Peru - Am I a sucker to book a tour?

Old Dec 6th, 2002, 09:51 PM
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Peru - Am I a sucker to book a tour?

I am a female in my late 20s. I've done some travelling on my own in Europe and in groups elsewhere, but I've never taken a multi-day tour. I would love to see Peru, hike the Inca Trail, and see Machu Picchu. I would definitely do the hiking in a tour group, but I was thinking about doing a package tour for the whole trip. I don't generally like them, but I don't think I'd feel comfortable travelling alone there. I'm not sure why I feel that way and if that concern is reasonable.

Based on those with experience in Peru, would you recommend doing a tour for the whole trip or going alone and just booking a tour for the hiking part?
Old Dec 7th, 2002, 07:44 AM
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I would recommend a tour for this trip as you want a knowledgeable guide who can explain the history and significance of what you are seeing. There are many reputable good agencies. I highly recommend Southwind Adventures. I have a website with a report on this part of Peru and it includes comments about our experience with Southwind. Hope this helps.
Old Dec 7th, 2002, 12:49 PM
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I agree with the previous post. There is so much history in Peru and so much to see, that you will probably be very happy with a group trip. You might try Overseas Adventure Travel. They have an excellent 10 day trip to Peru and are known for their good guides, small groups, and reasonable prices. Best, Ellen
Old Dec 22nd, 2002, 06:19 PM
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I had the same feelings as you -- I have never travled with a tour gorup (for more than a day) but felt that peru/south america was not somewhere that I wanted to be adventurous on my own. I took the trip with OAT and it was incredible (one of the best parts of the trip was the group experience) -- BUT --beware the group age is usually 50 years and over. My cousin and I lucked out in that it was a "young" group. I was the youngest (besides the tour guide) but we had a great time.
Old Dec 23rd, 2002, 03:47 PM
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Dear Me:
You might try South American Expeditions.
They were excellent. Sort of a "loose" tour schedule. They offer many 2/3 day tours, and they will customize to your liking. And they weren't any more expensive than the very organized ones.

The part we liked is that you were with different people on each tour, and get to experience people from all over the world, not just the US. I think they must contract with the locals. And you can start each tour on any day. They arrange what you want. We dealt with Michael over the internet.

OAT does tend to be an older group (we're 46 and 70, and thought they were very sedate!), and, at least the ones we've seen (have not been on their tours) want to refrain from experiencing local cultures. One OAT group we happen to sit next to in Peru, was upset that the menu was not in English! To their advantage, they stay in upscale accomodations.

If you have a chance, go to the Amazon. It's an amazing experience. We stayed at the ExplorNapa jungle lodge, near the Canapy Walkway. No electricty, only kerosene lighting. Mesquito netting. In the middle of the rainforest. Great food. It was also arranged by SAE.

Please e-mail me with any questions. Be glad to help. As you can see, we LOVED Peru.

Old Dec 24th, 2002, 07:46 AM
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Hi there. I know it's scary to venture off by yourself...but tours are so expensive and inflexible!! I travelled Peru by myself and found it very easy to get around and I met loads of people in hostels. Pick up the Lonely Planet and make it your Bible. (It also helps to know some Spanish) I never once felt unsafe walking around Lima or Cusco at night, (in fact, I felt safer than I did in most European cities) and the Peruvians were very nice and helpful.

Booking a Machu Picchu tour is dead easy in Cusco....there are so many tour operators to choose from, and they're all around the same price. But if you're worried about getting ripped off, book with one of the operators in the Lonely Planet.

South America is turning into Europe these days. It's extremely well-travelled and certainly not as remote as you would expect.

Good luck!
Old Jan 3rd, 2003, 03:41 PM
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I'm back to defend OAT -- and yes I am the one (two replies back) who said beware of the age of the group (Overage American Travelers) -- but our group was more than willing to try anything and everything -- from the guinea pig at lunch, to the "disco" in aqua calientes (ok maybe that was only a couple of us), to the soccer game against Lima in Cusco(on our free afternoon), to getting the bartender in the scared valley to teach us to make pisco sours, to ... just wanted to make the point that it all depends on the group not the tour company. 20 is probably too young for this tour but I am in the thirty something group...and it was a great experience.
Old Jan 3rd, 2003, 10:09 PM
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While I notice that a number of people have suggested taking a tour, nobody seems to be mentioning doing that for safety reasons which I’m guessing is the main reason for your question. That means either this is not an issue for this area or they have not thought about it (you should check it). I have traveled and lived all over the world – often on my own (I am female also) so am probably more adventurous than average (just so you know where I am coming from). I went to Peru and Bolivia for 2 weeks in 1998 – with a male friend. The Lonely Planet (usually pretty adventurous) made it seem rather scary in those days and had us both feeling nervous – I was worried even going with him!! However, once I was there I felt very comfortable – this includes the last day and a half I spent on my own in Cuzco while my friend stayed in La Paz ( I think some of the scary details in the guide book were a bit outdated which is an important distinction for locales that change a lot).

Since we were hiring an outfit for the Inca Trail, I had looked into the package tours but thought they were unappealing – as Meg says above, they are tend to be expensive and inflexible. We wanted to skip Lima and to be completely flex as to what we did after the Inca Trail (e.g. we flew to Amazon on a few hours notice!). I have gone on one organized tour – to West Africa b/c you need to if you are climbing Kilimanjaro and going on safari. While I thought the company (Wilderness Adventures in Berkeley) was excellent, when I left Africa, I realized that they had “protected” me from meeting locals and anyone who might not speak English. To a certain extent, Kilimanjaro could have been in New Jersey!

I think you should consider the following:
1) check out current safety situation (#1 priority) – keeping in mind that guide books are usually a year out of date (that was our experience – had gotten much safer than what was written)
2) analyze whether you mind worrying about your own arrangements and enjoy interacting w/ locals who don’t speak English (for some people, this is a highlight; others hate it)
3) examine whether you mind being sheparded around by a tour group with little say in what you do and no spontaneity (again some people love this; others hate it)
4) Realize that you can hire people inexpensively for a variety of short term tours but that quality will be varied. We hired locally 3 times: 4 day Inca Trail hike, 1 day visiting Inca sites around Cuzco (just us – no group), 2 days in Amazon. (As an example of cost the Inca Trail was $70 per person for all 4 days). 2 of the 3 were great; one (Inca Trail) was mediocre. But to me that is part of the experience! Again, depends on what you like.

If you decide to do your own thing there is a guide I can recommend in Cuzco (this is 4 ½ years old though). His name is Romulo Castillo (22-6858 from my 1998 guidebook). If you can imagine this, we met him coincidentally through our hotel and had him arrange the 2 guided trips that went well. THEN we noticed that the Lonely Planet recommended him! If he is still available, he and his colleagues are great. As an example, when I flew back from La Paz w/o my friend, I gave Romulo’s driver Carlos a note for my friend who was coming next day. Carlos did not speak English; I speak no Spanish but he understood to pick my friend up and give him my note. My friend came 2 days late – Carlos checked airport everyday and gave him my note!

BTW, I happen to prefer the Rough Guide over the Lonely Planet. Again, all a matter of personal taste but you should at least check it out.

I put my full email in case you want to follow up directly. Hope this helps and have fun!
Old Jan 3rd, 2003, 10:16 PM
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I noticed another thread re tour groups so just topped it for you....
Old Feb 7th, 2003, 05:34 PM
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You have some valid concerns about tours groups, safety, etc. and responders have given comprehensive perspectives.

I was in Peru in last year and trekked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu as part of an 8-day Lima/Cuszo/MP tour with an travel agency ( out of Lima booking tours for grad schools. I didn't have time to plan the trip and was tight on time.

Given that there wasn't much more time to explore on my own, I was fine to do the basic activities the tour provided. The activities were booked with different operators-- some things were with a bus of people for the city tour and others was just the 3 of us, a guide, and van driver.

Perhapsl, you could book first half of trip with a tour company (transfer between Lima/Cuszo, first overngt lodging in Cuzco to acclimate, and the Inca Trail or something) and then leave a few days to explore on your own once you're familiar/comfortable with Cuzco.

The Inca Trail is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (though I'd definitely do it again) and so memorable! You want to book with a reliable and established operator. Browsing around Cuzco for a trip can be tricky-- some things you may not be able to gauge prior, like the knowledge of the guides, quality of equipment, etc. And these will really make a difference when your trudging up to 14,000+ feet (Dead Woman's Pass) your second day!

One way how the travel agency was helpful-- on the day we arrived to Machu Picchu, Bush was scheduled to visit Lima that weekend & there were car bombings in Lima. So things were on heightened security alert. AND with a transportation strike so there were no trains coming to/from Machu Picchu. This made exploring the ruins wonderful (a few thousand less people) b/c the only people there had come off the Inca Trail or overngted in the area. However, that meant we had to spend the night in the neighboring village of Aguas Calientes. The travel agency immediately booked our rooms for the ngt, while others needed to scramble around looking for a place to stay. The next day, the train stopped at a station (near Ollantaytambo?) where hoards of MP tourists spilled out of the trains and clamored for 1.5-2 hr bus ride back to Cusco. The agency had a private van come pick us up, so we avoided the congestion. Given this, our tour wasn't deluxe/luxury or anything but private transfers definitely eased things for us. And we were itching to get back to Cuzco, shower, wash up, etc. To make a long story short, this doesn't happen all the time (bombings & strikes), but we felt we made the right decision.

I went with 2 girlfriends & spoke Spanish-- we're not the fanny-pack types, but got a lot of unwanted attention even in Cuzco: relentless children, women, and particularly men pushing (at times, very aggressively) us to buy things or give them money. Some of the kids even followed us around. But it was relatively better in areas off the main square.

For me, the Inca Trail itelf was exhilarating and the journey easily rivals the splendors of Machu Picchu. Hope you make it there!
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