Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Conexion Tours, Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela: Surely the world's worst tour operator

I think that over the last 7 months that Alix and I have been travelling, we have been both reasonably smart and reasonably lucky.

Typically when we book tours with a tour operator, we follow the sage advice of the travel guidebooks and shop around, asking lots of detailed questions about what is included on the tour and getting everything we can about the tour in writing prior to making a decision. Most tours we have been on have been with honest tour operators. This time, the situation was dramatically different.

I suppose we were really tired after two days straight bus travel without a shower or a bed to sleep in, and our defenses were down when we arrived at Ciudad Bolívar bus station. We allowed a friendly sort of guy to direct us to the office of Conexion Tours where we met Carlos, who was offering three day package tours to Angel Falls.

The package tour was reasonably simple, a flight to Canaima, a visit to three different waterfalls on the first day, a boat journey upriver to the main attraction, Angel Falls on the second day, and a flight back to Ciudad Bolívar on the third day. All meals and accommodation were inclusive, and the price was 2200 Bolívares per person. We bought the tour.

What we didn't know when we bought the tour is that on our return from the tour we would be sitting in Carlos' office being yelled at by him in front of the police, whom he called to eject us from his posada for having the audacity to complain when his promises did not come true. Later still, we would be publicising, by every means at our disposal, how bad this tour operator was. Alix wrote a detailed warning message about Conexion Tours and posted it on every major, relevant travel forum we know about. It neatly summarises the problems we had on the tour, so I'll copy it here, so you can skim read it.

Do not go with Conexion Tours They are liars.

My husband and I booked a tour with Conexion Tours, based at the bus station, to Canaima National Park, which included Angel Falls.

The manager, Carlos, seemed really nice, honest and friendly about what was included on the tour. Unfortunately, many of his promises did not come true.

While we saw and did everything promised (Angel Falls, Sapo Falls, etc.) the services were terrible.

1. No English-speaking guide.
I was told that we would have an English-speaking guide. When I arrived at Canaima, the man at the airport who took our vouchers said that he didn't speak English but that our guide who was at the camp did. When we got to the camp, we met our native guide Esteban (or Steven, as he called himself) who only said, "Five minutes." When we left to go to the canoe, he said, "OK, let's go." This was the extent of his English for the whole tour. He did not communicate with anyone in the group except those who spoke Spanish. Later, a Venezuelan girl, another man who spoke near-perfect Spanish and I were trying to explain and ask him something, but he didn't understand us. His Spanish was not that good either.

2. No mosquito nets at Angel Falls camp.
I was told and shown pictures that there would be mosquito nets at the Angel Falls camp. There were none. I got a lot of mosquito bites despite using mosquito repellent.

3. No functioning showers at Angel Falls camp.
I was told and shown pictures that there would be showers at the Angel Falls camp. The showers did not work.

4. Poor quality and insufficient quantity of food and drinks.
I was told that the food was "really good... touristic... meat, salad, rice... you will love it" and that there would be as much water and soft drinks as we wanted.
The first day, the lunch consisted of two stale bread rolls with a little bit of ham, cheese and tomato sauce, plus a small packed of sweet biscuits. It was really bad. We ate this while the canoe was travelling up the river. The whole trip upriver took at least 5 hours. Dinner on the second night consisted of a vegetarian omelette, plantain and rice; no salad or meat. There were huge gaps (up to 7 hours) between meals and there was no fruit or other snacks to have in between. I was very hungry in between meals and feel like I have been on a diet.
When we travelled back from Angel Falls to Canaima, which was 3 1/2 hours under the hot sun, I asked for some water, but was told that there was none and we had to wait till we reached Canaima. The next morning when we asked for some Pepsi to drink while we played cards, we were told we would have to pay 35BSF, but we could have water for free.

5. Timing of Angel Falls visit.
Because they changed the itinerary, we did not arrive at the Angel Falls camp until 3.30pm on the first day. We had to go to see Angel Falls straight away because there were people on the tour who had early flights to Caracas the next day so we would not have time to see the Falls in the morning. We were told to bring torches, if we had them, and we left the camp at 4pm. The walk to the Falls took just under one hour. Then we spent a little time taking photos and swimming. We started walking back to the camp around 5.20pm and this walk took about 1 1/2 hours. It began raining around 5.45pm and was completely dark by 6pm. I slipped on a tree root, fell and bruised my arm and hit my head on a rock, fortunately not too hard. The guide who was walking at the front of the group did not stop to help me or check that I was ok. When we got back to camp, I asked if they had a plaster but there was none, not even a first aid kit.

We got a free night's accommodation in Ciudad Bolívar before the tour and were told that the hotel had hot water. It didn't.

We were picked up at the airport by Carlos' brother, Rivas. When I told him about our problem with the guide not speaking, he offered us a free lunch, which we took - we were starving.

When we confronted Carlos on our return, he didn't listen and just talked at us saying that we had signed a contract (the receipt) and that everything promised (all the activities listed on the receipt) was delivered. He didn't care about anything else and kept repeating himself, saying things like, "What do you want?"

Do not go with Conexion Tours They are liars.

There is a little more to the story than Alix' warning message explains though.

After Rivas offered us a free lunch and sat us down in a restaurant, he disappeared. We had to pay for the 'free' lunch, and return to the Conexion Tours Posada, a guesthouse that functioned as backacker accommodation, tour office and Carlos' family residence all rolled into one. We explained the situation to Carlos' wife, and she reimbursed us for our 'free' lunch.

Alix detailed our complaints to Carlos' wife, who phoned the manager of the camp in Canaima. The manager at Canaima flatly denied all our complaints and concocted a story about us being drunk in his camp: we had not drunk any alcohol. She then phoned Rivas, and Alix detailed our complaints to Rivas. Finally, we got Carlos on the phone.

When Alix says that Carlos kept repeating himself, she is putting it quite mildly. Carlos was ranting like a lunatic. By this time Alix had been negotiating with Conexion Tours for over an hour, and we hadn't received so much as an apology for anything having gone wrong. Here is a short video of what Alix had been going through for about an hour at the time I recorded it.

What happened next is the bizarre part. Ranting on the phone, Carlos said he would call the police and have us arrested. For some reason that was unclear, he was so threatened by our complaints that he felt he needed law enforcement to back him up.

Rivas returned to the posada, where Alix detailed our complaints to him again, in person.

Half an hour later, Carlos showed up at the posada with two police officers. We all sat down for another little chat, and Carlos' problem became clear. In the posada, where we had been attempting to be heard for the last hour and a half, Carlos lived with his wife and his son, who was a toddler. Carlos was so incensed that we would talk about 'legal things' in front of his son that he was incapable of listening, lowering his voice, or talking without wild and erratic gesticulation. He carried on about how we would all get arrested and have to fill in police reports and we would be at the police station and not in his home, in front of his young son.

L-R: Carlos, a police officer, Alix

At this point we were over it. Alix grabbed her backpack. We apologised to the police for wasting their time, and they offered to drive us to another posada. I can only guess at what Carlos told the police to convince them to accompany him, but just before we left the policeman in the photo told him that in his opinion, we seemed quite reasonable.

Now that it is over and I am no longer angry about being yelled at and lied to, all I have for Carlos is pity. It must be very unfortunate to know that you are a liar, and to live with the fear that on some level your small son, who is still too young to speak, knows that you are too.


  1. Your complaint must be posted on It is very important that others should not be 'conned' the way you were.
    xxx Uschi

  2. Alix has posted on TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet and TravelPod, so the word is out there.

  3. That really sucks guys. Besides the principle of it and the wasted time, I just checked out the price you paid in AUD and I can see why you feel so ripped off. Good to see Alix giving him a lashing on the phone!


  4. Wow it doesn't get much worse than this. Good for you for posting it everywhere. If I know anyone heading in that direction I'll tell them as well!

  5. What an awful experience to have had...I feel for you.

    I'm glad you decided to expose this man...good for you! At the very least, you can help other travelers avoid being ripped off/mistreated.

    I recently posted about tour guide scams (in a slightly humorous way), and none of it even came close to this. Still, if you'd like to share a link to this post (over there) to further expose what happened, feel free to do so. It's at:

  6. My friends and I had similar experience with Conexion tours. We bought from them a trip to Roraima and most of promised things were not on place.
    The guide did not receive enough money and could only arrange the porter for one way. We needed to carry our tents and carrimat ourselves. The rest of things were carried by guide ...

  7. I'm sorry to hear it, but not surprised

  8. Going on the tour with conexion tour tomorrow, happy days, lets how it goes....

  9. Good luck, Nick. Let us know how it goes. I hope Carlos has lifted his game.