We decided to skip the group tours because we didn't like the schedules - we didn't want to stop at places they were stopping and we didn't want "shopping opportunities". We hired a private guide and driver; I thought it was a little pricey at first, but having had the experience, it was worth it. We felt like we had the canyon to ourselves, as nearly everything we did was just us and the guide. He was great about showing us wildlife, pointing out birds (we saw lots!!) and flora, explaining the history, stopping for every photo opportunity you could want. More importantly to us, we actually got to walk along the canyon, not just stop at lookout points. We had researched in advance, but the guide took us to all the places that had come on our radar, and much more. The best part was being on our own schedule, not having to wait for the rest of the group or for the bus to be ready to go. We met others on our trip to Peru who took the bus ride and said it was lots of "forced" shopping. The road from Arequipa to the Condor lookout is twisty-turny-bumpy and only partly paved; I don't even want to think about what that felt like in a bus. We had an SUV and were able to just zip along; the bus must take much longer. That being said, I had thought about renting a car and doing the trip ourselves; I can strongly advise against that, as driving in Peru is unlike the driving I've done in the US or Europe and it would have been a frightening and much more time-consuming endeavor if I had done it. Not to mention, even with my research, there is no way I would have found many of the things we saw. The canyon is lovely, very different than anything I've seen before. The terraces, farms, towns are all something to see! We were able to see condors late afternoon and then only 1 at the lookout point (but he was much, much closer!); as the condors are endangered and do not care about tourists, there are no guarantees about seeing them, so having the opportunity to see them twice was valuable to us. All in all a great experience; if you would like contact information on our guide, please don't hesitate to contact me.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.