Let me start out by saying I hate writing reviews, but feel compelled to write one about our 3.5 days with Raul Castelo on a tour of Cuzco, Sacsayhuaman, the Sacred Valley (including Pisac, Chinchero and Ollantaytambo) and then on to Machu Picchu. I have travelled widely but don’t know that I will ever have a better tour or tour guide.
Raul is a very good and honest man and as you will learn if you spend several days with him a GREAT man for many reasons that I won’t put on the internet. This is something you will discover for yourself. The more you want to learn about Peru and its culture the better you will like Raul. Sometimes you will have to listen carefully due to his accent but he has patience and a real appreciation for the traveller that wants to learn about Peru.
We had Raul arrange our tour for us giving him some direction on what we wanted to see and what day we wanted to tour Machu Picchu. Even though our plane got in 3 hours or more late on the first day, Raul was able to adjust the schedule to make sure we saw everything without even the slightest feeling of being rushed. This is probably due to his work ethic where we arrived back at the hotel at 8:30 one evening after finishing the day at Ollantaytambo. You will also be very impressed with his knowledge of the local plants and their medicinal purposes. On one occasion as we were driving he saw a plant we had talked about but hadn’t seen so of course he stops his driver and he runs out and get some of the plant and we continue on. It goes without saying that he has an enormous store of knowledge on the Inca including their architecture, engineering and astronomy. On Machu Picchu for example he was telling us things about the site and the visitors prior to Bingham that I later independently verified. He even showed us a picture of Bingham crossing the Urubamba to Machu Picchu. Even though Raul is based out of the Sacred Valley and Cuzco he knows Machu Picchu very well and has climbed Wanyu Picchu over 2000 times.
Raul carries a notebook or several of them with his notes, articles, etc. that he uses to explain the relevance and importance of items and the sites. His knowledge runs very deep and he has a passion for what he does. We took a cruise afterward and it amazed me what people didn’t see as their guide pretty much followed a guide book. In fact most of them just carried a guide book and point out what you are seeing. As one example on Ollantaytambo Raul showed us the ramp, the angle and the location of where the large 80 ton stones were brought up to the site and how many stones were cut but in the process of being brought up to the site when the Spanish arrived. They still await. Another benefit is we didn’t visit tourist traps but instead Raul took us to authentic places including a visit to an Andean family who wove very fine garments. We were to delighted to see this. There is an amazing story behind this family as well. Only the youngest daughter spoke functional English, but their work was amazing. They showed us how they dyed the wool and how they made the various colors and also demonstrated the actual weaving process. Their honesty showed through when on one particular blanket in which we were interested they were quick to point out had to use synthetic dye I believe because it was cotton. Almost all are wool of course, mostly alpaca.
Raul also plays the wind instruments and will occasionally entertain you with authentic music. He played for many years in the a.m. at the hotels to entertain tourists.
Some of the sites we visited. (There are 4 main Inca sites, Cuzco, Sacsayhuaman, Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu). You will see various spellings in different places.
• Qorikancha (one of the 4 sacred Inca sites)
• Circuito Religioso Cusco Basilica Catedral (not misspelled)
• Dinner on the Main square at Tanupa (great views and a band)
• Saqsayhuaman which is phenomenal. Too bad the Spanish hauled away most of the smaller stones (for the Basilica for example) although much remains.
• Pisac and the sitio climbing to the top. This site has the most amazing terracing system.
• Authentic silver artisan in Pisac.
• Lunch at el Huacaty
• Chinchero village and church
• Chinchero village family
• Marsa salt mines
• Machu Picchu including Wanyu Picchu.
Raul is extremely knowledgeable, patient, kind and authentic. I don’t know if you will find a better guide. If you have any questions you can email me.