Who is who in this business of tourism in Arequipa
With lots of travel agencies in Arequipa is confusing to know which one has a real good service and which not.
Another situation that provokes more confusion to the foreign visitors is the abysmal difference of prices. Some agencies offers tours that cost 600 soles and others offer the same tour at 50 soles. Why?
First of all it is important to know that there is INFORMALITY in Arequipa. Some travel agencies are legal others not. This situation was provoked by Alberto Fujimori, the Japanese Peruvian president involved in a terrible scandal of corruption. In order to decrease the unemployment rate in Peru, Fujimori change the requirements for opening travel agencies.
In the past travel agencies had to have a guarantee deposit in a bank (40,000 soles). The deposit was a guarantee in case of accidents or any kind of problem that could happen to the clients of that travel agency.
If the client was nor provided the service promised,the client was refunded with the guarantee deposit.
There were less travel agencies and the service was better. When the laws were changed,anybody could open a travel agency in Arequipa . The guarantee deposit was cancelled and now we can see the results: clients less satisfied with the services provided and lots of complaints in I Peru,an organization that receives all the complaints done by the clients, organization that until the moment is unable to solve the problems of the clients.The problem is that if you want to be refunded by the travel agency because of a bad service it takes several days because the authorities have to investigate the situation.Because nobody stays in Arequipa more than two days,the complaint won´t be effective.
The other problem tourism in Arequipa has is the INTERMEDIARIES. If you are looking for a mountainbiking tour you will find that all the travel agencies in Arequipa offer you tour to Chachani volcano. Why?
It is because the little travel agencies specially those located inside handicrafts shops pool their clients and they are sent to one tour operator.You buy the tour in one place and you end traveling with other company with a big group and the quality of the service is POOR!
Nothing is more sad than traveling with a guide who is not specialized .
Let´suposse you pay 30 dollars for the mountainbiking tour in Chachani volcano.The owner of the travel agency will endorse the client to a tour operator and it is going to pay 15 Dollars for your tour. The travel agency obtains without doing much a 15 dollar commission.Now it is clear.
If you want a mountainbiking tour,it is better to buy the tour in Naturaleza Activa which is recommended by Lonely Planet among other guidebooks. The tours they offer are private with UNIQUE circuits. If you are looking for mountainclimbing tours you can book it with Carlos Zarate, or with Naturaleza Activa.
If you are looking for a river rafting tour you can book it with Expediciones y Aventuras which is the only rafting operator in Arequipa and in that way you will avoid the commissions problem.
If you buy a mountainclimbing tour in Colonial tours for example you will end traveling with Ivan Jimenez which is the tour operator of mountainclimbing in Arequipa. Ivan Jimenez pays a commission of 100 soles per passenger to all the travel agencies that endorse clients to his company.Ivan receives only half part of the price you payed. It is incredible.
Many travel agencies are awarded by different international guidebooks,but not even one of them was awarded by the local authorities. Why? It is because they are not good enough.Most of them don´t practice what we call sustainable tourism.In other words,their presence doesn´t give any kind of benefits to the locals of the area visited.
The other problem Arequipa has are the FOREIGN TOUR OPERATORS. There are lots of them from different countries: French,dutch.german,from new Zeland,etc.
They offer tours through internet . The reputation of many travel agencies in Peru is not so good and this situation is the key of success of many foreign operators who take advantage of this situation in order to make money betraying the trust of their country fellows.
These guys are even worst than the others. If a mountainclimbing tour to Chachani volcano costs let´suppose 200 US, the foreign operator will charge 400 US. Besides these guys don´t pay any kind of taxes,etc.Now you understand how is the situation here in Arequipa.Some of them have web sites that function like Spanish schools and they offer tours too.
In order to survive in this jungle of commissionists it is good to be SMART. First is it important to decide what kind of tour you would like to have. If you are in a foreign country you can check through the different blogs,forums and guidebooks about the travel agencies that are recommended.Don´t trust much on web pages because ALL OF THEM SAY THEY ARE GOOD AND THAT THEY ARE THE BEST. NOBODY IS PERFECT! Keep that in mind.
If the tour is too cheap there is problem. All hotels have beds,but not all of them are in the same condition.All the travel agencies have tour guides but not all of them speak English fluently and not all of them are professional.All the travel agencies in Arequipa go to Colca Canyon but just a few of them do different circuits. Travel with those that do different circuits the others are just pooling clients.
If you would like to spend your holidays in Arequipa, don´t be a sheep following others. Your holidays are important and in order to enjoy a visit it is better not to take conventional tours where you spend much time inside a bus with a guide that doesn’t care about you because you are inside a big group.
Check the circuits in detail with your tour operator and find out about the places you will visit during the tour.
Adventure tour operators have their equipment inside the travel agency.Read the references of the tour guide you are traveling with.The tour guide is the key of the tour. If several travel agencies give you the same name it is simple. They are not the tour operators.
Thank you very much for your reading and good luck.
The Colca Specialist.