The Other America – Booking a Self Guided Tour of Peru

The Other America

After my holiday in Europe in July, and a trip to Ireland booked for December, another international trip wasn’t exactly in my original plan or budget for 2015. That being said, ever since returning home my travel-itis has been excruciating and I’ve been obsessed with looking up my dream destinations. The post travel blues hit me hard, and getting back into the swing of things was rough.

The last few trips I’ve been on, the destinations have for the most part been determined by the person I’m traveling with, and I’m not complaining. If I haven’t visited a country yet, it’s usually on my I want to go there mental list, so if someone else is being called somewhere specific, I’m on board. I’m just happy to have a friend who wants to travel with me! There are a few areas I’m not super interested in at the moment (sorry southeast Asia), but there are a ton of places I want to go to and a real fear I’ll never have enough time to see it all. Time goes by so freaking quickly and there’s just not enough of it.

I was browsing Nomadic Matt’s travel give away page, and the idea got me re-interested in potentially going on a group tour. I haven’t traveled with a guide in a few years, and I thought that could be a good option for me to sneak in an extra trip that my regular travel mates wouldn’t be available for. I started talking to my friend and coworker Kelly about the tours. She’s a pretty avid traveler, and was also day dreaming about places she wanted to go. Sometimes when I talk to people about going places I know that they’re talking about going in a oh yeah I’d love to go someday but never actually will capacity. Which is fine for some people, but when I’m talking about it, I really mean I want to go and I’m trying to judge if you want to go seriously enough that you’ll come with me. Kelly definitely wanted to go.  Destiny. Well maybe not destiny, but Kelly definitely was down for a trip, and so was I, so we started kicking trip ideas back and forth.

There were a few places I’d had on my travel radar – mainly Russia, but the trips to Russia had a few more complications, like visa fees, and though the overall price was decent, the per day price was pretty high.  

I was pretty shocked to see how cheap the flights to St. Petersburg are. Most of the round trip flights were right around $500. I definitely want to make it to Russia, hopefully in 2016.

I asked Kelly where she would go if she could go anywhere in the world, and she said Peru. I hadn’t thought a lot about Peru recently, but the more I did it sounded like the perfect spot for us to go. I think most travelers have Machu Picchu on their list of must-sees and it is definitely on mine, so what better time? I’ve also never been to South America, which is a crime.

Picking the time to go was tricky as it was already nearing the end of August, and the rainy season of Peru would start in full force in November. We’d really need to book something for October at the latest, or wait until spring. Waiting is hard.on a mountain

The tour group prices were decent and the one that caught my eye the most traveled the Inca Trail with a few days in Bolivia.  The salt flats look ridiculously cool and I want to take those cheesy perspective photos that all tourist do. I started reading the trip notes to get some details on the tour… yeah… this was a tick more intense then I’d bargained for. Truthfully, I hadn’t really known what the Inca trail was. I’d heard of it sure, but imagined trekking it would be like when I go to the nature center. Some mornings the tour began at 4:30 am followed by 6 hours of trekking up hill. That just sounds ok. Not great. There might be trips where I want to spend my entire time eating food I’ve mixed in a tin bucket, showering a week later after physically conquering a staggering rustic mountain, but it is not this trip.

Our friend Lance has a good point when he mentioned that we could just do this tour ourselves. We were able to use the would-be tours as a rough outline for what we wanted to do. We stole a ton of great ideas from different tour groups, and picked out the places and things we wanted to do the most. Thank you travel sites for your help – maybe next time!  Kelly and I both study Spanish though hers is dramatically better than mine which should be a helpful advantage navigating the area. Most of the activities we want to do are fairly inexpensive to book solo.  With that, we decided to kick the tour group and do a self guided tour of Peru. I feel a good bit better about this as the idea of the tour group had stressed me a bit what with the unknown personalities. The last tour group I went with had me swearing off of them so it was a risky plot given how bat crap crazy people can be. Long way to Cusco, Peru

The flight is of course the biggest chunk of the price for this trip. I’d been hoping to find a flight out of BWI which is a lot closer to my house, but the prices were around $400 cheaper to fly out of Dulles, so that was an easy choice. Kelly found a flight for $663 round trip which, is a pretty solid price given it’s a decently long jaunt with two layovers. There aren’t any direct flights to Cusco, and every flight we found had 2 stops. Flying to Europe offers a lot of opportunity to tweak destinations and routes given all of the budget airlines in Europe. Peru didn’t offer the same flexibility, and the ‘budget’ airlines I did look at directly didn’t offer any savings. With the flight prices were fairly consistent, and the only savings we were able to wiggle in was leaving on a Friday instead of a Saturday to save $100. We knew all of our other plans could be up for negotiation, so we booked.

I did have a bit of apprehension. Booking another trip moderately last minute felt irresponsible, like I should save the money and spend it on something mature adults do (I don’t actually know what “adults” spend money on?). But when would I have someone else who wanted to take a trip again? Opportunities don’t always come up so effortlessly.

With our flight booked we perused AirBnB for a place to stay. Kelly was new to this site, so she was able to get a $25 credit through our link (here).  We found a place to stay in Ollantaytambo our first stop with stunning rooftop views, and a homestay in Cusco in the center of the old town which reviewers rave about the friendly hosts. The cost per night is about $25 each as we’ll be sharing a room.

Our only other must for booking was our day trip to Machu Picchu, as that is kind of the focal point for us. Only a certain number of people are allowed each day, and some days can book up pretty far in advance. October isn’t quite their busy season, but we definitely didn’t want to risk it. Kelly went online that night and booked our passes and train tickets for the day.

And that’s it! Essentials planned. Now, we get to look up the fun stuff, like petting baby llamas.

What else should we check out in Peru?!


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