I have long used tripadvisor to plan trips, but this is the first time I feel compelled to write in the forum. San Pedro is a wonderful place, with so much to see and do, but you have a totally different experience if you go on a good vs. crappy tour.
When I got there I was told by a local to just go for the cheapest tour since they were all the same. This is not true. The most common is large buses, but there are definitely smaller group tours. Price does not equal quality, so know what questions to ask. How big are the tours, how are the tours run (do guides explain or are they just babysitters)? Some tips for a good tour...
1. Go for small group tours! In my experience the 20 plus people bus tours did not provide much explanation, just very basic facts like the mountains and how tall they were. Not very informative. You can get much smaller tours (6 to 15 people) that are not much more expensive (in fact some are the same price as the big tours). Imo it is well worth it to pay $6 more for a 6 person tour. Big tours you end up spending a lot of time waiting for people to go to the bathroom, which is annoying. Especially important for the geyser tour where you have to get up super early (4am), with big groups you sometimes have to wait an hour to get picked up with the big tours since they have to pick up everyone else. Not fun, especially when you are tired.
2. A good tour guide is key to a good experience. On my bad tours the guide did not explain things thoroughly, and was more like a babysitter, just there to make we were shuttled from place to place at the appropriate time. Often I was the only person on the tour who did not speak spanish, and on the big tours they pretty much forgot I was there. You have to be persistent, and ask them to explain in English if they forget. All tour guides spoke English, but I found on the big tours they consistently ¨forgot¨to explain in both languages, especially when there was only one English speaker on the bus. On my good tours, even though I was the only English speaker, they never forgot about me. On a tour of about 15 people the good guide sought me out to explain things before he went to other parts of the group.
One of my good guides actually stopped by the road and had us sample wild plants and told us about their history. He gave us interesting facts and stories about the area. More than just spitting out facts, the good guides told stories or facts that stuck with me. The hard thing is, you do not know whether you will get a good guide or not. Seems that agencies often consolidate their tours, so you may buy a tour from one agency, but end up going with a guide from a different agency. For this reason...
3. Don´t buy all your tours in bulk at one company. Book one tour, see if the company runs tours that you like, and then buy another one. I made the mistake of buying several tours from the crappy company. I was only saved because my last tour with them was consolidated with another group, and we got a good guide. I was really upset about the crappy tours I went on compared to the good one. So I actively sought a different company (and asked these questions about group size, and thoroughness of the guides).
4. Consider getting a private guide. If you have two or more people, it may actually be cost effective to hire a private guide. I have the contact info for two really great guides, please msg me if you want their info. They are both freelancers and run group tours as well (that´s how I met them). I went on a private tour that was AMAZING, just me and a friend and the guide on a great hike to Death Valley from San Pedro city, definitely off the beaten path and a reasonable price. It is definitely cost effective if you have more than 2 people, it can be the same or a little bit more than what you would pay for a group tour for the same length of time. We did not need extra transportaton since we were hiking, so I am not sure how much more transportation would be if the destination is far away.
Bottom line: San Pedro is a beautiful place, which you can appreciate best with a good guide. Good luck, and please msg me if you have any q´s.