Winning tip: Best of Bosnia
My girlfriend and I stayed at Hostel Majdas in Mostar and signed up for a daily tour that the owner’s brother, Bata, was running. Bata gave us a jaw-dropping personal account of his life and escape during the Bosnia conflict, and an incredible amount of information about the political situation and its relevance to this day. He took us to incredibly beautiful locations miles off the beaten track, and the highlight was visiting Grandma’s house and getting the warmest Bosnian hospitality and tastiest home cooking. He was the most enthralling and passionate local guide I’ve ever met.
• Day tour €30, on Facebook
New York with an ex-punk rocker
The best tour guide is John Joseph in New York City. Joseph was the singer of New York hardcore pioneers the Cro-Mags, and a devout vegan triathlete. Walking the streets of the Lower East Side with his colourful commentary about punk rock history, drugs, crime and veganism gives you insight into what NYC once was – certainly not as it appears today. Informative, highly entertaining and astute, this is a walking tour for those who find special meaning in names such as the Ramones, Bad Brains, CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City. There’s no other walking tour like it.
• From $35pp, rocksoff.com
The graffiti tour of District 13 in Medellín, Colombia, led by Ciro, is informative, eye-opening and entertaining. Ciro is part of a collective (Casa Kolacho) that runs educational projects in the community funded by these walking tours. On the tour you learn about the bad old days of his neighbourhood (helicopter gunships firing indiscriminately through the tin roofs of the houses below) but also how street art and hip-hop (and escalators) have played their part in bringing life, new hope, a level of prosperity (and tourists) to the area. As part of the tour you get to tag your name on a “wall” and impersonate your favourite animal in an improvised rap, too.
• $25pp, toucancafe.co
Streets and alleys of Old Delhi
I usually hate guided tours but Street Connections’ Old Delhi Walk, led by former street children, went to places I would never have found myself. Our guide had lived on Delhi’s streets but worries about poverty tourism evaporated as we peeked into different aspects of Old Delhi, food, religion, history and work. Navigating tiny alleyways we emerged on to the usual tourist trail but those cycle rickshaw rides and souvenirs now seemed odd. In the wholesale spice market the combination of stairs and chilli had me gasping for breath – but not as much as the view at the top. He brought all the historic details to life, went at our pace and hearing his own story was inspiring.
• Three hours £7, streetconnections.co.uk
At the end of a two-week tour of Iran in April, our guide, Hamid Hassanpour, asked us, “What’s the best thing about Iran?”. “You!” we replied. Hamid loves his country: the history, architecture, gardens, people, food. He imparted his knowledge with enthusiasm, and fielded our constant and sometimes difficult questions with humour and patience. Terrifying traffic was calmly negotiated and when I took a tumble in Shiraz he quietly took control, ensuring I was well cared for in A&E. He also conjured up wonderful picnics from the boot of his spotless Renault Megane. He is the best guide you could wish for.
• €35-40 a day, hassanpour.ie at gmail.com
Rich and poor, Cape Verde
On our visit to Sal, Cape Verde, we booked an island tour with Yes I Do SaL, . Dudu, our independent guide and owner, a local who has a young family, makes his living here in a place that depends heavily on the tourist trade. Dudu was amazing, his local knowledge was the best. A highlight was a visit to a slum and a school that had been set up within it. It was so humbling, to have been taken there; while Dudu had managed to make a better living for his family he had not forgotten to let his tourists/customers see how many of the islanders still live. He also took us to more light-hearted and fun places, my favourite was paddling with lemon sharks.
• Half-day from €25pp, Yes I Do SaL
Off the beaten track in China
Daniel is from France but a long-time resident of Dali in Yunnan, western China, and has taken us on three bespoke tours in the region. Appealing to our interest in off-the-beaten track locations, local crafts, traditions, food and history, he has taken us to a wondrous selection of landscapes, villages and towns. Like us he loves to catch someone in the street and ask them about their lives. We have traversed mountains, followed the Yangtse and Mekong and travelled the border with Laos, Thailand and Burma. A six-day tour starting in Dali, where Daniel runs a guesthouse, including an eclectic range of accommodation, is about £600pp.
• suzanne-dali at gmx.com
Civil war Barcelona
Nick Lloyd’s Orwell walking tour is for everyone who loves Barcelona and wants to dig beneath its shiny surface. If you’ve always been fascinated and horrified by the Spanish civil war, this is the walk for you. The tour, which includes a break at a revolutionary pub, takes visitors around important Barcelona sites, bringing to life vivid, joyful and later vile pictures and sounds of the (frighteningly recent) struggle against fascism. Without over-romanticising or over-simplifying – here are the sounds and sites seen by Orwell.
• €30 for four hours, iberianature.com
Carlos “the Caveman” provides a wonderful tour of the spectacular Actun Tunichil Muknal caves in Belize. Carlos is energetic, funny and attentive. He reassuringly helps navigate through the pitch black (at times underwater) caves, as well as the surrounding jungles. His stories about the origins of the skeletons are hilarious! After a short drive from the nearby town of San Ignacio to the edge of the jungle, the rest is on foot or swimming. A fresh barbecue lunch is provided, as is a fascinating tour of the surrounding Amish communities.
• $50pp for half a day, carloscaveman.com
Jamaica beyond the resorts
Many visitors to Jamaica don’t often leave the sanctuary of their hotels. Karen Hutchinson, who owns Jamaica Cultural Enterprises, is doing her best to change this. She runs small personable tours using her own car from anywhere in Jamaica. Her Kingston city tour takes in Trench Town, Heroes Park and the bustling downtown market. At times it felt like a kind relative showing us the sights. Her Kingston walking tour is free – just bring money for lunch and the bus back. Her knowledge is vast as is her clear love of Jamaica.
• Five-hour Kingston walking tour free (every Thursday); other tours (Kingston and beyond) from $90pp (discounts for three or more people), jaculture.com
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