TIPS: Tour Companies
“Tour” is not a four-letter word
Using a Tour Company doesn’t necessarily mean joining a bus tour with 40 other people. There are many companies that offer either small group tours (some as few as 6 or 8 people), and many that offer private tours – in fact, many of the larger adventure companies also offer tailor-made private tours which may not be advertised in their mainstream brochures, or which operate under a sister company. So it always pays to ask.
TIP: There are definitely situations when it is worth the additional expense of a private tour. For example, if you’re an avid photographer heading to Africa, and are willing to sit in a jeep for 3 hours waiting for the moment the cheetah may spring into action, you probably don’t want to share your vehicle with someone who has an attention span of 10 minutes.
Here are several tour companies we have travelled with and would recommend. (In these cases, we chose smaller operators from the countries we visited to get a more local and authentic perspective.)
Tour Partner for Africa and Asia
There aren’t many people I know who research trips the same way I do. Shila Desai, the force behind EYHO tours, is
one of them. Born out of a desire to deliver truly authentic experiences only a local can offer, EYHO was developed so that Shila could share the intimate knowledge of the countries where she grew up with tours that are anything but ordinary. Whether that means creating your own exotic textiles in India where she still has family, cooking in palaces with modern-day Maharajas, or following the migration of the wildebeest in her husband’s native Kenya, Shila brings a unique perspective to these ‘bucket list’ destinations. Having lived and worked with her husband in Toronto for decades, she also understands how daunting these destinations can be for westerners. To ensure the smoothest of trips, not only does Shila create each of these itineraries using her connections at each destination, but she personally escorts her groups there as well.
The added bonus? Like the culinary inspiration behind the ‘Eat Your Heart Out’ name, Shila curates her groups like a dinner party guest list – ensuring that participants find likeminded individuals on the tour with common interests to share. In fact, wherever possible, she organizes pre-trip meetups for her participants, many of whom have travelled
with her multiple times and become friends.
“Unpackaged travel” doesn’t get more boutique than this.
Check out Shila’s tours here: www.eyhotours.com (and tell her Jane sent you!)
This was as smooth an operation as you could ever want from a tour company. The staff were extremely accommodating with organizing what to do and where to stay, including suggestions from me, and some brilliant options they provided. We were met at every point along the way starting with arrival at the airport where we were given our information package and itinerary, along with a ‘voucher book’ of our pre-paid activities, which included everything from domestic air tickets to taxi chits to horseback riding excursions. Different drivers took us by private vehicle to each of our destinations within the country, all the hotel reservations were already taken care of, and with the exception of a slight delay caused by a flat tire, and a very apologetic driver, two weeks went off without a hitch.
I found this company while searching for local tour operators, and as it turns out, Damon Corkin who runs Andean Discovery is from the States originally, and now lives in Ecuador with his wife, from where he operates his tours in that country as well as Peru. His experience with organizing groups from the US as well as his privately-guided itineraries meant he understood what we were looking for and he was eager to make suggestions that complemented my own – as he was quite impressed with some of the accommodations I had discovered. (Read about one, Second Home Peru, by clicking here.)
We chose a local operator, Simon King, because we like the idea of directly supporting the country we visit and try to make our travels as authentic as possible by going smaller rather than larger. Simon and EASTCO gave us exactly that, working with us and our budget to achieve the perfect balance of luxury mixed in with a little roughing it. His first-hand knowledge of the country where he’s lived for decades was invaluable, and the experience and personality of our eagle-eyed guide gave us insight into both the wildlife, and real life of Tanzania.
I like that this company is run by a local husband and wife team (Victor and Kyu Kyu) who translated their passion for travel (and learning English) into a tour business in the country they call home. And after working with them on customizing a private tour for Henk and I, I was very impressed with their quick responses to all our questions and changes, flexibility in accommodating our requests, and the thoroughness of their planning. (all this just days before Kyu Kyu gave birth to their third child!) Our 18 days on the ground went as smooth as glass, the guides at each destination were friendly and efficient, and there was no shortage of suggestions for what to do, all for what I found to be a fair price. Definitely give Ayuda your consideration if you are planning a trip to magical Myanmar.
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