Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

The 2018 WOW List: Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts

Wendy Perrin | May 10, 2018

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 status, and unbeatable value. You get these five benefits.  If you don’t use the Trip Request form, I can’t monitor your trip, nor can you expect special treatment, nor will your trip count toward a WOW Moment.

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 and Yacht Charters / Adventure Travel (Biking, Diving, Rafting)

 


United States

Great American Road Trips
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.

Ask 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. No activities-only requests, please. 

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 founded Context Travel in 2003, and today his company offers cultural walks in dozens of cities worldwide. Each tour is designed and led by a scholar or expert—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. NOTE: Unlike others on The WOW List, Paul and his team do not arrange full-service multi-day trips; they book half-day and day tours only.  When you submit your trip request via WendyPerrin.com, Paul’s team will connect you with the right Context regional expert for your trip, so you can get personalized answers and custom tour recommendations.
Two-hour tours start at $85 per person; Paul does not book accommodations or transportation.

Contact Paul’s Team

Read reviews of Paul and his team. Read his Insider’s Guides to New York City and Washington, D.C. Then contact them 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 the right travel fixer can 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 us what you’re looking for and we can recommend the right specialist for your trip goals. 

Ask Wendy

Disney and Orlando
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. Michelle, by contrast, designs 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. She continuously checks all rates to make sure you pay the lowest possible prices, even if a discount appears after you’ve booked—and she maximizes your time at the parks and minimizes hassle by arranging all expedited passes as soon as they’re available (which Disney’s agents won’t do). Whether your plans involve Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Adventures by Disney, Universal Orlando, Aulani (the Disney resort in Hawaii), or Disney Cruise Line, she’s 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 Michelle

Read reviews of Michelle. Read her Insider’s Guide to Disney World, Orlando. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Disney.

Hawaii and California
Jay and Dani Johnson,  Coastline Travel Advisors
Jay spends six weeks a year in Hawaii, escorting groups of Silicon Valley execs as well as vacationing with his wife Dani—who’s also his right hand in the office—and their teenaged daughters. Their agency sends so many travelers to Hawaii that it has significant clout with the five-star resorts—which translates into perks for his travelers. They can arrange anything from multi-generational family reunions to pull-out-all-the-stops honeymoons. Living in Los Angeles and with offices throughout California, they also orchestrate out-of-the-box itineraries in their own backyard.  They 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 and Dani

Read reviews of Jay and Dani. Read their Insider’s Guides to Maui,  Oahu and the Big Island. Then contact them 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. 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, Revealed America
A lifelong believer in the transformative power of nature, Marty is 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, he has spent years exploring these wilderness areas, identifying the most experienced guides (some PhDs), 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. He loves to arrange trips that get people just slightly out of their comfort zone, always including activities adjusted to each traveler’s ability level, whether that’s a gentle float or Class IV whitewater, an easy walk or a punishing hike. He also specializes in outdoor-focused trips to California, from redwoods to beach to Sierras. Most of his 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, he can book chartered planes to whisk groups from park to park. He 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

Read reviews of Marty. Read his Insider’s Guides to Grand Canyon Like You’ve Never Seen It and Bryce, Zion, Arches: Utah’s National Parks. Then contact him 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, and slurped the oysters 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

beach of the Jamaica Inn, caribbean islands

The beach at the Jamaica Inn. Photo: Lindsey Epperly

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 can save 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.
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 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 can be booked for as few as two travelers. All-inclusive prices start at $3,900 per person, depending on the number of travelers, for four nights and include 5-star accommodations; a full-time guide and driver; all activities; museum fees; and daily breakfast. 

Contact David

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

Cuba
Jim Berkeley, Destinations and Adventures International
Jim has rooms blocked at two of Havana’s top hotels—the Parque Central and the Meliá Cohiba—and the clout to get you in even when your travel dates don’t align with his allotted inventory. (He won’t arrange villa rentals because the quality is not controllable.) He and his wife, a former editor at Bon Appetit, are working on a TV show about Cuba’s paladares (privately owned restaurants), so he’s got special access at many and knows which serve the freshest Cuban fish stew and the tastiest suckling pig tacos. And, after nine trips to Cuba, he has the contacts to get you the best seats in the house at the Tropicana and the National Ballet. He can also arrange private shore excursions of Havana, from the iconic (a ride along the Malecon in a classic Chevy or Studebaker) to the unusual (a visit to the city’s little-known Chinatown or the private studio of a well-known artist).
Trips can be booked for as few as two travelers. All-inclusive prices start at $4,000 per person, based on a group of 4 to 6, for four nights and include 5-star accommodations, all activities with a full-time vehicle and top guide, and the best paladar lunches and dinners.

Contact Jim

Read reviews of Jim. 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 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.

Yacht Charters
Picture this: sparkling seas, the waves lapping at your boat, a captain and crew who know every hidden cove along your route, quaint villages to explore by day, fabulously fresh seafood—prepared by your private chef—to enjoy at night…. All that can be yours when you charter your own vessel. Maybe it’s a sailboat on the Dalmatian Coast, a catamaran in Tahiti, a bareboat charter in the Caribbean, or a mega-yacht on the Great Barrier Reef. But of the thousands out there, which craft do you choose? And how do you know its crew can make the magic happen? That’s where the right travel specialist comes in. We know yacht-charter experts who spend a good portion of every year inspecting boats and their crews to find the very best. Let us know what you have in mind, and we can match you to the right travel specialist for your specific needs.

Ask Wendy

 

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Canada

Heli-hiking at Kinuseo Falls in Monkman Provincial Park

Heli-hiking at Kinuseo Falls in Monkman Provincial Park, British Columbia. Photo: Hello BC

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, and slurped the oysters 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

Monteverde Costa Rica

Monteverde, Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

Belize
Belize may be small in size but it’s got the second-longest barrier reef in the world, dozens of significant Mayan ruins, an extensive cave network available for exploration, thousands of acres of pristine rainforest, and a surprisingly wide array of luxury resorts. Part of the British Commonwealth, Belize’s official language is English, so communication is simple. But getting around on your own is not: Many of the roads are unpaved, and signage is seriously lacking. It takes a savvy local expert to weave the right mix of scheduled and charter puddle-jumper flights, private drivers, and water taxis or private catamarans to make the most of your time, and to suss out which lodges and resorts will be right for you (even some high-end properties lack in-room Wi-Fi or air conditioning). Tell us your particular trip goals and we’re happy to recommend the right local expert.

Ask Wendy

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
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, Ecuador, and Panama,” below.

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South America

Springtime at Machu Picchu Peru

Springtime at Machu Picchu. Photo: Luis Felipa

Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay
Maita Barrenechea, Mai10
The daughter of an Argentine ambassador, Maita spent years living abroad 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. 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
Based in Rio, and  with a second office in Buenos Aires, Paul handles custom travel arrangements to most of South America, but he 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.
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 personable 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.

Chile and Patagonia
Jordan Harvey, Knowmad Adventures
Jordan’s contacts—winemakers, true-blue gauchos, indigenous families—give travelers a deeply authentic experience of Chile as well as Argentina and beyond, from Salta’s gorgeously rainbow-hued scenery to Easter Island’s mysterious moai. Jordan loves juxtaposing the several sides of Chile—the driest desert in the world, the temperate rainforest, and the vast Patagonian landscape—and combining awe-inspiring lodges with remote agritourism enterprises. And his background as a wilderness guide gives him an edge in picking the best adventure experiences, from stand-up paddle boarding on blissfully empty lakes to horseback riding past jagged peaks and icy glaciers.
Trips start at $1,000 per day for two travelers in Patagonia, and $800 per day for two travelers elsewhere in Chile and Argentina, and generally include accommodations, private transportation, and guides and meals when necessary.

Contact Jordan

Read reviews of Jordan. Read his Insider’s Guides to Chile. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Chile and 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. 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. Tell us what you have in mind for your trip, and we’ll point you to the right person to make it happen.

Ask 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, arranging 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, Ecuador, or 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. Let us know what you have in mind, and we can put you in touch with the right Galapagos specialist to make it happen.

Ask Wendy

The Galapagos Islands and Ecuador
Allie Almario, Premier Tours

Allie’s passion for wildlife conservation, photography, and indigenous cultures helps explain her fascination with Latin America, especially the Galapagos Islands. As the former executive director of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association, Allie has a bead on which ships operate sustainably and support local conservation efforts—and which don’t.  She can pinpoint the best luxury ship for your needs, and she can even acquire a private guide (for a price) if you prefer private shore excursions. If you’re spending a few days on Santa Cruz Island, she can arrange for you to interact with the one part of the ecosystem that visitors so often miss—the Galapagos’ human inhabitants. Allie helped edit the bestselling guide to the region, The Galapagos Islands: The Essential Handbook for Exploring, Enjoying and Understanding Darwin’s Enchanted Islands, and she served as location scout for the acclaimed documentary The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden. 
Trips start at $400 per day for two travelers in mainland Ecuador and $800 per day (including airfare within Ecuador and national park fees) for two travelers in the Galapagos.

Contact Allie

Read reviews of Allie. Read her Insider’s Guides to Quito and the Northern Andes and the Galapagos Islands. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

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 her base in Lima, she works 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

Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy. Photo: IC Bellagio

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 founded Context Travel in 2003, and today his company offers cultural walks in dozens of cities worldwide. Each tour is designed and led by a scholar or expert—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. NOTE: Unlike others on The WOW List, Paul and his team do not arrange full-service multi-day trips; they book half-day and day tours only. When you submit your trip request via WendyPerrin.com, Paul’s team will connect you with the right Context regional expert for your trip, so you can get personalized answers and custom tour recommendations.
Half-day tours start at $87 per person. Paul does not book accommodations or transportation.

Contact Paul’s Team

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

Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland
Gwen Kozlowski, Exeter International
Gwen has been masterminding custom-tailored trips to Central and 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 $800 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 place 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 $900 per day for two travelers and generally include top accommodations with breakfast, custom-tailored self-drive itinerary with a pre-programmed GPS, and local guides meeting you along the way.

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
A stickler for charm over flash, Jane has access to great rates at five-star 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. For years Jane has socialized with the country’s landed gentry—thanks to her natural charisma, her husband’s position as an elite Army officer, and her children’s education at top British schools—and her specialty is providing exclusive access to the United Kingdom’s and Ireland’s most prestigious events and enviable addresses. Her son Philip recently joined his mom in the family business, and together they can open doors to magnificent estates all across the British Isles that are not open to the public, each of which has a fascinating family history, incredible collections of paintings or objets d’art, and owners who are happy to personally host you for a meal or an overnight. Of course they can also score you prime seats at Wimbledon and get you into Prince Charles’s gardens at Highgrove or into Highclere Castle (better known as Downton Abbey).
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 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, London Perfect
Living in both London and Paris, and with offices in each city, Madelyn does much more than rent apartments: She offers concierge services too—reservations at the hottest restaurants, tickets for West End shows, private tours, exclusive cooking classes….And, unlike an à la carte listing site with thousands of rentals, she chooses only apartments that are in top locations and in excellent condition. Her apartments are selected for various tastes and preferences and furnished with fine amenities: high-thread-count linens, plush towels, modern kitchen appliances, comfortable beds and sofas, and a supply of drinks and snacks to tide you over until you can get to the grocery store. She and her team know their properties inside and out and can answer questions about location, local transport, quality of beds, type 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 local intel 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, Trufflepig

A Brit living in Burgundy’s ancient wine capital of Beaune, Jack helps high-brow, independent-minded travelers experience the best of what’s off the beaten track in France and countries nearby. His finger is 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. He and his team 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, Germany, and more. He’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 him for trips that are at least a week long, since his itinerary-planning fee means that longer trips deliver more value than short ones. 
Trips start at $700 per day for two travelers.

Contact Jack

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

France, Monaco, Ibiza, London, Rome 
Jennifer Virgilio, Queen of Clubs

Jennifer’s 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 have delighted many a traveler. She can make the line at the Eiffel Tower disappear, snag front-row seats for Paris 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. While she 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 best hotels), her background in the airline and hotel businesses enable her to flawlessly execute elaborate multi-day itineraries in France as well.
Prices start at $700 for a half-day guided experience, $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, Villas of Distinction
Annie has specialized in rental properties in France for 20 years, focusing on a collection of handpicked, guaranteed-to-delight villas and apartments in the loveliest locations around the country. Whether you’re looking for a farmhouse in Provence, 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 rental, in-house chefs, babysitters, tour guides, and train trips. She speaks fluent French—which explains her close relationships with villa owners, which in turn translates to clout for you. So comprehensive is her knowledge of the homes and neighborhoods that, in most cases, she can tell you which appliances are in each kitchen (French press or espresso machine, electric or gas stove), how long it takes to walk to the nearest bakery, the views from every bedroom, and the not-to-miss bistros in every village. 
Weekly rentals start at $3,000; most range from $6,000 to $50,000 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.

France: Paris Apartment Rentals
Madelyn Byrne, Paris Perfect
Living in both London and Paris, and with offices in each city, Madelyn does much more than rent apartments: She offers concierge services too—reservations at the hottest restaurants, tickets for West End shows, private tours, exclusive cooking classes….And, unlike an à la carte listing site with thousands of rentals, she chooses only apartments that are in top locations and in excellent condition. Her apartments are selected for various tastes and preferences and furnished with fine amenities: high-thread-count linens, plush towels, modern kitchen appliances, comfortable beds and sofas, and a supply of drinks and snacks to tide you over until you can get to the grocery store. She and her team know their properties inside and out and can answer questions about location, local transport, quality of beds, type 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 local intel 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 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?  To ensure you end up on the best trails and routes for you, and in the most sumptuous castles—in the rooms with the best views—contact us and we can recommend the right Germany expert.

Ask Wendy

Germany
Claudia Schwenger, Trufflepig
Claudia grew up behind the Iron Curtain (in Dresden) and, while now based in Toronto, returns to Germany three or four times a year. She specializes in self-guided, self-drive, and train itineraries for independent-minded travelers and will map out for you the most scenic driving, hiking, cycling, train, and ferry routes, and even where to bobsled or ski for a couple of days. She can point you to the best castles to sleep in along the Rhine, hire the latest-model Porsche for your tour of the Bavarian Alps, connect you with a World War I historian, or get you past the lines in the Keukenhof Gardens. Use her for trips that are at least a week long, since her itinerary-planning fee means that longer trips deliver more value than short ones. 
Trips start at $700 per day for two travelers.

Contact Claudia

 Read reviews of Claudia. Read her Insider’s Guides to Bavaria, Germany Then contact her to maximize your experience of Germany.

Greece
As far as culture goes, few destinations can top Greece. It’s the birthplace of western civilization and home to the Acropolis and many other iconic archaeological sites. Its natural landscapes aren’t too shabby either, with both olive groves and ski slopes packed into a country the size of Alabama, and the vividly blue sea never more than a few hours’ drive away. But that compact size belies the hours—days, even—one can waste trying to get from place to place. With more than 2,000 islands to choose from, each with its own unique character, it can be impossible to figure out which particular pieces will create the perfect trip for you. That’s where the right travel planner comes in, steering you to the most reliable ferry operators, chartering helicopters or boats when public transportation won’t suffice, and building just the right mix of sleepy villages, pulsing nightlife, near-empty beaches, and millennia-old culture.

Ask Wendy

Greece
Christos Stergiou, TrueGreece
Christos caters to those independent, luxury-loving travelers who want to see Greece’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 have a 3-night minimum and start at $700 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.

Iceland
Iceland. Everywhere you turn you see awesome landscapes so unusual you won’t find them in any other country. The adventure activities are just as unusual—volcano diving, puffin spotting, glacier hiking, geothermal-pool-hopping…. The challenge of planning a vacation here is also unusual: First, Iceland is surprisingly expensive. (It’s cheap to fly there, but once you’re there, prices sting.) Second, tourism to Iceland has skyrocketed over the past couple of years, causing demand—for accommodations, activities, all-terrain vehicles, glacier adventure guides, etc.—to outpace the supply, creating sell-out conditions and driving prices even higher. Third, the tourism infrastructure is geared to mass-market group package tours. I can point you to those few Iceland specialists who deliver private, custom, WOW experiences—as part of a smart, efficient itinerary enhanced by expert guides who will take you to thrilling places you could never find or access on your own—but be prepared to spend a minimum of $1,200 per day for two travelers.

Ask Wendy

Italy
Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers, CIU Travel
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 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 have a 3-night minimum and 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 have a 3-night minimum and 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

While running a school for Americans studying in Sicily, Marcello found himself planning trips for the students’ visiting families—and thus his new profession 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
For two decades Mara has been hand-picking the most atmospheric and magical (and palatial) homes in Italy, inspecting them seasonally, and using her fluent Italian to strengthen her close relationships with the property owners. It’s those relationships that translate into special entrée and experiences for you. With a focus on helping large families and groups, Mara crafts one-of-a-kind vacations based on a property matched to your group’s unique set of interests, preferences, and energy levels. All of Mara’s homes have at least four bedrooms, ensuite baths, a private pool or descent to the sea (or both), and local staff included or available; most have air conditioning in the bedrooms, some throughout the house. Smaller families or groups needing smaller homes and less elaborate arrangements should Ask Wendy instead.
Weekly rentals start at $13,000 in high season, including itinerary-planning services and concierge support during your trip.

Contact Mara

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

Malta
Acre for acre, Malta is about as rich in history as they come. In this tiny Mediterranean nation (actually, an archipelago with three islands of note: Malta, Gozo, and Comino), you’ll find three UNESCO World Heritage sites, some of which are among the oldest free-standing structures left in the world. The capital of Valletta is a medieval gem—a fortified city built by the Knights of St. John but also a European Capital of Culture for 2018, with a new city gate designed by Renzo Piano—and the streets of Mdina are like an open-air museum. But Malta is not the beach destination you might expect—edged mostly by rocky cliffs rather than sandy stretches—and, at times and in spots, it can get overrun by day-trippers from cruise ships, rowdy students studying English, and Brits on package tours. If you’re curious to explore Malta, let us know and we’ll connect you with a Malta travel specialist who can make it happen.

Ask Wendy

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 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, 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.

Ask 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, she arranges elaborate trips worldwide, but with a focus on Europe. When you prefer the convenience of a U.S.-based travel advisor—someone in a nearby time zone 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 countries and can’t figure out the logistics, or you’ve got multiple friends 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 people. There is an additional trip-planning fee of $400 for two travelers or $550 for a family.

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? Ask Wendy.

Ask Wendy

Portugal
Gonçalo Correia, Tours for You
Gonçalo, who lives in Lisbon, knows every nook and cranny of Portugal the way only a native who’s spent years guiding travelers around the country can. He brings that level of detail to his custom itineraries, revealing how the traditional and the cosmopolitan go hand-in-hand in Portugal, where authenticity isn’t a buzzword but a way of life. He specializes in the hidden gems—the wineries with excellent bottles for less than $10, the seaside villages that aren’t crowded with day-trippers—and is happy to book a wide range of accommodations, from small-town B&Bs to five-star palaces to rental villas and apartments that offer total privacy and more room to spread out. The special-access arrangements he can make—say, visits to famous monuments after they’re closed for the day and the crowds are gone, or a cooking class with the owner of an Alentejo manor house—enhance a trip without adding too much to its cost.
Trips start at $650 per day for two travelers. 

Contact Gonçalo

Read reviews of Gonçalo. Read his Insider Secrets of Portugal. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Portugal.

Portugal and Spain
Virginia Irurita, Made for Spain and Portugal
Based in Madrid, Spanish-born Virginia speaks Portuñol (a mix of Spanish and Portuguese) and 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 Spain’s Duero River. Her bespoke itineraries are wide-ranging: A month-long honeymoon, a corporate retreat in the wine country, a cultural tour for museum benefactors—all are within her purview.
Trips have a 3-night minimum and start at $850 per day in Spain, and $800 per day in Portugal, 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.

Portugal and Spain
Mike Korn and Ally Lewing, Heritage Tours Private Travel
Based in New York City, Portugal specialist Mike and Spain specialist Ally have spent years collecting a Rolodex of noteworthy locals on the Iberian Peninsula in a variety of fields, enabling them to offer you exclusive experiences: Imagine learning from one of Portugal’s best-known chefs (you can 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, or lunching with a family that has been making vinho verde since the 14th century. Use Mike and Ally for trips that include hotel accommodations—not rental villas or apartments—and private drivers and guides throughout. They are also the right resource if you’re combining Spain or Portugal with Morocco, since  Mike is also a Morocco specialist on The WOW List.
Trips have a 4-night minimum and start at $750 per day for two travelers.

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.

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. 

Ask Wendy

Romania
Raluca Spiac, Beyond Dracula

Raluca’s friends throughout her homeland of Romania will make you feel right at home and ensure you gain a full appreciation of its beautiful landscapes and its culture charmingly stuck in an earlier era, when people organized their lives around the seasons. Raluca loves to arrange trips that combine the Carpathians’ forested peaks (ideally seen on foot or horseback), Bucharest’s curious combination of Art Nouveau and brutalist architecture, the Danube Delta’s rich avian and aquatic life, and a few 13th-century UNESCO World Heritage-recognized villages and churches (where you can spend an afternoon with one of the many traditional craftspeople that Raluca has befriended, likely ending up in their attic looking through old photographs). Her preferred accommodations range from the country’s few true luxury hotels to guesthouses serving home-cooked meals with produce from their garden. 
Trips start at $575 per day for two travelers, including accommodations, guiding, transportation, some entrance fees, and breakfast every day.

Contact Raluca

 Read reviews of Raluca. Read her Insider’s Guides to Romania Then contact her to maximize your experience of Romania.

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 Dubrovnik. 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 $1,000 per day for two travelers, which includes accommodations, breakfast, guide and vehicle services as necessary, and entrance fees to museums. .

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 scenery and gorgeous fjords of Norway, the headline-making cuisine and 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—even more than you think. 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; traveling from one region to the next can be a complicated puzzle that requires many modes of transportation; and commonly expected amenities, such as air conditioning, simply don’t exist. That’s why you need help to make the most of your time and money. The solution is one of a handful of experts who can navigate Scandinavia’s distinct challenges and deliver a VIP trip. We know who they are, but be prepared to spend a minimum of $900 per day for two travelers.

Ask 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.  
Trips start at $1,600 per day for two travelers on a self-drive trip and include accommodations, transportation, some private guiding and meals, and all taxes and fees. 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 and Portugal
Based in Madrid, Spanish-born Virginia speaks Portuñol (a mix of Spanish and Portuguese) and 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 Spain’s Duero River. Her bespoke itineraries are wide-ranging: A month-long honeymoon, a corporate retreat in the wine country, a cultural tour for museum benefactors—all are within her purview.
Trips have a 3-night minimum and start at $850 per day in Spain, and $800 per day in Portugal, 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
Based in New York City, Portugal specialist Mike and Spain specialist Ally have spent years collecting a Rolodex of noteworthy locals on the Iberian Peninsula in a variety of fields, enabling them to offer you exclusive experiences: Imagine learning from one of Portugal’s best-known chefs (you can 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, or lunching with a family that has been making vinho verde since the 14th century. Use Mike and Ally for trips that include hotel accommodations—not rental villas or apartments—and private drivers and guides throughout. They are also the right resource if you’re combining Spain or Portugal with Morocco, since  Mike is also a Morocco specialist on The WOW List.
Trips have a 4-night minimum and start at $750 per day for two travelers.

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.

Switzerland
You may think you know what Switzerland’s about: mountains, trains, chocolate, cheese…. And it’s easy enough to find those things on your own—but only if you want the clichéd version. Planning your trip through a savvy local fixer makes a world of difference: Instead of the well-known Glacier Express, you’ll get a local train route that’s even more beautiful. Rather than negotiate the crowds at Chateau de Chillon, dine in a castle that’s all yours for the evening. Instead of buying Toblerone at the duty-free, take a workshop at the small factory that produces the chocolate found at Swiss embassies around the world. Wendy has sussed out the Switzerland travel planners with the connections to make these and many other experiences possible. Contact us to find out which travel specialist is right for you.

Ask Wendy

Turkey
Karen Fedorko Sefer, Sea Song Tours
Based in Istanbul and with offices across Turkey, Karen has the connections—from museum directors to star restaurateurs to powerful hoteliers to the country’s culture ministry—to gain all manner of special access. She’ll have shop owners show you their special wares not displayed to the public, she can create one-of-a-kind experiences (private meal at Topkapi Palace, anyone?), and she is on the ground and on-call to answer questions and fulfill special requests. She is the go-to for cruise shore excursions (she can make the crowds at Ephesus disappear) and gulet charters too.
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
Earl 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

Beng Melea monks, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Beng Melea monks, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo: ABOUTAsia Travel

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 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.  For travel in Malaysia or Malaysian Borneo, click to Borneo, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
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
Antonia “Toni” has spent the past 30 years exploring Asia, focusing on its people, culture, crafts, religions, and natural environments, and forging and cementing close relationships with communities. 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 or learn how to make a mandala in Bhutan, you’re guaranteed an imaginative and immersive experience. Toni is dedicated to making a positive contribution to the countries where she operates; READ Global, the renowned nonprofit she founded, has built more than 100 libraries in Nepal, Bhutan, and India.
Trip prices per day for two travelers start at $350 in Nepal, $750 in Bhutan, and $840 in Myanmar.

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.

Borneo, Indonesia, and Malaysia
Indonesia and Malaysia share much more than just the world’s third largest island, Borneo (which is governed by Indonesia in the south, and by Malaysia and Brunei in the north). They are also places of tremendous ethnic diversity, with each group having its own fascinating customs, religions, and cultures. Largely neglected by U.S. travelers, the two countries offer far-out wildlife (we all know about Borneo’s famous orangutans, but have you ever heard of a pygmy elephant?), lush rainforest, rarely visited islands, and the kind of cuisine that professional chefs cross oceans for. Try to plan a trip yourself, though, and you could easily waste half your vacation in transit, confuse arrival dates while corresponding with hotels in the local dialect, and find yourself snorkeling amid a tour bus’ worth of foreigners instead of all alone on a pristine reef (the latter being exactly what the local experts we know can arrange). Curious about the possibilities in Indonesia and Malaysia? Ask us, and we’ll match you with the right fixer to create just the trip for you.

Ask Wendy

Central Asia 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 help bring alive aspects of the culture both ancient and contemporary. In addition to arranging for superlative guides and comfortable hotels and homestays, Zulya 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.

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 to craft an experience that’s just right. 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, Nomadic Expeditions
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. 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 and Victoria lived for ten years in Jaipur—where they were married and had their first child—and India Beat grew out of their desire to introduce visiting friends to their favorite places and people in Rajasthan.  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 she is known for her popular Jaipur bazaar crawl. They returned to England to have their second child, but 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 can charter a crewed luxury sailboat for exploring the remote Mergui Archipelago in Burma; 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. He also has a hand-picked 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.
Trip prices per day for two travelers start at $800 in the Philippines, $1,000 in Indonesia, and $1,600 in Japan.

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. 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 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. Good news: We know the savviest Asia travel specialists—those who can make all lines and crowds disappear, spare you the tourist traps, 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. and save you countless pitfalls. Tell us about the trip you have in mind, and we can point you to the best travel specialist for it.

Ask Wendy

Sri Lanka
Miguel Cunat, Sri Lanka in Style
A Spaniard who has been living with his wife and three kids in Sri Lanka for the past ten years, Miguel co-started his boutique travel company to provide visitors with insightful, engaging experiences in his adopted homeland. He and his 22-person staff design itineraries that get you 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).  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 travelers 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 profits are plowed into local education. 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, 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. He holds the post of British Honorary Consul and wrote the well-regarded Angkor Guidebook, a coffee-table-worthy tome.
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. Sandy and his team craft tailor-made itineraries that cater to individual tastes and interests and make the most of your precious time. He 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. 
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, the network that she and colleague April have developed in Southeast Asia 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. 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 $400 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.

 

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Africa and the Middle East

Elephants tussle in Botswana. Photo: Wilderness Safaris/Caroline Culbert

Elephants tussle in Botswana. Photo: Wilderness Safaris/Caroline Culbert

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. His customized itineraries combine luxury and adventure—he’ll have you sailing down the Nile one day, lounging by the pool at the Old Cataract the next.  Most important, Jim and his team are meticulous about keeping their clients away from crowds and out of harm’s way. 
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 landscape like no other. Medieval Christian rock churches. Africa’s highest concentration of highlands. Huge populations of unusual mammal and bird species, such as the bleeding-heart baboon and the white-tailed swallow. Ethiopia offers all this but 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. 

Ask Wendy

Israel
Joe Yudin, Touring Israel
Joe 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 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.) 
Prices start at $500 for a private guided full-day walking tour of Jerusalem’s Old City, or $800 per day for touring with a special-access guide in a private six-seat passenger van. Boutique accommodations add an additional $250 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.

Ask Wendy

Morocco
Michael Diamond, Cobblestone Private Travel
After 16 years planning custom itineraries in Morocco, Michael utilizes the savviest logistics and most stylish riads. He and his Marrakech-based business partner are especially well-connected in the country’s famed design world: Whether it’s leather goods, hand-woven textiles, or traditional tiles you’re hankering for, they’ll steer you to the hidden ateliers where you’ll find the highest-quality products at the lowest prices. They can even ship your purchases home at a steep discount, avoiding the usual paperwork. Michael encourages travelers to slow down to match the pace of local life, whether by lingering over a late-afternoon mint tea in Gueliz, or staying up late around the fire at your Sahara encampment while the African stars dazzle above.
Trips start at $840 per day for two travelers, including accommodations, breakfasts, guiding, entrance fees, transportation, and VIP airport service.

Contact Michael

Read reviews of Michael. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Morocco.

Morocco
Mike Korn, Heritage Tours Private Travel
Mike’s web of connections in Morocco enable him to deliver seamless itineraries with VIP treatment throughout. Between explorations of the bustling cities and sprawling sands, he’ll weave in meetings with top chefs and prominent academics, or even a visit to one of Ouarzazate’s movie studios. He can advise on which of his trusted luxe riads will suit your sensibilities and when an outpost of a familiar hotel chain is a smarter choice. All of Mike’s travelers receive a local cell phone, so his on-the-ground fixers are just a quick call away. Heritage Tours Private Travel recently opened its own three-tent encampment in the Sahara, in an area farther south than many of the other desert accommodations, so you’ll enjoy stunning dunes with no other travelers on the horizon.
Trips start at $875 per day for two travelers.

Contact Mike

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

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.
Trips start at $1,200 per day for two travelers in low season and $1,600 per day for two travelers in high season.

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 $800 per day for two travelers in South Africa and $1,800 per day for two travelers in Botswana.

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

overwater bungalows in French Polynesia at the Conrad Hilton Bora Bora

Bora Bora, French Polynesia. Photo: Conrad Hilton Bora Bora

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.

Ask 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, or Robinson Crusoe fantasists. If you’d like to combine Australia with New Zealand, his Auckland team will take good care of you. He does not arrange airline travel to Australia, so if you’re looking for a complete package including airfare, see “Ask 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 $650 per couple per day in the Cook Islands, and $940 per couple per day in French Polynesia.

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 prides himself on being able to modify an itinerary on the fly to work around uncooperative weather conditions. 
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 and troubleshoot.
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

people taking pictures of an iceberg in greenland

An Arctic cruise to Ilulissat Icefjord, Greeland.. Photo: Shelley Fry

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.

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.
Ocean cruises start at $150 per person per day; river cruises start at $300 per person per day (both based on double occupancy).

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.

 

Yacht Charters
Picture this: sparkling seas, the waves lapping at your boat, a captain and crew who know every hidden cove along your route, quaint villages to explore by day, fabulously fresh seafood—prepared by your private chef—to enjoy at night…. All that can be yours when you charter your own vessel. Maybe it’s a sailboat on the Dalmatian Coast, a catamaran in Tahiti, a bareboat charter in the Caribbean, or a mega-yacht on the Great Barrier Reef. But of the thousands out there, which craft do you choose? And how do you know its crew can make the magic happen? That’s where the right travel specialist comes in. We know yacht-charter experts who spend a good portion of every year inspecting boats and their crews to find the very best. Let us know what you have in mind, and we can match you to the right travel specialist for your specific needs.

Ask Wendy

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Villa Vacations and Rentals

Poolside and deck view. Ca di Pesa Italy villa

You want to be sitting here in the summer? Then you need to know the right time to book your Italy villa vacation. Photo: 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, Villas of Distinction
Annie has specialized in rental properties in France for 20 years, focusing on a collection of handpicked, guaranteed-to-delight villas and apartments in the loveliest locations around the country. Whether you’re looking for a farmhouse in Provence, 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 rental, in-house chefs, babysitters, tour guides, and train trips. She speaks fluent French—which explains her close relationships with villa owners, which in turn translates to clout for you. So comprehensive is her knowledge of the homes and neighborhoods that, in most cases, she can tell you which appliances are in each kitchen (French press or espresso machine, electric or gas stove), how long it takes to walk to the nearest bakery, the views from every bedroom, and the not-to-miss bistros in every village. Annie was also included in Wendy’s prestigious list of top villa specialists, which was published annually in Condé Nast Traveler magazine from 2006 to 2013.
Weekly rentals start at $3,000; most range from $6,000 to $50,000 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
For two decades Mara has been hand-picking the most atmospheric and magical homes in Italy, inspecting them seasonally, and using her fluent Italian to strengthen her close relationships with the property owners. It’s those relationships that translate into special entrée and experiences for you. With a focus on helping large families and small groups, Mara crafts one-of-a-kind villa vacations 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. All of Mara’s homes have at least four bedrooms, ensuite baths, a private pool or descent to the sea (or both), and local staff included or available; most have air conditioning in the bedrooms, some throughout the house. Her properties are sprinkled throughout Tuscany, Lake Como, the Amalfi and Cilento Coast, and Umbria, with a small selection of apartments in Rome, Florence, and Venice. Mara helps Italy first-timers 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 $13,000 in high season, including itinerary-planning services and concierge support during your trip.

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.

Yacht Charters
Picture this: sparkling seas, the waves lapping at your boat, a captain and crew who know every hidden cove along your route, quaint villages to explore by day, fabulously fresh seafood—prepared by your private chef—to enjoy at night…. All that can be yours when you charter your own vessel. Maybe it’s a sailboat on the Dalmatian Coast, a catamaran in Tahiti, a bareboat charter in the Caribbean, or a mega-yacht on the Great Barrier Reef. But of the thousands out there, which craft do you choose? And how do you know its crew can make the magic happen? That’s where the right travel specialist comes in. We know yacht-charter experts who spend a good portion of every year inspecting boats and their crews to find the very best. Let us know what you have in mind, and we can match you to the right travel specialist for your specific needs.

Ask Wendy

 

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Adventure Travel

Hells Canyon, Idaho. Photo: OARS

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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