Far-flung, bucket-list adventures are typically the dream vacations you need a little extra help with to make them worth the journey. Whether you’re going on an African safari, hiking South American mountain ranges, sailing the Mediterranean, traversing Middle Eastern deserts, or wandering Asia’s mega-cities, a seasoned guide is perhaps the best help you can have, and the smartest way to find one is on a group tour. But not all tour companies are created equal.
The best tour companies for you will of course depend on the type of adventure you’re seeking. Does it include the stops you want on your itinerary? Is it the travel style you prefer (flights, trains, active options like hiking or biking)? And then there are considerations like budget vs. luxury tours, group vs. small group, and bonus-point factors like optional add-ons and sustainability efforts the tour company champions.
The Best Tour Companies According to Travelers
Traveler reviews are the best way to get a peek into what tours are really like. TourRadar, a group tours website for reviews and booking that lists over 40,000 multi-day tours with over 1,500 tour companies, ranks the best tour companies based on real travelers’ reviews. Based on TourRadar data, here are the current top-five best tour companies:
These five companies are all relatively small and niche, and there are certainly larger, better-known, and equally esteemed tour operators to consider as well. To round out this list, I compared some of the top tour companies that travel experts love, and came away with a top-three collection of broader options to consider for your next bucket-list trip, no matter where it is:
The 5 Best Tour Companies According to Travelers
TourRadar’s ranking of its top five operators is based on its Tour Score, which combines ratings for accommodations, transportation, meals, guides, an overall star rating, plus “operator response rate to customer inquiries, departure dates, and availability.” TourRadar also tells me that: “As an aggregator, TourRadar does not take payment to get tours listed further up in our search engine. The search ranking is solely based on organic traffic and individual tour score. This means smaller and often lesser known tour operators compete on the same playing field as larger ones for visibility.”
With that in mind, here are the best tour companies according to TourRadar among both big and small tour operators, and what stood out about their ratings.
At number one, Kiwi Vibes is a New Zealand-only tour operator that has a Tour Score of 91 out of 100 thanks to its high ratings across the board: Accommodation, transportation, meals, and guides all got five-star ratings. Its average star rating is 4.9 out of five, and 95 percent of reviews are five-star ratings.
One Life Adventures
In second place, One Life Adventures provides multi-day trips to destinations in Asia. It has a Tour Score of 84 out of 100 for high marks in accommodation and meals, with transportation getting a perfect score (likely thanks to the company’s use of high-speed trains). Its average star rating is 4.8, with 92 percent of reviews being five-star ratings. One Life Adventures’ 10-day Japan tour was TourRadar’s number one overall tour of 2019.
Egypt Best Holidays
If you’re looking for a top-tier tour company in Egypt, which can be difficult to navigate as a tourist, Egypt Best Holidays has a Tour Score of 83 and snagged TourRadar’s number three spot thanks to 4.5 (out of five) ratings across the board, plus an average review score of 4.5—with 95 percent of reviews being five-star ratings. TourRadar notes that Egypt Best Holidays “has four tours listed on TourRadar that have a perfect average review rating of 5 [out of 5].”
Sweet as Travel
Another New Zealand-only tour company, Sweet as Travel has a tour score of 82 and 4.5 (out of five) ratings or better across the board; 91 percent of its reviews are five-star ratings. TourRadar notes that all of the company’s listed tours are instantly bookable, so you can confidently choose a trip with no back and forth about availability.
A Sri Lanka tour operator rounding out TourRadar’s top five tour companies, Mango Vacations has a Tour Score of 81 thanks to 82 percent of its reviews being five-star; ratings are all 4.5 (out of five) or better across the board. TourRadar notes that two of Mango Vacations’ tour options are rated five-out-of-five: its 10-day Sri Lanka Nature, Culture, and Wild tour; and its 10-day Sri Lanka Cultural Adventure tour.
The 3 Best Tour Companies According to Experts
With those destination-specific winners in mind, there are also plenty of broader, worldwide tour operators (that keep group sizes small) to consider. Here are some expert-loved tour operators across the globe, what they’re rated on TourRadar, and what they’re best-known for.
Best for Affordable Sustainability: Intrepid Travel
With 7,640 traveler reviews on TourRadar (and many more on its own site) and a 4.6 overall star rating, Australia- and Canada-based Intrepid Travel is a favorite among seasoned world travelers for its rare commitment to both affordable options and sustainability and social efforts across the globe. Intrepid Travel has been operating since the 1980s, offers over 1,000 itineraries in more than 100 countries, and is a certified B Corporation, meaning it balances profits with environmental and community investments. Its guides are always locals who will get you off the beaten path, and trip styles range from super-affordable “Basix” trips to higher-end “Comfort” options, so there’s something for everyone. Plus, there are active cycling, hiking, and multi-sport itineraries. Perhaps the biggest perk: Intrepid Travel groups have an average size of 10 people (and typically a maximum limit of about 15), making it the largest “small group adventure” tour operator in the world.
Best for Adventure: Exodus
With a whopping 13,000 reviews on TourRadar and a 4.4-star rating, Exodus is a veteran adventure tour provider that’s been operating since the 1970s, and offers tours in over 100 countries across the globe. It was voted the Best Small/Medium Tour Operator in National Geographic Traveller’s Reader Awards in 2019, and bills itself as “the original active adventure company.” It also focuses on responsible travel initiatives and has active offerings like cycling tours. Group sizes are also small, and typically range from eight to 16 with a limit of 20 people.
Best for Value: G Adventures
With 6,198 reviews on TourRadar, G Adventures has a 4.6-star rating and a reputation for bucket-list trips with a lot of value. With its aim to keep costs down, its multi-city itineraries, and the fact that half of travelers are typically joining the group solo, G Adventures has long focused (it’s been operating since 1990) on both education about sustainability and uniting like-minded travelers. Group sizes are typically around 10 people and max out at 15, similar to Intrepid Travel.
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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her adventures on Instagram @shanmcmahon.