Wednesday, June 30, 2010

One of the worst things about group travel, too many shopping expeditions: The Peru Diaries, Part V

This trip saved the best for last: Machu Picchu and then the magical town of Cusco. This is by far the most beautiful town I have seen in Latin America. It reminded me of the way Quito looked in 1972—before Quito became a big city with high-rises obscuring the view of the mountains. In Cusco wherever we went, the mountains were a powerful presence.

Since we were in a city, we could break way from the group and move at our own (very slow) pace. We stayed with the tour for the half day city tour. It’s always good to get an over view before branching out on your own.

The first stop was the Dominican monastery— built on the foundations of an Inca Temple. A 1950 earthquake revealed the Inca Temple and the rich heritage the Dominicans had tried so hard to suppress. If we had been on our own we would have spent the entire morning there. Rick and I move slowly through museums, but there’s no leisurely lingering with a tour group and we were on to the next stop.

After the city tour, we decided to break away from the group and spend our last day and a half in Cusco seeing the town our way, at our pace. It meant missing a bus tour that included the famous Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman, but if we had gone on the scheduled tour, we would have been captives on the tour bus and would have had to spend the rest of the day on the shopping trips arranged by the tour company.

I’m not much of a shopper and these shopping expeditions seem to be incorporated into most group tours. Rick and I could easily pass on the silver factory and the vicuna factory, but the tour company knows its customers, and most were very happy to have these shopping opportunities.

To be fair, one shopping trip, to the workshop of Seminario, a well-known ceramicist, was really worth it, and we bought a beautiful ceramic clock for our kitchen—we actually needed a new kitchen clock, as ours died right before we left for Peru. But this tour was too heavy on the shopping and too light on cultural / historical attractions.

So instead of shopping we saw some of the major sites of Cusco—including the cathedral which is actually a complex of churches and a treasure trove of colonial art. When we asked our guide why such a major cultural site was not included as part of the group tour, he said it used to be included but when the cathedral raised the price of admission, the tour company decided to drop the cathedral. Huh?

So, bottom line: we’re not going on any more group tours. If we can’t go some place on our own, then we just won’t go there. I’ve accepted the fact that there are many places I will never see, and that’s okay. My husband and I did a lot of traveling during our working years, so I don’t have all these pent-up travel desires. I wish I had done more adventure travel when I was younger, but you can’t do it all, can’t have it all.

Rick and I learned something about ourselves as travelers, or perhaps it's more accurate to say the trip confirmed what we always suspected: we are just not meant for group travel. But despite all my complaints, I’m really happy to have seen Machu Picchu and Cusco. If I were younger, I’d plan a return trip for some future date, but at this stage of life, travel opportunities narrow. One trip to Machu Picchu in a lifetime will have to do.


  1. Hi Karen, The shopping trip seems to be the stuff of group tour legend, though happily on my only group tour there wasn't any specific shopping stop and the trip was heavy on cultural and historical tutorials. It's great you were able see so many beautiful sites and there's so much more that you and Rick can explore on your own. Here's to the cathedrals and cafes still to come!

  2. Theory: There are more introverts than extroverts in the Democratic ranks, and group tours appeal to extroverts more than introverts; therefore, you'll find more Republicans who've made several group tours and plan to make more. That's a huge stretch and it's type-casting at its worst, but it would be a fun bit of research.

    And I'm with you on shopping and group tours. I find it really hard to just relax and go with that particular flow.

  3. My in-laws' take on their group tour to the British Isles : Stops at shops with long lines to the restroom.... should we buy gifts or relieve our bladders.... oh, just pay for a few of those sweaters and get back in line....

    I should tell you, though, that I still wear that hastily grabbed gift, 30 years later.

  4. Reni, Glad to hear that you didn’t have to endure those shopping trips.

    Ashleigh, I agree with your in-laws take on group travel!

    And, Nance, I’m not so sure about your theory about R’s and D’s. I’m fairly certain everyone on our tour was a D. My guess is that D’s are much more likely to travel to places like Peru.

  5. As an older traveler it has become more difficult to travel independently. I admire your honesty in listing the pros & cons of group travel. For Barbara & myself, one of the great pleasures of independent travel is researching & mapping out our trip before we ever get in the air. Group travel makes one lazy! However, I also believe that at our age certain places like China and Southeast Asia will have to be seen as part of a group. Karen, don't ever lose your love of travel. It's what keeps us 'young'!