Rating foreign tour companies that customize tours

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Yvonne Richter of San Diego, California, wrote (Jan. ’14, pg. 29), “My husband, Juergen, and I like to take customized private tours, and we prefer to use tour companies and guides that are local to the destinations. I would like travelers to write in about foreign tour companies and guides they’ve used for private tours, including as many of the following details as possible:

“The name and contact information of the foreign tour company or private guide (location, phone, email and/or URL).

Rating, from 1 (poor) to 10 (great). (Poor ratings are as important to know as great ones.) Plus an explanation of the rating. (Sometimes a reason that is negative to one traveler is positive to others.)

“The itinerary used. Length of the tour (number of days/nights or what fraction of a day). When the tour took place (month/year). Approximate cost of the tour, and what was included. (Note: ratings are important even if detailed date and cost information is unavailable. Just having that reference would be a huge help.) Plus any special or noteworthy experiences of the trip, both positive and negative.”

Many subscribers responded, and we will be printing their letters (as shown below) and posting them on the website. Each includes a rating from 1 (poor) to 10 (great), for example, [6].

If you are an ITN subscriber with info to share about a tour operator or guide based outside of the US who provides customized local tours or arrangements, write to Rating Foreign Tour Companies That Customize Tours, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or email editor@intltravelnews.com. Include the address at which you receive ITN.

 

In many areas of the world, my wife, Arnette, and I have used local packagers to take us around one or more countries. It has worked well. 

In January 2013, I found the website for Visit Georgia (14, Nishnianidze St., 0105, Tbilisi, Georgia; phone +995 32 292 22 46) and started working with them toward a May 2013 trip for us to AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA, ARMENIA and eastern TURKEY

I shared itineraries of competing companies to get a composite of what we wanted for a one-month trip. At every step, I was impressed with the coordination of my input and what could be done on the ground. 

Our tour guides, Maia Tabidze and Maria Partsvania, were very helpful and professional. The handoffs between countries went flawlessly. I would have to say we saw everything we wanted to see and more. There is extraordinary history in these countries and great beauty in the Caucasus Mountains, especially Mestia, Georgia, with 40 guard towers, and, also in Georgia, the village of Ushguli high in the mountains.

On this trip we saw three unique sites: (1) Located outside Urfa, Turkey, Göbekli Tepe is considered archaeologically the oldest religious site in history, older than Stonehenge. (2) The BEST museum for mosaics in the world is Zeugma Mosaic Museum in Gaziantep, Turkey. Many of the displays there were removed from sites before the flooding of the Euphrates River behind a dam; we floated over two of these towns. (3) Baku, Azerbaijan, is nearly like Paris — great walking and very modern architecture. Everywhere we went, we felt totally comfortable. 

We requested 4- or 5-star boutique hotels, where possible. Of course, that was not always possible, but we were satisfied with what was booked. 

English is very commonly spoken in the larger cities. As to meals, it surely was easier to have a guide along to help with menus. 

This is a very exciting area of the world ready for YOU! [9]

Joe Whitehouse, Oakland, CA

 

Mehmet, of Argeus Tours (Istiklal Cad. No: 47, 50400 Ürgüp, Nevs¸ehir, Turkey; phone +90 384 341 4688), did a fabulous job. The website promised responses within 24 hours, and they delivered (Mehmet even responded once while attending a wedding out of town). 

Mehmet arranged hotels, tour guides, buses and a gulet (boat) for our group of 15 for four weeks in TURKEY in October 2011. He is also happy to arrange for individuals and short periods of time, and they have package tours too.

His hotel recommendations were spot on, based on what we said we wanted, and he didn’t try to book us into more expensive hotels. When our hotel in Antalya closed a couple of months before our arrival, he found us a great hotel right where we wanted to be. Some of our friends who used different agencies ended up in hotels they felt were unacceptable. 

Mehmet was our tour guide in Cappadocia, and he did a great job. We are hikers, and he knew great places to take us. I highly recommend Argeus Tours. [10]

• Mitja, at Roundabout Travel (Pot Draga Jakopicˆa 6, 10000 Ljubljana, Slovenia; phone +386 01 810 99 15), provided the support for our group of 13 for a customized tour in CROATIA and SLOVENIA in June 2013. 

He booked hotels and arranged our bus transport and guides. He did a great job listening to the type of hotels we wanted (not super-large or expensive).

Roundabout Travel’s guides were great, and our driver, Vojko, was top-notch. When we arrived at one of our hotels in Croatia, the receptionist couldn’t find our reservation and didn’t care to look very hard. Vojko called Mitja and, even though it was about 6 p.m., he called the manager of the hotel and our rooms magically appeared. 

I was originally going to use a Croatian travel agency for the Croatian part of the trip and Mitja for the Slovenian part. When the Croatian agency didn’t listen to what I wanted and provided me with a quote that was double what I felt it should be, I asked Mitja if he could do both, and he could. 

Roundabout Travel also provides set tours and packages for the day or longer. I highly recommend them. [10]

Martha Myron, Mt. Vernon, WA

 

Regarding satisfactory tour companies and guides based in the destination countries, my wife and I have used the ones listed below over the last 10 years. All were superior in every way, and we would love to use them again. All were different, and I would encourage communication with each before signing up. Several of the guides have advertised successfully in ITN.

• Prague and the CZECH REPUBLIC — Petr Zidek, of Bohemian Tours (Kubisova 6, 182 00 Praha 8, Czech Republic; phone +420 721 286 869, email petr@bohemiantours.cz), spent years in Canada and knows how Americans think. He customized a week-long trip around southern Czech Republic for us in May 2007. We hardly ever saw another tourist! [10]

• St. Petersburg, RUSSIA — Natalya German-Tsarkova (phone +7 921 391 18 94, email natalya.german@gmail.com or visit www.original-tours.com) is an art historian, and when she escorted us through the Hermitage a few years ago in November, it was like experiencing a brilliant sunrise from a dark night. She showed us things that we had not even touched on on two previous visits. We spent three days with her and two of our friends learning about the city and seeing how Russians vacation. [10]

• Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA — Denise Dick (denised@yebo.co.za) is wonderful in showing you about Cape Town and the surrounding areas. We spent three days with her in May 2012 and very seldom felt we were tourists. One day, we went to a market used only by locals. She’s kind of like Mary Poppins; even if something seems impossible, Denise will surprise you! [10]

BOTSWANA — Graham Johansson (P.O. Box 5240, Tygervalley 7536, South Africa; phone +27 82 3305223 or email wildguides@iafrica.com) hires himself out to safari companies, and that is how we met him. Graham took us through Botswana and Zambia in May 2012. He can put together a trip tailored to your needs. He is a skilled photographer, so you can imagine the animal and bird sites he presents! [10]

Robert G. Davidson
Columbia, SC

 

My husband, Daniel, and I generally travel independently and do most of the arrangements, ourselves. Going to BHUTAN, this is not possible because the government requires visitors (except for citizens of India) to travel with tour companies. 

In December 2011 we started looking for a suitable tour company for a Bhutan trip, April 21-May 8, 2012. Consulting articles, books and government lists of tour companies, we picked out eight and sent each a brief description of our interests, our budget and tentative suggestions for accommodations and sights to see.

Child monks learning to dance at Kuenga Rabten, the winter palace of Bhutan’s second king, south of Trongsa. Photo: Bernstein

When we received all the answers, we signed up with Yangphel Adventure Travel. US contact is Geographic Expeditions, San Francisco, CA; 415/922-0448) because they most directly responded to our comments.

After emails and a couple of phone calls, we agreed upon hotels, the detailed itinerary and prices. The charge for two persons was about $10,300 for 18 days, covering hotels, meals, all taxes and fees, a guide, a driver and an SUV. It did not include transportation into the country. The government requires that you travel at least one way on Drukair, and Yangphel made those reservations for us; our contact was Ms. Karma Choden in Bhutan.

Jintso, our guide, and Kashe, our driver, were waiting for us at the airport. They were simply marvelous and did everything possible to make our stay superb. 

The main road traversing the country was under construction in many places, and Kashe was a master at maneuvering around obstacles. He spoke little English, but our guide, who spoke excellent English, warned us when we needed to rush along the winding roads to make the 10:30-11 road-opening window. 

However, my husband is enamored of waterfalls, and if we were not able to stop at some spectacular ones because of time, Jintso remembered every one of them on the way back. 

Jintso also understood about “pit stops” and made sure we stopped often enough and had some screening from the road. 

Jintso and Kashe both also sensed when we wanted to watch something for more than a few minutes, such as when we saw young boys at a temple all dressed in traditional costume and being trained to do dancing. Or when we unexpectedly came across a field of competitive archers. 

A devout Buddhist, Jintso is very knowledgeable about Buddhism and the many tales associated with each temple.

He also was adept at making new arrangements when plans did not work out. When the Ura Yakchoe Festival in western Bhutan was moved forward two or three days and we couldn’t fit it in, he arranged for us to stop, instead, at the Domkhar festival on the way back, redoing our accommodations just as we liked. [10]

Judith Bernstein
Albuquerque, NM

 

I, too, prefer to deal with an in-country travel company. This particularly enables developing countries to benefit from the tourist business. 

Four of us planned a Dec. 5-17, 2013, trip to MYANMAR. We worked with Tin Aung Moe of Care and Share Myanmar Travels (No. 29, 6th Floor, Sanchaung St., Sanchaung Township, Yangon, Myanmar; phone +951 518032).

We emailed back and forth our desires and his suggestions. He delivered on everything that we requested, including an excellent English-speaking guide and drivers. He sent us a list of hotels beforehand that we could review on the Internet. 

The cost was approximately $2,000, including three in-country flights. We highly recommend Care and Share Myanmar Travels. [9]

Mary Anderson, Littleton, CO

 

When we visited MYANMAR in 2008, we used a company named Seven Star (Rm. 4-B, Sein Yadanar Condo, No. 21/C, Sein Yadanar Street, Ward [1], Kamayut Township, Yangon, Myanmar; phone +95 1 507 261).

We had the best guide in the world, Myo Set! 

Myanmar immediately shot to the top of our favorite countries, out of 127 for me and 117 for my husband, George. 

We found Seven Star through Scott Wild of Wild Card Adventures (swild7@juno.com), a regular ITN advertiser. 

Our trip took place one month after Cyclone Nargis wiped out the whole Irrawaddy Delta. The head of Seven Star and Myo Set had made a number of relief trips to the delta. We donated all of our extra cash to them. 

Sadly, I don’t think Myo Set does any guiding anymore (he is married and has two children), except sometimes in Yangon, but Seven Star definitely gets a [10].

Brenda Milum, Olympic Valley, CA

 

Since my first visit to COSTA RICA in 2005, I have used Costa Rican Trails (P.O. Box 2907-1000, San José, Costa Rica; phone +506 2280 6705 or, toll-free in the US, 888/803-3344). It was recommended to me by the wife of my school principal, and I was very pleased. 

The 2005 trip cost about $700-$800, including lodging, breakfasts and dinners. My guide, Alfredo Golcher, was with me the entire six days. Since I was interested in birding, it was great to have Alfredo as a guide because he was also a birder. 

That tour was in January. There was a bit of rain the first couple of days, but it was sunny the rest of the time.

My contact at the Costa Rican Trails office has been Lorena Amador. I can specify sites or sights that I wish to visit, and she will arrange the trip. 

I took a 2-week trip in 2006.

In 2008 I went for a full month, starting at Rincón de la Vieja in the north of Guanacaste province and going as far south as Golfito in Puntarenas province. I paid $7,250, including airport meet and greet, private transfers in a motorcoach with A/C, naturalist guide throughout, hotels (single occupancy), most meals and all taxes and service charges.

In 2010 I took a 2-week trip for $6,250, including the Arenal Volcano Observatory (unfortunately, the volcano did not erupt). 

My most recent trip, in January 2013, was on the Caribbean side, mostly in Limón province, and cost $5,680.

I have always had Alfredo as my guide. It’s now more like visiting family than taking a tour. [10]

Joyce Conklin, San Mateo, CA

 

For services beyond the call of duty during our 8-hour, May 2014 day tour from the Valparaíso, CHILE, cruise ship dock to our hotel in Santiago, we would like to recommend Scott Jones of Chilean Special Journeys (Santiago, Chile; phone, toll-free in US, 888/345-6077).

Scott was waiting at the port and provided us with a tour of places not listed in tourist guidebooks. He drove us around Valparaíso, Viña del Mar and into Santiago, where we got to choose places to tour. For lunch, he gave us choices of restaurants, based on our needs. And when we got tired, he drove us to our hotel.

We thought the combined cost of $350 for this service, for both my friend and me, was very reasonable, considering the amount of travel, time and personal attention Scott provided.

We were fortunate to visit Scott’s own mansion that he rents out for special events and weddings. Scott suggested places to dine and unique hotels. This tour met our expectations for a great Chilean experience.

We were grateful for his help, even with locating friends and making excellent arrangements a few days later when we wanted to stay longer in Santiago than we had originally planned. [8½]

Nancy Jones, Fort Collins, CO

 

There is part of me that hesitates to report about a couple of guides we employed for an overland Patagonia trip. I am afraid if they get too discovered, we will not be able to afford them again! (Please laugh.) 

Seriously, the two men who own Wangulen Odyssey (Ecoturismo Wangulen, Casilla 404, Puerto Varas, Chile; phone +56 652 438 990) did a terrific job and they deserve to be widely discovered so that others may enjoy this trip, too, a small-group tour going from Punta Arenas to Puerto Varas, Chile. 

Wangulen is owned and operated by Felipe Soto (from Santiago, Chile) and Perry McIntosh (from Midland, Texas), both of whom guided the trip we were on. 

They own a Sprinter van outfitted with 10 passenger seats, but the maximum number of travelers they will take on any overland trip is six. On our trip, we had the two guides, my wife and me and another couple we invited to join us. The cost was $4,990 each, which included everything except air to Santiago, “reciprocity fees” of $160 each for both CHILE and ARGENTINA (Chile eliminated this fee this March)… and wine.

We covered about 1,500 miles in the van, and at least half of that was on unpaved roads. Route 7, the main Chilean north-south road through Patagonia, is mostly unpaved at this point (though they’re working on paving it). 

Some hotels, like the one at Torres del Paine, were spectacular. Others were “best available.” For us, it was the remoteness, the beauty and the small size of the group that made the trip special. 

If a rating of 10 is great, then this trip was a 10 because of the wonderful natural beauty we saw and got to be a part of. But you need to be ready for adventure, not great luxury. Somebody expecting a Four Seasons hotel experience would never rate this trip a 10. Patagonia is remote, and it can be cold, windy and rainy, even at the height of summer.

We arrived in Santiago on Jan. 19, 2014, stayed in a hotel downtown and flew early the next day to Punta Arenas. A bus ticket was waiting for us at the airport, and we rode the two to three hours to Puerto Natales, where we met the guides, had dinner and spent the night.  

We spent parts of the next three days in Torres del Paine National Park. Spectacular!

Because there are a couple hundred miles of ice fields (glaciers) in Chile north of Torres del Paine and no roads, we crossed into Argentina and spent two nights in El Calafate, where we went to see the Argentine side of the glaciers, then we headed up to the village El Chaltén at the base of Mt. Fitz Roy.

We crossed back into Chile at a border station that gets four or five cars a day. After driving around Lake General Carrera, we spent the night in a cottage overlooking the lake.  

From there, we followed Route 7 north through the fjords and mountains, with stops along the way for hikes back into ecologically significant areas. There were even several ferry trips through the fjords. On Feb. 3, we flew from Puerto Montt to Santiago and connected for home.

Wangulen arranges many other trips throughout South America. Some are guided by Felipe and Perry; others are contracted out. I think these guys are genuine, professional and easy to travel with. [10]

Jack Clough, McLean, VA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Yvonne Richter of San Diego, California, wrote (Jan. ’14, pg. 29), “My husband, Juergen, and I like to take customized private tours, and we prefer to use tour companies and guides that are local to the destinations. I would like travelers to write in about foreign tour companies and guides they’ve used for private tours, including as many of the following details as possible:

“The name and contact information of the foreign tour company or private guide (location, phone, email and/or URL).

Rating, from 1 (poor) to 10 (great). (Poor ratings are as important to know as great ones.) Plus an explanation of the rating. (Sometimes a reason that is negative to one traveler is positive to others.)

“The itinerary used. Length of the tour (number of days/nights or what fraction of a day). When the tour took place (month/year). Approximate cost of the tour, and what was included. (Note: ratings are important even if detailed date and cost information is unavailable. Just having that reference would be a huge help.) Plus any special or noteworthy experiences of the trip, both positive and negative.”

Many subscribers responded, and we will be printing their letters (as shown below) and posting them on the website. Each includes a rating from 1 (poor) to 10 (great), for example, [6].

If you are an ITN subscriber with info to share about a tour operator or guide based outside of the US who provides customized local tours or arrangements, write to Rating Foreign Tour Companies That Customize Tours, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or email editor@intltravelnews.com. Include the address at which you receive ITN.

 

In many areas of the world, my wife, Arnette, and I have used local packagers to take us around one or more countries. It has worked well. 

In January 2013, I found the website for Visit Georgia (14, Nishnianidze St., 0105, Tbilisi, Georgia; phone +995 32 292 22 46) and started working with them toward a May 2013 trip for us to AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA, ARMENIA and eastern TURKEY

I shared itineraries of competing companies to get a composite of what we wanted for a one-month trip. At every step, I was impressed with the coordination of my input and what could be done on the ground. 

Our tour guides, Maia Tabidze and Maria Partsvania, were very helpful and professional. The handoffs between countries went flawlessly. I would have to say we saw everything we wanted to see and more. There is extraordinary history in these countries and great beauty in the Caucasus Mountains, especially Mestia, Georgia, with 40 guard towers, and, also in Georgia, the village of Ushguli high in the mountains.

On this trip we saw three unique sites: (1) Located outside Urfa, Turkey, Göbekli Tepe is considered archaeologically the oldest religious site in history, older than Stonehenge. (2) The BEST museum for mosaics in the world is Zeugma Mosaic Museum in Gaziantep, Turkey. Many of the displays there were removed from sites before the flooding of the Euphrates River behind a dam; we floated over two of these towns. (3) Baku, Azerbaijan, is nearly like Paris — great walking and very modern architecture. Everywhere we went, we felt totally comfortable. 

We requested 4- or 5-star boutique hotels, where possible. Of course, that was not always possible, but we were satisfied with what was booked. 

English is very commonly spoken in the larger cities. As to meals, it surely was easier to have a guide along to help with menus. 

This is a very exciting area of the world ready for YOU! [9]

Joe Whitehouse, Oakland, CA

 

Mehmet, of Argeus Tours (Istiklal Cad. No: 47, 50400 Ürgüp, Nevs¸ehir, Turkey; phone +90 384 341 4688), did a fabulous job. The website promised responses within 24 hours, and they delivered (Mehmet even responded once while attending a wedding out of town). 

Mehmet arranged hotels, tour guides, buses and a gulet (boat) for our group of 15 for four weeks in TURKEY in October 2011. He is also happy to arrange for individuals and short periods of time, and they have package tours too.

His hotel recommendations were spot on, based on what we said we wanted, and he didn’t try to book us into more expensive hotels. When our hotel in Antalya closed a couple of months before our arrival, he found us a great hotel right where we wanted to be. Some of our friends who used different agencies ended up in hotels they felt were unacceptable. 

Mehmet was our tour guide in Cappadocia, and he did a great job. We are hikers, and he knew great places to take us. I highly recommend Argeus Tours. [10]

• Mitja, at Roundabout Travel (Pot Draga Jakopicˆa 6, 10000 Ljubljana, Slovenia; phone +386 01 810 99 15), provided the support for our group of 13 for a customized tour in CROATIA and SLOVENIA in June 2013. 

He booked hotels and arranged our bus transport and guides. He did a great job listening to the type of hotels we wanted (not super-large or expensive).

Roundabout Travel’s guides were great, and our driver, Vojko, was top-notch. When we arrived at one of our hotels in Croatia, the receptionist couldn’t find our reservation and didn’t care to look very hard. Vojko called Mitja and, even though it was about 6 p.m., he called the manager of the hotel and our rooms magically appeared. 

I was originally going to use a Croatian travel agency for the Croatian part of the trip and Mitja for the Slovenian part. When the Croatian agency didn’t listen to what I wanted and provided me with a quote that was double what I felt it should be, I asked Mitja if he could do both, and he could. 

Roundabout Travel also provides set tours and packages for the day or longer. I highly recommend them. [10]

Martha Myron, Mt. Vernon, WA

 

Regarding satisfactory tour companies and guides based in the destination countries, my wife and I have used the ones listed below over the last 10 years. All were superior in every way, and we would love to use them again. All were different, and I would encourage communication with each before signing up. Several of the guides have advertised successfully in ITN.

• Prague and the CZECH REPUBLIC — Petr Zidek, of Bohemian Tours (Kubisova 6, 182 00 Praha 8, Czech Republic; phone +420 721 286 869, email petr@bohemiantours.cz), spent years in Canada and knows how Americans think. He customized a week-long trip around southern Czech Republic for us in May 2007. We hardly ever saw another tourist! [10]

• St. Petersburg, RUSSIA — Natalya German-Tsarkova (phone +7 921 391 18 94, email natalya.german@gmail.com or visit www.original-tours.com) is an art historian, and when she escorted us through the Hermitage a few years ago in November, it was like experiencing a brilliant sunrise from a dark night. She showed us things that we had not even touched on on two previous visits. We spent three days with her and two of our friends learning about the city and seeing how Russians vacation. [10]

• Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA — Denise Dick (denised@yebo.co.za) is wonderful in showing you about Cape Town and the surrounding areas. We spent three days with her in May 2012 and very seldom felt we were tourists. One day, we went to a market used only by locals. She’s kind of like Mary Poppins; even if something seems impossible, Denise will surprise you! [10]

BOTSWANA — Graham Johansson (P.O. Box 5240, Tygervalley 7536, South Africa; phone +27 82 3305223 or email wildguides@iafrica.com) hires himself out to safari companies, and that is how we met him. Graham took us through Botswana and Zambia in May 2012. He can put together a trip tailored to your needs. He is a skilled photographer, so you can imagine the animal and bird sites he presents! [10]

Robert G. Davidson
Columbia, SC

 

My husband, Daniel, and I generally travel independently and do most of the arrangements, ourselves. Going to BHUTAN, this is not possible because the government requires visitors (except for citizens of India) to travel with tour companies. 

In December 2011 we started looking for a suitable tour company for a Bhutan trip, April 21-May 8, 2012. Consulting articles, books and government lists of tour companies, we picked out eight and sent each a brief description of our interests, our budget and tentative suggestions for accommodations and sights to see.

Child monks learning to dance at Kuenga Rabten, the winter palace of Bhutan’s second king, south of Trongsa. Photo: Bernstein

When we received all the answers, we signed up with Yangphel Adventure Travel. US contact is Geographic Expeditions, San Francisco, CA; 415/922-0448) because they most directly responded to our comments.

After emails and a couple of phone calls, we agreed upon hotels, the detailed itinerary and prices. The charge for two persons was about $10,300 for 18 days, covering hotels, meals, all taxes and fees, a guide, a driver and an SUV. It did not include transportation into the country. The government requires that you travel at least one way on Drukair, and Yangphel made those reservations for us; our contact was Ms. Karma Choden in Bhutan.

Jintso, our guide, and Kashe, our driver, were waiting for us at the airport. They were simply marvelous and did everything possible to make our stay superb. 

The main road traversing the country was under construction in many places, and Kashe was a master at maneuvering around obstacles. He spoke little English, but our guide, who spoke excellent English, warned us when we needed to rush along the winding roads to make the 10:30-11 road-opening window. 

However, my husband is enamored of waterfalls, and if we were not able to stop at some spectacular ones because of time, Jintso remembered every one of them on the way back. 

Jintso also understood about “pit stops” and made sure we stopped often enough and had some screening from the road. 

Jintso and Kashe both also sensed when we wanted to watch something for more than a few minutes, such as when we saw young boys at a temple all dressed in traditional costume and being trained to do dancing. Or when we unexpectedly came across a field of competitive archers. 

A devout Buddhist, Jintso is very knowledgeable about Buddhism and the many tales associated with each temple.

He also was adept at making new arrangements when plans did not work out. When the Ura Yakchoe Festival in western Bhutan was moved forward two or three days and we couldn’t fit it in, he arranged for us to stop, instead, at the Domkhar festival on the way back, redoing our accommodations just as we liked. [10]

Judith Bernstein
Albuquerque, NM

 

I, too, prefer to deal with an in-country travel company. This particularly enables developing countries to benefit from the tourist business. 

Four of us planned a Dec. 5-17, 2013, trip to MYANMAR. We worked with Tin Aung Moe of Care and Share Myanmar Travels (No. 29, 6th Floor, Sanchaung St., Sanchaung Township, Yangon, Myanmar; phone +951 518032).

We emailed back and forth our desires and his suggestions. He delivered on everything that we requested, including an excellent English-speaking guide and drivers. He sent us a list of hotels beforehand that we could review on the Internet. 

The cost was approximately $2,000, including three in-country flights. We highly recommend Care and Share Myanmar Travels. [9]

Mary Anderson, Littleton, CO

 

When we visited MYANMAR in 2008, we used a company named Seven Star (Rm. 4-B, Sein Yadanar Condo, No. 21/C, Sein Yadanar Street, Ward [1], Kamayut Township, Yangon, Myanmar; phone +95 1 507 261).

We had the best guide in the world, Myo Set! 

Myanmar immediately shot to the top of our favorite countries, out of 127 for me and 117 for my husband, George. 

We found Seven Star through Scott Wild of Wild Card Adventures (swild7@juno.com), a regular ITN advertiser. 

Our trip took place one month after Cyclone Nargis wiped out the whole Irrawaddy Delta. The head of Seven Star and Myo Set had made a number of relief trips to the delta. We donated all of our extra cash to them. 

Sadly, I don’t think Myo Set does any guiding anymore (he is married and has two children), except sometimes in Yangon, but Seven Star definitely gets a [10].

Brenda Milum, Olympic Valley, CA

 

Since my first visit to COSTA RICA in 2005, I have used Costa Rican Trails (P.O. Box 2907-1000, San José, Costa Rica; phone +506 2280 6705 or, toll-free in the US, 888/803-3344). It was recommended to me by the wife of my school principal, and I was very pleased. 

The 2005 trip cost about $700-$800, including lodging, breakfasts and dinners. My guide, Alfredo Golcher, was with me the entire six days. Since I was interested in birding, it was great to have Alfredo as a guide because he was also a birder. 

That tour was in January. There was a bit of rain the first couple of days, but it was sunny the rest of the time.

My contact at the Costa Rican Trails office has been Lorena Amador. I can specify sites or sights that I wish to visit, and she will arrange the trip. 

I took a 2-week trip in 2006.

In 2008 I went for a full month, starting at Rincón de la Vieja in the north of Guanacaste province and going as far south as Golfito in Puntarenas province. I paid $7,250, including airport meet and greet, private transfers in a motorcoach with A/C, naturalist guide throughout, hotels (single occupancy), most meals and all taxes and service charges.

In 2010 I took a 2-week trip for $6,250, including the Arenal Volcano Observatory (unfortunately, the volcano did not erupt). 

My most recent trip, in January 2013, was on the Caribbean side, mostly in Limón province, and cost $5,680.

I have always had Alfredo as my guide. It’s now more like visiting family than taking a tour. [10]

Joyce Conklin, San Mateo, CA

 

For services beyond the call of duty during our 8-hour, May 2014 day tour from the Valparaíso, CHILE, cruise ship dock to our hotel in Santiago, we would like to recommend Scott Jones of Chilean Special Journeys (Santiago, Chile; phone, toll-free in US, 888/345-6077).

Scott was waiting at the port and provided us with a tour of places not listed in tourist guidebooks. He drove us around Valparaíso, Viña del Mar and into Santiago, where we got to choose places to tour. For lunch, he gave us choices of restaurants, based on our needs. And when we got tired, he drove us to our hotel.

We thought the combined cost of $350 for this service, for both my friend and me, was very reasonable, considering the amount of travel, time and personal attention Scott provided.

We were fortunate to visit Scott’s own mansion that he rents out for special events and weddings. Scott suggested places to dine and unique hotels. This tour met our expectations for a great Chilean experience.

We were grateful for his help, even with locating friends and making excellent arrangements a few days later when we wanted to stay longer in Santiago than we had originally planned. [8½]

Nancy Jones, Fort Collins, CO

 

There is part of me that hesitates to report about a couple of guides we employed for an overland Patagonia trip. I am afraid if they get too discovered, we will not be able to afford them again! (Please laugh.) 

Seriously, the two men who own Wangulen Odyssey (Ecoturismo Wangulen, Casilla 404, Puerto Varas, Chile; phone +56 652 438 990) did a terrific job and they deserve to be widely discovered so that others may enjoy this trip, too, a small-group tour going from Punta Arenas to Puerto Varas, Chile. 

Wangulen is owned and operated by Felipe Soto (from Santiago, Chile) and Perry McIntosh (from Midland, Texas), both of whom guided the trip we were on. 

They own a Sprinter van outfitted with 10 passenger seats, but the maximum number of travelers they will take on any overland trip is six. On our trip, we had the two guides, my wife and me and another couple we invited to join us. The cost was $4,990 each, which included everything except air to Santiago, “reciprocity fees” of $160 each for both CHILE and ARGENTINA (Chile eliminated this fee this March)… and wine.

We covered about 1,500 miles in the van, and at least half of that was on unpaved roads. Route 7, the main Chilean north-south road through Patagonia, is mostly unpaved at this point (though they’re working on paving it). 

Some hotels, like the one at Torres del Paine, were spectacular. Others were “best available.” For us, it was the remoteness, the beauty and the small size of the group that made the trip special. 

If a rating of 10 is great, then this trip was a 10 because of the wonderful natural beauty we saw and got to be a part of. But you need to be ready for adventure, not great luxury. Somebody expecting a Four Seasons hotel experience would never rate this trip a 10. Patagonia is remote, and it can be cold, windy and rainy, even at the height of summer.

We arrived in Santiago on Jan. 19, 2014, stayed in a hotel downtown and flew early the next day to Punta Arenas. A bus ticket was waiting for us at the airport, and we rode the two to three hours to Puerto Natales, where we met the guides, had dinner and spent the night.  

We spent parts of the next three days in Torres del Paine National Park. Spectacular!

Because there are a couple hundred miles of ice fields (glaciers) in Chile north of Torres del Paine and no roads, we crossed into Argentina and spent two nights in El Calafate, where we went to see the Argentine side of the glaciers, then we headed up to the village El Chaltén at the base of Mt. Fitz Roy.

We crossed back into Chile at a border station that gets four or five cars a day. After driving around Lake General Carrera, we spent the night in a cottage overlooking the lake.  

From there, we followed Route 7 north through the fjords and mountains, with stops along the way for hikes back into ecologically significant areas. There were even several ferry trips through the fjords. On Feb. 3, we flew from Puerto Montt to Santiago and connected for home.

Wangulen arranges many other trips throughout South America. Some are guided by Felipe and Perry; others are contracted out. I think these guys are genuine, professional and easy to travel with. [10]

Jack Clough, McLean, VA