• Colombia Guide Carolina

    5 Reasons to Travel With A Local Guide

    <p>It’s tempting to say that you don’t need a guide when visiting a new country. Between the internet and the thousands of guidebooks on the market, it’s pretty hard to get lost these days. After spending many of my traveling adventures alone, my first experience with a local guide convinced me that it was a great way to go (although this was in Costa Rica, on a river paddleboarding excursion, and my guide prevented me from paddling right into a couple of dozing crocodiles), and my last experience in Italy (<a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank">with Sergio</a>!) confirmed it. What I truly took away, was that my trips wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable had I not been with a friendly local with tremendous knowledge of his country. Here are five reasons why traveling with a local guide makes all the difference. </p> <p><b>#1 Save Time AND Money</b><br>Visiting another country can be overwhelming. There’s so much to see, and this might be the only chance you’ll ever have to see it. You could easily spend a week in <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/prague/" target="_blank">Prague</a> and still miss out on some great sights. A local guide will not only take care of all the planning for your daily activities, but he or she will also make sure you get to see the things that other tourists often overlook. And a good local guide will get you from place to place in the most efficient, least expensive way possible. So, you won’t have to worry about paying exorbitant cab fees that inexperienced tourists often rack up.<br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/prague/" target="_blank"><img alt="People walking in Prague" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002ATNF&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000f844" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a></p> <p><b>#2 Eat Like The Locals</b><br>You didn’t spend 12 hours on a plane to dine at the local McDonald’s. <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/local-tour-guides/" target="_blank">Local guides</a> are experts on their country’s cuisine. After all, they’ve spent years eating it and will steer you towards the restaurants that best represent their country’s cooking. They&#39;ll make sure you eat the dishes you’ve been wanting to try and introducing you to some that you might never have heard of.<br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/morocco-tours/" target="_blank"><img alt="Men in Morocco Market" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002ATNF&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000f849" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a></p> <p><b>#3 A Walking Encyclopedia</b><br>Local guides are an unparalleled source of information about the places you’ll visit. True story: on a recent <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi/" target="_blank">Classic Journeys trip to the Amalfi Coast</a>, I was surprised when our guide Marco stopped in the middle of the trail we were on, yanked what looked like a handful of weeds out of the ground, and ate them. He saw the looks on our faces and laughed. “This is wild arugula,” he explained. “It’s great in salads!” I wish I’d had some balsamic vinegar with me. From giving you a detailed <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfifamily/" target="_blank">history of Pompeii,</a> to… well, showing you what plants you can just pull out of the ground and eat, local guides know their country’s history and even biology like the backs of their hands and are delighted to share it with you.<br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank"><img alt="Amalfi tour guide with guests" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002ATNF&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000f84J" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a></p> <p><b>#4 Support the Local Economy</b><br>One way to be a good global citizen is by <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/giving/" target="_blank">supporting local economies</a>. Having a local guide is a great way to do that. Not only do you help those guides earn a living, but you’re also supporting the various businesses, restaurants, and shops to which your guide visits. <br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/giving/" target="_blank"><img alt="Woman in Panama with children" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002ATNF&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000f84E" style="height: 354px; width: 500px;"></img></a></p> <p><b>#5 Make a New Friend</b><br>It might seem like a cliché, but local guides love what they do because they truly enjoy the company of new people. Perhaps the best part of hanging out with your guide is just that... hanging out and enjoying each other’s company. Whether it’s sampling wine in a <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/loire/" target="_blank">French chateau</a> or hiking the <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/peru-tours/" target="_blank">Inca trail in Peru</a>, you’ll find that the company of a local guide is just as memorable as the sights and tastes you’ll experience.<br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/peru-tours/" target="_blank"><img alt="Guests with guide in Peru" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002ATNF&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000f84O" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a></p> <p> </p>

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  • Amalfi Coastline, Italy

    At Home with Sergio & Ulysses

    You have to love a father who names his son Ulysses. My friend Sergio and his opera-singer wife christened their only child in honor of history’s most epic traveler. “They wanted to embed wanderlust in me,” laughs Ulysses. When I asked Sergio if it was true, he confirmed the family tale with a trademark mustachioed smile that his fan club of <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank">Classic Journeys</a> guests would recognize instantly.<br><br>Almost 25 years ago, Sergio met us in his native <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank">Naples </a>to scout our very first Classic Journeys’ trip to the <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank">Amalfi Coast</a>. In our debut year, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank">Amalfi </a>was one of just six itineraries we offered. Every year since, it’s been one of the most popular trips, and Sergio has been with us all the way. As a teenager, Ulysses (his name is Ulisse in Italian, but he prefers the English pronunciation) interned in our office in California. Over the last 16 years, we were almost as proud as his father to watch him become an accomplished guide for several companies, one of which named him their European tour leader of the year multiple times. He’s been one of our most popular local guides for a decade or so, and with the upcoming birth of his first child, we like to think the third generation is on the way!<br><br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank"><img alt="Sergio &amp; Ulysses overlooking harbor in Naples" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002ATPR&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000f88L" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a><br><br>“It’s wrong to call this a job,” Ulysses insists. “Every day, I wake up happy for another chance to show guests around the places and the secret corners where I live and where I grew up.” As for Sergio, I suppose that at some point in history, he met a stranger. But I’ve never seen evidence that there’s anyone he doesn’t know in his native <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank">Naples, Capri or Positano</a>. He makes it sound deceptively simple: “I’m lucky to have many friends. Many have known Ulysses his whole life. Our friends are your friends, too.”<br><br>The depth and sincerity of their ties have blown us away again and again. None of the guides that other companies shuttle in from the U.S. or Canada — no matter how gung-ho or well-versed in guidebook facts — can match their connectedness. For proof that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, look no further than a family house that sits on a <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank">cliff above Praiano.</a><br><br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank"><img alt="View from hills of the Amalfi Coast" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002ATPR&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000f88Q" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a><br><br>For generations, the family that lives in that house worked the land for the monastery that’s even higher up the slope. The monks are gone now, but the family remains, tending their terraced vineyards and gardens. All <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank">Classic Journeys</a> guests know this because — thanks to the good graces of Sergio and Ulysses — the family invites you to lunch after you meet the artisans who are restoring the monastery’s frescoes.  Signora Grazia will wave you out to the terrace where you can see <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank">Positano</a> and all the way to <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank">Capri</a>. Over at the barrel of “grape juice” (aka homegrown wine), you’re instructed to twist the spigot and fill your glass as often as you like. In the cave built into the cliff behind the house, there’s a disk of pizza dough for you to stretch, top to your taste, and bake in the wood-fired oven. Lunch on that terrace as you chat with the family and soak in the view is some kind of heaven — a deeply authentic moment that no tourist can experience at any price.<br><br>The greatest gift you can receive as a traveler is the rare thrill of feeling at home in a place that couldn’t be farther from your everyday life. From the first “Ciao!” you hear from Ulysses or Sergio, you’ll feel that great sense that you are right where you belong. When you visit the <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank">Amalfi Coast</a> with Classic Journeys, you become an instant part of the extended family they have created … and add an unforgettable chapter to your own lifelong odyssey.<br><br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank"><img alt="Group on a hike in the Amalfi Coast" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002ATPR&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000f88V" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a><br><br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank"><b>LOCAL MATTERS</b></a><br>When you compare tours, be sure to ask if your guide will be a native of the place you’re visiting. All guides on all of our trips are locals. They have deep roots in the region that assure you a very personal, totally plugged-in view of the people and culture you’re there to discover. A lot of them have been a part of the <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank">Classic Journeys</a> family for 10 years, 20 years and even longer. Many operators tout the guides they import from around the world on their Instagram feeds. Nice and well-intentioned they may well be, but if your goal as a traveler is to get the most immersive feel for a place, local truly matters!<br> 

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  • Iceland northern lights

    When They Aren’t Guiding: Kommi Tells Secrets to Seeing Aurora Borealis

    When solar winds collide into our atmosphere, layers of gases combine with particles carried in the winds to reveal a dance of chemistry that creates the Aurora Borealis, the <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/blog/how-to-see-northern-lights-iceland/" target="_blank">northern lights</a>. Greens and pinks shimmer as layers of oxygen and nitrogen become illuminated in a way that only a natural phenomenon could display—until now.<br><br>Kormakur “Kommi” Hermannsson, a Classic Journeys guide in <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/iceland-tours/" target="_blank">Iceland</a>, has engineered real-time displays of solar winds running headfirst into the same gases from our atmosphere. Contained in plasma tubes, Kommi has found a way to track and replicate the entire supernatural process and put it on display for the public. But this was not exactly his intention.<br><br>Kommi, 49, rearranged his life in 2011 when he devoted himself full-time to work as an outdoor guide in <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/blog/tag/iceland/" target="_blank">Iceland</a>, after already establishing himself as a top search and rescue person in the nation. Possessing an engineering background of more than 20 years (inventor of the <a href="https://noxmedical.com/" target="_blank">Nox Medical home sleep monitor device</a>), it didn’t take long for him to identify opportunities for improvement in his new industry. <br><br><img alt="Kommi and Classic Journeys founders Edward and Susie" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002Fjir&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000001lRyF" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>The most significant opportunity being improving the experience of witnessing the <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/blog/wonders-of-iceland/" target="_blank">northern lights.</a> Kommi said that most guides during the winter are involved with the northern lights in some way. But the process to see them can take a combination of time and withstanding the elements of nature, something that can be difficult for travelers.<br><br>“The most surprising factor was how insecure people were in the dark,” observed Kommi. “A lot of people aren’t all that comfortable being cold and alone in the dark while in a strange country.”<br><br><img alt="Kommi and Classic Journeys founders Edward and Susie" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002Fjir&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000001lRyK" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>That became the goal and driving force behind the <a href="https://www.aurorabasecamp.is/" target="_blank">Aurora Basecamp Observatory</a> - to create the best possible experience of seeing the northern lights. In December 2019 it was in full swing and open to the public, and already in a few short months, they have delivered the visual masterpiece to approximately 2,000 people.<br><br>“We asked ourselves, ‘where would be the best place to take a guest?’ and that is basically where we started.” From there, Kommi explained, the difference was going to be in the education factor. “Nothing I have seen focuses on teaching people how to experience the northern lights.”<br><br>Three geodesic dome-shaped buildings sit off in the distance of an undeveloped lava field located 15-20 minutes south of Reykjavik. They form a small observatory campus, far away from any chance of urban light pollution. The experience visitors leave with is truly otherworldly.<br><br><img alt="Northern lights observatory Aurora Basecamp" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002Fjir&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000001lRyU" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>“I have seen the craziest displays myself, but what you see of the northern lights on time-lapse videos…that is not something that I want to show to people.” Kommi was adamant that he wanted to provide real experiences, not photoshopped versions. “The normal northern lights you see is a nice arc, and if you are lucky you will see the lights dance—that is usually what people are looking for.”<br><br>According to Viking lore, the way to Valhalla required death in battle. If chosen, fallen warriors were then escorted by Valkyries to the heavens, which would in effect create the northern lights.<br><br>According to Kommi, though, the lights are a matter of science. A science that he has managed to not only understand and recreate with plasma tubes, but track and showcase to the public in real-time.<br><br>The <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/blog/how-to-see-northern-lights-iceland/" target="_blank">northern lights</a> are formed on the edge of the magnetic field associated with the North Pole. When solar winds cross that area, layers of nitrogen and oxygen mix with the charged particles in the solar winds to create a shimmer, or dancing, effect. <br><br><img alt="Northern lights aurora borealis" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002Fjir&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000001lRz8" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>This was the process that Kommi was able to reconstruct inside plasma tubes. After a curious two years of experimenting with conductors to mix various gases with charged particles, permits were filed and approved to build perfect, protected land. Today Kommi is replicating the magic of the cosmos in front of groups, exactly as he set out to do.<br><br>A brief understanding of the celestial experience begins when people first enter the Aurora Lounge. Around a wood stove, visitors take a seat and enjoy either hot chocolate or tea. This room allows everyone to truly ease their way into the eventually dark, harsh conditions. <br><br><img alt="Aurora Lounge Basecamp Observatory for the northern lights" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002Fjir&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000001lRyj" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>Next, you enter the Dark Park, which is a guided experience through various rooms, each set with different images and information. The tour begins with a photo of very weak northern lights, almost undetectable. This is to explain exactly how difficult they can be to spot on your own if you do not know what to look for. Light pollution is the topic of the following area, where you learn how light can either add to or take away from your viewing experience of the northern lights. <br><br>“We have to teach people how to look for it,” says Kommi. “We have to then teach people how to see it.”<br><br><img alt="Northern lights aurora borealis Iceland" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002Fjir&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000001lRzX" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>You continue to learn by unlearning everything you thought you knew about seeing the northern lights, with a compilation of the most popular disinformation or confusing information that leaves everyone making the same mistakes. Finally, you come to find six plasma tubes filled with gases and charged particles that artificially display the same show happening outdoors before you exit the building to witness it in nature.<br><br>At this point of the Aurora Basecamp Observatory experience, your eyes have fully adjusted to dark areas and low light. After you exit the dome, you are instructed on how to take the best pictures of what you are seeing. Then, it is up to you to just enjoy the night, with Kommi, and his return customers, which he says most become.<br><br><img alt="Northern lights observatory Aurora Basecamp" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002Fjir&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000001lRyo" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img><br><br>“The northern lights are a natural phenomenon. Sometimes you have activity that produces crazy moments of really nice light,” explained Kommi, calmly, like he does. “That is what makes the northern lights exciting for me as a guide. I can never tell you exactly what is going to appear.”<br><br><i>Skyler Wilder is an award-winning journalist with a Sports Emmy in “Outstanding New Approaches” at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games; a digital producer for the International Surfing Association, Dew Tour, Toyota, Red Bull and NBC; and an independent photojournalist with stories published in Men’s Journal among many publications. Follow him @northwestwilder</i><br><br>Also written by Skyler: <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/blog/vatnajokull-national-park/" target="_blank">Chaos theory explains trolls, French Revolution and Europe’s Largest Park</a><br><br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/blog/tag/iceland/" target="_blank"><img alt="Iceland read more" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000002Fjir&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000001lS14" style="height: 177px; width: 500px;"></img></a><br><i>Photo credit: Aurora Basecamp</i>

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