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Tour Operators

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Provence is popular with travelers who can tour the South of France by bicycle or on foot.
Provence is popular with travelers who can tour the South of France by bicycle or on foot. (By Martial Calomb -- Photodisc)
Ancient Athenian sites such as the Parthenon can be part of a tour through the islands and mainland of Greece.
Ancient Athenian sites such as the Parthenon can be part of a tour through the islands and mainland of Greece. (By Thanassis Stavrakis -- Associated Press)
Botswana -- shown here is the game-rich Okavango Delta -- is one of the prime destinations in southern Africa for wildlife safaris.
Botswana -- shown here is the game-rich Okavango Delta -- is one of the prime destinations in southern Africa for wildlife safaris. (By Rick Sammon -- Associated Press)
The icons of tourism in Australia include the Sydney Opera House, which opened in 1973.
The icons of tourism in Australia include the Sydney Opera House, which opened in 1973. (By David Messent)
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designs tours for groups and individuals (no escorted, scheduled-departure group tours) throughout Russia, including Moscow, St. Petersburg and the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Also travels to northern and Eastern Europe.

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Scandinavia

* Brekke Tours & Travel, 800-437-5302, http://www.brekketours.com. This Midwest company, founded in 1956, organizes mostly escorted, general interest, heritage and customized itineraries in Norway, including trips to less-visited areas.

* Hurtigruten, 866-257-6071, http://www.hurtigruten.us. Formerly known as Norwegian Coastal Voyage, Hurtigruten's fleet of modern, first-class cruise ships travels along Norway's coast to Greenland and above the Arctic Circle.

* Passage Tours of Scandinavia,800-548-5960, http://www.passagetours.com. The 30-year-old company's tours travel to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Russia and the Baltics. Passage Tours offers 100 escorted, guaranteed-departure tours May through September and independent travel packages year-round. A winter package highlight is hut-to-hut skiing; traditional excursions might tour the fiords or arrange stays in Danish castles.

* Scandinavian American World Tours, 800-545-2204, http://www.scanamtours.com. Scandinavian-owned and -operated, ScanAm has long-standing travel connections throughout the region, with a variety of packages available. Check out its online top 10 list of places to visit in Scandinavia.

Spain

* Central Holidays, 800-935-5000, http://www.centralholidays.com. Offers a great variety of tours, including a "Splendors of Spain" escorted tour and a "Romance of Castles and Wine" independent tour.

* Key Tours, 800-576-1784, http://www.keytours.com. Based in Fairfax, this operator covers Mediterranean destinations. Sample package: the five-day "Memorable Barcelona," which puts all the details together for you, including hotel, airport transfers, city tours of Barcelona and Montserrat, seaside dinner and a flamenco show.

* Petrabax, 800-634-1188, http://www.petrabax.com. High-end escorted and independent travel; arranges stays in historic castles, inns and hotels. Also travels to Portugal and Morocco.

Switzerland

* Alpine Vacations, 800-755-1330, http://www.alpinevacations.com. Luxury ski vacations. Switzerland's packages are based in at least seven locations, including St. Moritz and Davos.

* Collette Vacations, 800-340-5158, http://www.collettetours.com. This big outfit is the United States' oldest tour operator, around since 1918. Collette goes just about everywhere, by escorted tour or cruise. In Switzerland, its 11-day "Train Journey of the Alps" trip is one possibility. Collette also partners with Smithsonian Journeys to offer various learning vacations.

* Tauck Tours, 800-788-7885, http://www.taucktours.com. These upscale escorted tours are studded with ultra-cool highlights. For instance, the "Alpine Interlude" tour offers a resort stay in St. Moritz, travel into the Alps by private observation rail car and a private boat tour on Lake Maggiore.

Turkey

* Troy Tours, 800-748-6878, http://www.troytours.com. Specializes in escorted and independent travel to Turkey, Greece and Italy. Its classic and highlights tours of Turkey are quite comprehensive. An Istanbul city package is one of its independent tours.

* Key Tours, 800-576-1784, http://www.keytours.com. Based in Fairfax, Key Tours covers Mediterranean destinations. At least eight Turkey vacation packages are offered, including a 10-day tour to Istanbul, Ephesus and other locales.

* Pacha Tours, 800-722-4288, http://www.pachatours.com. "The Turkey Specialist" posts a very long list of escorted travel packages on its Web site. Its 14-day "Cultural Heritage" program is one of its most popular. Also arranges custom trips and cruises.

NORTH AMERICA

For travel within the continental United States, contact the convention and visitors bureau of the state you wish to visit for recommendations of good tour operators.

Alaska

* All Alaska Tours, 866-317-3325, http://www.alaskatours.com. Offers hot springs and huskies tours, Arctic excursions and bear viewing for fully guided groups or individual tours. Coordinates with Alaska Railroad to arrange tours by rail across the state.

* Explore Tours, 800-523-7405, http://www.exploretours.com. Arranges motor home rentals, small-ship cruising, bear camp tours with a salmon bake.

* Alaska Wildland Adventures, 800-334-8730, http://www.alaskawildland.com. Offers varied packages, from small-group exploration of Denali National Park to multi-day hiking and backpacking for the independent traveler.

Bermuda and the Caribbean

* Apple Vacations,800-517-2000, http://www.applevacations.com. Apple puts together all-inclusive vacation packages for the Caribbean, Mexico, the Bahamas, Hawaii, Costa Rica and Europe, but its focus is Mexico and the Caribbean, with Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica its top draws. In business since 1969, Apple emphasizes affordability in travel.

* Caradonna Dive Adventures, 800-328-2288, http://www.caradonna.com. This 20-year-old company arranges diving vacations on 19 Caribbean islands and Bermuda (and elsewhere around the world). For every budget and diving ability.

* Funjet Vacations, 888-558-6654, http://www.funjetvacations.com. In business since 1974, this family-owned operation plans trips for all budgets to Caribbean islands and to Bermuda. Family, group, wedding and other deals are available.

Canada

* Julian Tours, 800-541-7936, http://www.juliantours.com. This Alexandria-based firm works exclusively with student groups to plan trips. A Quebec City and Montreal package is one of its offerings.

* Rocky Mountaineer Vacations, 877-460-3200, http://www.rockymountaineer.com. Offers year-round scenic vacation packages by rail throughout Canada, customizable with city stops along the way.

* Caravan, 800-227-2826, http://www.caravantours.com. Fully escorted tours since 1952. Known for planning affordable vacations, Caravan's options in Canada include a nine-day Canadian Rockies and Glacier Park trip and an eight-day Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island trip. Many scheduled departures starting in June.

Hawaii

* Classic Vacations, 800-635-1333, http://www.classicvacations.com. Offers luxurious vacations, including limo pickup planeside and escorted tours. Hotels are top-notch. Hawaii was this company's only destination when it debuted in 1978, but it now plans trips to Mexico, the Caribbean and elsewhere.

* Pleasant Holidays, 800-742-9244, http://www.pleasantholidays.com. In business since 1959, this is one of the largest, most experienced travel companies serving Hawaii. Trips typically include air and hotel arrangements, such as a recent Waikiki special offering a condo studio oceanview for four nights.

* United Vacations, 888-854-3899, http://www.unitedvacations.com. This United Airlines arm travels to six islands; packages includes air, hotel and car options, with the chance to participate in tours or take advantage of various promotions, such as an extra night's stay. Check out special Web deals.

Mexico

* Austin-Lehman Adventures, 800-575-1540, http://www.austinlehman.com. In operation since 1984, this adventure operator limits its adult trips to 12 people, family trips to 18 people. Destinations are in Africa and North and South America. In Mexico, the outfit offers "Oaxaca, Authentic Mexico: Food and Festivals" and "Mexico-Chiapas, Rainforest to Ruins."

* Lindblad Expeditions, 800-EXPEDITION, http://www.lindbladexpeditions.com. Lindblad and National Geographic Expeditions are now partners offering exotic (and expensive) travel. Among the Mexico offerings: an eight-day "Among the Great Whales" trip to Baja California.

* Vacation Express, 800-309-4717, http://www.vacationexpress.com. Package trips to Cancun, Cozumel and other Mexican destinations, with optional sightseeing tours.

CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA

Argentina

* Kontiki Tours & Travel, 877-566-8454, http://www.kontiki.org. Kontiki states flatly, "We are the Latin American tour specialists. That is all we do." Covers all countries in South and Central America, with Argentina one of its most popular destinations. These are all custom-designed, guided tours. You choose the highlights: Buenos Aires, wineries, Patagonia . . .

* Limitless Argentina, 202-536-5812, http://www.limitlessargentina.com. Custom-

designed travel for individuals, couples and small groups, incorporating full services and best-of-the-destination details, from skiing to fly-fishing.

* Tourlite International, 800-272-7600, http://www.tourlite.com. In business since 1971, Tourlite offers affordable escorted and independent itineraries covering different regions in Argentina.

Belize

* International Expeditions, 800-633-4734, http://www.ietravel.com. This "world leader in nature travel" goes all over the globe; Belize tours include a nine-day "Rainforests, Reefs, and Ruins" escorted land journey.

* Magnum Belize, 800-447-2931, http://www.magnumbelize.com. Magnum represents 45 resorts, offers specials and discount airfares, and helps plan trips.

Brazil

* Borello Travel & Tours, 800-405-3072, http://www.borellotravel.com. Plans trips all over Latin America and is especially active in Brazil. No escorted, scheduled-departure tours; Borello custom-designs each trip, with recommendations including Rio de Janeiro, the Pantanal region and the beaches of the northeast.

* Brazil Nuts, 800-553-9959, http://www.brazilnuts.com. Hotel deals, eco-adventures and city tours are available, but its packages offer best value and most appeal, such as a nine-day "Taste of Brazil" tour.

* Tourlite International, 800-272-7600, http://www.tourlite.com. Among the packages is a nine-day "Brazil Heritage" tour of Rio, Bahia and Salvador including air, hotel and cultural excursions.

Chile

* Explora,866-750-6699, http://www.explora.com. Features far-out trips to remote destinations in the southern tip of South America such as the Atacama Desert and Patagonia, as well as Easter Island.

* VisitChile.com,800-560-2340, http://www.visitchile.com. An array of options for touring Chile, from tailored trips to hotel and tour packages, covering every possible destination, from Easter Island to Patagonia.

Costa Rica

* Costa Rica Connection, 800-345-7422, http://www.crconnect.com. Plans for individuals, families or groups. Suggests itineraries for first-time travelers and seasoned visitors, with emphasis on wildlife and active adventures.

* Costa Rica Expeditions, 011-506-257-0766, http://www.costaricaexpeditions.com. Award-winning outfitter organizes group trips, such as "Costa Rica Connoisseur/Explorer" (includes visits to a volcano, rain forest and butterfly preserve) and customized "Family Nature Experience."

AFRICA

* Abercrombie & Kent, 800-554-7016, http://www.abercrombiekent.com. Started as a safari outfitter in 1962, this luxury travel operator is active throughout the world. Safaris are still very big, but A&K also offers a variety of escorted and independent trips in Africa that cover other interests and parts of the continent.

* Explore Africa, 888-596-6377, http://www.exploreafrica.net. Primarily a safari outfitter, but there's also a long list of cultural, adventure, diving and romantic trips with custom itineraries.

* Premier Tours, 800-545-1910, http://www.premiertours.com. African-owned and decades-old, Premier plans wildlife safaris and overland tours to Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Tanzania.

AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND AND SOUTH PACIFIC

* ATS Tours, 888-781-5170, http://www.atstours.com. For independent, escorted or self-drive travel, or a combination. ATS serves most of the South Pacific, including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tahiti. Go with a preplanned itinerary or create your own.

* Big Five Tours and Expeditions, 800-244-3483, http://www.bigfive.com. Featured tours of this luxury operator include an escorted 16-day "Australia Discovery Tour" and a three-day "Diving the Great Barrier Reef" excursion.

* Swain Australia Tours, 800-227-9246, http://www.swainaustralia.com. Escorted, individual and group tours to New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific. Itineraries range from the basic five-night "Sydney Sampler" to the 17-night "Aussie Adventure," from Melbourne to Adelaide to Kangaroo Island, and on.

MIDDLE EAST

* Caravan-Serai Tours, 800-451-8097, http://www.caravan-serai.com. Mostly custom tours for individuals and groups, but also scheduled escorted trips. Travels to Dubai, Egypt, Israel, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia and many other Middle East locations.

* Gate 1 Travel, 800-682-3333, http://www.gate1travel.com. This discount operator offers escorted and guided packages to Israel, Egypt and Morocco.

* Travcoa, 866-591-0070, http://www.travcoa.com. "Ancient Roads of Syria and Jordan," "The Nile Revealed" and "Mystical Israel" are three escorted tours through the Middle East. This 50-year-old luxury operator also plans custom trips.

ASIA

China and Hong Kong

* China Travel Service, 888-486-9981, http://www.intertrips.com. Plans scheduled group and individually designed tours to China and Hong Kong, with moderate rates, group size limits (two to 18) and knowledgeable, English-speaking guides.

* Pacific Delight Tours, 800-221-7179, http://www.pacificdelighttours.com. Pacific Delight Tours has arranged China trips and Yangtze River boat tours for more than 37 years. Offers many other excursions throughout Asia and elsewhere.

* Wild China, 011-86-10-6465-6602, http://www.wildchina.com. Specializes in culture and adventure tours for individuals, small groups, and corporate and education clients. Based in Beijing with no U.S. office, so correspond by e-mail or by calling China (Beijing time is 13 hours ahead of Washington).

India and Nepal

* Intrepid Travel, 800-970-7299, http://www.intrepidtravel.com. Affordable small-group trips with assorted approaches, from traditional to active. Offers great variety, low prices and authentic experiences.

* SITA, 800-421-5643, http://www.sitatours.com. Established in 1933, this company plans trips for all kinds of travelers. It offers at least 22 Indian itineraries, including 12 for those who like to go on their own and two for luxury-seekers.

* Travel Corporation India,866-674-8687, http://www.tcindia.com. Around for nearly 50 years, this operator covers all of India, plus cruises, short holidays, pilgrimage tours and trips to Nepal.

Indonesia

* Absolute Travel, 800-736-8187, http://www.absolutetravel.com. Custom luxury tours can focus on particular regions such as Borneo, or themes such as architecture or rain forests. Trips are tailored to your desires.

* Bali Barong Tours, 866-462-2254, http://www.balibarongtours.com. Custom trips to Bali and other parts of Indonesia. Tours offer surfing, trekking and volcano climbing for the active; spa treatments and villa stays for the luxury-seeking; and excursions to temples, art centers and fishing villages for everybody.

Japan

* General Tours, 800-221-2216, http://www.generaltours.com. The Japan National Tourist Organization says this tour operator sells more trips to Japan than any other. Its variety of tours and experience make this a good choice for the first-time traveler to Japan.

* Kintetsu International Travel Consultants,800-422-3481, http://www.japanforyou.com. Based in Japan but with U.S. offices, Kintetsu offers discount airline and railway tickets, package tours and group tours. Suggested itineraries on the Web site include a sake brewery tour.

* Tauck Tours, 800-788-7885, http://www.tauck.com. This upscale operator's escorted "Essence of Japan" trip takes you off the beaten path -- for instance, to the Shirakawa-go region, where traditional thatched-roof A-frame farmhouses dot the mountain landscape.

Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia

* Artisans of Leisure, 800-214-8144, http://www.artisansofleisure.com. Specializes in luxury travel, private and tailor-made, emphasizing the region's arts, cuisine, people, landscape and traditions. One example: an 11-day "Vietnam for foodies" tour.

* Asian Passages, 800-419-4446, http://www.asianpassages.com. This Washington area firm was founded in 1992 to promote cultural exchange between Vietnam and the United States. These experts in Southeast Asia feature 35 itineraries in eight countries.

SPECIALTY TRAVEL

Adventure

* Above the Clouds, 802-482-4848, http://www.aboveclouds.com. Organizes and conducts trekking adventures of varying degrees of difficulty in the Himalayas, Patagonia and Europe.

* Adventure Center, 800-228-8747, http://www.adventurecenter.com. This 30-year-old outfit says it offers "world-class adventure travel experience at affordable prices." Packages 2,000 trips for travel in 100 countries, from hiking in Provence to safaris in Africa. Travel is in small groups.

* Backroads, 800-462-2848, http://www.backroads.com. Extensive offerings for biking, walking, hiking and camping throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa.

* National Geographic Expeditions, 888-966-8687, http://www.nationalgeographicexpeditions.com. The travel program of the nonprofit National Geographic Society operates 200 trips a year all over the globe with assorted themes.

Culinary

* International Kitchens, 800-945-8606, http://www.theinternationalkitchen.com. Ninety programs offered in Italy, France and Spain. Trips include hands-on instruction in regional cuisine.

* Les Liaisons Delicieuses, 202-966-1810 or 877-966-1810, http://www.cookfrance.com. D.C. firm organizes gastronomic adventures, including hands-on cooking, to France, Canada and Morocco.

* Rustico Cooking,917-602-1519, http://www.rusticocooking.com. Milan-born Micol Negrin, a cookbook author, leads small groups of food and wine enthusiasts on week-long sojourns to such locations such as Tuscany and Liguria for cooking classes and tours of the surrounding area.

Disability Travel

* Accessible Journeys, 800-846-4537, http://www.disabilitytravel.com. Group, independent and cruise trips for slow walkers and wheelchair travelers.

* Flying Wheels Travel, 507-451-5005, http://www.flyingwheelstravel.com. A full-service travel agency offering escorted and independent tours around the world for those with disabilities.

* The Guided Tour, 800-783-5841, http://www.guidedtour.com. Around since 1972, this company organizes trips for physically and developmentally challenged travelers. A nurse often accompanies tours.

Eco Tours

* International Expeditions, 800-633-4734, http://www.ietravel.com. This eco-tourism and nature travel operator leads environmentally responsible expeditions worldwide, focused on conservation and nature.

* Journeys International, 800-255-8735, http://www.journeys-intl.com. Operating since 1978, this is one of the oldest global eco-tourism companies in the United States. Its hundreds of trips worldwide range from photography safaris in Costa Rica to a tree-planting trek in the Himalayas.

* Oceanic Society Expeditions, 800-326-7491, http://www.oceanic-society.org. Recognized as a leader in eco-tourism, the society offers natural history, research, student and family expeditions worldwide, inviting travelers to "enjoy and explore the natural world while contributing to its preservation."

Educational

* Academic Travel Abroad, 202-785-9000, http://www.academic-travel.com. D.C. firm, established in 1950, is a pioneer of educational tours. Partners with institutions such as the Smithsonian and the Phillips Collection to develop creative tours.

* TraveLearn, 800-235-9114, http://www.travelearn.com. Draws on its network of 300-plus university and college members and overseas representatives to provide expert guides, escorts and lecturers for each trip.

* Smithsonian Journeys, 877-338-8687, http://www.smithsonianjourneys.com. Escorted tours with Smithsonian study leaders. Features more than 250 (quite pricey) learning vacations worldwide.

Gay and Lesbian

* Alyson Adventures, 800-825-9766, http://www.alysonadventures.com. Arranges hiking, biking, diving and other active adventure trips worldwide for an exclusively gay and lesbian clientele.

* Ocean Voyager,800-321-8264, http://www.oceanvoyager.com. Escorted and independent gay and lesbian group cruises.

* Olivia, 800-631-6277, http://www.olivia.com. This "premier travel and entertainment company for lesbians" features cruise and resort vacations.

Seniors

* Elderhostel, 800-454-5768, http://www.elderhostel.org. This nonprofit organization offers 8,000 learning adventures in 50 states and 90 countries for travelers 55 and older.

* Grand Travel, 202-785-8901, http://www.grandtrvl.com. This D.C.-based division of Academic Travel Abroad organizes luxury vacations exclusively for grandparents and their grandchildren. Diverse worldwide destinations and themes include "Trains of the Wild West" and "Italy's Splendors."

* Vantage Deluxe World Travel, 800-322-6677, http://www.vantagetravel.com. According to its executive vice president, the average age of Vantage's clientele is 72. The company's upscale escorted tours go to destinations both exotic (Tunisia) and traditional (European river cruises). Services include roommate matching.

* Also see AARP's Web site, http://www.aarp.com/travel, for travel discounts, deals and vacation information.

Volunteer Tourism

* Cross-Cultural Solutions, 800-380-4777, http://www.crossculturalsolutions.org. Volunteers can choose stints of one to 12 weeks in 12 countries, where they work side by side with locals on volunteer projects.

* i-to-i Meaningful Travel, 800-985-4852, http://www.i-to-i.com. Its many programs offer travelers a chance for cultural immersion through volunteer work in various forms: as a group, family, intern, working with children or with a community.


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