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“10 Things I Loved About Trekking to Machu Picchu with Alpaca Expeditions”

11 Sep

Reviewed September 10, 2012 by Renee Q.

My boyfriend and I just returned from a 5 Day hike to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail with Alpaca. Here’s what we loved:

1) Courteous and responsive communication – Bonnie and Raul both emailed several times to confirm our arrangements and answer our (many) questions.

2) They work around your schedule – We basically had a private tour on the dates we wanted – with no additional cost – because Alpaca doesn’t force you to book when they want to go, they let you choose when you want to (which was nice compared to other companies which leave ‘every Sunday.’) I expected since we booked early, others would be added into our group. But Raul informed us that it was just the two of us and took us without complaining even though I’m SURE he didn’t make money.

3) The food is amazing and varied – I have no idea how chef Mario made us a cake on the trail, but he did. Also fried chicken, steak, the BEST porridge I have ever had in my life (my boyfriend had 3 helpings), cauliflower fritters (AMAZING) and if you can believe it, bananas flambé. Also I am allergic to peanuts and don’t eat red meat and it was never an issue…there was always lots to eat.

4) They put your safety first and move fast if there is a problem – I was feeling great in Cusco and on the first day of the hike, so I didn’t take altitude meds. But on the second day, Raul noticed I wasn’t well and suggested I take them. He was right…I got really sick the higher we went. He gave me oxygen, put me on his back and basically carried me down about 500 feet in 15 minutes. He let me rest and recover for a few hours before we reclimbed that part of trail. He was patient the entire time and didn’t put any pressure on me.

5) The entire team was incredibly supportive – Two of the porters came down to help when I got sick. One ran down from the lunch site in about 10 minutes. He carried my day pack and water back up. The other was the chef and he brought me coffee, food and water. They were all so patient and giving me physical and moral support to make it up there.

6) They are flexible – My altitude sickness put us behind by half a day. We made it up on the next day, which meant everyone had to walk really far. The team was cheerful about it and the porters even ‘fought’ when another group claimed our campsite because they thought we weren’t going to make it!

7) Raul’s passion for his culture and knowledge of history – Even though I had read a few books about Incan history, Raul’s storytelling made it come to life for me, so much so that I actually got teary listening to him talk.

8) Porters are treated like family – Porters do not have to buy their uniforms, like some companies make them do. They all had good footwear (instead of sandals) and proper packs (instead of plastic tarps held together with rope like other porters had.) It honestly felt like I was walking around with a few of my little brothers – you can tell they all like each other and enjoy working together.

9) They are good to the environment – I saw them cleaning up the campsites and picking up bottles that others had thrown out on the trail. Raul also mentioned when he does alternative treks he takes 2 porters along to clean the trail since it is not regulated.

10) New, clean and comfy equipment – The sleeping pads were awesome! We were really comfy. The tent seemed fairly new and kept us dry throughout a few rainy nights.

11) (Bonus) They go above and beyond: Let’s face it, toilets on the trail aren’t great. There was one that was REALLY bad and Raul knew it would be, so he ran down before I got there to clean it out with water so I wouldn’t have to. He absolutely didn’t have to do it, but he wanted to make sure I was as comfortable as possible.

In a nutshell, if you want to have an amazing time with a fun, knowledgeable and ethical company, go with Alpaca Expeditions. Raul and his team were incredible!

Visited September 2012

Interview with an AE Guide

19 Jun

Q: Raul, why did you start Alpaca Expeditions?

Raul:I started with the purpose of helping porters and their families.

Q: What makes Alpaca Expeditions different than other adventure companies?
Raul: I created Alpaca with two goals – a superior experience for my hikers and a better life for my porters.  I want to make sure that each trip is unique for the hikers who are going.  Each of us has different needs and expectations from a vacation and I want to plan each trip catered to the hikers needs.  But creating a better life for my porters is just as important to me.  I want to make sure my porters have a good life and an income that can support them and their families. I want to make sure they have the appropriate hiking equipment and clothing. Sometimes people do not realize how difficult it is to be a porter, how physically demanding it is.  I want to make their life a little bit easier.

Q: Is it true that you were a porter and a guide before you started Alpaca?

Raul:I was a porter for three years while I was studying tourism at the University.  I then moved to the office for one year learning a little bit about how the business and how to organize tours. After graduating, I got the opportunity to guide my own groups to Machu Picchu.  I have been guiding now for four years.  All these experiences have helped me to understand how to run a company dedicated to making a truly unforgettable vacation for my travelers.

Q: Do you remember the first time you saw Machu Picchu?

: Of course I do, it was magical.  Once I started working as a porter I really wanted to visit Machu Picchu.  But it was against the rules for porters to go through the Sun Gate. Eventually I was chosen to take one of the duffel bags of a hiker to Sanctuary Lodge, allowing me to finally see the wonder.  I had seen pictures of Machu Picchu of course, but arriving at the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu made me cry.  It was more than I imagined.  It was so beautiful and so much more than the photos show you.  In spite of being so tired from waking up at 3AM that morning, I found the energy to not only walk around Machu Picchu, but I ended up hiking to Huaynapicchu.  I now love watching my hikers get to the Sun Gate to watch their experience of seeing the real thing.

Q: How many times do you think you have done either the Inca trail or one of the alternative treks to Machu Picchu?

Since 2003, I have trekked more than 650 times on all the different treks to Machu Picchu.  I have had the opportunity to take 1000s of visitors from all over the world to our beautiful Inca ruin.

Q: When do you think is the best time to visit Machu Picchu?

Raul:  There are two seasons: from November to March is the rainy season.  This is not the ideal time to visit.  From April through October is the dry season and the most perfect time to hike and to visit Machu Picchu, as you can see the sun rise over the ruins.  Even though the rainy season is not the ideal time to travel, you can still have an amazing adventure and its usually raining in showers and not all day.

: Can people hike the Inca trail without a guide?

: No.  The Inca trail has been regulated in 2000.  They now only allow 500 people on the trail each day.  This includes porters, cooks and your guides.  You need to book the inca trail in advance. Alpaca Expeditions has many alternative treks to Machu Picchu for those who can’t book the Inca trail on the dates they were hoping for.  These treks are just as beautiful and offer amazing views and many inca ruins.  They are also less crowded and some people find it more enjoyable because of this.

: What is the best piece of advice you can give to someone who is planning on doing one of the hikes to Machu Picchu?

Raul: Do not panic.  Everyone can do it.  It’s not a race and everyone needs to take their time and walk in a comfortable pace.  This is your holiday.  Do not forget to enjoy the hike, the views, the experience.

If you have any questions you would like Raul to answer, please comment below or email