Thursday, September 8, 2011

Stay away from the crowds with Naturaleza Activa

by Paul Bellinger

Naturaleza is highly rated by lonely planet and footprint. I've taken several trips with Eduardo (Lalo) and Guillermo Rendon and will continue traveling with them any time I am in Arequipa. Our trip to Colca Canyon was three days and two nights. What sets Naturaleza apart from the other guide companies is that they keep you away from the large crowds of other tourists, taking special routes that other guides do not use or do not know about.

Time and time again we would be ahead of the crowds. I never felt like we were just following all the other tourists around the typical loop in the canyon. On the first day we descended into the canyon and saw no other tourists at all, only locals with their mules. We stayed in an amazing "familiar home," (Roy's in San Juan de Chucho) which doesn't mean we slept on the floor of someone's house, but that we stayed with a family who has built several cozy little cottages on their property and who cooked a traditional dinner and breakfast for us.

Roy's had no electricity, but had plenty of hot water to shower up and great food. The next day we beat the crowds again. We stopped at the museum on our way to the Oasis, just like most tours do, but we got there before them, didn't have to wait in line, and were on our way out when the crowds showed up.

One of our guides (Lalo) went ahead to the Oasis and reserved us a spot at the best pool while preparing fresh fruit for a snack. We had lunch there and swam at the pool for a few hours. The views were awesome and the pool was nice and cool after a long morning of hiking. Then we climbed out of the canyon in the afternoon, once the sun had receded a bit so it wasn't too hot.

Everything was planned perfectly and I wouldn't expect any less from the Colca Specialists at Naturaleza. We stayed at a hotel on the second night in Cabonaconde, where again, our guides reserved us a table for dinner while other tourists were waiting in line to get a table.

Naturaleza has a huge advantage when it comes to providing the best service for their customers, not just because they specialize in Colca trips and have lots of experience, but because everywhere they go they are warmly greeted by the locals who go out of their way to help their friends at Naturaleza provide the best experience for their customers.

I couldn't count the number of old ladies that lit up when they saw Guillermo and rushed to give him a kiss. He's more than a tour guide, he's an adopted son of the region and everyone treats him as such. He's an adopted son of the region (officially) because he stands up for the local communities against other big tour companies that trample on the local culture while trying to profit from tourism.

Check the blog "The Colca Specialist" for details on Guillermo's activism in the community. Once you read it, you'll never think twice about going with another tour company. Lalo (Eduardo) the owner of Naturaleza was also amazing, and always at our service. From serving us food to taking away our dirty plates, Lalo was always there to help us and the locals.

While other tour guides just sit there while the restaurant servers take care of their customers, Lalo does it himself. No wonder the locals love him, he doesn't treat them like servants. On the third day we went to the Cruz del Condor, the only time we were immersed in a big crowd of tourists. And it wasn't a problem, there were so many Condors that they attract a big crowd.

After the condors we went to Chivay for the hot springs. Again, it was not crowded at all when we got there, but as we were leaving, the parking lot was a total traffic jam of tour companies and hikers wanting to relax after some tough hiking. We went to a nice buffet for lunch and again, by the time we were leaving there was a huge line for the buffet and we were already stuffed and on our way.

Like I said, Naturaleza keeps you ahead of the crowd at every turn. They keep your stomach full of awesome food, your head full of information about the local cultures, and your legs tired from great hiking. By the end of the trip I felt like I was actually ripping them off when I thought about all of the food, hotels, hot springs, pools, and overall amazing service that I got for my money.

I truly couldn't believe how amazing everything went and that there were no miscellaneous charges for all of the cool stuff we did. I highly recommend Naturaleza Activa for any trip in the Arequipa area, but especially Colca Canyon, as they are truly the Colca Specialists.

You'll be traveling with the owner of the company himself who takes every effort to provide the best service possible. And if you get the privilege of going with Guillermo, you'll be with the adopted son of the region, the secretary general of the tourist association of the province, and a man who stands side by side with the local people as they struggle to cope with the reality of tourism in their communities. Don't think twice, go with Naturaleza!

No comments: