Small group travel is not large group travel scaled down. It is modelled on independent travel – but with the advantage of a group leader to take care of the itinerary, accommodation and tickets, and dealing with the language. It’s easy to tick off the big sights independently – but finding those one-off experiences, local festivals, travelling markets and secret viewpoints is almost impossible for someone without the insider knowledge gained from years in the field. If you’re heading off on a gap year your, perhaps – but for those with a two-week holiday, a small group tour will save valuable planning time.
The leaders are not guides – they’re not there to shepherd you around. Instead, they’ll let you know which local restaurant serves great value food – without running the risk of travellers’ tummy. They’ll allow you to avoid hour-long queues at train stations and attractions.
We like to think of small group travel as the Goldilocks option. It is independent travel without the fuss, worry and bunk beds – and organised travel without the coaches. And it’s cheaper than a tailor made tour. It’s sits somewhere in the middle – and we think it’s just about right.
What are the main benefits?
Have big, life-enriching experiences that would be impossible to organise without lots of time and insider knowledge.
Make the most of your holiday time by letting someone else do the hard work and boring logistics!
Peace of mind
Small group tours take care of the security aspects – and provide a safety net should anything unexpected happen.
Who is it ideal for?
Travellers who are short of time
If you don’t have three months to spend exploring, small groups trips let you cover more ground in less time. Your days are not spent queuing for tickets or finding hotels – so you can squeeze more into your holiday.
Solo travellers who’d like company
Likeminded travel companions plus peace of mind for those travelling alone. Single supplements are usually available – providing privacy if you want it.
Less confident travellers
Stray from the tourist trail without worrying about getting lost, and meet local people without dealing with the language barrier.
“I won’t get any privacy!”
Couples and friends have private rooms, and you can choose to eat alone or not. Single supplements give solo travellers their own room.
“There won’t be any free time”
Free mornings or afternoons let you explore on your own, or just relax.
“The accommodation will be basic” Trips are as high or low end as you like. Though off the beaten track destinations won’t have luxury hotels, this is all part of the adventure.
“I won’t like the other travellers!”
Tour operators try to create groups with a similar demographic – age, families, activity levels... Chances are, you’ll even make new friends.
“Will we be following an umbrella?”
Meet a group Leader
Name: Valerie Parkinson
Story: The first British woman to climb Manaslu, Valerie climbed Everest for her 50th birthday. She’s spent fourteen Christmas Days trekking to Everest Base Camp, and is involved insetting up Responsible Tourism initiatives in the Himalayas.
Meet a local guide
Name: Roshan Fernando
Story: Roshan has led over 130 trips – he adores showing travellers around Sri Lanka. He won the company Leader Award in 2010, but his career highlight was working on their Tsunami Project – which earned him a responsible tourism award.
Responsible tourism: Peru holiday
Accommodation and meals: We spend 18 nights in hotels and 2 nights in jungle lodges all with en-suite facilities. For the optional Inca Trail trek, 3 nights full service camping replace 3 hotel nights. We prefer to use small businesses for our accommodation, activities and services as these are the companies which have most direct benefit to the communities which we visit. All of our hotel managers have signed a sustainability contract which ensures they employ locals and endeavour to reduce waste, whilst our campsites are very eco-friendly in terms of energy reduction. We buy all of our food to cook on the trail from local supermarkets or even indigenous groups where possible despite this sometimes being more expensive. Where meals are not included, clients are encouraged to eat at authentic restaurants or to try snacks at markets e.g. local markets in Pucusana and Pisco.
UK Office: It all starts at home so we have first worked at reducing our carbon footprint in our UK Offices. Through energy conservation measures and recycling policies, we are proud to be actively reducing the waste produced and our impact on the environment. We support various projects all over the world to try and give something back to the places we visit.
Local Craft & Culture: We walk through the Huayllabamba village on the first day, which is the only community inside the trail. They sell produce and various homemade snacks, so by stopping and buying something we are providing an avenue of income for these people. There is also an optional opportunity in the Sacred Valley where clients can eat a traditional meal in the village and buy handicrafts. Our local guides are able to advise clients on which products to buy and which to avoid- for example, walking sticks made of wood are one to avoid as they are potentially a product of deforestation.
A Fair Deal: We have been working with our local partners in Peru for around 20 years. They are extremely committed to staff welfare and to protecting the environment. We operate a zero-impact policy on the Inca Trail, removing all waste from campsites and separating it so that it can easily be recycled or composted. We take a toilet tent for use in camp and during lunch, removing the need to dig holes at campsites, and we never build fires at our campsites. Our camp staff (porters, cooks and mule wranglers where used) are paid a fair wage and receive all accommodation, transport and food whilst on the trek. They are also encouraged to put environmental protection practices into use in their own communities - regular training courses are held for all staff to increase their understanding of how to protect their natural and cultural heritage.
Charity: If clients arrange in advance through a leader, there is the opportunity to visit the Rainbow Centre in a free time slot. The Centre is a school for children with special needs and those who have suffered abuse or neglect. The centre provides education, physiotherapy and a supportive caring environment for around 40 children and is run by Peruvian registered charity Kiya Survivors. The staff at the centre also provides advice and support to the local community on a range of social issues, and their work has raised awareness and acceptance of children with disabilities in this traditionally conservative region. We have been working with the centre since its inception 10 years ago, and over the years our donations and those of our clients have supported the centre’s craft shop, given a lifeline to an outreach programme so staff can visit children in remote villages, and funded the purchase and installation of a pizza oven which allows the students to make and sell their own pizza.
Group Size: This small group tour has a maximum of 16 participants, meaning that we have a low impact on the environments and communities we visit and are able to ensure that we do not disrupt or lead to the displacement of local people. The small number also allows us to stay in unique, family-run hotels that cannot benefit from coach tours and other mass tourism due to their limited sizes.
Reviews of Peru holiday
You can trust Responsible Travel reviews because, unlike many other schemes, reviews can ONLY be written by people who we have verified have been on the holidays.
I am reborn! Simply the best holiday I have ever been on
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
It was OK
A bit disappointing really
Reviewed on 24 Oct 2013 by Steve Braysher
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?
An option within our trip was to trek the little used Moonstone trail. What a good choice it was - amazing scenery, a real physical challenge (highest point 4850m and highest camp at 4300m)and peace and solitude - we didn't see another group during the 4 day trek. The altitude did make the going hard but our guide (Elias) was a great help and the views and sense of achievement upon reaching the highest point were tremendous. Camp 2 was a stunning spot, on a slightly raised area in a huge bowl surrounded by mountains with the 19,000', snow capped Mt Veronica peeping above them and catching the early morning sun - a truely magical place. Waking on the last day to look down into a cloud filled Sacred Vally with the sun throwing long shadows and the same Mt Veronica glinting in the background was also rather fine.
Watching Condors soar along the magnificent Colca Canyon, meeting the Uros Indians on the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, being the only Europeans in a weekly market where some local people still travel for several days to barter their goods and marvelling at Inca technology have got to be up there too! And I almost forgot, experiencing the sounds and sights tropical rainforest with our local guides.
In reality everyday had it memorable moments and somedays were just jam packed with them!
2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?
This is more a travel experience than a holiday. There are lots of early starts and long days - but if you enjoy discovering new places these minor hardships are well worth it.
There can be extremes of weather (sub zero at night on the Moonstone trail - a down jacket would be a good idea here) to the steamy heat of the jungle so be prepared for this and don't be put off by the gloomy overcast weather of Lima - it soon disipates when you move inland!
Be prepared for the impact of altitude - most of our group suffered from headaches etc - despite a very sensible itinerary that provided fairly gentle acclimatisation - if doing a high level trek it might be worth talking to your GP about Diamox, not everybody used it but those who did seemed to cope fairly well.
If treking make sure that you get your kitbag from the operator before departure!
Be prepared to go with the flow and make the most of what ever happens - even the almost total chaos in Cusco airport when a number of flights have been cancled - although that is the sort of thing better appreciated after the event!
3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
All the hotels/lodges used during our trip were locally owned, as far as we could tell all managers were Peruvian and there was clear eveidence that local people were employed. During the trek we were able to establish that all staff were from local villages and there was a real willingness to tell us that both the guides and the support staff liked working for the operator because they were paid well by them. During the trek there was an emphasis on leaving each campsite (they were all 'wild camps') as they had been found.
We were also taken to vist a number of community projects set up to benefit local people - small scale chocolate producers, dying and weaving, corn beer production etc.
The lodge we stayed in in the rainforest has a monkey rescue and release to the wild programme and the 10000 ha area it controls is managed for conservation.
4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?
This was a fantastic experience, we thoroughly enjoyed it. The country is full of contrasts and the people are fantastic. If you are interested in bird life this is a superb destination. The trip lasts 3 weeks - I could happily have spent double that time in country - and still only scratched the surface. We did have one or two minor admin issues but these were resolved and they didn't really detract from the overall experience of Peru.