Working With Education First (EF) Tours

Two of my trips abroad have been spent with Education First (EF) Tours: Peru and Tanzania. EF became a leading tour company in my school starting my freshman year when my friends and I planned our trip to Tanzania, which happened to be the first international student trip out of our town since 9/11. Each experience with them was incredibly special to me and here’s a full review of each main travel aspect:

Peru Trip crew

Itinerary:

EF has a knack for creating itineraries that are action packed and seamless- when you’re not on a service trip. My trip to Peru was heavily loaded with stuff to do every day and we were easily transported from one place to another, with little wasted time. We stayed in several cities and villages, including Lima, Cusco, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes, and Puno and never had issues with our lodging and always had something exciting planned for the day. However, during Tanzania, which was a more service oriented trip, we killed a lot of time waiting around in our tent playing cards. While I still cherish these memories, I felt like it was wasted potential to see and do many more new things, especially when we were so far from home. However, some of this may be attributed to the fact that we were one of the first groups in this area; therefore it was necessary to have established relationships with the locals beforehand. Who knows, but I wish we had done more with our time and money. One aspect I particularly felt scarce on was learning the history of the area I was in.

Exploring Machu Picchu

Lodging:

All of the places I stayed were clean and hospitable. The only inconvenience we ever had was we had a bedsheet with a bunch of dirt on it in Ollantaytambo, but both trips had very nice places to stay with great service. Some of the Peru hotels had the best breakfasts I have ever had. In Tanzania, we did spend time in a hotel for one night, but the rest were big mess tent style areas. While the area was pretty rural the spaces were still clean and well taken care of. We fit four people in each tent, which gave us plenty of room for belongings and moving around.

Inside one of the tents in Tanzania
Our hotel in Ollantaytambo (note the ruins above!!)

Food:

EF has done a spectacular job of keeping meals available to people of all needs, from peanut allergies to vegan to food dye (my only allergy). Meals often had a wide range of options, from buffet styles to just a vegetarian or meat option. Everywhere we went it was friendly and well kept, which helps the fear of catching a foreign bug. We got to try lots of local cuisine and cooking styles. I even got to try guinea pig near Cusco, Peru.

Food in Arusha, Tanzania
Guinea pig in Peru

Safety:

At all points in both trips I felt safe. We were never even in any uncomfortable situations or times when health may be compromised. We passed through areas in Peru that were known to be more risky to certain groups, such as Juliaca, but we never stayed or spent time in them. We were completely supervised and had interpreters at all times as well.

Our Peruvian tour leader
Two of our four guides in Tanzania

Cost:

Both trips I attended were relatively pricy (mostly due to flights), but I have mostly felt that the experience was worth the cost. I had a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have experienced traveling solo or even with small groups.

Our Tanzania group

Overall, EF tours is a reliable, trustworthy tour company that offers awesome opportunities. I would and do recommend them to fellow classmates, friends, and peers, as they make sure the trip is seamless and leaves the student feeling fulfilled and maybe a bit unexcited to go home.

Uros, the Floating Island (10/12)

NOTE: This article is part of a series of 12 articles on Peru and the many beautiful aspects of this country. There is a post for each day I spent there, although some may not be relative to that particular day. I intend to post two articles a week for this series, on Thursdays and Mondays.

Our last days in Peru were spent on the beautiful shores and islands of Lake Titicaca, the a high elevation lake (13,000 ft) in the south of Peru. Here modern culture clashes with older ways of living, making for a unique atmosphere with tons of exciting aspects to explore.

To begin, we took a long drive from Cuzco to Puno, where we would be staying for the next and last two days. This is about eight hours, but theres plenty to see and do along the way, including many old cathedrals (pay attention to the paintings!) and if you are lucky, you might see some flamingoes off in the distance.

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Flamingoes!

Once in Puno, there is lots to see on the lake. One of the most interesting is easily the floating reed islands. People have been creating and living on these islands for a long time, despite difficulty and weather issues. The base of the islands is created by roots from the reeds that then make the ‘carpet’ of the island. Houses are then built from the reeds as well as other buildings and features.

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Reeds that provide material for islands
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Uros Islands

This was all detailed to us by the people of the island. In addition to how the islands are built, they also gave us information on their way of life. Tourism is easily their main source of income, however the islands used for tourism are switched frequently as this is their daily life and visitors can also be a privacy invasion. This idea of community is spread throughout every piece of their life. Families often join islands and a trade system is used rather than currency between people on the island. There is certainly a level of trust that doesn’t seem to be found in many other communities I have spent time with.

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Our wonderful hostesses

In recent years, their economy has been boosted by the crafts that are made by the people of their island. Men weave replicas of their large reed boats that look akin to cats (see a few photos above) and women embroider large pieces of fabric with Incan symbolism and bright colors. I couldn’t resist and bought a black one with flaming red and orange colors. Currently don’t know where to hang it, but it was too gorgeous to resist.

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Hand embroidered artwork 

One of the women that helped us understand their way of life was exceptionally gracious and even allowed us into her house. It was a tiny reed building, filled with her traditional clothing and her son, Alex, was curled up at the foot of the bed. She had us try on her clothes, but spent the time telling me to eat more because I was too thin (may I add this was after my issues with altitude so I was a bit peaky). Tin Tin, our guide, also tried on the clothes, leading to quite comical photos.

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Tin Tin being scandalous in his bright skirt
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Alex on his first birthday

Lastly, before we departed, we had the opportunity to ride on one of the reed boats. Called Mercedes Benz boats by the locals, these have been the traditional methods of movement for the people on Uros for many decades. I was impressed with their size; about 20 people could fit on it with ease. Out boat was guided by an abuelo (grandpa), and his son in law. Even the two children hopped aboard with their dog. This was one of the sweetest families I met throughout the whole trip.

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The niños and their dog
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Our sailors

While we saw many beautiful places in Peru, these people on the island captured my heart more than anything else and I loved getting to know their way of life. I was so impressed by their graciousness and hospitality and just the sheer beauty of their lifestyle on the little floating islands.