Part of the fun of travelling is getting lost and finding new destinations on your own.
But sometimes, having an experienced guide can be extremely helpful and even necessary to get access to certain places.
So, when is it worth paying for a professional guide?
When you’re short on time
If you only have a few days or hours to spare, getting a tour guide can help save valuable time.
You can organise what you’d like to do with your guide beforehand so that they can customise plans for a few hours or a full day. That way, you can leave your trip feeling like you got to see the best of the area.
Cruises offer the chance to see multiple countries in a matter of days, but that means very little time in each location.
To make the most of the time you do have, hire a tour guide beforehand.
They can set up an itinerary for you before you even arrive, and most of the time, will pick you up so you avoid getting stuck in the crowd. Plus, if they drive, you can avoid the nerve-wracking feeling of missing your return time back to the ship.
Even though places like the Louvre have audio guides, when you have so much ground to cover it’s good to have a guide who can take you to the must-see pieces first.
Plus, a tour guide can give you valuable knowledge and a deeper understanding into what you’re seeing so you leave the country with a solid understanding of its roots.
Extremely popular tourist sites
Want to see all of the best tourist sites in your destination without having to wait in lines that can take hours?
Getting a tour guide for highly popular destinations like the Vatican or the Eiffel Tower can be a huge time saver as they will know insider information like when it’s least crowded to visit and the days when you’ll get the best prices. Guides also often get special access to closed-off sites or rates and can even help you skip the line entirely.
This may apply more if you’re at a beginner’s level and looking to go on a sporting trip like mountain climbing, scuba diving, or river rafting trip.
Often, getting a tour guide will also include lessons to help you get on your feet. Even if your guide isn’t with you, they can let you know areas you should be careful to avoid because of safety concerns.
For example, tour guides are highly recommended for activities like climbing Alaska’s Mount Denali because of its dangerous conditions. Guides can escort you and ensure you have a safe journey, especially in tough winter conditions.
Unfortunately, some of the most stunning natural wonders are only accessible via a tour guide.
This usually happens when the site is part of a protected area.
For example, Iceland’s Silfra Fissure, one of the only places where you can swim between two continents in some of the world’s clearest waters, requires a tour guide because of its location in a protected park.
If you’re planning to travel to a destination with a dangerous reputation, it helps to have a tour guide who knows which areas to explore and which to be more weary of.
This is especially important in countries where there’s a high number of unregulated taxis or if there’s been cases of political turmoil. Currently, it’s good to consider this for certain areas in countries like Mexico, Haiti, and Brazil.
Large outdoor historical complexes
When you’re visiting an outdoor historical complex that’s large in size, it can sometimes be overwhelming and confusing to visit on your own.
In large historic cities, like the ancient Mayan city of Tikal in Guatemala or the ruins of Pompeii in Italy, having a guide can help you know where to start and save you from missing valuable information.
Guides can bring you to the most interesting excavations and add valuable stories to each that audio guides often don’t. They will also know when exhibits are temporarily closed to help you save time.
Nature or hiking trips
If you’re visiting a rainforest, jungle, or hiking trail, it’s great to get a tour guide who can give you information on wildlife, plants, and hiking trails. For the untrained eye, it can be hard to spot animals, but guides know where to look for shy wildlife and hidden plants.
For example, Costa Rica’s rainforests are known for their stunning array of bird and butterfly species, but it could be incredibly tough to know the right places to spot them without a trained nature guide.
When you don’t speak the same language
Translation books and apps help when you’re looking for a quick phrase, but if you’re travelling to a country where you don’t speak the language at all, a local tour guide who speaks both languages is a great investment.
Not only can they help you communicate with locals, but they can also help translate signs and descriptions in museums and attractions so you know exactly what you’re seeing.
When you don’t want to drive
Driving in a foreign country can be stressful when you don’t understand the signs, aren’t familiar with the roads, and may even be driving on a different side of the ride — like in the UK.
That’s when a guide comes in handy. Many tour guides will pick you up and take you around the area, explaining the history and context of the sites you’re seeing while driving. This makes it easy to navigate the sites without stressing about driving.
Plus, sometimes hiring a guide as a driver comes out to be cheaper than what you’d pay to rent a car, especially if you’re paying for a one-way rental.
To see hidden gems
One of best parts about hiring a tour guide is seeing their favourite stops. If they are a local, chances are they have their go-to destinations that only locals know about. Whether it’s a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, a favourite local pub, or a fantastic attraction that most tourists overlook, guides can help recommend authentic experiences that you may not discover on your own.
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