When it comes to an itinerary, Travel + Leisure readers want more than a string of photo opportunities — and the right tour operator makes all the difference in creating a trip of a lifetime versus one that simply checks off a list of sights. This year, our readers were especially drawn to companies that utilize local expertise and experience to thoughtfully design trips that will entertain as well as inspire.
Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated tour operators and safari outfitters based on their staff and guides, itineraries and destinations, activities, accommodations, food, and overall value.
The top picks were noted for their deep knowledge of destinations and guides who “go the extra mile.” One reader who has been traveling for more than five decades said a trip with Classic Journeys (No. 2) was the “very best” they had experienced. Others noted attention to pandemic safety details, while one who went to Norway was charmed by a “wonderful surprise dinner in Bergen out on the water that was fantastic.”
Tour operators that seamlessly navigated the logistics of a trip also came out on top. Quasar Expeditions (No. 9) was noted “for really planning out every detail” so that “all you have to do is show up and have a great time.” Meanwhile, of TCS World Travel (No. 10), a guest said: “You never lift a finger and just spend your time actually exploring the destination.” They even added that they “learned so much” along the way.
Among the five companies on this year’s list that weren’t on last year’s were two women-only tour operators that cater to travelers of all ages. AdventureWomen (No. 14) has multiday tours designed by women from Bhutan to Yellowstone National Park, while Explorer Chick (No. 15) has everything from day trips — like glassblowing in Baltimore and cave rappelling in St. Louis — to full itineraries in Machu Picchu and the Galápagos. One reader said her Everest Base Camp trip with AdventureWomen was filled with “like-minded women” who “bonded so well,” while another said she felt it was a “safe tour group for women.”
No matter which tour they chose, readers were most taken by the people they met along the way, as one said of Trek Travel (No. 13): “By the end of the trip, a group of strangers felt like longtime friends.” Find out which other companies round out the list of the best tour operators below.
1. DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co.
A tour with DuVine goes far beyond just riding a bike — it’s a way to really see the character of a destination. Case in point: even those who say they’re not necessarily cycling fans have been converted. That’s part of what helped the tour operator — which runs trips in Europe, the U.S., Latin America, and Africa — skyrocket from No. 14 last year to this year’s top spot. Its “top-notch biking equipment” and “challenging but doable itineraries” didn’t hurt either. One reader was especially taken by a guide picking figs off of a local tree in Puglia for an extra energy boost during a tough climb, as well as another guide singing to the group after dinner. As another reader put it simply: “They exceed your expectations.”
More information: duvine.com
2. Classic Journeys
More information: classicjourneys.com
3. Artisans of Leisure
More information: artisansofleisure.com
4. (tie) Black Tomato
More information: blacktomato.com
4. (tie) GeoEx
More information: geoex.com
4. (tie) Wilderness Travel
More information: wildernesstravel.com
7. Inside Japan Tours
More information: insidejapantours.com
8. Kensington Tours
More information: kensingtontours.com
9. Quasar Expeditions
More information: quasarex.com
10. TCS World Travel
More information: tcsworldtravel.com
11. Butterfield & Robinson
More information: butterfield.com
More information: tauck.com
13. Trek Travel
More information: trektravel.com
More information: adventurewomen.com
15. Explorer Chick
More information: explorerchick.com
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