My wife and I wanted to to visit Machu Picchu, but we did not want to be part of a larger tour group. After scouring the internet, one of the agents I came across, Paul at this South America travel company. He actually answered his phone and we talked about the trip and our goals. I had already booked the flight and motel, so I was just looking for local guides. Paul put together several itineraries, and we finally agreed up one. We did all the Cusco related tours first, Leaving Machu Picchu for last.
Our guide for the first 3 days in Cusco was a great kid, knowledgeable of all the sites, and knew the best shopping areas to take us to. He was also very patient with me, as I had a tough time adjusting to the altitude and was frequently out of breath. Plus we enjoyed hearing about his grandmothers cooking.
Paul booked us a room at Machu Picchu so we could stay overnight and have a 'free day' wandering the site. We stayed at a hotel which had no TV's shock! shock! in the rooms (thought you could request one), and several eco-friendly tours included in the room price. I think the evening meal we had there was the best on our trip.
Our Machu Picchu guide was a History major at the local university and was working on his Masters. He knew the history of the regions, and how that history played a considerable role in how Machu Picchu was constructed. I was quite impressed with the depth and breadth of his knowledge. It really set the stage on how Machu Picchu was built, and the political realities that we happening during and after its construction. And again our guide was quite patient with his wheezing client. I'd walk a while and sit a while to catch my breath. Fortunately, my wife did not have this issue, and she and our guide chatted away while I was catching my breath :)
The vistadome train was really neat to ride in. There was a landslide on the way back that delayed us for a couple of hours, so it was dark by the time we got back to Cusco.
Having private guides made changing the itinerary very easy. If we saw something we wanted to do, well we would just do it and take our time exploring. If we needed extra time strolling the markets, no problem. If we wanted to leave early, no problem. If you can afford the private guides, then it is the way to go.
We especially liked having someone meet us at the airport and help us with baggage and questions. When you don't speak Spanish, even the most simple issues can get complex quickly. Our guides helped us thru that. One our 'free day' we decided we wanted to go back to one of the markets in a surrounding city. We called our agent, and Voila! we had a car and interpreter for the trip that afternoon. Sweet.
We are glad we stayed in the heart of the 'old district' of Cusco. Everything was in walking distance. The street vendors sometimes got a little pushy, but overall we did not have any issues with them. More of a minor annoyance.
Getting to Machu Picchu was everything I had hoped it would be. It was just so cool. And having an uber-experienced guide made the experience even that much better.
I think I would book the entire trip thru the Travel Agent. I booked my flight and motel thru Priceline. Which was fine, but if you wanted to make any changes, then you had to go back thru Priceline to do it. Quite annoying and painful. If I had of book thru Paul, then I could have gone to him for any changes.
I understand there are other 'Inka Ruin' sites around Cusco that are lesser know. I think I'd have like to extended the trip for a couple of more days, and explored those. Getting out into the countryside was nice.
Other than that, I'd leave everything else pretty much the same.
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