Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

The 2017 WOW List: Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts

Wendy Perrin | October 16, 2017

THE PROBLEM
You’re planning an important trip to an unfamiliar destination. You want minimal hassle and maximum efficiency—no time-wasting logistical surprises, no battling tourist hordes and lines. You want to experience the destination like an insider. Oh—and those special perks and upgrades reserved for the regulars? You want those too.

THE SOLUTION
You need a travel fixer with unparalleled on-the-ground connections and expertise—a destination specialist who lives where you’re going, or visits often enough to have an office there, and who holds the keys to the kingdom, including access to the most well-connected local expediters (hardly just “guides”) and the most atmospheric places to stay, with the most to-die-for views. That’s exactly what The WOW List is, a collection of the best travel planners around the world, whom I’ve tested and vetted based on my own experience as a traveler and journalist, and based on feedback from my readers. Here is proof that The WOW List works.

HOW TO USE THE WOW LIST
* Find the right Trusted Travel Expert for you via The WOW List (below).
* Click on the Expert’s black CONTACT button to send him/her a Trip Request. That way the Expert knows I sent you—and that I’m watching. You get priority treatment, VIP benefits, and unbeatable value. You also get Wendy’s trip-monitoring service. If you don’t use the Trip Request form, I can’t monitor your trip, nor can you expect special treatment.

CAN’T FIND THE RIGHT EXPERT ON THE WOW LIST?
* Click over to Ask Wendy. I know hundreds of travel specialists and can probably recommend the right one for your situation.


 

 United States | Caribbean and Mexico | Canada | Central America |
South America | Europe | Asia | Africa and Middle East | Australia and Pacific | Cruises | Villa Vacations / Adventure Travel (Biking, Diving, Rafting, and More)

 


United States

Great American Road Trips
It’s the quintessential American journey. We’re all savvy enough to get off the interstates—but how do you pinpoint the most scenic and interesting backroads? Where do you find the most charming slices of Americana that have defied modernization? And how do you ensure you move along efficiently while also building in enough time for spontaneous adventures?  We have a solution: Let us know which region of the country interests you most, and we can recommend the right expert to map out the most rewarding route, book you into the most delightful places to stay and eat, and introduce you to colorful characters along the way.

Contact Wendy

Alaska
Judith Root, Entrée Alaska
Judith has mastered dip-net salmon fishing, camping solo in bear country, and skiing at 40 below.  She can orchestrate complicated itineraries to remote lodges, select the perfect backcountry retreat for a family reunion, set up a rendezvous with an Iditarod champion, or fly you to a glacier for summer sledding. Her outdoor guides specialize in everything from fly fishing to river rafting to kayaking with whales.  For those booked on Alaska cruises who are in need of top-of-the-line private shore excursions—and who can afford them (Alaska is very expensive during the peak summer season)—she can whisk you far from the touristy ports and cruise-ship hordes so you can experience “the real Alaska.”  To book the cruise itself, contact Ashton Palmer if you’d like a small-ship expedition, which is the best way to see the coastline and wildlife.  For something more affordable—which means a large ship and group shore excursions—contact Tom Baker 
Trips start at $1,000 per day for two travelers.

Contact Judith

Read reviews of Judith. Read her Insider’s Guide to Alaska. Then contact her to maximize your
experience of Alaska.

American West / Big Sky Country
Caroline Bach Wood
Caroline lives 70 miles from the border of Yellowstone National Park and spent nearly every summer of her childhood next door to Old Faithful, where her father was (and still is) a naturalist for the Park Service. Her meticulously prepared itineraries include driving directions, restaurant recommendations, hiking suggestions, and more, all intended to keep you off the beaten track—inside and outside the U.S. national parks—and lead you to the region’s best-kept secrets. She has tested the best adventure outfitters (from rafting and snowmobiling to horseback riding and fly fishing) and keeps the managers of her favorite lodges on their toes with her frequent visits.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Caroline

Read reviews of Caroline. Read her Insider’s Guide to Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons. Then contact her to maximize your
experience of the American West.

Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.
Paul Bennett, Context Travel
Seeking a private guide or a very-small-group tour for an insider’s experience of a city?  Paul Bennett, an award-winning writer for National Geographic and author of several books about architecture and landscape, launched Context Travel in 2003, and today he offers cultural walks in dozens of cities.  Each tour is designed and led by a scholar or specialist—in disciplines including archaeology, art history, cuisine, urban planning, history, environmental science, and classics. These professors, chefs, and other noteworthy locals provide exceptional insight and open doors that would otherwise be closed to most travelers. They offer family-friendly walks too, some of which involve treasure hunts.
Tours start at $75 per person; Paul does not book accommodations or make other travel arrangements.

Contact Paul

Read reviews of Paul. Read his Insider’s Guides to New York City and Washington, D.C. Then contact him to maximize your experience of cultural city tours.

California
Sun. Surf. Skiing. Sauvignon Blanc. It’s all in plentiful supply in California. From Napa Valley to Death Valley, the Sierras to San Francisco, you’ll find some of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders, finest restaurants, and most vibrant cities. But California’s attractions are no secret, and the distances between them can be substantial. So while you can certainly plan a lovely holiday there on your own, only a California expert can point you toward the lesser-known hiking trails and road-trip pit-stops, not to mention procure you upgrades at the finest hotels and coveted tables at the hottest restaurants.  Are you trying to pinpoint the right person to choreograph a hassle-free drive down the coast?   To open doors to wineries that are normally closed to the public?  Tell Wendy what you’re looking for so she can recommend the right specialist for your trip goals. 

Contact Wendy

Disney and Orlando
Susan Kelly and Michelle Allen, Travel Magic
The seemingly infinite array of hotel, activity, and dining options that Walt Disney World offers can overwhelm anyone—and Disney’s in-house agents are focused on selling (and upselling) quickly, so they don’t get to know each family. Susan and Michelle, by contrast, design the perfect Disney vacation by learning the details of your group (which characters you want to meet, how scary a ride your kids can handle), sorting through the veritable banquet of choices, and helping you decide what to put on your plate.  They continuously check all rates to make sure you pay the lowest possible prices—even if a discount appears after you’ve booked—and they maximize your time at the parks and minimize hassle by arranging all expedited passes as soon as they’re available (which Disney’s agents won’t do) and tackling other logistical concerns in advance. Susan and Michelle arm travelers with customized itineraries that include park maps and tips for everything from the best places to view parades and fireworks to where to meet a favorite character. And it’s all accessible as an app on your phone, including a feature that lets you instant-message them with any questions or concerns. Whether your plans involve Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Adventures by Disney, Universal Orlando, Aulani (the Disney resort in Hawaii), or Disney Cruise Line, they’re the ticket.
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers. To get the most from your Disney experience, plan to spend at least four nights.

Contact Susan and Michelle

Read reviews of Susan and Michelle. Read their Insider’s Guide to Disney World, Orlando. Then contact them to maximize your experience of Disney.

Hawaii and California
Jay Johnson,  Coastline Travel Advisors
Jay spends six weeks a year in Hawaii, escorting groups of Google execs as well as vacationing with his wife Dani—who’s also his right hand in the office—and their teenaged daughters.  His agency sends so many travelers to Hawaii that he has significant clout with the five-star resorts—which translates into perks for his travelers—but he also books rental homes when that’s the smarter choice for the group. He can arrange anything from multi-generational family reunions to pull-out-all-the-stops honeymoons, from kite-boarding lessons on Maui to guided hikes across private land on Molokai.  Born and raised in Southern California and with offices throughout the Golden State, Jay also likes to orchestrate out-of-the-box itineraries in his own backyard.  He can arrange for Los Angeles Angels tickets right behind home plate, V.I.P. access to Disneyland, a cooking lesson with the head chef at Napa’s Michelin-starred Meadowood resort, glamping among the redwoods—or all of the above in one quick, efficient trip.   
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers and have a three-night minimum. No activities-only requests, please.

Contact Jay

Read reviews of Jay. Read his Insider’s Guides to Maui,  Oahu and the Big Island. Then contact him to maximize your experience of California or Hawaii.

River Rafting Vacations
Mindy Gleason, O.A.R.S.
Mindy has rafted just about every river in the American West—not to mention waterways as far-flung as Chile and Morocco—with stretches that vary from gentle floats to Class V rapids*, and from the lush Rogue River in Oregon to the arid, red-rock canyons of the southwest. Armed with that first-hand knowledge, she works hard to arrange the right experience for every traveler. Trip options range in length from a few hours to a few weeks, but all use top-notch equipment (including inflatable kayaks and stand-up paddleboards on many rivers), highly experienced guides, and local and organic food whenever possible. Most offerings are group departures (some exclusively for families, adults, or solo travelers), but in many cases Mindy can arrange private trips as well. Most of all, she delights in introducing travelers to some of the last places on earth where you can truly disconnect.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Mindy

Read reviews of Mindy. Read her Insider’s Guide to River Rafting in the American West. Then contact her to maximize your vacation on one of America’s rivers.

U.S. National Parks and California
Marty Behr and Mark Campbell, National Parks Revealed
Lifelong believers in the transformative power of nature, Marty and Mark are on a mission to reacquaint the public with America’s national parks. Focusing on parks west of the Mississippi and in Alaska and southern Florida, they have spent years exploring these wilderness areas, identifying the most experienced guides (some PhDs, others former park rangers), testing lodging options all the way from cushy hotels to backcountry base camps, and meeting the local characters that bring life to each park—and, now, each trip. They also specialize in outdoor-focused trips in California, from redwoods to beach to Sierras. Most of their travelers choose to drive themselves around, detailed itinerary in hand and guides accompanying them when helpful, but for those with far more money than time, Marty and Mark can book chartered planes to whisk groups from park to park. They can even make Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon doable in a single trip.
Custom-tailored, soup-to-nuts trips start at $5,000. No lodging-only or activities-only requests, please.

Contact Marty and Mark

Read reviews of Marty and Mark. Read their Insider’s Guides to Grand Canyon Like You’ve Never Seen It and Bryce, Zion, Arches: Utah’s National Parks. Then contact them to maximize your national parks vacation.

Washington, Oregon, and California
Sheri Doyle, Pacific Northwest Journeys
Based in Seattle and a former corporate attorney, Sheri brings her legal-eagle eye for detail to the itineraries she crafts all over the Pacific Northwest (in both the United States and Canada) as well as along the northern California coast. Her self-drive itineraries typically run to 20 pages, covering everything from detailed driving directions to activity and restaurant recommendations. Geared to your interests and preferences, each itinerary is a personalized guidebook, and Sheri will have hiked the trails, kayaked the waters, slurped the oysters, and attended the jazz concerts that she recommends for you. She gets preferred rates at many top properties, which saves her clients a bundle.
Trips start at $300 per day for two travelers.

Contact Sheri

Read reviews of Sheri. Read her Insider’s Guides to Seattle, the San Juan Islands and Olympic Peninsula, and the Perfect California Coast Road Trip. Then contact her to maximize your experience of the Pacific Northwest.

 

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Caribbean and Mexico

Rosewood Jumby Bay, Antigua

The beach at Jumby Bay on Antigua. Photo courtesy Rosewood.

Cabo
Julie Byrd, CaboVillas.com
With its natural beauty, wide-ranging daytime activities and nightlife, and genuinely hospitable locals, Los Cabos is an easy getaway, made even easier by Julie Byrd. Her deep roots and intimate connections there save you money and spare you headaches. She knows the resorts like the palm of her hand, but she also has a portfolio of rental properties that include 100 luxurious villas and condos suitable for families, couples, and party-hearty groups of friends.  Byrd and her Cabo-based concierge team are available 24/7 and can arrange everything from fishing and yacht charters to destination weddings and other celebrations.
Hotel bookings start at $100/night in low season. Weekly rentals start at $350 per night in low season (July through September).

Contact Julie

Read reviews of Julie. Read her Insider’s Guide to Los Cabos Villa Vacations. Then
contact her to maximize your experience of cultural city tours.

Caribbean Islands
Lindsey Epperly, Epperly Travel
Lindsey grew up visiting dozens of Caribbean islands on family vacations. Today she can guide you to the best destination and resort for your needs, saving you from costly logistical errors, overbuilt beaches, and cruise day-trippers. She believes that “every island has its own personality” and knows firsthand which are best for unplugging (Turks and Caicos) or adventure (St. Lucia), which appeal to culture and history lovers (the side-by-side French-Dutch mix of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten), and which deserve a better reputation than they currently have (Jamaica). Thanks to powerful industry connections, she gets special benefits and perks for her clients at a wide range of four- and five-star hotels, from “Old Caribbean” estates with a colonial feel to the slick, super-modern hotels that have been springing up lately to family-friendly all-inclusives to hidden-gem romantic retreats. For those wanting to do more than just laze on a beach, she can embellish your trip with snorkel excursions, zip-lining adventures, helicopter transfers, you name it. She has a particular knack for coordinating honeymoons and destination weddings (it’s not easy playing point between Type-A bride and a vendor working on “island time”).
Trips have a three-night minimum and start at $400 per day for two travelers.

Contact Lindsey

Read reviews of LIndsey. Read her Insider’s Guide to the Best and Worst Caribbean Islands , and the Perfect Caribbean Island Resort. Then contact her to maximize your experience of cultural city tours.

Cuba
David Lee, Cultural Cuba
David is in Cuba almost every month, leading private and small groups on cultural-exchange missions and nurturing his priceless on-the-ground relationships. He gets you inside the small private restaurants and intimate music venues that big-bus tours cannot access, and into the best hotels in Old Havana—the perpetually sold-out favorites with rooftop pools and 360-degree views.  His one-of-a-kind trips can even be done in a long weekend, with a quick flight from Miami, three days in Havana, and a day in the country. David has tapped into Cuba’s underground art scene, so his trips include visits to renovated mansions-cum-art-galleries, special unadvertised music performances, and private art studios. He selects his guides for their willingness to give an honest assessment of daily life in their native country, opening the eyes of visitors to what it means to be a Cuban in Cuba. And he doesn’t nickel-and-dime you by tacking on additional charges, which means his trips often end up costing the same as other operators’ itineraries that start at a lower price.
Trips start at $3,900 per person (based on a group of 6 and up), double occupancy, for four nights and include your hotel room (a junior suite at one of the two top hotels), a full-time driver and guide, all activities, all meals, and alcoholic beverages with meals.

Contact David

Read reviews of David. Read his Insider’s Guide to Cuba. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Cuba.

Mexico
Zachary Rabinor, Journey Mexico
An elite guide in Mexico for more than two decades, Zach learned everything about what sophisticated travelers really want there but can’t easily find, then founded his own travel firm to deliver exactly that. The New York City native lives in Puerto Vallarta with his wife and two young sons but spends about a quarter of the year traveling all over Mexico to cement his insider connections , and keep up-to-the-minute on the country’s wide array of coastlines, Colonial cities, wildlife reserves, beach resorts, historic haciendas, rental villas, ancient monuments, award-winning kitchens, and thrilling activities (he’s a big surfer). His deep relationships with local hoteliers communities, and fixers of all kinds translate into room upgrades, special-access visits, and off-the-beaten-path experiences that travelers wouldn’t know about otherwise. He prides himself on finding new and exciting ways to visit even the most touristy and crowded locales.
Trips start at $600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Zachary

Read reviews of Zach. Read his Insider’s Guides to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, and
the Riviera Maya. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Mexico.

St. Barts
Peg Walsh, St. Barth Properties
Peg spends half the year on St. Barts, inspecting hotels and vacation rentals for her carefully curated portfolio.  She knows not only every nook and cranny of these properties, but also every beach, cove, restaurant, shop, and activity on the island. Travelers have access to her concierge team for arranging car rentals, villa provisioning, dinner reservations, and a wealth of other services. 
Hotel bookings start at 320 euros/night. Weekly villa rentals start at $1,670 in low season.

Contact Peg

Read reviews of Peg. Read her Insider’s Guides to St. Barts Villa Vacations and St. Barts Beach Vacations. Then contact her to maximize your experience of St. Barts.

 

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Canada

canoeing at whistler british columbia

Whistler may be British Columbia’s most famous ski resort, but it’s also an ideal destination for summer activities too.

Alberta and British Columbia
Marc Telio, Entrée Canada
Born in Montreal and now based in Vancouver, Marc is most passionate about helping travelers discover Canada’s wildest places, most jaw-dropping landscapes, and most thrilling activities. His favorite itineraries combine unusual outdoor excursions (think grizzly-bear sightings and heli-hiking) with character-rich accommodations (think luxury tented camps and sumptuous wilderness lodges). Marc and his team are like special-ops agents—pros at logistics, taking into account weather patterns, tides, seaplane schedules, and dozens of other details to ensure a hassle-free backcountry experience. Their tight-knit relationships with top outfitters, guides, and hotels translate to V.I.P. treatment for you.  And if you’re looking for kid-friendly adventures, Marc has plenty of ideas up his sleeve—he regularly brings his wife and their two kids on scouting trips.
Trips start at $750 per day for two travelers.

Contact Marc

Read reviews of Marc. Read his Insider’s Guide to British Columbia. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Canada.

Alberta and British Columbia
Sheri Doyle, Pacific Northwest Journeys
Based in Seattle and a former corporate attorney, Sheri brings her legal-eagle eye for detail to the itineraries she crafts all over the Pacific Northwest, including in Western Canada.  Her self-drive itineraries typically run to 20 pages, covering everything from detailed driving directions to activity and restaurant recommendations. Geared to your interests and preferences, each itinerary is a personalized guidebook, and Sheri will have hiked the trails, kayaked the waters, slurped the oysters, and attended the jazz concerts that she recommends for you. She gets preferred rates at many top properties, which saves her clients a bundle.
Trips start at $300 per day for two travelers.

Contact Sheri

Read reviews of Sheri. Read her Insider’s Guides to the San Juan Islands and Olympic Peninsula and Seattle. Then contact her to maximize your experience of
the Pacific Northwest.

Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and the Maritime Provinces
Jill Curran
Raised in a small fishing community in Newfoundland, Jill knows the secret spots that most people miss throughout the Atlantic Provinces—from the side road with a stunning view to the tiny fishing village where you can chat with the locals over tea.  Her custom culinary itineraries might have you catching Shediac lobsters (and learning how to properly eat them) or digging clams and cooking them on the beach. Her wildlife adventures include hiking through moose and caribou country, kayaking past puffins and gannets, and spotting right whales in the Bay of Fundy.  One of her specialties is a seaside picnic lunch sourced from local ingredients and prepared in the 130-year-old lighthouse where her grandmother was born.
Trips start at $2,000 per person for a six-day self-drive itinerary, including accommodations, car rental, and various activities.

Contact Jill

Read reviews of Jill. Read her Insider’s Guide to Newfoundland and Labrador. Then contact her to maximize your experience of the Maritime Provinces.

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Central America

Mombacho and Lake Nicaragua

Mombacho and Lake Nicaragua. Courtesy Nica Adventures

Costa Rica
Irene Edwards, GreenSpot.travel
A native Costa Rican, Irene arranges trips to her homeland that marry sophisticated luxury and ecological sensitivity. She knows which high-design jungle lodges, stylish beach resorts, and adventure outfitters prioritize not just comfort but a commitment to preserving the culture and environment. She is always eager to arrange meaningful, one-on-one experiences with the locals. (You might even get invited to make tortillas by hand with Irene’s mother in her home.) 
Trips start at $360 per night/double occupancy.

Contact Irene

Read reviews of Irene. Read her Insider’s Guide to Costa Rica Luxury Eco-Travel. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica
Michael Kaye and Natalie Ewing, Costa Rica Expeditions
Widely recognized as the man who pioneered eco-tourism in Costa Rica, Michael was the first tour operator to bring white water rafting to the country, in the 1970s, and became an early advocate of sustainable travel practices throughout the region. After living in Costa Rica for the past forty years, he knows all the best river runs, hiking trails, and hidden beaches, not to mention the finest wildlife guides in the business. Natalie, the company’s chief guest-satisfaction officer, works closely with guests and guides to ensure seamless logistics and delightful surprises throughout.
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers.

Contact Michael and Natalie

Read reviews of Michael and Natalie. Read their Insider’s Guide to Costa Rica Adventure. Then contact them to maximize your experience of Costa Rica.

Nicaragua
Pierre Gédéon, Nicaragua Adventures
A Frenchman whose adopted home is Nicaragua, Pierre orchestrates itineraries that maximize efficiency in a country that’s still relatively undeveloped. Trips can feature adventure activities from soft to strenuous (think kayaking, sand boarding, horseback riding, even volcano hiking); a romantic beach escape; bird watching and other wildlife pursuits; visits to archaeological sites, colonial towns, and native villages; a focus on three of the country’s most popular exports—coffee, chocolate, and cigars—or, in many cases, all of the above. His fleet of late-model, air-conditioned vehicles are helmed by friendly, knowledgeable drivers and guides who love to break up the travel time and show clients the real, authentic Nicaragua, away from the tourist traps. Thanks to Pierre’s frequent visits to his preferred hotels, he knows exactly which room to book at each property.
Trips start at $240 per day for two travelers.

Contact Pierre

Read reviews of Pierre. Read his Insider’s Guide to Nicaragua. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Nicaragua.

Panama
See “Colombia and Panama,” below.

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South America

Gaucho on horseback, Argentina

Gaucho on horseback, Argentina. Photo by Aldo Sessa

 

Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay
Maita Barrenechea, Mai10
The daughter of an Argentine ambassador, Maita spent years living abroad—in Paris and Washington, D.C.—before settling back home in Buenos Aires. Eager to introduce the rest of the world to her favorite finds in South America, she founded a company that arranges the gamut—from hiking and fishing expeditions in Patagonia to beach-chic getaways in Punta del Este to shopping sprees in Buenos Aires. Maita is passionate about providing travelers with those authentic, one-of-a-kind encounters that make for the happiest travel memories. She handpicks her guides, hiring only those with the right balance of knowledge and charisma, and is particularly fussy about hotels: Whether it’s a luxury estancia in the Pampas or an eco-lodge in Tierra del Fuego, she’ll detail all the pros and cons.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Maita

Read reviews of Maita. Read her Insider’s Guides to Buenos Aires and Argentina’s Wine Country.  Then contact her to maximize your experience of Argentina.

Brazil
Martin Frankenberg, Matueté
A former tech executive and Brazil native who is based in São Paulo with an office in Rio de Janeiro, Martin opens doors in his country that nobody else can—such as to his portfolio of exclusive Rio apartments, snazzy beach villas, and private farmhouses throughout the country. He orchestrates bespoke itineraries throughout the country, but is particularly known for offering the most magnificent custom-tailored experiences of the Amazon in existence.  In addition to cultivating relationships with the region’s top hoteliers and convincing anthropologists and biologists to moonlight as guides, he holds a spare set of keys to many of the finest private yachts in the Amazon, which he regularly charters for his travelers for the ultimate adventure.
Trips start at $1,000 per day for two travelers.

Contact Martin

Read reviews of Martin. Read his Insider’s Guides to Five-Star Brazil: The Best Things to See and Do and the Brazilian Amazon. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Brazil.

Brazil combined with other South American countries
Paul Irvine, Dehouche Travel
Paul’s love affair with Brazil inspired him to ditch his career in London’s financial industry and open Dehouche Travel in Rio de Janeiro. Today, with a second office in Buenos Aires, the company handles custom travel arrangements to most of South America, but Paul is most passionate about planning vibrant itineraries that incorporate as much of Brazil’s nature, sea, and culture as possible. He’s constantly zipping around the country digging up intel on the hottest new hotels, hidden beaches, and wilderness adventures, and checking in with his carefully chosen team of guides, drivers (cars and speedboats), and private-jet pilots. His relationships with hotel honchos often translate to upgrades and gifts for his travelers. And although Paul likes to leave flexibility in his itineraries to allow for spontaneous moments, his staff is also on hand 24 hours a day to attend to any client’s need.
Trips start at $800 per day for two travelers.

Contact Paul

Read reviews of Paul. Read his Insider’s Guides to Rio de Janeiro and Trancoso. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Brazil.

Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Patagonia
Tom Damon, Southwind Adventures
An experienced trekker and expedition climber, Tom specializes in outdoor adventures throughout South America. He’ll point you to the best hiking trails—for every skill level—at Machu Picchu and in Patagonia, and the most thrilling jungle adventures in the Amazon. Whether you opt for a private expedition or a small group tour, Tom will ensure you’re in the company of highly trained, highly personal English-speaking guides. As for accommodations, he knows the best-of-the-best wilderness lodges and prime camping spots. If you’re looking to cross borders or link multiple regions, Tom is a pro at making the trip seamless, dodging crowds and logistical hassles and making it all run like clockwork.
Trips start at $900 per day for two travelers in Machu Picchu and $1,250 per day for two travelers in Patagonia.

Contact Tom

Read reviews of Tom. Read his Insider’s Guides to Patagonia and Machu Picchu. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Chile, Ecuador, Peru, or Patagonia.

Colombia
Call it a country on the cusp. Colombia’s range of landscapes—rolling hills demarcated by coffee plantations, snow-capped Andes mountains, turquoise Caribbean water, Amazon rainforest, thriving cities, even a desert—combined with its biodiversity and cultural richness make it a country just waiting to be discovered by travelers. With its guerilla groups turning to peace and crime rates reduced by urban revitalization projects, the issues that once kept people away are largely in the past. Visitors are not yet arriving en masse, and those who do go are greeted with warmth and gratitude. Still, for such a small country, this is a difficult one to get around, and the information you’ll find online is directed at backpackers rather than higher-end travelers looking for enriching experiences.  We’ve sussed out a few experts who have their fingers on the pulse of Colombia’s swiftly changing character—travel planners who can as easily arrange in-depth tours of Medellin’s cutting-edge graffiti as Cartagena’s fine gastronomy. Tell us what you have in mind for your trip, and we’ll point you to the right person to make it happen.

Contact Wendy

Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama
Eric Sheets, Latin Excursions
Eric has lived in six Latin American countries—he was exposed to the region from an early age by his globetrotting American father and Ecuadorian mother—and today he’s based in Miami and Ecuador. His company was born out of organizing trips for business colleagues, and today he arranges everything from custom itineraries that highlight Colombia’s different local cultures to family reunions, exotic honeymoons, and even villa vacations, not only in Colombia but also in neighboring countries Panama and Ecuador. Travelers have their own private guide and vehicle—to allow maximum spontaneity and flexibility, not to mention rare access to places most travelers don’t see—and stay in top-drawer hotels that share Eric’s commitment to sustainability. 
Trips start at $800 per day for two travelers.

Contact Eric

Read reviews of Eric. Read his Insider’s Guides to Cartagena, Colombia, and Panama. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Colombia and Panama.

The Galapagos Islands
The archipelago in the Pacific Ocean that gave rise to Darwin’s theory of evolution is still today a breeding ground for dozens of fantastic creatures, from blue-footed boobies to giant tortoises to those famous finches. Due to careful oversight by the Ecuadorian government, visits to this national park are strictly regulated, and the animals remain unconcerned by the humans who come to marvel at them. It’s those close-up encounters that are guaranteed to fill any traveler with wonder, delighting the children both with us and in us. New lodges and tent-based trips are allowing visitors to enjoy greater privacy and flexibility, but a cruise is still the only way to reach most of the islands. And there are more than 100 vessels to consider, varying in size, itinerary, quality of naturalists, and upkeep. We know experts who have tested just about every option and can match you with the right one for your needs; if you want to combine the islands with mainland Ecuador or neighboring Peru, they can do that too. Let us know what type of trip you have in mind, and we can put you in touch with the right Galapagos Islands specialist to make the magic happen.

Contact Wendy

Peru and Bolivia
Marisol Mosquera, Aracari
A native Peruvian, Marisol shucked a career in the financial world to fulfill her long-held dream of providing international travelers with authentic, first-class experiences that support local communities.  From their base in Lima, she and trusted colleague Mark Green—a Brit who guided trips in South America for many years and is married to a Peruvian—work with a network of prominent historians, archaeologists, artists, and dignitaries to deliver privileged access to people and places throughout the region. Guests experience insider status at every destination they visit. Marisol and her team excel at crafting bespoke journeys for families, culture connoisseurs, adventure seekers, and honeymooners.
Trips start at $750 per day for two travelers.

Contact Marisol

Read reviews of Marisol. Read her Insider’s Guide to Peru for Food Lovers. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Peru and Bolivia.

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Europe

Duomo Florence Italy

The Duomo in Florence, Italy. Photo courtesy Brian Dore.

Amsterdam, London, Prague, Rome, and other cultural capitals
Paul Bennett, Context Travel
Seeking a private guide or a very-small-group tour for an insider’s experience of a city?  Paul, an award-winning writer for National Geographic and author of several books about architecture and landscape, founded Context Travel in 2003, and today he offers cultural walks in cities throughout Europe.  Each tour is designed and led by a scholar or specialist—in disciplines including archaeology, art history, cuisine, urban planning, history, environmental science, and classics. These professors, chefs, and other noteworthy locals provide exceptional insight and open doors that would otherwise be closed to most travelers. They offer family-friendly walks too, some of which involve treasure hunts.
Tours start at $87 per person. The company does not book accommodations or make other travel arrangements.

Contact Paul

Read reviews of Paul. Read his Insider’s Guides to Rome and Amsterdam. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Europe’s cultural capitals.

Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland
Gwen Kozlowski, Exeter International
Gwen has been masterminding custom trips for independent travelers to Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and other parts of Eastern Europe for more than a decade. She’s based in the U.S. but heads to the region at least twice a year to suss out new hotels and restaurants, test driving and train routes, and add to her ever-growing list of local experts—from museum curators to pastry chefs to artisanal vodka makers—who provide access and insights that you could never get otherwise. Unflinchingly honest and obsessively detailed-oriented, she prides herself on knowing exactly where to find the best food—and drink—in every town from Innsbruck to Budapest to Krakow, and she has such strong relationships with local hoteliers that her guests frequently receive preferential rates and VIP treatment at the most atmospheric four- and five-star hotels.
Trips start at $600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Gwen

Read reviews of Gwen. Read her Insider’s Guides to Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Eastern Europe.

Croatia
Mariana Fisher, Exeter International
While growing up in Prague, Mariana spent many summers on Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula, which to this day is her favorite destination in Eastern Europe—in equal parts for its beautiful scenery and its fantastic food (she likens the Croatia of today to Italy 20 years ago). Mariana has spent nearly a decade designing trips to the region, working with small farmers, local artisans, and museum curators to create authentic experiences that are far from the tourist traps. She speaks Czech, English, French, Spanish, and Hebrew, and understands Croatian and Russian as well—so she can teach you how to pronounce Plitvice and Rovinj like a local. Mariana is also an expert in Eastern European Jewish history; she has master’s degrees in Hebrew and in Spanish Philology and Literature.
Trips start at $700 per day for two travelers.

Contact Mariana

Read reviews of Mariana. Read her Insider’s Guide to Croatia. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Croatia.

England, Ireland, and Scotland 
Jane McCrum, In Any Event
Jane’s speciality is providing exclusive access to the United Kingdom’s and Ireland’s most prestigious events and enviable addresses. She’ll score you prime seats at Wimbledon, get you into Prince Charles’s gardens at Highgrove, and set up private visits to any number of royal residences, from Buckingham Palace to Highclere Castle (better known as Downton Abbey). You’d be wise to let Jane suggest a few things to do: She can arrange V.I.P. entry to events that are so insider-y you may not have heard of them—say, a rowing regatta or a black-tie music festival in the countryside—but that may end up being the high point of your trip. As for accommodations, Jane is a stickler for charm over flash. She gets great rates at fabulous London hotels but, for something unforgettable, ask her to book you a few nights in the countryside at one of her favorite historic manor homes—all privately owned and exquisitely maintained.
Trips start at $800 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jane

Read reviews of Jane. Read her Insider’s Guides to London and England’s Castles, Manor Houses, and Gardens. Then contact her to maximize your experience of England, Ireland, and Scotland.

England, Ireland, and Scotland
Jonathan Epstein, Celebrated Experiences
If you want to be filled with wanderlust—and jealousy—follow Jonathan’s Instagram feed. Between the picture-perfect Cotswold cottages and the Michelin-starred Scottish restaurants and the grand Irish castles, you’ll wish you could hide inside Jonathan’s suitcase on his next trip. The next best thing?  Let him and his trusted deputy Nicole Baratelle arrange your itinerary, including the most scenic drives between all those fairytale properties and otherwise-hard-to-book restaurants. You’ll benefit from the duo’s close relationships with colorful hoteliers and star chefs, not to mention their friends all over the U.K. and Ireland—from whiskey distillers to crystal cutters to cashmere-sweater weavers. Of course, they can also snag tickets to special events (including Wimbledon and Premier League Soccer). 
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jonathan

Read reviews of Jonathan. Read his Insider’s Guides to Killarney and County Kerry, IrelandScotland, and the Cotswolds. Then contact him to maximize your experience of England, Ireland, and Scotland.

England: London Apartment Rentals
Madelyn Byrne Willems, London Perfect
Wishing you could live like a local in a charming flat in a top location? Madelyn will match you to the right neighborhood and apartment, then set you up with an itinerary, a driver to pick you up at the airport, expert guides if you like, and insider tips galore. Her hand-picked apartments are all in excellent condition and furnished with fine amenities such as high-thread-count linens, plush towels, modern kitchen appliances, heavenly beds, and a supply of drinks and snacks to tide you over until you can get to the grocery store.  Unlike an à la carte listing site with thousands of rentals, her team knows its properties well and can answer questions about local transport, quality of beds, kind of coffee machine, whether guests can control heating, and so on. Each party is met by a greeter who gives a thorough orientation and leaves behind his or her phone number, along with a thick file containing all the information a guest could possibly need.
Weekly rentals start at $1,950 in low season (one-bedroom apartment suitable for 2 guests) and most range from $2,350 to $6,000 during the high season (for one to five bedrooms).

Contact Madelyn

Read reviews of Madelyn. Read her Insider’s Guides to London Vacation Rentals and Paris Apartment Rentals. Then contact her to maximize your experience of London.

 

France
Jack Dancy and Simon Aplin, Trufflepig

Brits who live in Burgundy’s ancient wine capital of Beaune, Jack and Simon help high-brow, independent-minded travelers experience the best of what’s off the beaten track in France. Their fingers are on the pulse of what’s new and exciting yet still under the radar, as well as what’s old and magically atmospheric that most travelers miss. They design in-depth itineraries tailored to your particular tastes and interests, whether those include wine tasting in Burgundy, chateau-hopping in the Loire Valley, hiking in the Dordogne, stepping back in time at WWI and WWII sites, or road tripping through all of it—and then on into Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. They’ll ensure that you stick to the most scenic roads, sleep in the most charming and unusual accommodations, dine in the most authentic local eateries, and meet interesting people along the way. Use them for trips at least a week to 10 days long (because they charge an itinerary-planning fee that delivers more value on long trips than on short ones). 
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jack

Read reviews of Jack and Simon. Read Jack’s Insider’s Guides to Paris for Food Lovers and Burgundy. Then contact them to maximize your experience of France.

France and Monaco 
Jennifer Virgilio, Queen of Clubs

When you need something special for a trip to Paris or London, Jennifer waves her magic wand, et voilà.  Her à-la-carte arrangements (you can book just a day or two), her little black book of expert private guides, and her pull with restaurants and hotels extends to the rest of France and the United Kingdom, as well as to Monaco, Ibiza, and Rome.  She can make the line at the Eiffel Tower disappear, snag front-row seats for Fashion Week, get you tickets to the Ferrari pit during the Grand Prix, or turn a seven-hour layover into a holiday. Her VIP meet-and-greet starts at the aircraft door (or the train car if you’re arriving in London or Paris on the Eurostar) and includes fast-track entry through immigration and customs to a waiting car—particularly helpful if you have small children, mobility issues, or lots of luggage. While Jennifer is best known for her concierge services in Paris and London (she used to live in both) and in Rome (where she currently lives, married to the general manager of one of the city’s most illustrious hotels), her background in the airline and hotel businesses enable her to flawlessly execute elaborate multi-day itineraries as well.
Prices start at $170 for expedited entry at the airport, $920 for a full-day transfer in a luxury vehicle with sightseeing stops, and $950 per day for two travelers for custom-tailored trips including accommodations, guides, and all the trimmings. 

Contact Jennifer

Read reviews of Jennifer. Read Jennifer’s Insider’s Guide to Paris with Perks. Then contact her to maximize your experience of France.

France: Provence and the Riviera
Philip Haslett, Unique Provence

An Englishman by birth, Philip moved to France (his mother’s native country) in 1987. His experience navigating travelers from here to there—he has logged 1,500 hours of commercial hot-air ballooning and has captained luxury hotel barges—informs his elegantly crafted itineraries through the hidden pockets of Provence that, sadly, most travelers miss. Philip can unlock the Palace of the Popes at night and open seldom-seen areas of the Pont du Gard and the Arena of Nîmes. His truffle hunts end with a cooking lesson in a farmhouse kitchen, and his rustic-chic countryside picnics come with a table in a private garden under a spreading oak, and a farm-to-table menu created by master chef Alain Ducasse. His tours of Grasse, the perfume capital, take in not just the famous perfume houses but also the secret, timeless world of the distilleries, where huge copper vats slowly extract the perfumes from rose petals or jasmine flowers.
Prices start at $880 per day for two people. 

Contact Philip

Read reviews of Philip. Read Philip’s Insider’s Guide to Provence and the French Riviera. Then contact him to maximize your experience of France.

France Villa Vacations
Annie Flogaus, Just France
Annie focuses on only 200 or so handpicked, guaranteed-to-delight villas and apartments around the country. She and her team speak fluent French and personally know every one of the villa owners—which translates to special treatment for you. So comprehensive is their knowledge of each property and neighborhood that they can tell you which appliances are in each kitchen (French press or espresso machine, electric or gas stove) and precisely how long it takes to get to the nearest bakery. Annie herself knows the views from every bedroom and the best restaurants in every village. No matter where or what you rent–whether it’s a farmhouse in the Provençal countryside, a seaside villa on the Côte d’Azur, a chateau in the Loire Valley, a stone cottage in the Dordogne, or a pied-a-terre in Paris—Annie can arrange every last detail, including car rentals, in-house chefs, babysitters, tour guides, and train trips. 
Weekly rentals start at $3,000; most range from $6,000 to $30,000 in the high season, depending on number of bedrooms.

Contact Annie

Read reviews of Annie. Read her Insider’s Guide to France Villa Vacations. Then contact her to maximize your experience of France.

France: Paris Apartment Rentals
Madelyn Byrne Willems, Paris Perfect
Wishing you could live like a local in a charming flat in a top location? Madelyn will match you to the right neighborhood and apartment, then set you up with an itinerary, a driver to pick you up at the airport, expert guides if you like, and insider tips galore. Her hand-picked apartments are all in excellent condition and furnished with fine amenities such as high-thread-count linens, plush towels, modern kitchen appliances, heavenly beds, and a supply of drinks and snacks to tide you over until you can get to the grocery store. Unlike an à la carte listing site with thousands of rentals, her team knows its properties well and can answer questions about local transport, quality of beds, kind of coffee machine, whether guests can control heating, and so on. Each party is met by a greeter who gives a thorough orientation and leaves behind his or her phone number, along with a thick file containing all the information a guest could possibly need.
Weekly rentals start at $1,950 in low season (one-bedroom apartment suitable for 2 guests) and most range from $2,350 to $6,000 during the high season (for one to five bedrooms).

Contact Madelyn

Read reviews of Madelyn. Read her Insider’s Guides to London Vacation Rentals and Paris Apartment Rentals. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Paris.

Germany
Did you know that Germany has 20 castles you can sleep in?  A hop-on, hop-off rail pass that lets you explore the entire country as well as seven of its neighbors?  Two hundred long-distance cycling routes, many of them family-friendly?  A Bavarian “Beer and Castle” trail that is just one of more than 100 well-signposted and intriguingly themed scenic drives?  Add bargain-priced hotels and car rentals, and you can see why this is one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in Europe. And yet, even in Germany, hiring the right fixer can make sense—to ensure you end up in the most sumptuous of those 20 castles, for instance, or in the one that’s right for you, with the room with the best view.  How to find the Germany travel planner who’s best?  Contact Wendy.

Contact Wendy

 

Greece
Christos Stergiou, TrueGreece
After growing up in Athens and on the island of Patmos, Christos spent a decade in the United States, earning an MBA from Stanford Business School and working at a Boston consulting firm. He then returned home to found TrueGreece, a boutique travel company catering to those independent, luxury-loving travelers who want to see the country’s highlights and hidden treasures with minimal hassle and through the lens of a real insider. Besides booking chic island hotels, Christos can arrange week-long sailing trips and villa rentals. He receives rave reviews for his guides, especially the ones who will accompany you to the ruins in Athens and Delphi and breathe life into all those ancient stones. And then there’s the on-the-ground staff at TrueGreece to act as your personal concierge—round the clock, in case of emergency—and to help smooth over any last-minute wrinkles (those notoriously unreliable ferries, for one).
Trips start at $600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Christos

Read reviews of Christos. Read his Insider’s Guides to SantoriniAthens and Mykonos. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Greece.

 

Italy
Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers, Concierge in Umbria
Opera singers who divide their time between Italy and the United States, husband-and-wife team Brian and Maria Gabriella design imaginative itineraries throughout Italy that cater to a range of budgets—from moderate to high-end—and focus primarily on gastronomy, art, architecture, archaeology, and history. Maria Gabriella, who has a background in art history as well as opera, is an Ambassador of Italian Culture for Perugia’s Università per Stranieri. Brian, a former chef, worked at several New York restaurants before embarking on an international career as an operatic baritone, now an occasional side gig. Together with their team of charming and terrifically knowledgeable guides and drivers, Maria Gabriella and Brian give their clients an intimate experience no matter where they go in Italy, from Rome’s most iconic landmarks to the hidden-treasure hill towns of Tuscany.
Trips start at $800 per day for two travelers.

Contact Brian and Maria

Read reviews of Brian and Maria. Read their Insider’s Guides to VeniceFlorenceUmbria and Tuscany. Then contact them to maximize your experience of Italy.

Italy
Andrea Grisdale, IC Bellagio
Armed with decades of experience in Italy (she lives on Lake Como) and the vast list of contacts in her little black book, Andrea can open the doors that are closed to most people (not, alas, George Clooney’s) and satisfy most any request. She interviews travelers in depth to gain a thorough understanding of their travel fantasies, preferences, and pet peeves, and uses that knowledge to craft an itinerary that pairs you with the perfect hotels, activities, guides, and even drivers. A bilingual former guide herself, Andrea knows every time-saving trick for seeing the most famous monuments while also squeezing in the hidden gems. She and her team have the clout to pull strings and ask for favors at Italy’s best hotels, and they have a track record of coming to the rescue 24/7 should the need arise.
Trips start at $1,000 per day for two travelers.

Contact Andrea

Read reviews of Andrea. Read her Insider’s Guides to the Amalfi Coast and Italy’s Lakes Region. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Italy.

Italy: Sicily
Marcello Baglioni, Agave Travel Creative

Marcello spends half his time in Sicily, the other half in Los Angeles (where he was born to Italian immigrants). While running a school for Americans studying in Sicily, he found himself planning trips for the students’ visiting families—and thus Agave Travel Creative was born. His own fascination with Sicily derives from the island’s important historic location at the crossroads of numerous Mediterranean cultures (Roman, Arabic, Spanish, Norman, to name a few), all of which left their mark on the region’s unique food, wine, culture, and language. He excels at forging deep personal connections and can arrange a hike up Mt. Etna with a volcanologist, a market tour and cooking class with a chef, a visit to Greek ruins with an archaeologist, a private lunch at an herb farm, or a tour on a lovingly restored sailboat, all hosted by passionate locals whom Marcello considers family. From five-star palaces to rustic farm stays, he is so plugged into the hotel scene that he knows which rooms will accommodate a wheelchair or, in the small properties, a late sleeper.
Trips start at $900 per day for two travelers. 

Contact Marcello

 Read reviews of Marcello. Read his Insider’s Guide to Sicily. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Sicily.

Italy Villa Vacations
Mara Solomon, Homebase Abroad
Crafting one-of-a-kind villa vacations is Mara’s way of sharing, directly and personally, the insights she has gained from her long love affair with Italy. Preparation is her mantra, and there is no limit to the number of hours she’ll spend on the phone organizing your trip. For two decades she has been hand-picking the most authentic and magical homes in Italy, inspecting them seasonally, and strengthening her close relationships with the owners (she speaks fluent Italian, of course). Adept at helping large families and small groups, Mara will build you an itinerary based on a property matched to your group’s unique set of interests, preferences, and energy levels. The result is a carefully calibrated itinerary that eliminates nasty surprises and maximizes relaxation and engagement. Mara helps newcomers make the most of their experience and guides returning travelers to lesser-known points of interest and people embedded in local culture. All guests have the benefit of being brought into Mara’s personal circle of friends and colleagues: chefs, winemakers, artisans, drivers, farmers, guides, and the like—people she knows and whom she feels you will enjoy.
Weekly rentals start at $8,000 in low season.

Contact Mara

Read reviews of Mara. Read her Insider’s Guide to Italy Villa Vacations. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Italy.

Multi-Country Europe
So much to see, so little time. There’s a fine art to exploring Europe efficiently, hitting the iconic must-dos, bypassing the crowds and tourist traps, yet leaving plenty of time for undiscovered villages, picture-postcard hikes, and sumptuous meals in hidden-gem eateries. If only a savvy Europe expert could pull it all together for you, orchestrating a seamless itinerary across several languages, whisking you past the lines, placing you in charming rooms with panoramic views, pointing you to the humble bistro down the street that serves the best coq au vin around, getting you special access to landmarks, historians, curators, even royalty…. All of this is possible—though it comes at a premium. If you’re stumped as to which travel specialist best suits your trip goals, tell us what you’re looking for, and we’ll put you in the right hands.

Contact Wendy

Multi-Country Europe
Jill Taylor, Jet Set World Travel

After a study-abroad experience in France and a stint living in northern Italy, Jill found herself planning so many pan-European itineraries for family and friends that she decided to go into the travel business. Now living in Chicago and working at Jet Set World Travel, she arranges elaborate trips worldwide, but with a focus on Europe. When you prefer the comfort and convenience of a U.S.-based travel advisor—someone who will handle everything from airfare to travel insurance—to the narrow focus of an in-country destination specialist, Jill is the ticket. Contact her if it’s your first trip to Europe and you’re not sure where you want to go, or you’re trying to combine three or four European countries and can’t figure out the smartest logistics, or you’ve got multiple travel companions flying in from multiple cities and you need someone to mastermind the whole thing. Or, if what you really want is a group tour, she can point you to the best for your particular needs.
Trips start at $800 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jill

 Read reviews of Jill. Read her Insider’s Guide to the Italian and Swiss Alps. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Europe.

The Netherlands
Everybody knows Amsterdam is a strong dose of fun and culture, but to experience the best of the Netherlands, you need to dig further. Rotterdam, the capital’s hipper cousin, is a world leader in cutting-edge architecture and design, and Utrecht is home to the country’s largest collection of medieval art—just to give you two examples of the many other cities worth visiting. Then there’s all that gorgeous countryside, with its acres of tulips, timeless fishing villages, and miles of cycling paths. To make the most of your time in the Netherlands, you need someone who can design a smart itinerary and arrange the local encounters that make a trip really special. How to find the right Netherlands trip designer? Contact Wendy.

Contact Wendy

Portugal
This Mediterranean country has seen change in recent years—namely, an influx of new hotels, restaurants, and river ships on the Douro—yet much of the country’s allure is how, in so many ways, it hasn’t changed a bit. You don’t come for world-class museums or enormous palaces but, rather, for the tiny villages in the middle of nowhere—and the old lady there who will check to make sure you’re not lost. But Portugal’s surging popularity can mean crowds, lines, and a tourist infrastructure stretched thin. You’ll need a local fixer to score a room with a view in Lisbon’s hottest hotel, or enjoy crowd-free iconic landmarks after-hours when they are closed to the public, or (rather than being trapped on a boring cruise with 160 strangers) sail up the Douro on a small eco-yacht, sleeping in boutique waterfront wineries and seeing the most scenic parts of the river in just two days rather than seven. Tell us about the Portugal trip you have in mind, and we can connect you with the right expert for your specific goals.

Contact Wendy

Romania
If your word-association-game answer to Romania is “vampires,” it’s time you learned a lot more about the country. Did you know that it’s home to the largest area of contiguous forest in central Europe, filled with brown bears, lynx, and wolves?,  That it’s dotted with 13th-century UNESCO World Heritage-recognized villages? That Prince Charles fell so in love with the Romanian countryside that he bought two centuries-old properties there—both of which you can overnight at when HRH isn’t visiting to admire the wildflowers? Trouble is, even Romanians get lost finding their way around, and star ratings rarely tell you the whole story when it comes to the hotels. That’s why it’s so helpful to use a Romania travel specialist who will keep you on the right path, introduce you to the people who will make their country come to life, and point you to the accommodations that deliver the best experience (probably more having to do with garden-fresh meals than thousand-thread-count sheets).  Tell Wendy about the trip you have in mind, and she can connect you with the right Romania expert to make it happen. 

Contact Wendy

Russia
Greg Tepper, Exeter International

Soon after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, Greg established himself as a leader in high-end, hassle-free travel to Russia and Eastern Europe. Today he has offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Prague, and London. He and his team troubleshoot everything for you—they even pre-book all museum visits so you can skip the lines—and negotiate upgrades and other perks at the best hotels in the country. Thanks to his extensive connections on the ground and friends in high places, he can also get you inside Russia’s most exclusive venues that are off-limits to the general public. Think the Grand Kremlin Palace, where Russia’s president entertains visiting heads of state, and the Hermitage’s storerooms, which contain four-fifths of the museum’s possessions, including not-to-be-missed imperial carriages and Romanov treasures. 
Trips start at $600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Greg

 Read reviews of Greg. Read his Insider’s Guides to St. Petersburg and Moscow. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Russia.

Scandinavia
Scandinavia has a larger-than-life draw: the dramatic fjords of Norway, the impossible-to-get-into restaurants of Denmark, the 30,000 otherworldly islands of the Stockholm archipelago in Sweden. But with all that big food and big scenery comes big prices. Scandinavia is one of the most expensive places in the world. And surprisingly, that high price tag often doesn’t guarantee luxury. Five-star hotel standards in many areas are much lower than what you’d expect, and traveling from one region to the next can be a complicated puzzle that requires many modes of transportation. That’s why you need help to make the most of your time and money. There is no one perfect Scandinavia travel planner. But if you contact me, I can point you toward the person best suited to your particular needs.

Contact Wendy

Scandinavia and Iceland
Jan Sortland, Norwegian Adventures
From his home base in Oslo and a second office in Stockholm, Jan specializes in custom-tailored adventures into the lesser-known regions of Norway and beyond. His imaginative itineraries often involve seeing the Northern Lights or sampling the best Nordic cuisine, but he can also arrange activities you may not have known were possible, from sea kayaking around fjords to reindeer sledding to fishing in the Arctic Ocean to building your own snow cave—and sleeping in it.  In Iceland, he can have you join locals on traditional hunting trips, meet with experts in Icelandic Saga literature, and stay in private villas.  In Denmark, he can orchestrate a public audience with the queen; and in Sweden he can get travelers onboard the famous 17th-century ship the Vasa—an honor usually reserved for royalty and heads of state.  His expert team of drivers and guides go to great lengths to ensure you get a fulfilling and authentic experience. Jan was also included in Perrin’s People, Wendy’s award-winning list of top travel specialists, which was published annually in Condé Nast Traveler magazine from 2000 to 2013. 
Trips start at $1,600 per day for two travelers on a self-drive trip in Norway, Sweden, and/or Denmark (or $1,400 in Iceland).  Prices include accommodations, transportation, some private guiding and meals, all taxes and fees, and 24/7 emergency telephone service. Minimum booking requirement of $7,000.

Contact Jan

Read reviews of Jan. Read his Insider’s Guide to Norway. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Norway.

Spain and Portugal
Virginia Irurita, Made for Spain
Spanish-born Virginia Irurita left a decade-long career in banking in London and Madrid to found Made for Spain in 1999. By popular demand, she recently expanded her scope to include Portugal too—a natural fit, given that she speaks Portuñol (a mix of Spanish and Portuguese). She has a little black book thick with the names of local experts—museum curators, architects, chefs, flamenco dancers—eager to show you their little corners of the Iberian peninsula. She can guide you to the country that is best for your needs (Spain is more child-friendly, Portugal is less expensive) and mastermind trips to the islands of Mallorca and Ibiza too. Virginia has a particularly keen interest in wine and winemaking. So keen, in fact, that she bought herself a vineyard on the banks of the Duero River. Her bespoke itineraries are wide-ranging: A one-day cruise shore excursion, a month-long honeymoon, a corporate retreat in the wine country, a cultural tour for museum benefactors—all are within her purview.
Trips start at $700 in Portugal and $750 in Spain per day for two travelers. 

Contact Virginia

Read reviews of Virginia. Read her Insider’s Guides to MadridBarcelonaAndalusia, and The Algarve, Portugal. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Spain and Portugal.

Spain and Portugal
Mike Korn and Ally Lewing, Heritage Tours Private Travel
Mike and Ally have spent years collecting a unique Rolodex of local experts and specialists in a variety of fields, enabling them to offer you exclusive experiences: Imagine spending an afternoon with one of Portugal’s best-known chefs (you can shadow him as he prepares his multiple restaurants for evening service, or eat dinner in the kitchen while he works), or enjoying Seville’s festive Semana Santa (Holy Week) procession from a private balcony above the raucous crowds. Mike and Ally are based in New York City but travel to Spain and Portugal frequently to develop experiences with local fashionistas, architects, museum curators, and even nobility. They can open up the Alhambra when it’s closed to the public, or arrange lunch with a family that has been making vinho verde since the 14th century. Mike and Ally are also the right resource for travelers who want to add Morocco to a Spain or Portugal trip, since they have colleagues who are well-connected in Morocco and can work with them to arrange a logistically seamless trip combining the three countries.
Travel arrangements start at $575 per day for two travelers, with a 4-night minimum.

Contact Mike and Ally

Read reviews of Mike and Ally. Read their Insider’s Guides to LisbonPorto and the Douro River Valley and Seville and Andalusia. Then contact them to maximize your experience of Spain and Portugal.

Turkey
Karen Fedorko Sefer, Sea Song Tours
Karen has lived and worked in Istanbul for the past 17 years and has offices across Turkey. Her local connections—from museum directors to star restaurateurs to powerful hoteliers to the country’s culture ministry—enable her to gain all manner of special access. She can introduce you to shop owners who can show you their special wares not displayed to the public, and create one-of-a-kind experiences (private meal at Topkapi Palace, anyone?). When you’ve got limited time—and who doesn’t?—her intimate knowledge of the country helps you make the smartest use of it, and she is on the ground and on-call to answer questions and fulfill special requests. If you need a cruise shore excursion—say, to Ephesus—she’s the ticket; with her guides, you’ll steer clear of the cruise-ship crowds and see the hidden gems they don’t. If you would like to charter a gulet on the Turkish coast, she’s the expert. Karen was also included in “Perrin’s People,” Wendy’s award-winning list of top travel specialists, which was published annually in Condé Nast Traveler magazine from 2000 to 2013.
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers in Istanbul and $1,200 for two on the Aegean Coast.

Contact Karen

Read reviews of Karen. Read her Insider’s Guides to Istanbul and Turkey’s Aegean Coast. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Turkey.

Turkey
Earl Starkey, Sophisticated-Travel
Turkey has been Earl’s second home since he first ventured to Cappadocia twenty years ago. He opened Sophisticated-Travel in 2002 to offer travelers tailor-made luxury itineraries with a wider array of cultural and culinary experiences than were typically available at the time. He now lives half the year in Istanbul but is constantly criss-crossing the country to stay abreast of the latest hotel, restaurant, and gallery openings and to collect even more uniquely Turkish experiences that other travel firms don’t offer—say, a private cooking lesson in the home of a noted chef or access to a normally off-limits ancient ruin. Earl knows that a guide can make or break a trip, and he is known for handpicking only the savviest, all of them highly educated, personable, and accomplished in their own right.
Trips start at $600 per day for two travelers in Cappadocia and $800 for two in Istanbul.

Contact Earl

Read reviews of Earl. Read his Insider’s Guides to Istanbul and Cappadocia. Then contact him to maximize your experience of the U.S.

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Asia

Aman Summer Palace, Beijing.

Aman Summer Palace, Beijing.

Bali
Diane Embree, Michael’s Travel Centre/Bali Barong Tours
Diane has been visiting Bali annually since 1988 and knows every rice paddy, temple, and hotel. Her moderately priced to high-end itineraries typically combine beach time with sightseeing and, if you like, can also include Bali’s best hiking, snorkeling, river rafting, or other adventure activities. Diane’s greatest pleasure, though, comes from arranging for travelers to meet with locals—medicine men, artisans, rice farmers—and to participate in traditional Balinese ceremonies that most visitors can’t access on their own. Diane can help with other parts of Indonesia too—in case you’re looking to see Borneo’s orangutans or Komodo dragons, visit the Toraja ethnic group in Sulawesi, explore ancient relics at Lake Toba in Sumatra, or make a side trip to Borobudur on Java—as well as stopovers in Asian gateway cities en route to and from Bali.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Diane

Read reviews of Diane. Read her Insider’s Guide to Bali. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Bali.

Bhutan, Myanmar, and Nepal
Antonia Neubauer, Myths and Mountains
Founder of the award-winning travel company Myths and Mountains, Antonia “Toni” Neubauer has spent the past 30 years exploring Asia, focusing on the culture, crafts, religions, and natural environments of the places she visits, and forging and cementing close relationships with communities there. Her vast network of loyal friends and experts on the ground means you get a warm welcome as well as unique, meaningful experiences far from where other tourists go. Whether you want to plan a Burmese wedding, learn how to make a mandala or understand Bhutanese architecture, or spend time with a Nepali Mothers’ Group, you’re guaranteed an imaginative and immersive experience. Toni is dedicated to making a positive contribution to the countries in which Myths and Mountains operates; as of fall 2015, READ Global, the renowned nonprofit she founded, has built 79 libraries in Nepal, Bhutan, and India.
Trips to Nepal start at $350 per day for two travelers. Trips to Bhutan start at $750 per day for two travelers. Trips to Myanmar start at $840 per day for two travelers.

Contact Antonia

Read reviews of Antonia. Read her Insider’s Guides to Bhutan, Myanmar, and Nepal. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Bhutan, Myanmar, and Nepal.

 

China
Mei Zhang, WildChina
Sharing her homeland’s hidden gems has been Mei Zhang’s lifelong passion, interrupted only by the years she spent earning her Harvard MBA and working for McKinsey. No matter the occasion—family trip or 50th birthday celebration—Mei can filter the seemingly endless options for clients to craft the experience that’s just right for them. A Beijing resident who grew up in Yunnan province and has particular knowledge of Guizhou and Szechuan provinces too, she has close relationships with hotel and restaurant owners and makes sure that her clients get the red-carpet treatment. Her guides and drivers are the best in the business, opening the doors to authentic Chinese culture and steering travelers away from the crowds, the expected, and all things touristy.
Trips start at $800 per day for two travelers.

Contact Mei

Read reviews of Mei. Read her Insider’s Guides to Beijing, Yunnan Province, and China’s Big Cities and Small Villages. Then contact her to maximize your experience of China.

India
Sanjay Saxena, Destination Himalaya
The son of a brigadier general in the Indian Army, Sanjay was born in New Delhi and grew up living in numerous places throughout India. He began mountaineering and rock climbing in the high Himalayas at age 15, and since 1979 has led groups on trekking, climbing, touring, and safari trips not only in India but in Tibet, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan. In 1992 he and David Breashears co-led the first western descent of the Brahmaputra river—a 250-mile whitewater rafting trip that was filmed for the BBC series “Classic Adventures”—and in 2001 he led the first Western group to journey overland from Kunming to Lhasa along the “southern road. Committed to running trips that are ecologically responsible and culturally sensitive, Sanjay has been named an “Unsung Hero of Compassion” and recognized by the Dalai Lama for the community projects he has created in South Asia. Travelers benefit from his rare combination of deep insider knowledge and talent for creating unique, intellectually engaging itineraries to both traditional and remote destinations.
Trips start at $600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Sanjay

Read reviews of Sanjay. Read his Insider’s Guides to Agra and the Taj MahalDelhi and Secrets of India. Then contact him to maximize your experience of India.

India
Bertie and Victoria Dyer, India Beat
Bertie Dyer fell in love with India at age 12 and has spent as much time as possible there since. He and his wife, Victoria, lived for ten years in Jaipur, where they were married and had their first child. India Beat grew out of their desire to introduce visiting friends to the people and places they love in Rajasthan, and today the company specializes in unique trips tailored to individual interests—a type of travel experience that is rare in India, where most tours emphasize ticking off as many main sites as possible. Bertie’s areas of expertise include Moghul architecture, wildlife photography, and Indian history. Victoria’s passions include yoga, Indian cooking, and textile design—and her knowledge of boutiques and bazaars has made her Jaipur shop crawl one of India Beat’s most popular tours. Bertie and Victoria recently returned to England to have their second child, and they now spend their time traveling between their home in India and the UK. Their Jaipur office is run by a dedicated team of local employees who have been with the company from the beginning.
Trips start at $600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Bertie and Victoria

Read reviews of Bertie and Victoria. Read their Insider’s Guide to Rajasthan and Mumbai. Then contact them to maximize your experience of Rajasthan and Mumbai.

Japan
Scott Gilman, JapanQuest Journeys

After seven years living in Japan working for Goldman Sachs—and raising three children there—Scott launched JapanQuest Journeys to deliver the sorts of experiences that most travelers to the country find very hard to access. He has now spent decades cultivating local relationships, tapping knowledgeable guides, and uncovering unusual opportunities that unlock the mysteries of Japan for visitors of every age, from children fascinated by samurai swords and manga comics to romantic couples in pursuit of cherry blossoms and secluded hot springs. Operating from offices in both Washington, D.C., and Tokyo, he custom-tailors trips to your interests and can fill them with up-close and personal encounters with experts in pottery, textiles, kendo, taiko drumming, and more.
Trips start at $2,000 per day for two travelers.

Contact Scott

Read reviews of Scott. Read his Insider’s Guide to Classic Japan. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Japan.

Japan, the Philippines, and Asia’s Most Exotic Islands
Lorenzo Urra, Global Nomad
When your goal is to go well off the beaten path in Asia without sacrificing five-star creature comforts, Lorenzo’s your guy. Originally from the Philippines and based in Hong Kong, he flies 120,000 miles a year, scouting out Asia’s most unspoiled and unusual experiences; in the Philippines alone, he’s visited more than 400 of the country’s 7,107 islands. He has encyclopedic knowledge of Asia’s exotic islands, pristine beaches, authentic accommodations, and hot spots on the rise. He can charter a crewed luxury sailboat in which you can explore the remote Mergui Archipelago in Burma or the stellar scuba-diving sites of Indonesia’s Raja Ampat Islands. In the Philippines, his travelers can walk among spectacular rice terraces that have been tilled for two millennia, and later pull in nets and share moonshine with local fishermen. In Japan he makes the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route a plush experience, with luggage transfers between ryokans and a trekking guide/translator (a necessity in this remote but beautiful corner of the country). Nothing that Lorenzo arranges is canned, and he’s honest about when you need his services and when you don’t. He also has a curated portfolio of enchanting beachfront villas on islands in Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and beyond, as well as multi-bedroom homes near Japan’s premier ski areas.
Philippines trips start at $800 per day for two travelers; Indonesia trips start at $1,000 per day for two; Japan trips start at $1,600 per day for two.

Contact Lorenzo

Read reviews of Lorenzo. Read his Insider’s Guide to the Philippines and Off-the-Beaten Path Japan. Then contact him to maximize your experience of the Asian islands.

Maldives and Seychelles
Lindsey Wallace, Linara Travel
After discovering it was nearly impossible to find reliable, up-to-date travel intel about the Indian Ocean islands (Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius), Lindsey Wallace founded Linara Travel in 2003. He’s now an expert on each of those destinations and is especially adept at matching travelers to the island, hotel, and overwater bungalow—even butler, massage therapist, and dive instructor— that best suit their needs. He’s become an expert on the United Arab Emirates and Oman too (see Dubai and Abu Dhabi) and, with help from friends in high places, carves out exclusive rates and perks so you can live like a king in these otherwise pricey places. He visits these countries about six times a year, building and cementing the relationships that make all this possible.

Trips have a three-night minimum and start at $420 per day for two travelers in the Seychelles and $480 for two in the Maldives.

Contact Lindsey

Read reviews of Lindsey. Read his Insider’s Guides to the Maldives and Seychelles. Then contact him to maximize your experience of the Maldives and Seychelles.

Mongolia
Jalsa Urubshurow, Nomadic Expeditions
A Mongolian-American who grew up in New Jersey, Jalsa founded Nomadic Expeditions in the 1990s, using the proceeds of his successful construction business to bring tourism to a place—Outer Mongolia—that was once synonymous with the end of the earth. He was among the first to offer highly customized trips there, and also created one of the country’s original guide training programs. Jalsa doesn’t simply design itineraries that cross off sights on a checklist; he pairs travelers with experts—including historians, scientists, artists, and photographers—who give visitors a comprehensive understanding of the country’s history, culture, and traditions. Now splitting his time between Mongolia and the U.S., Jalsa has been an advisor to all seven of Mongolia’s prime ministers and two of its presidents, a role in which he champions sustainable, eco-friendly travel as a viable alternative to Mongolia’s mining-based economy.
Trips start at $800 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jalsa

Read reviews of Jalsa. Read his Insider’s Guide to Mongolia. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Mongolia.

Multi-Country Asia
Most people making the long haul to Asia hope to combine two or three (or more) countries in one trip. But the logistics can be complicated, and if you’re not careful you’ll end up spending more time waiting in airports and driving on bumpy dirt roads than doing the things you’ve traveled all that way to do—such as sampling treats from street vendors, exploring gold-leafed temples, getting under the skin of the region’s most vibrant cities. Good news: We know the savviest Asia travel specialists—those who can make all lines and crowds disappear, spare you the tourist traps and annoying guides, and save you countless other pitfalls. Not only can they sew a string of countries into a single seamless trip, but they can get you inside that impossible-to-get-into wat during morning prayers, or into that best little pho shop in Saigon that only the locals know about. Tell us about the trip you have in mind, and we can point you to the best travel specialist for it.

Contact Wendy

Sri Lanka
Miguel Cunat, Sri Lanka in Style
A Spaniard who has been living with his family in Sri Lanka for the past ten years, Miguel co-started his boutique travel company in 2005 to provide visitors with insightful, engaging experiences in his adopted homeland. He and his 22-person staff design itineraries based on the company philosophy of “traveling in style.” For Miguel that means getting off the beaten path without sacrificing comfort or charm, and meeting the colorful local characters who provide a real sense of place (authors, architects, even the Leopard Man). The goal is for you to return from your trip “feeling rested, relaxed and pampered, if that’s what you seek, but also fulfilled and stimulated.” Having watched Sri Lanka undergo so many changes in recent years—since the country’s civil war ended in 2009, there’s been tremendous economic growth and a steady rise in tourism—Miguel is deeply committed to conserving the island’s natural and archaeological treasures, which brings to bear in every recommendation he makes, from the hotels he chooses to the strategies he employs for keeping his clients far from the tour-bus crowd.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Miguel

Read reviews of Miguel. Read his Insider’s Guide to Sri Lanka. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Sri Lanka.

Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam
Andy Booth, ABOUTAsia Travel
An Oxford-trained physicist, Andy Booth traded London for Siem Reap nearly ten years ago, intending to improve Cambodia’s educational system; the best way to earn funds to do so, he wagered, was to dive into the country’s burgeoning tourism industry. Today, 100 percent of ABOUTAsia’s profits are plowed into local education, mainly through purchasing school supplies and paying the salaries of English teachers. Assisted by Ethan Crowley, an American raised in Northeast Cambodia (with the perfect Khmer to prove it), Andy excels at helping travelers connect with leading academics and friendly locals in Cambodia and Laos, while avoiding the tourist crowds. He’s even conducted surveys to measure minute-by-minute tourist flow around the Angkorian ruins, using the data to calculate the timing and routing that will make for the least-congested experience. When Andy recommends a dish in a restaurant, it’s because he ate there on Wednesday and it was superb—not because it won some award a year ago. He holds the post of British Honorary Consul and wrote the well-regarded Angkor Guidebook, a coffee-table-worthy tome. He can also arrange seamless travel throughout Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, as well as layovers in Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore.
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers.

Contact Andy

Read reviews of Andy. Read his Insider’s Guide to Ankgor Wat and Siem Reap without the crowds. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam
Sandy Ferguson, Asia Desk
Sandy was raised in Asia, attended high school in Bangkok, and in 1976 was one of the first guides to accompany travelers to the newly opened People’s Republic of China. He later returned to Thailand to open a tour company, establishing offices not only in Bangkok but in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia too. Now based in Atlanta, Sandy and his team craft tailor-made itineraries that cater to individual tastes and interests and make the most of your precious time. He knows what works best for travelers, and, just as important, what doesn’t. Asia Desk has a vast network of contacts in the hotel industry, translating into special treatment for his clients, and maintains complete control of every detail of a trip, right down to handpicking every guide—all dynamic locals whom Sandy considers family (some of them really are!). They are expert in—and passionate about—their destinations and turn what would otherwise be a great trip into a trip of a lifetime.
Trips start at $900 per day for two travelers, with a minimum booking requirement of $5,000 for land arrangements for two or more travelers.

Contact Sandy

Read reviews of Sandy. Read his Insider’s Guides to ThailandSoutheast Asia, and Bangkok. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam
Andrea Ross and April Cole, Journeys Within
During the ten years she lived in Cambodia, Andrea founded Journeys Within (as well as the nonprofit Journeys Within Our Community, which operates education and poverty relief initiatives in the region). Though now living stateside, she and colleague April have traveled extensively throughout Southeast Asia, and the company has offices in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar. Their network keeps them up-to-date on the newest can’t-miss accommodations, restaurants, and experiences, and their close relationships with the region’s hotels ensure that clients get the best rates and the best care, regardless of their travel budget; Andrea meets with each of her guides every two years to ensure that they offer the highest caliber of service. Andrea specializes in family travel, while April is the beach and island expert—and a master at crafting affordable yet extravagant honeymoons. Both women are committed to philanthropic travel, weaving volunteer work into many itineraries.
Trips start at $200 per day for two travelers.

Contact Andrea and April

Read reviews of Andrea and April. Read Andrea’s Insider’s Guides to Cambodia, Angkor WatVietnam and Laos. Then contact her and April to maximize your experience of Southeast Asia.

 

Uzbekistan and the Silk Road
Zulya Rajabova, Silk Road Treasure Tours
Zulya grew up in Uzbekistan (her hometown, Bukhara, is one of the legendary cities of the Silk Road trading route) and has lived in the U.S. since 2003, making her well suited to introduce foreigners to the stunning landscapes and ancient sites of Central Asia, including all five “Stans.” Her expertise with languages (in addition to Uzbeki and English, Zulya speaks German, Russian, and Farsi) set her on a path in tourism: She started out as an interpreter and guide for journalists, diplomats, and heads of state visiting Uzbekistan. Her personal contacts at museums, exhibition sites, and performance companies translate to exclusive access for her clients, and the encounters that she orchestrates with artisans and businesspeople (taking advantage of the region’s legendary hospitality) help bring alive aspects of the culture both ancient and contemporary. To make sure that every trip lives up to her savvy travelers’ standards, Zulya focuses on not just arranging for superlative guides and comfortable hotels and homestays, but also handles the potential logistical hurdles of travel to this region, such as border crossings and visa procurement.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Zulya

Read reviews of Zulya. Read her Insider’s Guide to Uzbekistan. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Uzbekistan and the Silk Road.

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Africa and the Middle East

elephants at water hole safari photo

Photo by Susan Portnoy, theinsatiabletraveler.com

Egypt
Jim Berkeley, Destinations & Adventures International
Jim, who lived in Cairo for five years while heading up Abercrombie & Kent’s regional office, jokes that he’s a frustrated Indiana Jones, which is why he’s spent much of his career scrambling around the ancient temples and pyramids of Egypt. In 1995 he founded Destinations & Adventures International (DAI), which plans trips worldwide, but Jim’s specialty is still his beloved Egypt. His customized itineraries combine luxury and adventure—he’ll have you sailing down the Nile one day, and lounging by the pool at the Old Cataract Hotel the next. One of his favorite spots is in the remote Siwa Oasis, where the mudbrick rooms of eco-lodge Adrere Amellal are lit by oil lamps and the nightly feasts would please Cleopatra herself. Most important, Jim and his team are meticulous about keeping their clients away from crowds (not to mention out of harm’s way). DAI’s all-knowing guides and drivers are armed with smartphones and keep one another constantly informed about any protests, so they can reroute as necessary.
Trips start at $650 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jim

Read reviews of Jim. Read his Insider’s Guide to Egypt. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Egypt.

Ethiopia
The birthplace of humankind. A frontier wilderness on the edge of a continent that is still fairly wild, but growing less so by the day. Ethiopia is not for the first-timer to Africa—there are few of the magnificent beasts here that are the typical safari prompt. But what you do find in Ethiopia will engage an intrepid explorer: the continent’s highest concentration of highlands, which create a landscape like no other; huge populations of unusual mammal and bird species, such as the bleeding-heart baboon and the white-tailed swallow; and the medieval Christian rock churches that are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The country is new to tourism, particularly of the high-end variety; if you’re not careful, you’ll have a better chance of finding bedbugs than a well-cooked meal. Few travel planners know Ethiopia in depth, but those who do understand where the pockets of excellence exist, how to get around most efficiently despite the poor roads, and how to interact with the local people respectfully—not as a kind of human zoo. Up for adventure? Let Wendy put you in touch with an expert who can open your eyes to a different side of Africa. 

Contact Wendy

Israel
Joe Yudin, Touring Israel
After graduating from Boston University, Joe moved to Israel and served as a paratrooper in the Israeli Defense Forces, then received a master’s degree in the Land of Israel Studies program at the University of Haifa. But he gained his travel chops by working as a guide. quickly becoming one of Israel’s best. Based on everything he learned about what sophisticated travelers to Israel really want, he then founded his own travel firm to deliver exactly that, hiring his fellow guides who are Israel’s most charismatic and in-the-know. Joe helps travelers understand the country’s complicated politics and history by introducing them to locals from varied backgrounds, including Muslim and Jewish journalists, famous chefs, local graffiti artists, even an expert on the Tel Aviv fashion scene. He can arrange all manner of special-access experiences (our favorite is the chance to take part in the excavation of 5,000-year-old ruins), as well as side trips to Jordan’s iconic sites, such as Petra and Wadi Rum. His trips might cost more than some competitors’, but that’s because his guides are the most in-demand, often with advanced degrees, and because when you book a guide or vehicle with Joe, you have them for the entire day—no nickel-and-diming for overtime or extra mileage.  (Beware Israel’s many unlicensed guides driving unlicensed, uninsured vehicles—which is not just illegal but unsafe.) For travelers skittish about traveling in the region, Joe and his team are on hand 24/7 to field questions and make any necessary last-minute changes to travel plans.
Prices start at $400 for a private guided walking tour. Trips that include full-time use of a private vehicle and special-access guide start at $750 per day for two travelers; accommodations add an additional $200 or more per night.

Contact Joe

Read reviews of Joe. Read his Insider’s Guides to Jerusalem and Israel. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Israel.

Jordan
Just 70 years old, Jordan is one of the world’s youngest countries but holds some of its most ancient relics of civilization, including the spectacular Nabatean ruins at Petra, as well as fantastic natural landscapes like the Dead Sea and the red desert of Wadi Rum, made famous in the west through Lawrence of Arabia. Jordan is also a small pocket of relative calm in a region thick with strife. Sure, it’s possible to land in Amman, rent a car, and drive yourself around the country—but without the right travel planner to guide you, you likely won’t get to share a tent with Bedouins, discover the secret to seeing Petra without the crowds, or discuss contemporary Jordanian life with the country’s most experienced guides. Wendy can point you to just the expert to make your dream trip to Jordan a reality.

Contact Wendy

Morocco
It was just a handful of years ago that Morocco shot up the travel charts, becoming the destination of the moment. Now it’s in Phase Two of that trajectory: still an exotic locale, but one with a direct flight from the U.S., over-the-top hotels that far exceed a luxury traveler’s standards, and ancient cities that have undergone rapid transformations into cosmopolitan metropolises. That’s not to say that travel in Morocco is easily D.I.Y.-ed, though. Logistics are exceedingly tricky:  Domestic air routes are limited, the Sahara isn’t a place you navigate by yourself, and trying to choose among all the stylish riads that have sprung up of late can be dizzying. The right travel specialist can make your sightseeing exponentially more efficient (while still allowing time for you to lose yourself in the medina, if that’s what you like), lead you to the most colorful secret souks and boutiques, and introduce you to traditional local families in the countryside. Tell us about the trip you have in mind, and we’ll suggest the right travel fixer for your Moroccan adventure.

Contact Wendy

United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi and Dubai)
Lindsey Wallace, Linara Travel
A place like the U.A.E. can be tough for a traveler to grasp and penetrate—but not if you’ve got Lindsey pulling strings for you. He founded Linara Travel in 2003, after discovering it was nearly impossible to find reliable, up-to-date travel intel about this swath of the world—including the Indian Ocean islands (see his Insider’s Guides to the Maldives and Seychelles). Lindsey’s now an expert on these destinations and returns six times a year to negotiate preferred rates and access that nobody else gets. He can arrange entry into Dubai’s exclusive clubs, unusual desert adventures and safaris, and unique experiences that enable you to live out your Lawrence of Arabia fantasies without putting too big a dent in your wallet.
Trips have a three-night minimum and start at $350 per day for two travelers in Abu Dhabi and $400 for two in Dubai.

Contact Lindsey

Read reviews of Lindsey. Read his Insider’s Guide to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Then contact him to maximize your experience of the United Arab Emirates.

Safaris: East Africa
Linda Friedman, Custom Safaris
Based in Maryland, and with an office in Kenya, Linda has been on more than 100 safaris and travels to Africa four times a year (she even speaks Swahili). Whether you choose to track gorillas in Rwanda or follow the annual Great Migration in the Masai Mara or the Serengeti, Linda will make sure that you optimize your time and resources. She knows which over-the-top camps have antiques and rainfall showers, which tents have the best views, even the names of the tent stewards who see to guests’ needs. Her particular passion is the nomadic traditions of the Maasai; she has been interviewing Maasai elders for more than ten years, and loves to arrange authentic cultural interactions. Each year, a portion of Custom Safaris’ profit is allocated to educational scholarships for students in East Africa.
Trips start at $1,500 per day for two travelers in East Africa and $2,000 for two in Rwanda and Uganda (not including the gorilla permit, which costs $1,500 per person in Rwanda and $600 per person in Uganda).

Contact Linda

Read reviews of Linda. Read her Insider’s Guides to The Great Migration in Kenya & Tanzania and Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda and Uganda. Then contact her to maximize your experience of East Africa.

Safaris: East Africa and South Africa
Nina Wennersten and Dan Saperstein, Hippo Creek Safaris
As a young girl growing up in the Bronx, Nina Wennersten spent as much time as she could at the nearby zoo dreaming of the day she would travel to Africa. Her dream became a reality nearly forty years ago, and she founded Hippo Creek Safaris not long thereafter. Today, Nina is as passionate about Africa as she was at the beginning, and her love of the continent is shared by her son and business partner, Dan Saperstein. The two know that most travelers will only take one safari during their lives and they work tirelessly, drawing on their decades of knowledge and vast network of connections, to ensure that each trip really is the trip of a lifetime. They are always on call and will do whatever is required to make sure that their clients return home having had an unforgettable safari.
Trips start at $1,400 per day for two travelers in East Africa and $1,600 for two in South Africa.

Contact Nina and Dan

Read reviews of Nina and Dan. Read their Insider’s Guides to South Africa Safaris and East Africa Safaris. Then contact them to maximize your experience of East Africa and South Africa.

Safaris: Southern Africa
Cherri Briggs, Explore
Cherri, who has homes in both Botswana and Zambia—where she knows everyone who’s anyone, including all the government VIPs —has spent the past 25 years creating unique African travel experiences that include canoeing the Zambezi River, running with zebra and giraffe on horseback across the Okavango Delta, and exploring remote corners of Africa including Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Sudan. She books directly with service providers, cutting out middlemen to ensure that her clients get the best value and the smartest selection of lodges and camps. Cherri has worked in conservation for decades, has served on the boards of African conservation organizations, and works only with lodges that follow the best sustainability practices and support local communities. In 2013 she was appointed Honorary Consul to the USA by the Government of Zambia, and in 2014 she became the first non-citizen to be appointed to the Botswana Tourism Organization.
Travel arrangements start at $800 per day for two travelers.

Contact Cherri

Read reviews of Cherri. Read her Insider’s Guides to Namibia Adventures, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Then contact her to maximize your experience of African safaris.

Safaris: Southern Africa
Julian Harrison, Premier Tours
Fluent in Afrikaans and Zulu, Julian was born and raised in South Africa, where he spent the early part of his career establishing his safari bona fides by working as a ranger in KwaZulu-Natal and co-hosting a weekly radio program about wildlife conservation. Later, he co-authored Fodor’s African Safari, giving him the chance to show off his extensive knowledge of every park, lodge, and safari camp in southern Africa. He knows exactly where to go—and when to go—to make the most of your time and money, and takes great pleasure in introducing his clients to the lesser-known corners of the continent, from the remote reaches of the Namibia-Angola border (home to one of his favorite camps) to the wilds of the Congo rain forest (“The Jungle Book come to life,” as he calls it).
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers in South Africa and $950 for two in Botswana. To experience true Botswana luxury, expect to spend at least $1,600 per day for two travelers.

Contact Julian

Read reviews of Julian. Read his Insider’s Guides to Botswana’s Small Safari Camps and Cape Town and South Africa’s Winelands. Then contact him to maximize your experience of African safaris.

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Australia and Pacific

Sydney Opera House. Photo courtesy Tourism Australia.

Sydney Opera House. Photo courtesy Tourism Australia.

Australia
Australia feels deceptively familiar but holds a wealth of surprises: The wildlife bounces. The landscape ranges from sere red desert to lush rainforest (and just about everything in between). And while we may share a common language, Australians hold a distinctly different, and fascinating, view of the world. But Australia is hardly an up-and-comer when it comes to tourism—people have been seeking out its fabled beaches, outback, and wine for decades—so there are traps aplenty. And even two weeks isn’t enough to cover the entirety of the country. A first-rate trip designer can help you focus in on the least crowded destinations and activities that align with your interests, and the most efficient and fun ways to cover the distances (often considerable) between them. Tell us what facets of Australia interest you most—and whether or not you’re looking for an awesome discount on first- or business-class airfare—and we’ll connect you with the right expert.

Contact Wendy

Australia
Stuart Rigg, Southern Crossings

Stuart, a native Brit based in Sydney, plans tailor-made travel to Australia, covering the length and breadth of the continent. He has personally tested nearly every property, heli-tour, yacht charter, and waterfront restaurant that he recommends. Stuart has the pull to arrange access to private homes, golf courses, and art collections, but his itineraries aren’t just for high flyers. He can work with a range of budgets, offering careful guidance on everything from self-drive itineraries through the Margaret River wine region to sailing trips around the Whitsundays. As for the Great Barrier Reef, Stuart has failsafe strategies for steering clear of the masses, and he knows exactly which island properties are best for hyperactive families, spa-loving hedonists, and Robinson Crusoe fantasists. He does not arrange airline travel to Australia, so if you’re looking for a complete package including airfare, see “Contact Wendy,” above.  
Trips start at $560 per day for two travelers.

Contact Stuart

Read reviews of Stuart. Read his Insider’s Guides to Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Australia.

Fiji and Papua New Guinea
Lynette Wilson, Destination World
Lynette has been traveling to Fiji for more than 35 years; six years ago, she moved there for good (which means she’ll cheerfully answer your phone calls at 3:00 a.m. her time). As a resident, she knows how to add all sorts of local color to your trip, as well as which resorts, small-ship cruises, or private villas will best suit your wishes—and she loves to pair old-fashioned beachside R&R with scuba diving and snorkeling, river rafting, mountain biking, surfing, and other adventures. She also arranges trips to her native Australia, plus New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers in Fiji and $1,000 for two in Papua New Guinea. 

Contact Lynette

Read reviews of Lynette. Read her Insider’s Guides to Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

French Polynesia (Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea) and the Cook Islands
Kleon Howe, The Art of Travel 
When Kleon first sailed to French Polynesia more than thirty years ago, as part of an 11-year circumnavigation of the globe, he fell in love with the island’s people and their culture. He goes back several times a year—both to the more famous islands that attract first-timers and the lesser-known gems for his intrepid repeat clients—each time bolstering his vast array of contacts and experiences. Kleon sees each trip as a puzzle, with the traveler’s desires and interests as the pieces and his broad knowledge of the region as the blueprint to fit them together. Since he books directly with companies in Tahiti—leaving out the U.S.-based wholesalers—his prices are competitive, and his clients get free services and amenities at virtually every hotel. As an experienced sailor and diver, Kleon knows the best locations and outfitters for those activities too.
Trips start at $940 per couple per day.

Contact Kleon

Read reviews of Kleon. Read his Insider’s Guide to Bora Bora, Tahiti and French Polynesia. Then contact him to maximize your experience of French Polynesia and the Cook Islands.

New Zealand
Jean-Michel Jefferson, Ahipara
After a career with Price Waterhouse that spanned nearly a decade and ultimately took him to Moscow, Jean-Michel Jefferson and his wife, Karen, moved to her native New Zealand 13 years ago to start their family. They founded Ahipara shortly thereafter, to cater to travelers who want to “go further, deeper, and see things others do not see.” Following in-depth consultations with clients to discuss their timeframes, budgets, objectives and interests, Jean-Michel draws on his encyclopedic knowledge of New Zealand and his network of hundreds of guides, hoteliers, restaurateurs, private pilots, ship captains, and others to create itineraries that not only exceed expectations but leave clients wanting to come back for more. He can work within most travelers’ budgets and prides himself on being able to modify an itinerary on the fly to work around uncooperative weather conditions or to satisfy a traveler’s desire to add an activity or destination or to slow down the pace. If you’d like to incorporate Australia into your trip, he can easily do so, as he works with excellent partners in Australia. 
Trips start at $1,000 per day for two travelers and generally include accommodations, special-access guides, private vehicles, special meals, and unique experiences.

Contact Jean-Michel

Read reviews of Jean-Michel. Read his Insider’s Guides to Active New Zealand and Queenstown. Then contact him to maximize your experience of New Zealand.

New Zealand
Donna Thomas, New Zealand Travel Inc.
Donna loves New Zealand with a passion and works with travelers to create trips that are tailored to their individual interests and preferences. In the 35 years she has been sending travelers to New Zealand, she has never replicated an itinerary. She has nurtured such close relationships with the country’s hoteliers that they treat her clients like family, offering extra attention, upgrades, and other perks. She arms all of her travelers with an annotated atlas before they embark on their trips—and marks their driving route to show precisely where to stop en route to, say, enjoy a gorgeous vista, try the country’s best fish ‘n’ chips, taste artisanal cheeses, or get gasoline. In addition to Donna and her daughter and business partner Kori, a concierge and golf concierge are on call to answer questions, troubleshoot, and provide everything you need to have a flawless trip.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Donna

Read reviews of Donna. Read her Insider’s Guides to Affordable New Zealand and Bay of Islands. Then contact her to maximize your experience of New Zealand.

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Cruises

The Star Breeze

The Star Breeze. Photo courtesy Windstar Cruises.

European Canal Barge Trips
Ellen Sack, Barge Lady Cruises

Known as The Barge Lady, Ellen has been a broker of European barge cruises for almost thirty years; she currently represents more than fifty vessels that ply the canals and smaller rivers of France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Holland, and Germany. She knows each of these barges and waterways down to the smallest details—the crew, the cuisine, the sightseeing excursions—and is honest about the pros and cons of every itinerary. Her website is full of useful information, including sample menus and Ellen’s own photos from her trips. The warm welcome that her travelers receive onboard is testament to her personal relationships with all the vessels’ owners. Overseeing these travelers’ trips from beginning to end, Ellen also books city hotels and train tickets. For multigenerational and other large groups, Ellen can arrange a barge charter, with activities customized to individual interests.
Trips start at $675 per person per day (based on double occupancy).

Contact Ellen

Read reviews of Ellen. Read her Insider’s Guide to European Canal Barge Cruises. Then contact her to maximize your experience of European canal barge trips.

Expedition Cruises
Ashton Palmer, ExpeditionTrips
Infectiously enthusiastic about small-ship cruising, Ashton Palmer spent nearly a decade as an expedition leader, guide, naturalist, conservationist, Zodiac driver, avid bird-watcher, and photographer in the last great wild places: the Arctic, Antarctica, the Amazon, and the South Pacific. And these are not just fleeting trips: He has traveled to Antarctica more than 50 times and spent a collective of three months in the Arctic. In 1999, Ashton founded Expedition Trips in Seattle, where he and his 16-person staff work tirelessly on matching travelers with the right small-ship expedition trips everywhere from the Galapagos to Papua New Guinea to the Russian Far East, and of course, the two poles. Ashton provides unbiased guidance on every line and every ship. He’ll be the first to tell you when a two-week trip to the Arctic may not be your cup of tea, and when a specific ship or cabin just isn’t worth the extra expense. And because of his relationships with the top cruise lines and tour operators, Ashton often secures preferred rates or other perks (such as shipboard credits or a bottle of wine). He’s also a big proponent of independent exploration and will give you all the tools to help you find your own way whenever possible.
Trips start at $650 per person per day (based on double occupancy).

Contact Ashton

Read reviews of Ashton. Read his Insider’s Guides to Antarctica Cruises,  Arctic Cruises, and Small-Ship Alaska Cruises. Then contact him to maximize your experience of small-ship expedition cruises.

Large and Small Higher-End Ships
Mary Jean Tully, Cruise Professionals by Tully Luxury Travel
Mary Jean sends an enormous amount of business to high-end cruise lines—Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, Oceania, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Silversea, and Windstar among them—and thus is able to secure the best cabins (often as an upgrade) and procure generous onboard credits for her clients. She has plenty of pull with, and access to deals at, five-star hotels too, which comes in handy when she’s making pre-and post-cruise land arrangements. She has a stable of top tour guides in every port of call and will offer candid advice on where to save and where to splurge on shore excursions; hers often come in cheaper than the cruise lines’ offerings. When she’s offline in Africa—she is seriously committed to wildlife preservation—or sailing on the coolest new ships in remotest Asia, ask to speak with her trusted deputy Cheri Port.
Trips start at $250 per person per day (based on double occupancy).

Contact Mary Jean

Read reviews of Mary Jean. Read her Insider’s Guides to Asia Cruises and Africa Cruises. Then contact her to maximize your cruise experience.

Large, Affordable Ships and River Cruises
Tom Baker, Cruise Center

Tom Baker has sailed on more than 250 ships in over 50 years. From Alaska to French Polynesia to the Panama Canal, from the Douro to the Rhine to the Danube, if an ocean or river ship docks there, chances are he’s been—more than once!  First Tom helps each traveler pinpoint the right ship, cabin, and itinerary (his encyclopedic knowledge of the pros and cons of different cabin types on different vessels will astound you). Then he advises on which private guides, group shore excursions, and flights will best suit your needs.  He has particular clout with river lines AmaWaterways, Amadeus, Scenic, Tauck River, Crystal River Cruises, Uniworld, and Viking, and with ocean lines Celebrity, Crystal, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Oceania, Royal Caribbean, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, and Windstar. Tom was also included in Perrin’s People, Wendy’s award-winning list of top travel specialists, which was published annually in Condé Nast Traveler magazine from 2000 to 2013.
Cruises start at $150 per person per day.

Contact Tom

Read reviews of Tom. Read his Insider’s Guides to Alaska Cruises and Mediterranean Cruises. Then contact him to maximize your cruise experience.

 

Luxury Small Ships
Leslie Fambrini, Personalized Travel Consultants
A 30-year veteran of the cruise industry—she started out working for Royal Viking Cruise Line—Leslie has seen most corners of the world while aboard more than 125 (and counting) ocean and river sailings. She personally matches each of her discerning clients to the right ship, cabin, and shore excursions—the latter often private tours that involve special access, such as a photo op with Pope Francis. The volume of business she does with deluxe lines such as Crystal, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, Sea Dream, and Cunard means that she has contacts who can “pull a magic rabbit out of a hat” just for her travelers.
Trips start at $700 per person per day (based on double occupancy).

Contact Leslie

Read reviews of Leslie. Read her Insider’s Guide to European Luxury Cruises. Then contact her to maximize your experience of luxury cruises.

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Villa Vacations and Rentals

Villa di Torno, Lake Como

Dining outdoors at Villa di Torno, Lake Como. Photo courtesy Homebase Abroad.

Cabo Villa Vacations
Julie Byrd, CaboVillas.com
Julie Byrd is convinced that Los Cabos, at the tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, scores a traveler’s hat trick: stunning natural beauty, wide-ranging daytime activities and nightlife, and genuinely hospitable locals. Byrd’s portfolio of properties includes a range of more than 100 luxurious villas and condos suitable for families, couples, and party-hearty groups of friends. Her frequent trips to Cabo mean that she has deep roots and intimate connections there—you might even think she lived there, given all the Cabo intel in her Twitter feed (she actually lives in Santa Cruz, California).  Byrd and her Cabo-based concierge team are available 24/7 during every client’s trip. In addition to villa rentals, they can arrange fishing and yacht charters, ground transportation, destination weddings and other celebrations, and guided tours. A foodie at heart, Byrd has strong opinions on everything from locals-mostly taquerias to fine dining. (For a firsthand account of renting a house through Cabo Villas, read How to Find the Perfect Vacation Rental.) 
Weekly rentals start at $350 per night in low season (July through September).

Contact Julie

Read reviews of Julie. Read her Insider’s Guide to Los Cabos Villa Vacations and Los Cabos Beach Vacations. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Cabo.

France Villa Vacations
Annie Flogaus, Just France
Annie has owned Just France for ten years, but has intentionally kept the company small, focusing only on 200 or so handpicked, guaranteed-to-delight villas and apartments around the country. She and her team all speak fluent French and personally know every one of the villa owners. So comprehensive is their knowledge of each property and neighborhood that they can tell you which appliances are in each kitchen (French press or espresso machine, electric or gas stove) and precisely how long it takes to get to the nearest bakery. Annie herself knows the views from every bedroom and the best restaurants in every village. No matter where or what you rent–whether it’s a farmhouse in the Provençal countryside, a seaside villa on the Côte d’Azur, a chateau in the Loire Valley, a stone cottage in the Dordogne, or a pied-a-terre in Paris—Annie can arrange every last detail, including car rentals, in-house chefs, babysitters, tour guides, and train trips. 
Weekly rentals start at $3,000; most range from $6,000 to $30,000 in the high season.

Contact Annie

Read reviews of Annie. Read her Insider’s Guide to France Villa Vacations. Then contact her to maximize your experience of France.

Italy Villa Vacations
Mara Solomon, Homebase Abroad
Crafting one-of-a-kind villa vacations is Mara Solomon’s way of sharing, directly and personally, the insights she has gained from her long love affair with Italy. Preparation is her mantra, and there is no limit to the number of hours she’ll spend on the phone organizing your trip. For two decades she has been hand-picking the most authentic and magical homes in Italy, inspecting them seasonally, and strengthening her close relationships with the owners (she speaks fluent Italian, of course). Adept at helping large families and small groups, Mara will build you an itinerary based on a property matched to your group’s unique set of interests, preferences, and energy levels. The result is a carefully calibrated itinerary that eliminates nasty surprises and maximizes relaxation and engagement. Mara helps newcomers make the most of their experience and guides returning travelers to lesser-known points of interest and people embedded in local culture. All guests have the benefit of being brought into Mara’s personal circle of friends and colleagues: chefs, winemakers, artisans, drivers, farmers, guides, and the like—people she knows and whom she feels you will enjoy.
Weekly rentals start at $8,000 in low season.

Contact Mara

Read reviews of Mara. Read her Insider’s Guide to Italy Villa Vacations. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Italy.

St. Barts Villa Vacations
Peg Walsh, St. Barth Properties
Peg Walsh, who founded St. Barth Properties in 1989, spends half the year (December through May) on St. Barts and the other half on Cape Cod and at her company’s Boston-area office. Since St. Barth Properties represents villas on only this one small island, everyone on the team knows the island and inventory intimately. The company’s portfolio includes nearly 200 properties that range from beachy-casual bungalows to chic hillside homes and Architectural Digest-worthy estates. Peg re-inspects them all regularly to ensure they meet her strict standards, so she has an encyclopedic knowledge of each house’s features and amenities: which have heated pools, athlete-worthy gyms, the best wintertime sunset views. Every client also gets Peg’s ten pages of Helpful Hints, advising on all aspects of a St. Barth vacation—from warning people about taking the ferry from Sint Maarten (rough seas) to tipping guidelines—and outlining special perks at certain restaurants and on some excursions. When she’s on St. Barts, Peg hosts a weekly cocktail party for clients at one of the island’s hottest beachfront bistros.
Weekly villa rentals start at $1,670 in low season.

Contact Peg

Read reviews of Peg. Read her Insider’s Guide to St. Barts Villa Vacations. Then contact her to maximize your experience of St. Barts.

 

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Adventure Travel

Diving
Meg Austin, Meg2bookLLC
Meg is an avid scuba diver who crisscrosses the globe scouting out new dive destinations. She’s logged more than 500 dives, a third of them in the Caribbean and Hawaii. She also knows the ins and outs of the luxury beach resorts at dive destinations everywhere and is fastidious about choosing the property that will suit your skill level and interests. If you want to spend as much time lounging or sightseeing as you do diving, for example, she’ll steer you toward a property that has as much to offer above sea level as below. She enjoys arranging family trips and knows which dive spots are best for kids of different ages and abilities.
Trips start at $1,000 per day for two travelers.

Please Note: Meg is currently traveling and unavailable.

Contact Meg

Read reviews of Meg. Read her Insider’s Guide to Diving in the Caribbean and the Bahamas. Then contact her to maximize your experience of cultural city tours.

Rafting Trips
Mindy Gleason, O.A.R.S.
Mindy has rafted just about every river in the American West—not to mention waterways as far-flung as Chile and Morocco—with stretches that vary from gentle floats to Class V rapids*, and from the lush Rogue River in Oregon to the arid, red-rock canyons of the southwest. Armed with that first-hand knowledge, she works hard to arrange the right experience for every traveler. Trip options range in length from a few hours to a few weeks, but all use top-notch equipment (including inflatable kayaks and stand-up paddleboards on many rivers), highly experienced guides, and local and organic food whenever possible. Most offerings are group departures (some exclusively for families, adults, or solo travelers), but in many cases Mindy can arrange private trips as well. Most of all, she delights in introducing travelers to some of the last places on earth where you can truly disconnect.
Trips start at $500 per day for two travelers.

Contact Mindy

Read reviews of Mindy. Read her Insider’s Guide to River Rafting in the American West. Then contact her to maximize your experience of river rafting.

 

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*While these Trusted Travel Experts are road-tested and well-respected, and I have known them for years, I don’t make any representation as to their financial stability or the suitability of their arrangements. I am connecting travelers with travel planners, and can help during the travel-planning process, but I cannot be held responsible or accept any liability for what happens after that. As always, to protect yourself, pay with a credit card and buy third-party travel insurance.

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