Group bus tours are about as appealing to me as joining a religious cult. It’s just not going to happen, especially when the oversized buses are roaring awkwardly along Cusco’s small ancient streets. But David Choque saved us from navigating Cusco and its surroundings all by our lonesome when he started Cusco Top Travel & Treks. (He also provided comfort when I thought death was almost certain after one hellish day, but I’ll get to that later.)
Searching IgoUgo’s Cusco pages for useful tidbits, I came upon a review of David by Offthecouch. She and her son had used him as their tour guide during their Cusco outings, and overall the review exuded confidence in his abilities. Contacting him through his website was simple, and, with the exception of Machu Picchu, he offered to personally be our guide within the city and to the various ruins directly outside Cusco, including Sacsayhuaman and Tambomachay.
While a colleague who had been to Cusco months ago scoffed at the prices, the tours are private, meaning no crying children dragged along by their parents and personalized attention to boot. In fact, I would have solely paid for his organization of our transportation, hostel, and trip to Machu Picchu, which would have been one big ol’ pre-trip pain in the butt had we done it ourselves.
The extent of David’s abilities as a personal guide actually became visible when we weren’t touring at all. This is where the "crying home to mommy" sickness comes in. After arriving in Cusco and meeting David (who was on time and waiting) and his wife, we were told to rest for a while to ward off altitude sickness. We laid about in our hostel for an hour, sadly watching cable TV. I say "sadly" because I, in what is considered the greatest city in the world, do not even have cable TV.
After we started to wander the streets, though, I could barely make it half a block before starting to black out, legs wobbling beneath me while I gasped for air. Apparently my body didn’t like this whole high-altitude thing too much. It took me, a long-time StairMaster veteran, about 20 minutes up the two flights of stairs to our room. Then Danny called David and David called a doctor… to make a house call! I thought those had been extinct since the early 1900s.
The handsome (oh, and extremely competent, intelligent, and English-speaking) doctor determined I had some kind of stomach virus made exponentially worse by the sudden altitude change. David, who had found time to accompany the doctor, sat in a chair looking genuinely concerned. Our city tour scheduled for that day was graciously moved to the afternoon of our last day, and he even mangled a later departure time for Machu Picchu the next day, although I still opted for the earlier one. Plus, he made sure the hostel’s staff brought me their reviving oxygen tank, in addition to ensuring the presence of the good-looking, I mean, intelligent, doctor.David does not accompany you to Machu Picchu, leaving you to partake in the dreaded group tour, but we saw few private tours at the famed jungle ruin. And on the tours of the city and ruins bordering Cusco, it was David, Danny, and I. While the tourists we saw floating around in Cusco looked dissatisfied and bored, Danny and I were engaged in back-and-forth banter with David. Danny seemed particularly impressed that if David didn’t know the answer to a question, he would say so, not make up some lavish tale. Equally memorable was how he powered his sentences with phrases insinuating that nothing was fact, unlike our guide at Machu Picchu.Puttering along in David’s spacious van swarming with traditional decorations also allowed for spontaneous stops roadside. During one such break, we spotted the bull figurines, symbolizing strength, that top the houses around Tambomachay. The abundant eucalyptus trees, native to Australia, not Peru, were other curiosities easily pointed out from the van. We may have had less time at each site with two tours crammed into 1 day, but we could always nudge in a suggestion about our next destination, or ask to stop at yet another Cusco ruin.David’s laid-back attitude and flowing English are necessary for a memorable private tour, but it’s the unexpected things that impressed more. Aside from his attentiveness throughout my tortuous first day, he obviously grabbed the best room in the hostel for us. The other $40/night rooms, which I peeked at during cleaning, were just okay compared to our top-floor abode, complete with a shuttered window that encompassed the shimmering lights of nighttime Cusco. Even on my deathbed I could enjoy the refined beauty of Cusco, thanks to David.
FYI: There may be a 10% charge added to the initial price for office fees.