Tour guides hold the key to some of the most spectacular sights on the planet, many of which are off limits to the general public. Whether you’re after a thrilling wildlife experience, a behind-the-scenes VIP city tour, or an eye-opening cultural journey, tour guides can take you there. They open new doors for independent travelers and bring you one step further than you can on your own. As the saying goes, “change is as good as a holiday,” but why not have both and change up your holiday. Here’s our list of the top 10 experiences that cannot be experienced without the help of an adventure or tour guide.
Antarctica is a place of extremes. Not only is it the coldest, driest and windiest place on Earth; it also has no permanent residents, no government, and you can’t buy food or drink anywhere on the continent. If you’re struggling to see the appeal, you’re probably not alone. But when you see the stunning sights, it’s easy to understand why thousands of travelers head south every year to experience it for themselves. The only way to capture photos of your own is to join a guided expedition, but you will be rewarded with awe-inspiring pictures and memories that will give you bragging rights for years to come.
2. Hill Tribes in Laos
If culture is what you crave, Laos will deliver – but a visit to the hill tribes takes it to a whole new level. Home to small communities that remain virtually untouched by the western footprint, the Laos hill tribes are worlds apart from life as we Westerners know it. Locals live in bamboo huts, speak their own dialects and follow rituals passed down through countless generations. But they are also eager to share their way of life with wide-eyed travelers. A visit to these remote communities promises to be a rewarding experience for the most intrepid travellers, but the only gateway to this fascinating way of life is to hire a tour guide. They speak the language, are familiar with the local tribes, and they travel with minimal impact on the community and environment.
3. Behind the Scenes in Venice
Venice hardly needs an introduction; its quaint waterways and romantic charm have given it a high rank on many travellers’ lists. But if you’re looking for a unique experience that will make your friends green with envy, hiring a guide is your golden ticket. Wave goodbye to crowds and general admission – a tour guide will take you behind the scenes and show you hidden gems that aren’t open to the public. Admire age-old masterpieces at the Doge’s Palace with exclusive access to several viewing rooms, and take your time at St Mark’s Basilica with after-hours VIP access. You’ll also get an insider’s peek at the Doge’s Palace’s hidden labyrinth of secret meeting halls, torture chambers and top-security prison cells. Or you could go without a tour guide and wait in line to see the same sights as everyone else. Your call.
4. Palace of Versailles
You can’t get much more iconic than the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but the Palace of Versailles comes in a close second with a whopping six million visitors each year. With a stat like that, you want to do your best to skip the queues, which is when a tour guide comes in handy. But priority access isn’t the only perk; you’ll also receive behind-the-scenes viewing that is off limits to the general public. And we’re not talking a quick peek at a couple of spare rooms – guided tours provide unprecedented access to private chambers such as Louis XVI’s library, the royal dining hall, and the private game room where Marie Antoinette played cards. Tour guides also provide early bird tours of the State Apartments and the Hall of Mirrors, so you won’t have to wait in line with the other 16,000 daily visitors.
5. Gallery Hopping in the Vatican
Bet you didn’t know the Vatican Museum is home to over nine miles of art. That’s 14 kilometers of paintings, murals and everything in between. What’s more, a decent portion of the collection has never been seen by the general public because of access issues and time allowances. But by hiring a guide, you can skip the queues, cross the velvet ropes and run your eyes over rare relics that are closed to the every day public, such as the Bramante Staircase and Official Vatican Painting Gallery. You’ll also get to feast your eyes on works by Raphael, Da Vinci and Caravaggio in the Pinacoteca Art Gallery, as well as the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. And you’ll save precious time by skipping the line-ups. Priceless!
6. Aboriginal Experiences Down Under
China has the Great Wall, Rome’s got its Colosseum and England has Stonehenge. As one of the youngest countries on the planet, Australia hasn’t got much in terms of historical monuments, buts its Indigenous heritage makes up for it. Many Aboriginal Australians continue to live off the land today, but the only way to gain an insight into their way of life is to join a tour with a local guide. Aboriginal tourism is still in its infancy, but there are a number of guides who are willing to introduce you to Aboriginal life, share legends from the Dreamtime and explain the intricacies of Indigenous art. Guided tours also provide exclusive access to sites such as the wildlife wetlands in Kakadu National Park and the Arnhem Land plateau, and many guides offer a hands-on intro to bush tucker cooking. Not quite the same experience as reading a guidebook.
7. Corcovado National Park
Nestled on the Osa Peninsula in southwestern Costa Rica, Corcovado National Park has captivated intrepid travelers since the 1970s. When you consider that it is home to one of the world’s most diverse array of wildlife species, it’s easy to understand their fascination. Crocodiles, jaguars, pumas, sloths and monkeys inhabit this little island, along with several endangered species. But if you want to experience this delicate ecosystem first hand, you will need to hire a tour guide. The government recently imposed new restrictions to protect the biodiversity of the park, and all travelers are now required to be accompanied by a guide. But it’s good news for travelers; a guide will keep you out of harm’s way, teach you about the local habitat and ensure that your travel is as low impact as possible.
8. Scale Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro ain’t for the faint hearted. As the highest peak on the African continent, Kilimanjaro is renowned for blistering winds, brutal weather and extreme altitude. And yet, the reward of panoramic views 5,895 metres above the ground lures thousands of travellers each year. “Kili” as it’s affectionately known by the locals, has been dubbed the ‘Everyman’s Everest’ because anyone can give it a try. All types tackle the mountain every year, but you won’t see any without a tour guide. Kilimanjaro National Park regulations stipulate that all travellers must be accompanied by a guide and at least two porters per climber. It may sound like overkill, but altitude sickness and unpredictable weather can strike at any time, so it’s best to play it safe. And who wouldn’t want to hand their packs over to someone else!?
9. African Safari
With more than 800 different mammal species roaming the continent, Africa defines safari. Whether you’re planning a trip to Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda or South Africa, you won’t have to look far to find the Big Five (buffalo, lion, leopard, elephant and rhino), but you will need a guide to show you around. Buckle up on a game drive and enjoy the thrill of tracking and photographing animals in their natural habitat, or join a walking safari to get up close with smaller wildlife. However you like to travel, your guide will keep you safe and entertained, and show you some of the most incredible wildlife on Earth.
10. Behind the Scenes in Kyoto
Kyoto has a vast history that has included riches and ruin over the centuries. It’s seen war, fire and devastation, and yet countless temples and shrines still survive in the city today. The Kyoto Imperial Palace is among them and is one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations. Travelers can make their way through the Emperor’s palace on their own watch, but a tour guide will take you behind the scenes with exclusive indoor access. Step foot inside the palace buildings, learn about Kyoto’s turbulent past, and hear how Japan has evolved over the years. And if your mastery of the Japanese language is limited to ‘sushi’ and ‘origami,’ your guide will help take care of the language barrier too.