Trip Advisor) services as a private guide for the first 3 days. We were extremely disappointed with the quality of her service, her incredible prices and her attitude towards customer service in general. I recognize that she is quite popular here on TA and receives volumes of positive feedback (which is how we found her to begin with), but after our experience with her, I have trouble understanding all of the praise and think it's very important that TA has a post representing an alternative viewpoint so that other people have a more balanced idea of what Angie offers--had there been a post like this, we would likely have planned differently and had a much better trip. For context, we're from the US and have been living in BsAs for the last 2.5 months; in that time we've developed a good understanding of pricing/cost of living in BsAs (this will be important when I discuss Angie's pricing).

We hired Angie because of the great things we had read on TA. Unfortunately, due to a series of vague emails, we misunderstood her pricing to be US$250 for 5 days, when in reality it was US$250 PER DAY. We take partial responsibility for not having reconfirmed the total price, but after re-reading the email chain several times, there is definitely room for misinterpretation - Angie never stated it was a per day price nor did she provide a total price for the trip. Further, given our reference points for pricing in BsAs, it would never have ocurred to us that she could possibly charge US$250/day--I'll get into that more in a bit. Had Angie not handled the misunderstanding so poorly, I would not be taking the time to write this detailed post--as it is, she left us feeling cheated and extremely unhappy.

In the end, we paid her US$500, which we feel was far more than she was worth. What did we get for our US$500? Here is what Angie did for us:

Day 1: 10am-3pm =~5 hours of time together including lunch (~3.5 hours of driving)

Angie picked us up at 10am and drove us to Cafayate with a couple of photo stops at well marked locations right along the side of the main road (e.g., Garganta del Diablo). We arrived in Cafayate at ~1pm and had lunch with Angie at her favorite restaurant in town. Then she dropped us off at our hotel at 3pm or so, and we didn't see her again until the next morning.

Day 2: 10am-12pm ~2 hours of time together

We weren't planning to see Angie on Day 2 (assuming that we weren't paying for her) as we had told her we were planning to explore Cafayate by ourselves, but she told us she'd pick us up at 10am and take us to a couple of wineries so we reluctantly agreed.

She picked us up at 10am, took us to the goat cheese farm and then 2 wineries (each obvious tourist destinations). At each of these 3 venues she handed us off for the standard tour and waited until we were done. My wife had talked to her 2 days previously about setting up a lunch at the last winery and assumed this had been arranged. However, on the way there Angie pulled off the road, called the winery and then told us we couldn't have lunch there because we didn't book it the day before (I guess that was our job?). After the 2nd winery she dropped us off in town at ~12:00pm. The only other time we saw her that day was when she picked us up at our hotel and dropped us off at a restaurant for dinner (~10 min).

Day 3: 10am-2:00pm ~4 hours of time together (all driving)

She picked us up at 10am and we drove directly back to Salta on the same road we came down on with 2 stops at different photo spots. At this point, we still didn't have a hotel booked for Friday night, and rather than helping us book something she just told us to let her know if we had trouble finding something. When we got back to Salta and she asked us for some money in advance is when we first realized that there was a significant misunderstanding over her pricing and that it was actually 4x higher than we had thought. US$250 per day was way beyond what we wanted to pay, so after talking it over that afternoon we told her that we could no longer work with her.

In summary, Angie spent maybe 11-12 hours with us over 3 days, primarily as a very highly paid taxi driver. She booked only one hotel for us (which was mediocre), she recommended a few restaurants in Salta (which were not particularly good and literally had large tour buses waiting out front as their tour groups dined there) and a couple of restaurants in Cafayate--one of which was good (though easily findable on the main square), the other was not. And for that, she demanded that we pay her US$500 despite the mixup what was at least partly her fault (according to her this was a great deal and we were 'ridiculous' to have thought she charged less); she had wanted US$1000 for 5 "days" (and yes, 2-4 hours of driving counts as a day according to her). Keep in mind, these prices do not include food, hotels or any activities for you and that Angie told us several times that she never has to pay in restaurants or hotels when on tours, so I'd think her only real cost is her car and fuel.

Also, despite other posters with very positive comments about learning about the history of the region and other local-type info from Angie, we did not have this experience with her at all--her favorite topic of conversation was how much better off we would be if we switched to her preferred hotel in Cafayate (this awkwardly came up at least 6 times, leading us to wonder why it was so important to her). In general, we do not feel that we saw, heard, did, or learned anything in our time with Angie that we couldn't have easily experienced on our own. We ultimately paid her what she demanded; we probably shouldn't have.

Aside from the mixup we had, we genuinely feel that US$250/day is an unrealistic price for these services, even if they were great. After living in Buenos Aires for 2.5 months, here is some context on what you can get for US$1000 in the capital (which should be significantly more expensive than the provinces):

-1 month rent in a nicely furnished apartment in Recoleta or Palermo with all utilities included plus weekly maid service (we pay $1200/month for a massive and luxurious place)

-15+ fantastic dinners for 2 at the very nicest restaurants in BsAs with great wine/steak/etc.

-6 weeks of 20 hours/week Spanish school at one of the best schools (or ~70 hours of private instruction from a highly qualified teacher)

-1500+ empanadas (seriously)

-80 bottles of very good Argentine wine purchased in Salta (or 150 bottles of the exact same wine if you buy it in BsAs--Salta is much more expensive even for the local wines, not sure why)

-For AR$600 = ~US$155 for the 2 of us, we spent a full day (9am-7pm) in Tigre with 2 wonderful guides that spoke perfect English, gave us lunch, took us kayaking for 3.5 hours way off the beaten path and then served us an incredible asado with 4+ courses of meats. It was an all-day event, we saw and did things we couldn't have possibly done on our own, we learned tons of things about Argentine culture and the Tigre Delta, it came with great food and it was reasonably priced. Again, BsAs/Tigre should be more expensive than Salta.

-For some further context on how much an income of US$250/day is in Argentina, we've heard from many friends in BsAs that a high paying job in the capital (e.g., computer engineer) will pay ~AR$8000/month, which is ~US$100/day for 8+ hour days.

To be fair, I don't know if Angie's prices are especially high or if they are normal for private guides in Salta. Either way, for US$250 per day, I would expect MUCH, MUCH more for my money, so my first recommendation would be to do it without a guide as visiting the NW is really quite straight-forward (e.g., pretty much everything is on the main road and well marked). If for some reason you feel like you'd like to have a guide, I would shop around and be very explicit about what your expectations are (e.g., I want to see things off the beaten path and experience things beyond what the tour buses do, etc.). If your highly-paid private guide is taking you to the same places the large tour buses go, you're better off without them.

For the last 2 days of our trip, we rented a nice car from a company with fluent English speakers (Alamo), saw everything that we would have seen otherwise, enjoyed the freedom of exploring on our own, and spent far less than half of what it would have cost to continue with Angie. This took less than 2 hours of planning/setup and could have been done even more cheaply with some advance planning.

Sorry to be so negative, wish things hadn't gone this way. Obviously many other people have enjoyed their experiences with Angie, so possibly this is a one-off, but I think an important data point for people to consider in planning their trips. Let me know if you have questions either through the forum or through PM and I'll be happy to provide more detail.

Ryan

Buenos Aires...
Destination Expert
for Buenos Aires
posts: 16,547
reviews: 14
1. Re: Different point of view on popular Salta guide

I am so sorry that things went so wrong for you !

I am sorry that you spent so much time and money and that you did not get what you paid for.

Just like hotels and apartment rentals, it is hard to verify all the rave reviews as well as bad reviews.. I guess in hindsight, reading a variety of websites, forums etc might have given you a better overall view of tours and hotels etc.

But that does not excuse the fact that you feel cheated and unhappy.

Yes, definitely, ALL points of view are welcome and it is good to have people post their experiences here, both the Good and the Bad.

I am happy that the last two days were saved with the other people you used.

Thank you very much for posting this.. for your honesty and I am sure it is going to be helpful to other people when they are researching their trips.

Enjoy the rest of your stay in Argentina ~

Corona, California
posts: 400
reviews: 1
2. Re: Different point of view on popular Salta guide

WOW!! What a rip off. Thanks for the post. We are planning 2 weeks in Salta and after reading your review, will probably rent a car instead of hiring a guide.

3. Re: Different point of view on popular Salta guide

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Removed on: 10:09 am, May 30, 2010
Argentina
posts: 3,256
reviews: 23
4. Re: Different point of view on popular Salta guide

I will just responde making use of my rights in own defense. First of all, I have been in contact with his wife all the time and all the arrangements were done and accepted beforehand as it should be., People can accept or not to pay an amount of money for a service and everybody knows that I provide of info even to those people who decide to drive by their own . I trust my customers and ususally do not ask for any money in advance. I interviewed this couple just the day before we started the tour and they never talked about the price , so, I understood it was ok. I quoted ^ my fees are U$S 250 for a cuuple, and depending the amount of days you take up to a 25% off.... I SHOULD have said PER DAY, but I thought is was clear enough that depending on the mount of days...

I made arrangements ofr the hotles for free for them and got my car cleaned, got fuel and took them to Cafayate for three days,... Two nights of lodging and meals I would not spend if I were home

When we returned I asked them to gi ve me some money and only that moment they said they could not afford that. I wonder... knowing the good knowledge they have about costs... using common sense...

a rented car costs at the moment around $200, PER DAY, does not matter if you rent is just to park it in front of the hotel only... plus fuel... a tank is about $ 170, would be less that paying for a bilingual guide with a bigger car, Isn't is wierd?

Would anone would be so naif to think working would be non-profitable for a guide?

I wonder... if they were not sure about the price... in those four days since I met them, they could have asked.... Only after we returned from Cafayate and only when I asked for them to pay me some money they told me they could not afford it.

I wonder... what would have happened if I wouldn't have asked them to give me some money? I am glad I asked them for at least the half, otherwise I would have got a big surprise.

For those who want to rent a car, please do it, and if you need any question, you need any info, please make all the questions you conseider necessary. I will be really pleased to help you with alll the informations and suggestions.

Giena

5. Re: Different point of view on popular Salta guide

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Removed on: 9:05 pm, May 25, 2010
San Francisco
posts: 63
reviews: 2
6. Re: Different point of view on popular Salta guide

We obviously wish the misunderstanding hadn't occured as well and are equally glad we discovered it sooner rather than later. That said, we wouldn't have misunderstood Angie's prices if they weren't so unreasonable, especially for what she provides. In case there is any confusion, we did pay her every penny of what she said we owed her (US$500) despite how little we got for it.

Forget the misunderstanding for a moment, the bigger picture is that, in my opinion, US$250 per day is extraordinarily expensive for this level of service given pricing throughout Argentina. Despite Angie's claims of unprofitability (the same argument she used when demanding the US$500 from us and kindly telling us how naive and ridiculous we were), the numbers are hard to reconcile:

To clarify car rental costs, it costs AR$200 per day to rent a car, not US$200 (AR$200/day = ~US$51 for the car)

We only had to fill up our tank once in 2 full days of driving, so you can assume an extra AR$175 for every two days which = ~US$23 per full day of driving.

So for every full day you drive you will pay ~US$74 if you rent a small car. This is less than 1/3 of the US$250 per day that Angie charges and obviously she is paying significantly less for her car than you'd pay for a rental. Given that, and her multiple statements that she always gets free food and hotels, it's hard to make the argument that she has to charge US$250/day to be profitable (either way, food and hotels are inexpensive as illustrated in previous post).

We rented a mid-size from a major US-based rental company (Alamo) that spoke great English at the last minute in the midst of the bicentenario celebration (very busy) and paid slightly more, ~US$100/day including fuel. This was the expensive way to do it. It was still much cheaper.

Clearly, Angie has a right to charge whatever she feels she is worth. My goal is only to share this information to provide helpful context and benchmarks for you so that you can draw your own conclusions about what is best for your trip and where you should spend your money (we certainly wish we had read a post like this before we planned our trip). Happy to address any further questions.

Ryan

Abilene, Texas
Destination Expert
for Buenos Aires
posts: 7,112
reviews: 65
7. Re: Different point of view on popular Salta guide

Ryan

First, thank you for taking the time to post. It is good for prospective visitors to hear varied perspective re: services and service providers. I recently posted a slightly negative (mediocre) review of a popular hotel in Buenos Aires.....so I can identify with what it means to be an outlier :).

This said, my wife and I had a wonderful experience with Angie during our short trip to the Northwest of Argentina. We found her to be extremely informative and helpful during our tour(s)...we did not encounter a single tour bus at some of the wineries we visited...there were buses at several of the scenic stops but this did not strike as as out of the ordinary. We would expect tour buses and individual guides and couples in rental cars would want to stop at natural wonders as there are comparable alternatives.

In any case, I am glad you found a way to enjoy the Northwest, that you have had pleasant experiences in BA, and that you still have a sense of humor...(1500 empanadas..lol).

Fayetteville
posts: 162
reviews: 17
8. Re: Different point of view on popular Salta guide

It sure is uncomfortable when there is a miss communication about money. I can imagine Ryan sitting in the car thinking one thing while Giena was thinking another. I am glad you both realized there was a difference in understanding after two days rather than at the end of the trip.

This does make me realize that in the future when I book services it is important to get a breakdown of services before the arrangement is finalized. This includes costs as well as expected services.

I have no idea of how much guides do and should cost. If I thought Giena said 250.00 USD for 4 days I would think it would be the normal price (a good deal, but I would not know any better). I can understand how Giana would assume that 250.00 USD was a fair rate if that is her normal charge and people pay it on a regular basis.

Ryan, thanks for posting and Giena thanks for responding. This exchange will help minimize this type of misunderstanding in the future. This will help me know the types of questions to ask when I book services.

I appreciate that a potentially heated issue is handled in a polite fashion. It is a testament to the culture built in this forum thru the guidance of the experts and frequent posters.

Edited: 2:22 pm, May 25, 2010
New York
posts: 124
reviews: 30
9. Re: Different point of view on popular Salta guide

I also appreciate the friendly and respectful exchange of ideas. I think this is very good group of regular posters who give very good advice. I read the posts daily, and I wish I had more to contribute. Today, I feel it is important that I respond since I can add to the discussion.

I wanted to reiterate what others have said, and add that I am always in awe at the advice and suggestions that Giena gives to the posters of Trip Advisor. I have asked her for suggestions many times while traveling to the North West. She has always been a good sport and a has helped me sort out the best routes, best places to see, etc.

I lived in Jujuy on a Fulbright exchange a few years ago, and I have returned many times. My husband and I were comfortable renting a car and driving in the Salta and Jujuy regions, so I never used Giena's services, yet I have gotten good advice from her many times. We even met in Purmamarca a couple of years ago and she helped us figure out the best route to the Salt Flats. I was so happy to meet her, finally, after having read her posts for years. I am also planning on going back to Jujuy on a sabbatical in the next year, and I know that Giena will be one of my consultants on my excursions then.

All in all, I just want to add that Giena is a very good person who is not out to cheat anyone. Her love for the North West and her dedication to the travel industry there is obvious and very appreciated.

Lunenburg, Canada
Destination Expert
for Saint John, Foz do Iguacu, Iguazu National Park
posts: 2,818
reviews: 7
10. Re: Different point of view on popular Salta guide

Hi Ryan!

You have offered interesting observations. I have no experience with "Giena," except for her writings here on Trip Advisor. I have observed, and not simply in the Salta forum, and not simply "Giena," that self-promotion is rampant, despite Trip Advisor's rules to the contrary. I have yet to read even one self-deprecating comment by any of them.

We rented a car and did our own sightseeing in and around Salta, and found it wonderful!

David