Inca Trail and more with Quechuas Expeditions

19 Oct
Quechuas-Expeditions -Certificate-of-Excellence

I am going to rave about Quechuas Expeditions in this review. I am very glad that this is not a rant, as we encountered many, many people on our trip who had arrangements from other companies that went wrong and it messed up their enjoyment of their trips and cost them a lot of money. Peru is very different from the US. Rules are suggestions and people move at the pace that works for them. This can lead to a lot of cross-ups in arrangements and missed details. We experienced nothing but spot-on arrangements that were obviously the result of tried-and-true relationships that Quechuas Expeditions has built with various service providers over the years.

Peru was our first international trip and I don’t speak Spanish. When we first decided to travel to Peru, we looked into a standard guided tour that included everything. What we quickly realized was that there is no flexibility in those trips, other than extra nights in Lima. We wanted to really spend time in the Sacred Valley, and we needed time to acclimatize to the altitude in order to have a safe and happy time on the Trail. All of the “big box” tour companies from the US have you in Cusco for one night and then straight to the trail. Unless you live at high altitude, this can be a big mistake in terms of misery, sickness and safety. We wanted to find a company that offered a wide variety of activities and was willing to work with us to schedule some tours and let us free-lance other things. We wanted to do Peru our way, and Quechuas Expeditions definitely accommodated us.

I put a lot of effort into researching various local companies for the Inca Trail. In addition to offering every possible arrangement you could ever want, Quechuas Expeditions’ website is adamant about the treatment of porters on the Trail. This is a critical issue that cannot be overstated. Our trip would have been extremely compromised with guilt had we gone with an operator that did not treat those darling men who made our trek possible with the dignity and respect that all human beings deserve. We saw a lot of overloaded porters struggling along without even proper packs – just plastic sheets bound with rope. These cut their arms and destroy their bodies quite rapidly. The Quechuas Expeditions porters were numerous and supplied with top-notch gear: hernia prevention belts, cordura backpacks with modern straps and suspension systems and sahara caps. They also seemed to have lots of logo gear, such as Quechuas Expeditions t-shirts, track suits, hats, etc. Most importantly, none of our porters was overloaded!

Besides the porter issue, Quechuas Expeditions is a local company with local ownership and employees. The owner, Wistman, is a former Inca Trail guide so he knows the details of the business. He is a fastidious, delightful and extremely dedicated man who knows every detail of every person’s arrangements. His correspondence was patient and copious, allaying all of my concerns. We asked to have our orientation on Saturday in Cusco and to be picked up in Ollantaytambo on our departure day, Tuesday. These requests were accommodated without a blink. We were issued our monogrammed duffel bags and stuff sacks at the office on Saturday, along with our Thermarest pads. We rented sleeping bags and a set of trekking poles from QE. These were brought to us in Ollantaytambo by our guides on the day of our departure. The sleeping bags, which cost $20 each for the entire trip, were -10 North Face down mummy bags with compression sacks. They were newer, clean and odorless. It is entirely unnecessary to drag sleeping bags and trekking poles from home and have them take up space in your luggage for your entire trip.

A word to the wise: if you want to hike the Classic Inca Trail, BOOK EARLY! You have to have your passport to arrange your trail tickets and all outfitters have to go through the same process. It is done through a government agency. QE worked with us to get our down payment in January and buy our trail permits on the day July permits opened. QE will do a trek with only 2 people. We were 2 and I was willing to pay the extra cost of no more people booked for our departure date, which is very unlikely in July. This meant that there was no reasonable chance of our hike being cancelled and QE does not resell trips to other companies. This is a big deal when you are trying to book international airline tickets! We ended up having 6 tourists in our group.

One extremely critical element of Inca Trail success and enjoyment is the crew who actually takes you. Quechuas Expeditions not only had the best equipment that we saw on the trail, but there could be no greater people than those who took us. All 8 of the porters seemed to be cheerful all of the time. Our cook, Juan, was a great guy and made mountains of surprisingly terrific food. We wanted to buy his cookbook! I cannot say enough good things about our guides. Our group ended up having 2 guides. David was with the fast people who had Wayna Picchu tickets at 7AM on Machu Picchu day, and Jimmy Jhon (John) was with the rest of us, which ended up being another woman and me – the slow walkers. My 18 year old daughter was officially in our group but spent much of her time with the fast walkers, so 2 of us had a guide essentially to ourselves. David was very efficient and knowledgable, but I didn’t spend a lot of time with him. I will focus this review on the guide who made my trip spectacular – Jimmy Jhon.

Yes, this is his real name. He is a Quechua and was 23 at the time of our trip. Guides on the Trail have a 5 year university degree in Tourism. Jimmy is a total natural with people. He has a sparkling personality, maturity well beyond his years and a tremendous sense of humor. His interactions with the porters and cook seemed more like friendships than anything else, and they clearly respected him. He seemed to know everyone working on the Trail, and this familiarity continued when he took us into Aguas Calientes. He established rapport with us immediately by finding a colorful parasite on a cactus and painting our faces with it, and then letting my daughter paint his face. Once we let on that we’re Earth Spiritualists, Jimmy was incredibly open in answering questions and offering information about the non-textbook parts of Incan spirituality, even doing a couple of small rituals with me. This access meant more to me than I can put into words, and it seemed to mean a great deal to him as well to be able to share that foundational part of his ancestors’ world. He was very interested in cultural exchange but never a bit pushy in his interactions. Patient, positive and encouraging with a lot of joking around, this guy was also a wealth of knowledge about the natural world and executed his guiding responsibilities with the utmost of professionalism and a ton of pure, open joyful heart. If it weren’t for the 20+ year age difference and me being married and living in another country, I might have totally fallen in love with him (kidding, but it was close). I felt like I’d been given a very special gift from the Universe to have him as our guide. You cannot go wrong with this guy, regardless of how you spell his name! If you read around the web, you will find lots of other folks who had very different but equally positive experiences with him. When we left Machu Picchu after Jimmy’s astonishing guided tour, he took the bus with us into Aguas Calientes. Then he walked us to our hotel and got us checked in, carried our trail bag to our room, and even checked to make sure our bathroom had TP. He also made sure we knew where to catch the bus back to Machu Picchu the next day for our Wayna Picchu climb and the train back to Ollantaytambo afterward and gave us the rest of our tickets. Although he had to go out on another trek the next day and was only going to be at his home in Cusco for about 5 hours overnight, he still managed to remember to have a book on Quechua rituals left for me at the QE office. It is easy to see why Quechuas Expeditions has such stellar ratings across the web – the company is made up of exemplary human beings like Jimmy Jhon who go the extra distance to make sure your trip is all that it can possibly be!

In addition to the Classic Inca Trail package, we also booked a 3 day Lake Titicaca package and wrap-around service through Quechuas Expeditions. This included a tourist bus from Cusco to Puno, a night in a lovely hotel in Puno and 2 days on the lake with a homestay on Amantani island. This was a good trip and definitely worth doing, but it was not run by QE. When we returned to Cusco and the QE office to drop off our duffel bag after the Trail and our time in the Sacred Valley, Wistman (the QE owner) asked us about our followup hotel plans and airport transportation arrangements. We had none, so he made them for us on the spot. He even had his assistant take us to a book store and help us find a children’s book that we needed for a gift. A car came for us the next morning at our hotel in Cusco and took us to a bus station. We boarded a guided tourist bus to Puno with 4 stops plus lunch. Our bus tour was very inclusive, covering all admissions and meals. Some people were paying separately for admissions and meals, which would have been a pain. A driver arrived to take us to our hotel upon our arrival in Puno, and another showed up the next morning to take us to the docks. Once we returned from the islands, we were taken back to the same swanky hotel, which turned out to be 2 blocks off the main tourist area so we had very easy access to shopping and dining. The next day, another driver arrived to take us the airport in Juliaca to fly to Lima. By this point in our travels, we were quite tired and it was a great security to know that Quechuas Expeditions had our backs and our arrangements. While this leg of our journey was not as exciting as the Trail, the arrangements and value were still top-notch! Our homestay with a local family is an experience that we treasure and something not to be missed if your are interested in cultural exchange.

I am eternally grateful to Quechuas Expeditions for managing every detail of our booked tours with such precision and dedication. Being able to relax and enjoy our adventures was priceless and definitely worth the small amount of extra money versus a bargain operator. With Quechuas Expeditions, you get what you pay for AND you get more than money can ever buy. You get living ancestors holding sacred space at an incredible portal, and they are grateful that you came so they can fulfill their life’s work of facilitating your experience.


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