Wherever I travel, I always try to find great local tours to enhance my experience. My style of experiential travel involves trying to get to the soul of place, whether that be through its food, it’s cultural heritage, it’s history, or it’s social dynamic. I don’t generally look for guided tours of the popular tourist attractions in each place. I prefer to read ahead and wander through those myself. Instead, I look for great local tours that help me better experience and understand what makes each place unique.
How I Find Great Local Tours
I usually first check Tripadvisor to guide me towards the best local tours in each location. Tripadvisor has a section for each destination called Things to Do. Tripadvisor is a crowd-sourced travel platform, so the rankings and recommendations are based on a general consensus by actual travelers. I will usually scroll through the first 20-30 or so “Things To Do” when tripping an upcoming location. This list ranks favorite sites, but also includes favorite organized local tours. If I see a tour that interests me, I will then read lots of individual traveler reviews about the tour. I can usually get more in depth details about the tour than is often included on the company website. This way I can make sure it’s not only a quality tour, but also a tour that really will interest me.
I also learn about great local tours from other travel bloggers. Google Searches for “Things to Do in _______” will often bring up travel blog posts specific for the area I’m tripping.
Pinterest is another great way to access travel blog posts about an upcoming destination. Think of Pinterest as an image-based search engine. Travel bloggers, myself included, will often “pin” images on Pinterest related to location-specific activities. Clicking on these images will take you directly to that blogger’s post for the displayed destination or activity.
Using these methods, I’ve participated in some great local tours all over the world. Here are a few of my favorites.
A Food Tour in Aix-en-Provence France
One of my favorite types of local tours is a food tour. I will always seek out a food tour as my first activity of choice in any new city. Food tours give me the chance to understand local cuisine and traditions under the guidance of a local. They will also often incorporate a guided walking tour of the city as well. I try to schedule food tours early in my stay, as the tour guides generally also give great local restaurant suggestions. I’m picky though. If I can’t find a food tour that looks like it’s going to offer me a truly authentic perspective of the area’s cuisine, I won’t take one. I have experienced great food tours in Portland Oregon, Barcelona Spain, Ljubljana Slovenia, and Aix-En-Provence France.
In this post, I’ll tell you about my food tour in Aix-En-Provence. This beautiful city in southern France is known for its sprawling daily farmer’s market. Hundreds of stalls occupy many of the main squares in the central part of town. This was the largest outdoor farmer’s market I have ever seen. Such a vast array of Provencal products could be overwhelming, so having a French-speaking market guide was very helpful. We took a 3-hour long Farmer’s Market tour with Tastes of Provence.
Our tour started at a century-old bakery, a few blocks away from the market, on one of the city’s main streets. Here we started our morning with some traditional French pastries. We then made our way over to the market area, learning about the town’s history during our walk. While in the market, we wandered up and down the various stalls, admiring all the fresh produce, and sampling a wide variety of locally made products. Jams, honeys, tampanades, sausage, fruits, just to name a few.
We eventually made our way to a local macaron shop where we learned about the process of creating this famous French confection, and sampled several different flavors. I had never understood what all the fuss about the macaron was…. until I ate one there.
Our tour ended at our guide’s professional kitchen, where she guided us through a goat cheese tasting. We sampled three different kinds of goat cheese, served with the one the region’s rosé wines.
We took this tour a few years ago, and as I look at the Tastes of Provence website, the current version doesn’t appear to match ours exactly. Nonetheless, I’m sure that touring the farmer’s market with them would still be a great experience.. Their current 3-hour Farmer’s Market tour price is 70 Euros.
For a look at 21 different food tours around the world, check out this post on Lannie’s Food & Travel Blog. Several different travel bloggers, myself included, contributed to her comprehensive summary of worldwide food tour experiences. I summarized our food tour in Ljubljana Slovenia for her.
Truffle Hunting in Buzet Croatia
Another favorite local tour was also food-related. This time though, before we could eat, we had to go hunting first.
While visiting the Istrian Peninsula in Northwest Croatia, an area famed for its truffles, we went black truffle hunting with Prodan Tartufi. Truffles are the pungent fungi that are valued worldwide by foodies and chefs for their very strong umami flavor. They are very difficult to cultivate commercially, and so are hunted by truffle-sniffing dogs in the woods, where they grow underground along the root systems of only certain trees in only certain parts of the world.
I’d never eaten truffles until going to Croatia. They are rare and expensive, especially in the U.S. I’d eaten truffle fries (fries drizzled in truffle oil) and I’d put truffle salt on popcorn before. But, of course, that’s not even close to the same experience as eating something topped with freshly sliced truffles. In fact, our guide at Prodan Tartufi taught us that most ‘truffle products” don’t even contain any actual truffle. If you put olive oil in a room with truffles, it will take on some of the taste of the truffle. Or even worse, many products are made with an artificial chemical that mimics truffle flavor.
We went hunting for the real thing. Prodan Tartufi is a family-operated business located just outside the small Croatian hilltop town of Buzet. Here, the Prodan family train their dogs and hunt truffles in the woods just below their house. On site, they also have a small retail store (where they sell their truffle products), their dog kennels, and an outdoor dining area with a beautiful view across the woods below out to the surrounding hills.
At the beginning of our truffle experience, we learned all about truffles, the economy of truffles, the history of local truffle hunting, and how the dogs are trained. We then headed down into the forest below with their dogs. We followed the dogs as they hunted through the forest for about 45 minutes. And success! They found 3 or 4 black truffles!
After our hunt, we returned to the outdoor dining area, where the Prodan matriarch prepared a 3 course truffle meal for us. The first course was bread, salami, and cheese along with a variety of their truffle spreads.
The second course featured the best eggs I have ever eaten. The eggs were lightly scrambled with parmesan cheese and butter, topped with a generous amount of freshly sliced truffles (the very ones we found in the forest), and finished with more shaved parmesan. She even gathered us around the stove and showed us how she made them.
The third course was a dessert – ice cream with truffle honey. It was a great meal in a great setting with some really nice people who really care about their family trade. We were there for about 3 hours. You can book this tour by emailing Prodan Tartufi directly. The cost was 65 Euros per person and worth every penny.
(If you would like to read about a truffle hunting tour in Italy, then check out this blog post by Lannie’s Food and Travel about her truffle hunt north of Rome)
A Crocodile Tour in Tarcoles Costa Rica
I suppose the third local tour I’m featuring in this post could have also been food-related…. if we weren’t careful. Except, we would have been the main course! My favorite local tour during my travels to Costa Rica has been Jose’s Crocodile River Tour in Tarcoles Costa Rica.
Tarcoles sits right on the Pacific Ocean. It’s a small town, located about half way between San Jose and Manuel Antonio (one of Pacific Costa Rica’s most visited locations). Nearby, a river runs through an estuary out of the coastal mountains and into the sea. This river is crawling with hundreds of crocodiles. Jose’s Crocodile River Tour is a great way to get up close and personal with them.
Out of several crocodile tours on the river, Jose’s is the top-rated tour on TripAdvisor. I have taken this tour several times. For two hours, we boat up and down the river with a knowledgeable, entertaining, English-speaking guide and a daring driver – daring because he actually gets out and feeds the crocodiles. The boat is large enough for safety, but small enough to get up close and really see the crocs. There are hundreds of crocodiles on this river and so spotting them is not an issue. Several measure 18-19 feet in length, and we’ve seen at least two of these monsters every trip – Osama and Tornado. The larger crocs have staked out their territory, so this helps the guides consistently find – and name – them.
Jose’s Crocodile River Tour is not only a boat trip for spotting crocodiles. Many species of indigenous birds are highlighted as well, plus we always explore a nearby mangrove estuary, too. The tour takes two hours and currently costs $40 per person. Reservations can be made directly on their website.
So those are my three favorite local tours. I’ve since added other great tours to my list of favorites. Click here to read about snorkeling the Buck Island Reef in St Croix USVI or this one about Touring the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest. If you have a favorite tour that really stands out from your travels, please comment below.