Peru with Tara Tours

By Susan Hayes
This item appears on page 24 of the December 2015 issue.
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My husband and I generally are independent travelers, but for our customized 20-day, 19-night trip to Peru, April 20-May 9, 2014, we used the services of ITN advertiser Tara Tours (Miami, FL; 800/327-0080, www.taratours.com).

Our decision to use a tour operator was driven by a lack of time to do all the investigation to make the arrangements, ourselves, particularly the segments that we wanted to do by bus and within the Sacred Valley. Tara Tours’ José La Torre arranged our trip and did a superb job. 

The company’s website lists a variety of programs for Peru, but none was exactly what we wanted, so I requested that two overlapping programs be combined — “The Golden Kingdom” (Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and Lima) and “Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca & Colca Canyon” — adding extra days as well as activities in a couple of places.

To make it easy to communicate all this, I made a calendar based on our desired dates, showing the day numbers (Day 1, Day 2) in each program plus the dates and places for the extra days and the added activities by day. I checked out the hotels Tara Tours used in each place and requested a blend of 3- and 4-star hotels.

We first contacted José in early December 2013 but didn’t get our specific itinerary to him until mid-February. Within three days, José responded with a proposed itinerary. In another week we had it finalized. By phone and email, he answered my many questions.

In the end, we felt that we had an independent trip much like one we would have planned. Tara Tours arranged for private, English-speaking guides and drivers in each place except for Colca Canyon, where we were booked on a guided group tour with a bilingual guide, and Lake Titicaca, where we went on a group boat trip but with our own guide.

The price of the trip ($5,584 for each of us) included domestic air Lima-Cuzco and Arequipa-Lima; the Vistadome train Cuzco-Aguas Calientes, round trip; the bus Aguas Calientes-Machu Picchu, round trip; overnight boat tour to Amantani and Taquile in Lake Titicaca; a Cuzco-Puno transfer (a day-long trip that included sightseeing at four locations along the way); a Puno-Colca Canyon/Chivay-Arequipa transfer spread over two days, with each segment taking most of the day and including a half-day tour to Colca Canyon; guide services; 26 meals, and park entrance fees. 

The lake trip included a homestay with an island family. Unbeknownst to José, and based on feedback from previous travelers, the local operator had decided we wouldn’t want such rustic accommodations, so they booked us in a nice guest house with indoor plumbing. It wasn’t the authentic experience that we wanted. 

I’m not sure how to prevent things like that from happening, though the tour operator, learning of our disappointment, said that in the future they would ask in advance.

This was our first time planning and arranging a trip this way, and we liked it. We did our homework and knew what we wanted, but we didn’t have to do all the work. Availing ourselves of the expertise of someone who knew the area well saved us time.

For our next trip to Latin America, we’ll be contacting Tara Tours again.

SUSAN HAYES

Corvallis, OR

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

My husband and I generally are independent travelers, but for our customized 20-day, 19-night trip to Peru, April 20-May 9, 2014, we used the services of ITN advertiser Tara Tours (Miami, FL; 800/327-0080, www.taratours.com).

Our decision to use a tour operator was driven by a lack of time to do all the investigation to make the arrangements, ourselves, particularly the segments that we wanted to do by bus and within the Sacred Valley. Tara Tours’ José La Torre arranged our trip and did a superb job. 

The company’s website lists a variety of programs for Peru, but none was exactly what we wanted, so I requested that two overlapping programs be combined — “The Golden Kingdom” (Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and Lima) and “Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca & Colca Canyon” — adding extra days as well as activities in a couple of places.

To make it easy to communicate all this, I made a calendar based on our desired dates, showing the day numbers (Day 1, Day 2) in each program plus the dates and places for the extra days and the added activities by day. I checked out the hotels Tara Tours used in each place and requested a blend of 3- and 4-star hotels.

We first contacted José in early December 2013 but didn’t get our specific itinerary to him until mid-February. Within three days, José responded with a proposed itinerary. In another week we had it finalized. By phone and email, he answered my many questions.

In the end, we felt that we had an independent trip much like one we would have planned. Tara Tours arranged for private, English-speaking guides and drivers in each place except for Colca Canyon, where we were booked on a guided group tour with a bilingual guide, and Lake Titicaca, where we went on a group boat trip but with our own guide.

The price of the trip ($5,584 for each of us) included domestic air Lima-Cuzco and Arequipa-Lima; the Vistadome train Cuzco-Aguas Calientes, round trip; the bus Aguas Calientes-Machu Picchu, round trip; overnight boat tour to Amantani and Taquile in Lake Titicaca; a Cuzco-Puno transfer (a day-long trip that included sightseeing at four locations along the way); a Puno-Colca Canyon/Chivay-Arequipa transfer spread over two days, with each segment taking most of the day and including a half-day tour to Colca Canyon; guide services; 26 meals, and park entrance fees. 

The lake trip included a homestay with an island family. Unbeknownst to José, and based on feedback from previous travelers, the local operator had decided we wouldn’t want such rustic accommodations, so they booked us in a nice guest house with indoor plumbing. It wasn’t the authentic experience that we wanted. 

I’m not sure how to prevent things like that from happening, though the tour operator, learning of our disappointment, said that in the future they would ask in advance.

This was our first time planning and arranging a trip this way, and we liked it. We did our homework and knew what we wanted, but we didn’t have to do all the work. Availing ourselves of the expertise of someone who knew the area well saved us time.

For our next trip to Latin America, we’ll be contacting Tara Tours again.

SUSAN HAYES

Corvallis, OR