It’s Saturday evening, February 2019. I’m at the office as an American couple enters the room. Hannah and Robin, who want to join our Alternative Rainbow Mountain tour in two days, had a big problem. They told us that they compared many different agencies in Cusco and often didn’t understand their differences.
It was not the first time that I heard about this. Many of our travelers tell us about difficulties when comparing tours in Cusco and other cities in Peru due to unclear or missing information when they plan their trip.
One of it being the group size. Mostly this information is hidden and not visible on web pages or when visiting a local agency. Even though it’s such a crucial characteristic that determines the final quality of the tour.
That’s why I’d like to explain to you how the Peruvian tour market works regarding group sizes and why small group tours are very new to this.
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A large group about to explore Machu Picchu.
Small group tours and other tour options
The Peruvian market is mainly organized into two types of services:
- Group tours
- Private tours
What private tours are should be clear to everyone. They mostly include a personal driver, your own guide and other details but also cost a lot more.
Group tours can be segmented: touristy groups and small groups. Let’s take a closer look at each of them.
In our small group tours you can get to know other passionate travellers.
Small group tours
In a small group you:
- have a more personal contact and relation with the guide as there are not many others she has to focus on.
- are only with like-minded travellers who look for something different, willing to spend a bit more in exchange for a value a touristy tour can’t give you.
- can clearly understand what the guide says as the group only creates a “one-line semi-circle” around her when she speaks. I mean, who wants to be in the second or third row asking the traveler next to you about what the guide just said? We’re here to learn and to enjoy. Direct eye contact and standing close to the guide while listening is crucial.
- are free to ask your guide whatever and as often as you want as there are not many other travelers interrupting with their own questions.
- interact much better with the other like-minded travelers as there is no internal group building or solo traveling. The guide makes sure that everyone gets fully involved, no matter if they are intro- or extroverts. Until now, I’ve seen many travelers that grabbed a beer or that had dinner together after the tour. Some even did another tour together.
The Sun Gate is also the first viewpoint of Machu Picchu for all the people that do the classic 4-day Inca Trail.
Large group tours
In a touristy group you:
- are mixed with many different types of travelers mostly searching a low-cost tour. Others joined this tour as they had difficulties to understand the differences of tours they compared online or while being in the city before booking it.
- have no personal touch as the guide is often less professional and receives a lower payment. He’s not really interested in sharing historical facts but rather in getting everyone to the site (and if not, well that’s your fault) and then back in the bus.
- will see that it can be difficult to capture all the information the guide shares as you’re not always with her or you can’t hear clearly what she says due to the distance.
- will be alone sometimes. Especially for 1-day hikes, as the guide cannot be with everyone all the time. In case you suddenly feel bad, f.e. due to symptoms of the altitude sickness, it’s very probable that the guide won’t be with you. For hiking tours in Cusco, this might be fatal. The guide might be with other members of the group, which splits up in the beginning when the trek starts. Some walk quicker, some walk slower.
- and everybody else go on their own as the group is often too large to create interactions. Often, small groups exist from the beginning on or form in the beginning.
- won’t have the chance to ask your guide all the questions you have.
Thus, a huge part of the experience’s quality depends on the group size and finally, the guide.
8 – The golden number for our small group tours
We tested and worked closely with our guides while developing our small tour concept. 8 is the maximum number of participants in small group tour in order to comply with all the points I mentioned above.
With 9 or 10 people in a group, the participants might start forming a second row while the guide is talking. We want you to have direct eye contact and to be less than 2 m away so you can easily understand the guide. No matter if there’s a lot of wind or other people around.
Apart from that, we know that the experience with fewer people is more special. You get to know the others better and you can have a more personalized experience. Having a small group and getting to the destinations early before the majority arrives, such as in our Humantay lake tour, is what many of our travelers love about our tours.
Ollantaytambo will be the last stop of your Sacred Valley tour and from there you can take the train to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu town).
How do other agencies define small group tours in Peru?
Coming back to the tour agencies and operators…So what’s a small group for them?
The problem is that many of them don’t indicate anything at all. Some may indicate say “small group” but no specific number of participants on their brochure or webpage. Thus, I made several calls and after a 3-day research, there were small groups of 12 up to 25 travelers.
What a joke and what kind of misleading information for travelers! The average group size is 16-19 travelers for most of the group tours offered in Peru. With this quantity, it allows the agencies to fill the buses and offer the tour at a cheap price.
Why am I talking about this? To bring light into this very important characteristic when considering what to look at when comparing tours. As you see, online as well as on brochures, in the agencies itself etc., there is too much hidden information which would make your planning and understanding easier if it was publicly available.
Transparency of information is a huge lack over here. However, it will be solved step by step as more and more people start to understand that the traveler is looking for something trustworthy. Trust cannot be created with missing information.
I hope this will help you understand what “the” characteristics of a small and a touristy group are. It’s highly recommended to take them into consideration when planning your trip to Peru.