Traveling solo does not mean you won’t take some tours with others. The beauty of it is you can go where and when you want, with whom you want. Each town and city has a least one tour company where you can decide what you want to see and do. If you stay in a hostel the locals who work there will have brochures for you to peruse, and be willing to give you personal advice. Plus, and maybe even better, the other travelers are always more than willing to share their experiences. They might even be looking f
or a travel buddy for the day, or a specific tour, or to share a taxi. I’ve written some things to be aware of.
Be specific if you want an English speaking guide, and don’t be shy asking questions. It’s natural for a bi-lingual guide to spend more time speaking his native language.
Talk to others in the hostel. Find out who has gone on the tour you have in mind. Find out what they thought about the guide. Does he speak your language? If not, you’ll most likely be wasting your money. How many people will be on the tour with you? If it’s a large crowd, maybe you’d rather have a smaller one, and that tour company is not the one for you.
If a tour lasts all day, find out how much of the trip will involve travel time to and from the sites, where you will have lunch, how much it costs, and what other costs you might have to pay, for example, entrance fees.
I recently went on a day trip to the Calverna de Quiocta in the Peruvian Andes. You can read my blog about that hilarious escapade below. When I booked the tour, the guy who took my money told me to pack a lunch. The following day, I was one of the last people to board the mini-van. The guide spoke no English at all, and there was no loud speaker, so when he told the others that we would be stopping at a restaurant to rent boots, and to order our lunches, which we would return later to eat and pay for, I, and another couple didn’t hear him.
When we got to the restaurant and saw what was happening, we ordered our meals. I was astounded that it cost three or four times more than what almuerzo ( fixed lunch) cost in town. This apparently is common practice. The money was split among the tour guide, operators, and the restaurant. It generated a lot of cash, where the value of the currency compared with others is low.
I wasn’t the only person who thought the price was too high. Many backpackers travel on very tight budgets. Understand that you are not forced to buy lunch. You can bring your own and eat in the park, or with the others. However if you order, say, just the soup, the price will still be high, because they discourage this.
Know your limitations, and be realistic about your stamina. Ask the tour operator about the difficulty of the trek, how many steps, or what kind of terrain it is so you’ll be sure to wear the proper clothes and shoes, carry an umbrella for sun or possible rain, or perhaps not want to go at all.
I frequently find myself in day trips with people much younger than myself. Although I am in great shape (for the shape I’m in), I sometimes just cannot keep up. On several occasions, I have chosen to ride horses up steep hills, instead of hiking. Don’t expect the young and fit to wait for you. If I can’t keep up, I take my time, or drop back. It doesn’t happen often, but I have chosen not to continue on a few treks. Once after climbing at an altitude of 13,000 feet for a half an hour, to a funerary site in Puno, a man collapsed at the top. He felt fine after he’d rested a few minutes and had a drink of water. Still, he gave his family a scare.
My favorite is the on and off bus. You can find them in most cities at the tourist/ information center. The way they work is that you pay a daily fee which allows you to get on and off whenever, and where ever you want. The designated drop off and pick-up sites are usually easy to see, and located in interesting or historic areas.
I like to stay on the bus for the full tour the first time. That lets me get the lay of the land, and an idea what sites or areas I want to spend time visiting. I can also judge distances between sites I want to see. After one lap, I generally know which areas I want to return to on the next one around, and it gives me an approximate idea how long it will take me to go from one place to the next.
If I don’t have time to visit all the places I want to, I know now where they are and what bus line I need to take to get there, or how far it is if I chose to take a taxi.
The tourist industry is huge. Trust me, there are tours for everyone, every budget. It’s not necessary to have a set plan for everything. As J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Not all who wander are lost.” Bon voyage.