Travel Tips

Finding Great Local Tours

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.

The Farmers Market in Aix-en-Provence - A great local tour to take when visiting Southern France

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.

Fresh local mushrooms at the Farmer's Market in Aix-en-Provence
Fresh Local Mushrooms
Spices in the Farmer's Market in Aix-en-Provence.
Spice booth at the Farmer’s Market

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. 

Freshly unearthed black truffles while on one of our funnest local tours -  truffle hunting with Prodan Tartufi
Freshly unearthed black truffles

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. 

The outdoor dining area at Prodan Tartufi with the town of Buzet in the distance
The outdoor dining area at Prodan Tartufi with the town of Buzet in the distance

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!

Dogs and guide digging up black truffles while truffle hunting with Prodan Tartufi - a great local tour in Buzet Croatia
The dogs found truffles but our guide stops them and digs them up himself. Otherwise they will eat them. They get a truffle-flavored treat instead.

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.

First course of our lunch at Prodan Tartufi

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.

Eggs with black truffles and parmesan at Prodan Tartufi.  I love local tours that incorporate regional food

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.  

Riverside dock entrance for Jose's crocodile river tour - one of my favorite local tours in Costa Rica
The river boat for Jose's Crocodile River Tour

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. 

Crododile mostly submerged in water on the river near Tarcoles Costa Rica
One of these elongated brownish objects isn’t a log
Another picture of Jose's driver feeding crocodile
That’s our boat driver feeding the 18 foot croc

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.

View of the estuary and surrounding mountains near Tarcoles Costa Rica while on Jose's Crocodile River Tour

So those are my three favorite local tours. I’ve since added another great tour to my list of favorites. Click here to read about snorkeling the Buck Island Reef in St Croix USVI. If you have a favorite tour that really stands out from your travels, please comment below.

10 Comments

  • Lannie Travels

    Your Aix en Provence food tour got me all jelly! I was supposed to go to Aix years ago but it didn’t pan out. Looks like I’m missing one great food tour!! 🙂 thanks for the shout outs. I think we may make good tour buddies.

    As long as the crocodile doesn’t eat me. I’d rather be the one doing the eating 🙂

      • John Quinn

        The tour guide with the crocs seems to a few beers short of a six pack. It didn’t get the memo about being dinner. The tours all look great though. Especially the farmers market tour. French markets have such delicious fare.

        • thethoroughtripper

          I don’t think the picture adequately shows his missing arm…. Just kidding! I think the crocs must prefer chicken to humans

  • Lisa

    These are all such fantastic tours Steven! As a foodie, I’d love to try the ones in Provence and Croatia. I’m drooling over the thought of those eggs and truffles, yum! A crocodile tour sounds interesting, and Costa Rica is high on my list of places I want to see.

    • thethoroughtripper

      I now pretty much always have to use Oprah’s favorite truffle powder on my eggs – it’s called Truffle Zest. It does have real truffle in it, but it’s not close to the real thing.

  • Becky Exploring

    These are great recommendations for local tours, Steven! That crocodile tour in Costa Rica looks intense. I can’t believe the guide gets out to feed them! Has anyone ever been bitten? I’ve gone on an airboat in the Florida Everglades to see alligators, but no one tried to interact with them. I suppose the crocodile tour is next level!

    • thethoroughtripper

      The staff all seem to be fully intact 🙂 They do give quite a bit of warning about keeping all your body parts inside the boat at all times. But I’ve been on this tour three times now over the years and have never felt at all unsafe.

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