Rating foreign tour companies that customize tours

This item appears on page 35 of the May 2016 issue.

Back in the August through November 2014 issues, we printed letters from subscribers who responded to the information request of Yvonne Richter, who wrote, “My husband and I like to take customized private tours, and we prefer to use tour companies and guides that are local to the destinations. I would like travelers to write in about foreign tour companies and guides that they’ve used for private tours, including as many of the following details as possible:

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

Rating, from 1 (poor) to 10 (great). (Poor ratings are as important to know as great ones.) Plus an explanation of the rating. 

“The itinerary used. Length of the tour (number of days/nights or what fraction of a day). When the tour took place (month/year). Approximate cost of the tour, and what was included.

“Plus any special or noteworthy experiences of the trip, both positive and negative.”

Subscribers continued to write in, and some of their letters appear below. Each includes a rating from [1] (poor) to [10] (great).

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


I would like to recommend two guides we used in 2014, both of whom were excellent.

• While we were in Amsterdam, NETHERLANDS, in July with our nephew, his wife and their 12- and 14-year-old children, we used Frank Kramer at Holland2Go (info@

Frank arranged two day trips for us. The first was to visit the countryside outside of Amsterdam for an overview and history of the Netherlands. The second was a long day trip via Rotterdam to Bruges, BELGIUM.

Frank arranged for a rented van large enough to comfortably seat the six of us. We found Frank when we booked our tours through Viator.com. After Viator’s fee of, I believe, 124, our total costs for the van rental was 550 (with no other fees such as tolls or gas). In addition, for the 8-hour countryside tour out of Amsterdam, we paid Frank 234 (near $265), and for the 12-hour tour to Bruges, we paid him 260.

Frank made sure that we saw sights for the younger set while also accommodating my wife and me with our physical limitations. I know he also does walking and bicycle tours of Amsterdam and also guides elsewhere in the Netherlands (including ancestry tours) and Belgium. He currently charges 195 for four hours and 325 for eight hours plus transportation, meals and entry fees. [10]

• In Prague, CZECH REPUBLIC, which we visited Oct. 31-Nov. 8, we used Pavel Cernosek (pavel.cernosek@seznam.cz). He had been our Prague guide two years earlier and we eagerly hired him again. 

Pavel has been a guide for about 25 years, and his enthusiasm and incredible knowledge of his country are apparent. He is able to impart information, whether it is history, politics or stories, with a casualness that makes it not only enjoyable but memorable.

Also, he was sensitive to our physical limitations, arranging special entry into sites so we didn’t have to climb stairs. 

Pavel charged $45 an hour for tours on which he drove and $35 an hour for a walking tour (for any number of people). 

For an 8-hour trip to C˘eský Krumlov we paid $360, and for a 6-hour tour of the library of the Strahov Monastery and Vys˘ehrad cemetery we paid $270. I highly recommend him. [10]

My wife and I both feel spoiled after having had such excellent guides as Frank and Pavel.

Richard Krajeck
Chevy Chase, MD 


In late January-early February 2014, a friend and I took part in what was one of the best-ever tours, a 20-day trip to northern INDIA arranged to our individual requirements and desires by Vivek Wadhawan at Elegant Journeys (8048/D-8, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi,110070, India; phone, in the US, 718/395-7788, www.elegantjourneys.co)

While this company’s website outlines recommended itineraries, you are free to customize the length and type of itinerary as well as the type of hotels in order to fit any budget. 

We opted for a plan that was expensive but well worth it for what we considered a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The tour price of about $8,000 per person covered five internal flights and transfers, one rail trip, a private car and driver throughout and stays at several fabulous 5-star Oberoi hotels (including breakfasts). 

Also included were excellent guides in all the cities and admission to the many sites we visited in New Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, Khajuraho, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Mumbai plus the Ajanta and Ellora caves. 

A highlight experience of the tour was our visit to the tiger reserve at Ranthambore National Park, where we stayed in a luxurious Oberoi “tent” and were lucky enough to see two tigers and a leopard in the wild. 

Every detail of the trip was handled with great finesse, and there was never an issue, even when my friend came down with a serious cold/flu, which meant she couldn’t carry on for a couple of days.

We were sad when it came time to leave India. We wish that Vivek could arrange all of our trips!

I would be happy to provide additional information to anyone considering a trip to northern India. I can be reached at cacbriner@yahoo.com. [10]

Cathy Briner, Eugene, OR


My wife and I began our 34-day exploration of northeastern INDIA’s Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland states in March 2014. 

We had arranged for a private tour through Vaivhav Todi, director of Greener Pastures (First Choice, H.S. Road, Dibrugarh, Assam 786001, India; phone +91 9435 747471, www.thegreenerpastures.com), who did an excellent job of combining our interests in bird-watching, ethnic minority tribal festivals and scenery.

Because we wanted to visit as many festivals as possible, we began setting up arrangements for our trip about six months in advance. Luckily, my wife discovered Greener Pastures while exploring the Internet.

For the two of us, the cost of our trip was $6,800, which included lodging, meals, car, driver, gas, entrance fees, some tips and water. It did not include round-trip airfare between San Diego and Guwahati, Assam, or the tips we gave to our guide and driver, which they richly deserved.

We were offered three levels of accommodation: best available, moderate and backpack. We chose moderate, which was fine (and, more often than not, the best available).

Baro, our local guide, was from the Apatani tribe and was quite good in providing us entrée into local festivals and homes. Kamal was the expert driver of our comfortable, large SUV on “roads” that would make a strong man weep.

Greener Pastures encourages sustainable tourism and uses locally owned accommodations and restaurants. Tourism infrastructure in most of northeastern India is in its infancy, but for exotic exploration before Starbucks invades, it’s hard to beat.

We often went 10 days without seeing another foreign tourist, and we saw only three Americans the entire trip. [9]

Dick Walker, La Jolla, CA


I found Andrea Ross, CEO of Journeys Within, in a Condé Nast Traveler list of Southeast Asia travel consultants recommended by columnist Wendy Perrin. Journeys Within Tour Company (P.O. Box 93155, GPO Siem Reap, Cambodia; in the US, 877/454-3672, www.journeys-within.com) specializes in custom tours in Southeast Asia. 

In 2013 my husband, Paul, and I worked with Journeys Within to develop a customized tour from their suggested itineraries. Our trip included Bangkok (4 nights) and Chiang Mai, THAILAND (4); Luang Prabang, LAOS (4); Hanoi (2) and a Ha˙ Long Bay cruise in VIETNAM (1), and Siem Reap, CAMBODIA (4).

The initial cost of our 20-day, 19-night tour, Nov. 2-20, 2013, was $4,265 per person, including all air within Southeast Asia, accommodations and transfers. We booked our own international air. We stayed in charming B&Bs conveniently located near restaurants, shopping and public transportation.

The trip was fabulous and included 13 tours. We had private guides and drivers in each country, with each of those tours tailored for us; the guides each were well educated in their country’s history and culture. Other times, we joined tourists on preset group tours.

In Thailand, we spent a day in Chiang Mai at the Elephant Nature Park (www.elephantnaturepark.org), an elephant sanctuary. On another tour, we rode bikes to a cooking class run by culinary college students at a farm in the countryside. One graciously let me ride on the back of her bike.

Another memorable visit was to a Karen village. Our guide helped us buy milk at a Karen store and take it to an elementary school. This kept the dollars in the local community and gave us a chance to see the very cute children in the classroom.

In Luang Prabang, our guide arranged for us to give alms to the young Buddhist monks as they walked by in a quiet procession on the street in front of our B&B. Our guide brought us special sashes to wear, pillows to kneel on and sticky rice to give to the monks. We felt a connection to these young monks by providing their meal for the day. 

Another visit was to a small village on the Mekong, where we had lunch with the mayor in his home. His wife prepared the meal. We spent the day traveling on the river on a private dragon boat.

Our most special visit was in Siem Reap. Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC) is a foundation established by Journeys Within to help communities be self-sufficient. We donated money to their microloan program, and because of our interest, Andrea Ross was able to arrange a visit to some of the people who had benefited from the program.

We met a widow who had started a business frying pig skins to sell to Chinese restaurants. We also met a woman who had a business making jewelry from recycled paper. She had repaid the loan from JWOC.

It was the trip of a lifetime. Journeys Within’s customized tour suited us perfectly. When we encountered a medical problem (eye infection) as well as a natural disaster (a typhoon caused us to skip Vietnam), they were there for us. Even more telling, they were there for us after the trip, informing our insurance company of what we had missed so we could collect on our claim. [10]

Phyllis Sato, Wailuku, HI


I am a strong believer that if one is planning to travel outside of the United States, it is much better to acquire a professional travel agent from the country to be visited. Over more than 25 years, this has been my personal plan, and I believe it has been a wise one. 

ITN has long been my source to find these gifted people, and I want to share my memories of two such “finds” that proved to be essential to the enjoyment of wonderful lifetime adventures. 

• The first one was Siduith Ferrer, owner of Fertur Perú Travel (Calle Schell N 485, Miraflores, Lima, Perú; phone, in the US, 877/247-0055, www.fertur-travel.com).

I contacted Siduith while in the process of planning a trip to Machu Picchu, PERU, in 2001. In comparing her pricing with the offers of others, I found that she charged much less. I let her book my trip and became grateful I made that choice. 

Taking in all of our preferences, she created a sensible and very workable itinerary. She overlooked nothing, which made our trip as smooth as glass. Her people always accompanied us, and our considerations were always acted upon. One of the best results has been the friendship we ignited with Siduith upon making this trip.

In 2005, four of us wanted to go to the GALÁPAGOS, but we didn’t want to be on a bobbing boat for days at a time (our age prevented this setup). Again we turned to Siduith. She came up with a plan that put us at a gorgeous resort on the main island of Santa Cruz. From there, we took day trips that covered all of the delightful sights offered in that part of the world.

The guides she provided and the accommodations were perfect. To make sure that we were safe, she even had us accompanied at all times when we went through Quito, Ecuador, as there was political unrest while we were there. [10]

• Our second nominee for a perfect travel agent is Enver Lucas (Bahtılı Köyü, 07250 Antalya, Turkey; phone +90 242 419 2441, www.cavurali.com).

Enver took eight of us on a wonderful trek in TURKEY in 2006 that included Istanbul, Ankara and Cappadocia plus a sail on a gulet on the Mediterranean.

Enver is half American and half Turkish and has lived in the US, so his knowledge of both cultures is second nature to him. He took us to awesome sites, and his knowledge of Turkish history was beyond belief. 

Our long talks would include almost any topic, and our time spent with him was a pleasure, as he was so easy to be with. It was like being with an old friend. We left with a vast intellectual awareness of the culture.   

We also became aware of his expertise in handling an emergency when one of our party fell and hit his head, drawing blood. In a flash, Enver had the bleeding stopped and we all were quickly transported to a clinic not five minutes away. The doctors completed Enver’s first-aid treatment and we were on our way, complete with antibiotics, for a mere $25. We still stay in touch with him. [10]

We’ve been fortunate in finding these two jewels in the travel profession. They both receive the highest rating.

Jeanette Mell

Menlo Park, CA