Food safaris to nature trails: World's 50 best day tours to take

The time spent with a tour guide should be akin to a great date. Yes, they'll do most of the talking but the best of them will seek to learn something about you too, and make you feel special.

On a recent half-day, sloth-spotting tour in Costa Rica, for example, my guide's attention was clearly skewed towards a trio of female guests from Spain. As he dropped me back at my hotel, he asked how long it would take me to fly home to England.

A great tour guide should be aware of each member of his party and be flexible and spontaneous enough to adapt his or her approach if eyes are starting to glaze over. A great tour guide should acknowledge special interests and needs, and bring a sense of humour and fun to the experience.

After all, long after the facts have faded away, the thing you'll remember most is if you enjoyed the tour and if you'd recommend it to a friend.

Traveller's writers take all kinds of weird and wonderful tours over the course of a year. We've worn out shoe leather on food and drink safaris, hopped on to vintage motorbikes and Vespas, clambered aboard helicopters and climbed into countless mini-vans.

Some tours, along with their charming and charismatic guides, stand out more than others. Let us share the ones that have stood out above the rest.

FOOD AND DRINK

WALK A MAORI FOOD TRAIL, NZ

DURATION Two hours

THE TOUR Learn about traditional Maori ingredients and medicinal plants. Resident chefs of the luxurious Treetops Lodge on New Zealand's North Island point out pikopiko (fern fronds), tawa berries, peppery kawakawa (herbs) and karengo (wild nori) as you explore and taste the 800-year-old indigenous forest.

ESSENTIALS The Maori Food Trail is complimentary for guests of Treetops Lodge. See treetops.co.nz

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TAKE A JUNIPER-THEMED CYCLE THROUGH LONDON

DURATION Three and a half hours

THE TOUR This entertaining gin-themed cycling safari explores the lesser-known London suburbs of Bermondsey and Southwark. Along the way you'll visit a 1000-year-old food market, explore a little-known graffiti hot spot and enjoy a guided tasting at one of the city's best gin distilleries.

ESSENTIALS London Gin Safari, £55. See tallyho.cc

TASTE THE FOOD OF HOI AN BY VESPA, VIETNAM

DURATION Four hours

THE TOUR Kick off the Streets and Eats of Hoi An with sunset cocktails on An Bang Beach, before riding an authentic Vespa through rice fields to the town's ancient trading port. This fun tour will have you chowing down with the locals on crispy banh xeo (Vietnamese pancakes), sampling famous White Rose dumplings and washing down whole fried fish with locally crafted beer.

ESSENTIALS Vespa Adventures Streets and Eats start from $US89 a person. See vespaadventures.com/hoi-an-tours

EAT YOUR WAY THROUGH, SANTIAGO, CHILE

DURATION Four hours

THE TOUR Grab a brew from a street coffee trolley, browse the fresh food markets, feast on traditional Chilean dishes such as empanadas, humitas and bean stew, and knock back pisco sour cocktails in the historical and gentrified precincts of the Chilean capital. You'll travel by foot, public transport and funicular.

ESSENTIALS Santiago Bites and Sights starts around $US77 a person. See urbanadventures.com

TAKE A RAMEN TASTING TOUR AROUND TOKYO, JAPAN

DURATION Three hours

THE TOUR As the author of one of Tokyo's leading ramen blogs, Frank Striegl is ideally qualified to lead this immersive tasting tour around the city. Guests sample six different ramens from three award-winning restaurants in three separate neighbourhoods. Along the way Striegl explains the history, techniques and surprising diversity of Japan's favourite dish.

ESSENTIALS Ultimate Ramen Tasting Tour, ¥12000. See tokyoramentours.com

SAVOUR THE FOOD CARTS OF NEW YORK

DURATION Two hours

THE TOUR Hundreds of food carts patrol New York's streets every day offering cheap, filling feeds with this two-hour tour visiting some of the best. Sample six dishes including Korean short ribs, Mexican quesadillas and Belgian waffles. You'll get to meet the vendors and understand the challenges of selling food curb-side in the Big Apple.

ESSENTIALS Food Cart Tour of the Financial District, $US48. See turnstiletours.com

EXPLORE THE TAPAS OF MADRID, SPAIN

DURATION Three hours

THE TOUR Enjoy a sociable evening as you nibble and imbibe your way through classic Spanish tapas and wine, and learn about the cultural and gastronomic history behind this splendid evening dining ritual.

ESSENTIALS Gourmet Tapas Tour with Insider's Madrid, €375 for two. See insidersmadrid.com

THE BEST OF SOUTHERN FOOD, ATLANTA, US

DURATION Three and a half hours

THE TOUR This entertaining tour deftly combines the city's gourmet credentials with its civil rights history. You'll sample Southern classics including fried chicken, candied yams and banana pudding from seven different outlets and visit key sights from the civil rights struggle and learn about the city's most famous son, Martin Luther King Jr.

ESSENTIALS Downtown Southern Food Walk, $US75. See atlantafoodwalks.com

TAKE A PROGRESSIVE FOOD TOUR IN TOKYO, JAPAN

DURATION Three hours

THE TOUR A local takes you on an evening hop from yakatori bar to traditional confectionary shop and on to a neighbourhood restaurant for some classic monjayaki with a side of insight and entertainment.

ESSENTIALS Tokyo After 5 with Urban Adventures, $US118. See urbanadventures.com

SNOWMOBILE TO A CABIN FOR DINNER, WHISTLER, CANADA

DURATION Four and a half hours

THE TOUR Snowmobile through Whistler's glorious back country at dusk to reach the rustic Sproatt Mountain cabin for a hearty three-course steak dinner cooked over an old-fashioned wood stove. After dinner, jump back on your snowmobile for an return night journey along undulating tree-lined trails.

ESSENTIALS Sproatt Steak Dinner tour, from $C239 a person. See canadianwilderness.com

TEA APPRECIATION CLASS, HONG KONG

DURATION Two hours

THE TOUR Don't know your oolong from your jasmine? In this interactive and informative class with certified tea master May Chan, you'll learn how to distinguish the six main types of tea, get lessons in pouring technique and discover its purported health benefits.

ESSENTIALS Homeland Tea Appreciation Class, HKD380 a person. See homelandteagarden.com

MEET THE GUIDE

TONY MUIA, BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

Born and bred in Brooklyn, Muia loves showing visitors the borough's best pizza, chocolate and Christmas lights on one of his entertaining bus tours. See asliceofbrooklyn.com

ADVENTURE

SEE REUNION ISLAND BY HELICOPTER

DURATION From 25 to 55 minutes

THE TOUR It's too sharky to swim on Reunion Island so make like a bird instead and swoop over the extraordinary interior. You might feel like you've stumbled on to the set of a Jurassic Park sequel as you nose into canyons, hover in front of waterfalls and survey the cirques that make up this rugged Indian Ocean idyll that's officially an outpost of France.

ESSENTIALS The 25-minute Two Cirques tour costs €210 an adult. See corail-helicopteres.com

SNOW MOBILE AND GLACIER FLIGHT COMBO, YUKON, CANADA

DURATION One day

THE TOUR Rip through the fringes of the Yukon territory's Kluane National Park in Canada's north-west on a snowmobile, passing through snow-blanketed wilderness, frozen plains, forests, abandoned cabins and more. Then take to the skies aboard a lightweight Cessna to view some of the world's largest non-polar glaciers and perhaps a grizzly or two.

ESSENTIALS Kanoe People offers guided snowmobile excursions, dog mushing tours and other adventures. Rocking Star Adventures' 30-minute flight-seeing tour over Donjek Glacier, $CA160 a person. See kanoepeople.com; See rockingstar.ca

SEE AN ACTIVE VOLCANO BY CHOPPER, WHITE ISLAND, NZ

DURATION Two hours

THE TOUR Located 48 kilometres off the coast of the Bay of Plenty, White Island is one of New Zealand's most active live volcanoes. This tour starts with a spectacular fly-by over the island before landing in the volcano's crater for a hike through a sherbet-yellow landscape of roaring steam vents, bubbling sulphuric mud pits and steaming acid lakes (gas masks provided).

ESSENTIALS White Island Volcano Adventure, $NZ695. See whiteislandvolcano.co.nz

MAKE LIKE A CASTAWAY, FIJI

DURATION Nine hours (from Denarau Marina)

THE TOUR After fast-tracking to Mana Island in the Mamanucas via high-speed catamaran, board a romantic 15-metre timber-decked yacht and sail to uninhabited Modriki Island, which starred in the Tom Hanks film, Cast Away. Leap from the yacht and swim to shore, then head to Yanuya Island for a kava ceremony and handicraft shopping. The crew might break out guitars for a singalong on the return trip to Mana.

ESSENTIALS Seaspray Day Adventure, $FJ249 adult. See ssc.com.fj

GO HELI-FISHING, DUMARESQ RIVER, QLD

DURATION Nine hours

THE TOUR Leave behind the glitz of the Gold Coast as you sweep inland by helicopter over the eucalypt-covered ridge lines of Springbrook National Park. After landing at the 365-hectare Dumaresq Homestead, spend the day kayaking and fishing for Murray cod from the ghost gum-lined banks of the Dumaresq River. Celebrate your success with a gourmet barbecue lunch before being choppered back to the city.

ESSENTIALS Go Fish Australia's one-day Outback fishing trip, $2560 a person. See gofishaustralia.com.au

EXPLORE WILDERNESS BY PLANE, SOUTH-WEST TASMANIA

DURATION Six hours

THE TOUR Fly from Hobart into the heart of Tasmania's Southwest National Park, a wild, remote World Heritage-listed region of foreboding mountains, glacial lakes and peat bogs. After landing at a hand-built gravel runway at Melaleuca, you'll explore the region's rich Indigenous history, take a cruise around Bathurst Harbour (a pristine waterway the size of Sydney Harbour) and enjoy a gourmet lunch of Tasmanian product.

ESSENTIALS Par Avion's Southwest Wilderness Experience, $599. See paravion.com.au

MEET THE GUIDE

IAN WEBSTER, BARBADOS, CARIBBEAN

Webster's deadpan delivery and poetic turns of phrase are one of the highlights of his intrepid jeep tour around the island of Barbados. See islandsafari.bb

NAHUEL ALONSO, BARILOCHE, ARGENTINA

Named after the region's largest lake, Nahuel personifies outdoor adventure, can coax the laziest visitor up steep mountainsides and has a knack for finding the most secretive and splendiferous of vantage points. See classicsafaricompany.com.au

ACTIVE

EXPLORE NORTHERN PATAGONIA'S LAKE DISTRICT, ARGENTINA

DURATION Four to five hours

THE TOUR Cruise around Lago Nahuel Huapi in Argentina's Lake District in northern Patagonia, hike through forests of ponderosa, larch and sequoias on Victoria Island and picnic on a secret beach rimming one of the lake's turquoise bays.

ESSENTIALS The Luxury Lakes, Islands and Mountains of Patagonia tour, around $400 a person. See classicsafaricompany.com.au

SKI THE BACK COUNTRY IN BRECKENRIDGE, US

DURATION One day

THE TOUR Get behind the scenes of avalanche ski patrols in this Colorado resort and discover hidden powder stashes in back country terrain that will test the limits of your skiing prowess.

ESSENTIALS Go Beyond with Breck Guides Experience, $US940 for up to six people (plus lift tickets). See breckenridge.com

KAYAK AT SUNSET, RANGITOTO ISLAND, AUCKLAND, NZ

DURATION Six hours

THE TOUR Leaving Auckland late afternoon, this guided tour starts with a gentle paddle to the Hauraki Gulf's youngest and most accessible volcanic island, Rangitoto. After a one-hour climb to the summit to watch the sunset, guests tuck into a barbecue dinner before a magical moon-lit kayak back towards the twinkling city.

ESSENTIALS Auckland Sea Kayak's Sunset Sea Kayak Tour, $NZ185. See aucklandseakayaks.co.nz

ICEWALK THE MALIGNE CANYON, JASPER, CANADA

DURATION Three hours

THE TOUR Follow an icepick-wielding veteran guide into a frozen wonderland, the deepest accessible canyon in Jasper National Park. While learning more about the geography and topography of the region, you'll pick your way through mesmerising natural ice sculptures, frozen waterfalls, and perhaps a few daredevil ice climbers to boot.

ESSENTIALS Maligne Canyon Tour, $CA69 a person. See sundogtours.com

MOUNTAIN BIKE FORT COLLINS, COLORADO, US

DURATION Half-day, full-day and tailored multi-day tours

THE TOUR An hour north of Denver, the college town of Fort Collins has some of the best mountain biking trails in Colorado. Front Range Guides will help you find the best tailored to your ability levels, from technical single track, to downhill action and everything in between. This is also one of the brewing capitals of the US.

ESSENTIALS Front Range Ride Guides, tours from $US169 a person. See frontrangerideguides.com

KAYAK THE TASMAN PENINSULA, TASMANIA

DURATION 10 hours

THE TOUR This diverse kayak trip heads beneath some of Australia's highest sea cliffs to the tip of Cape Hauy and the famed Totem Pole sea stack. There are fur seals for company and an exposed shipwreck to explore. Trips include return transport from Hobart.

ESSENTIALS Roaring 40s Kayaking, $220. See roaring40skayaking.com.au

GO CANYONING AT CRADLE MOUNTAIN, TASMANIA

DURATION Eight hours

THE TOUR Some of the best things at Cradle Mountain are deep in the cracks of the Earth, where Cradle Mountain Canyons leads groups through narrow Dove Canyon. The journey involves abseiling, wading, swimming and leaping from the tops of waterfalls. You won't forget the Laundry Chute cave slide in a hurry.

ESSENTIALS Cradle Mountain Canyons, $245. See cradlemountaincanyons.com.au

WALK TO THE BURGESS SHALE, YOHO NATIONAL PARK, CANADA

DURATION 11 hours

THE TOUR One of the world's most important archaeological sites, high in the Canadian Rockies, is only accessible on this guided hike in Yoho National Park. In Walcott Quarry, site of the oldest fossils to shed light on evolution, there are a multitude of 500-million-year-old fossils imprinted into the rocks. The mountain views are a mere bonus.

ESSENTIALS Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation, $126. See burgess-shale.bc.ca

MEET THE GUIDE

ALEX KIME, ALASKA, US

After buying a horse in a bar at 3am for $25, this entertaining cowboy has spent the past 30 years running pack trips into the Alaskan wilderness. See alaskahorsemen.com

DAVE "NUGGET" DOWNIE, QLD

Downie's gentle, patient approach and encyclopaedic fishing knowledge (he's been a fishing journalist for more than 40 years) make him the perfect fishing guide. See gofishaustralia.com.au

JIMBA PHUNTSHO, BHUTAN

No one knows more about Bhutan than Jimba, the guide who trains the guides. A 300-plus veteran of the Tiger's Nest Monastery climb, he's a great companion for first-timers. Bonus: once there, he'll take a fabulous photo of you. See madmantours.com

NATURE

SEE NESTING TURTLES IN TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK, COSTA RICA

DURATION Two hours

THE TOUR From June to October, endangered green turtles dig nests and lay their glistening eggs along the black-sand beaches of Tortuguero National Park on Costa Rica's Caribbean coastline. Spotters alert guides where to find a nesting turtle in the dark. Lights are permitted on walking tracks but phones and cameras must be put away while observing the turtles at work.

ESSENTIALS Lodges such as Evergreen Lodge will book you onto one of two nightly departures, $US35. See evergreentortuguero.com

DELVE INTO THE DREAMTIME, GOLD COAST, QLD

DURATION Two and a half hours

THE TOUR Receive an ochre blessing from an Indigenous guide before taking a guided walk around the Dreaming mountain known as Jellurgal within Burleigh Head National Park. As fitness fanatics zip past the ancient shell middens and ochre pit, learn how the Gold Coast's first inhabitants lived.

ESSENTIALS Jellurgal Walkabout, departs 10am, Monday to Friday, $30 adult. See jellurgal.com.au

HUNT A MUD CRAB, COOYA BEACH, QLD

DURATION Half-day or full-day

THE TOUR Walk on Kuku Yalanji country with Indigenous guide Juan Walker. After being picked up from Port Douglas, Mossman or Daintree Village, participants learn how to find food and medicine in the bush and on the beach, and try their hand at traditional hunting practices such as spearing a mud crab.

ESSENTIALS Cultural Experience tours, $165/$209 a person. See walkaboutadventures.com.au

WALK THE DREAMTIME THROUGH RAINFOREST, FAR NORTH QLD

DURATION One and a half hours

THE TOUR Join an Indigenous guide on a walk through the world's oldest living rainforest. Learn about trees, plants, bush tucker sources and culturally significant sites including traditional bark shelters, before taking a dip in a glorious water hole. At walk's end, tuck into freshly baked damper and steaming billy tea.

ESSENTIALS Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk, $78 adult. See mossmangorge.com.au

SNORKEL CORAL GARDENS, LORD HOWE ISLAND, NSW

DURATION Two hours

THE TOUR You could launch yourself from the beach into the lagoon but Lord Howe Environmental Tours' glass-bottomed boat takes you straight to the most spectacular of the island's coral gardens. Look for turtles, double header wrasse, staghorn coral, painted rock lobsters, stingrays, butterfly fish and more.

ESSENTIALS Ultimate Snorkelling, $60 adult. See lordhoweislandtours.com

REJUVENATE IN NOOSA ON A MEDITATION WALK, QLD

DURATION Two to three hours

THE TOUR Take a guided meditation walk through the pristine Noosa National Park, where koalas are often spotted snoozing in gum trees. This rejuvenating tour ends with a "mind clearing" experience overlooking the ocean followed by a brunch of local organic produce.

ESSENTIALS Taste of Luxe, from $440 a person (minimum of four people). See luxeescapesnoosa.com.au

MEET THE GUIDE

MALIK AL AMRI, OMAN

Gentle-natured and thorough, Malik discerns the tiniest of details – embedded fossils, pomegranate buds – from among the greater splendours of Jabal Akhdar (striking mountain vistas, jagged gorges, ancient frankincense trees). See alilahotels.com/jabalakhdar

DHAN BAHADUR CHAUDHARY, NEPAL

A lifelong resident of the Chitwan National Park region, DB is a gentle observer of this tiger habitat, has an extensive knowledge of its diverse birdlife and has helped pioneer ethical elephant tourism at Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge. See tigertops.com

CULTURE

SEE WHERE A CLASSIC NOVEL WAS PENNED, ATLANTA, US

DURATION One hour

THE TOUR Head to Atlanta's Margaret Mitchell House to see the ground-floor apartment where Mitchell wrote her epic historical romance Gone With the Wind. Many visitors (including a few named Tara, after the fictional plantation) leave notes saying how the book, and the film it inspired, changed their lives.

ESSENTIALS Altanta History Center tours, $US13. See atlantahistorycenter.com

VISIT THE NOBEL PEACE CENTRE, OSLO, NORWAY

DURATION One hour

THE TOUR Housed in a re-purposed railway terminal the Nobel Peace Center showcases the Nobel Peace Prize, the work of the laureates and the story of Alfred Nobel. A tour through the exhibitions encourages participants to reflect on war, peace, social issues and conflict resolution.

ESSENTIALS Guided tours included in the ticket price of 120NOK. See nobelpeacecenter.org

EXPLORE BALI'S SPIRITUAL SIDE, INDONESIA

DURATION Full-day

THE TOUR Trace the creation of the Balinese Hindu religion with visits to temples and monuments. Your tour starts with ginger tea at the home of Bapak Anong Ishmail, the leading expert on the World Heritage listed Pakerisan River area. Highlights include a visit to Bali's first Hindu temple and a trek into a hidden temple alley where ancient chambers are carved into rock.

ESSENTIALS Seven Temples of Enlightenment, $US185 a person. See privateconciergebali.com

BACKSTAGE TOUR OF THE BOLSHOI OPERA AND BALLET THEATRE, MINSK, BELARUS

DURATION One and a half hours

THE TOUR The only way to top a performance at the wedding-cake theatre is by starting the evening with a guided, backstage tour. See where the costumes and props are made, visit the ballet school, see the orchestra pit, and if you're lucky, catch a rehearsal.

ESSENTIALS National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre, $US10 a person. See bolshoibelarus.by

EXPLORE A FAMOUS RECORDING STUDIO, ALABAMA, US

DURATION One hour

THE TOUR In 1969, four session players broke away from FAME Studio to open Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway (the address is also the title of the studio's first release, Cher's debut solo album). The Rolling Stones also dropped by to cut tracks including Brown Sugar and Wild Horses.

ESSENTIALS Muscle Shoals Sound Studio tours, $US15. See muscleshoalssoundstudio.org

TAKE A LIVE MUSIC BUS TOUR OF NASHVILLE, US

DURATION Two hours

THE TOUR This innovative product combines a tour of Nashville's Music Row (the epicentre of America's country music industry) with a performance by two of the city's leading songwriters. Learn about the region's rich music history while travelling around the city in a 30-seat bus with a small stage where two songwriters perform a selection of their original songs.

ESSENTIALS Songbird Tour of Nashville, $US45. See songbirdtours.com

MEET THE GUIDE

TREY BRUCE, NASHVILLE, US

After penning top 10 hits for the likes of Randy Travis and Faith Hill, Bruce now performs his songs on an innovative live music bus tour around Nashville's Music Row. See songbirdtours.com

URBAN

TAKE AN OFFBEAT CITY TOUR, PERTH, WA

DURATION Two to four hours

THE TOUR This award-winning operator has a range of walking tours that showcase the best of Perth's bars, food, history and culture. What differentiates them from other offerings is that they help visitors understand the stories behind the sites – the people and events that have helped shaped the city.

ESSENTIALS Two Feet & a Heartbeat tours, from $35 a person. See twofeet.com.au

TAKE A TRABANT TOUR OF BERLIN, GERMANY

DURATION One hour 15 minutes

THE TOUR Explore East Berlin at the wheel of perhaps its most iconic emblem – the functional but laughably rudimentary Trabant motor car. Join a convoy of brightly coloured Trabants (as a driver or a passenger) that putter around the capital, stopping at the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie.

ESSENTIALS Berlin Compact Tour, €49. See trabi-safari.de

VIEW THE POLITICAL STREET ART OF BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

DURATION Two hours.

THE TOUR Learn the political origins of Buenos Aires' stunning street art scene while discovering why Argentina's capital is renowned for this medium. The tours are developed in conjunction with artists and even finish at a bar with an artist's studio out back.

ESSENTIALS Graffitimundo, $US20 a person. See graffitimundo.com

TAKE A VINTAGE MOTORCYCLE TOUR, SHANGHAI, CHINA

DURATION Four hours.

THE TOUR Spin through the old Shanghainese traditional neighbourhoods, experiencing the markets, architecture, card games and culture of China's rapidly modernising city on a vintage motorcycle and side car. The tour skilfully contrasts old with new with additional stops along The Bund and a photo stop near Shanghai Tower.

ESSENTIALS The Mighty Ride by Sidecar, Insiders Experience tour, CNY2800 (one or two adults). See insidersexperience.com

MEET THE GUIDE

DZMITRY MAROZAU, BELAGRO TRAVEL, MINSK, BELARUS

Nature lover, cultural heritage specialist, communicator extraordinaire, Dzmitry has an insider tip for every occasion: stay overnight in Mir Castle, order a shot of krambambula, visit Zhodino for the world's biggest trucks. See trakt.by

MEET THE GUIDE

DIEGO JARAMILLO, ECUADOR

In the capital Quito and beyond, Diego's wide-ranging skill set includes tracking down the nearest salsateca (he's a music lover) and street vendors of espumilla (guava meringue). See enchantedgalapagos.com

HISTORY

TOUR MONT ST QUENTIN, SOMME, FRANCE

DURATION One hour

THE TOUR Historian and former Royal Marine Pete Smith dramatically recreates General John Monash's 1918 Battle of Mont St Quentin, following Australia's advance up the ridge. In Australia's most significant Western Front effort, troops seized this pivotal German position near Peronne without tanks or protective barrages. Eight VCs were awarded, 3000 men lost.

ESSENTIALS The tour of Mont St Quentin is included in a Mat McLachlan Battlefields Tour. See battlefields.com.au

EXPLORE ODESSA'S JEWISH HISTORY, UKRAINE

DURATION Three and a half hours

THE TOUR Jewish people thrived in this Black Sea city before World War II and you will tour synagogues, monuments and Holocaust memorials and the homes of renowned Jewish residents such as the writer Isaac Babel.

ESSENTIALS Jewish Odessa is offered as a shore excursion on Viking Cruises' Kiev to the Black Sea itinerary. See vikingrivercruises.com.au

TAKE A NOSTALGIC TOUR OF THE QE2

DURATION About one hour

THE TOUR Cruise fans and history buffs will enjoy this entertaining, fact-packed tour of the storied Cunard liner QE2. Now permanently moored in Dubai as a floating hotel, its 39-year career at sea began in 1967. It has hosted a galaxy of star passengers including Titanic survivor Millvina Dean.

ESSENTIALS Inside the QE2 Heritage Tour, AED$170. See qe2.com

DISCOVER EPHESUS WITH AN EXPERT, TURKEY

DURATION Five and a half hours.

THE TOUR Even top ancient ruins such as Ephesus are bare stone skeletons to the uninitiated. Tour with chief archaeologist Genghis Icten, though, and history comes alive.

ESSENTIALS Ephesus & Terrace Houses tour is a Silversea Cruises shore excursion from Kusadasi, $US179. See silversea.com

SAVOUR CAPE MALAY COOKING, CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

DURATION Three hours

THE TOUR Explore the colourful district of Cape's Town's Bo-Kaap – once a slave quarter housing the Cape Malay people who were brought here as slaves from Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere in Africa – before recreating some of the spicy dishes they carried with them.

ESSENTIALS Cape Malay Cookery Course, about $93 a person. See tours-capetown.co.za

STEP INSIDE CHERNOBYL EXCLUSION ZONE, UKRAINE

DURATION Full day

THE TOUR A two-hour drive north of Kiev brings you to the decommissioned Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant, where, on April 26, 1986 reactor No. 4 exploded. Enter the 10-kilometre exclusion zone and visit the ghost town of Pripyat where you can walk amid the abandoned schools, houses, sports stadiums and amusement park.

ESSENTIALS The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Tour is part of Intrepid Travel's 13-day Moldova, Ukraine and Romanian Explorer. See intrepidtravel.com/au

TOUR WORLD HERITAGE-LISTED HERITAGE GEORGE TOWN, PENANG, MALAYSIA

DURATION Three hours.

THE TOUR The multi-layered and multicultural history of George Town in Penang comes to life in the company of eccentric, entertaining guide Mr Yeap, who helps explore its back-street oddities, food and favourite local spots.

ESSENTIALS Guided Heritage Walk with Penang Heritage Trust, MYR 160 a person (minimum two). See pht.org.my

JOURNEYS

RIDE THE TEQUILA TRAIN, MEXICO

DURATION Full day

THE TOUR Is 8.30am too early for a margarita? Not on the Jose Cuervo Express, a luxury train that runs from Guadalajara to the town of Tequila in Mexico's west. Enjoy cocktails, snacks and a tequila tasting class during the two-hour journey, before alighting at Tequila for a tour of the Jose Cuervo distillery.

ESSENTIALS The Jose Cuervo Express, $US131.37 a person, one way. See mundocuervo.com/eng/jose-cuervo-express

RIDE THE RAILWAYS OF YANGON

DURATION Six to seven hours

THE TOUR In Myanmar, even a simple rail journey takes on a special resonance given how long the country was closed off from the rest of the world. Get an insider's view of the outer suburbs of Yangon on a fascinating rail tour that passes through local towns and markets and well beyond the usual tourist sights.

ESSENTIALS The Let Yangon Take You For a Ride rail tour, from $51. See urbanadventures.com

HOW TO BOOK THE BEST TOUR

ASK THE HOTEL CONCIERGE

Hotel concierges know their towns and the best activities on offer. Pick a quiet time to chat to the concierge in depth about what you hope to experience during your visit and what tours and companies they'd recommend.

DO YOUR RESEARCH

Some tours are so popular they're booked out well in advance (San Francisco's Alcatraz Island tours, for example). If you have your heart set on a particular experience, reserve your spot well before leaving home.

HIT THE INTERNET

Tossing up between tours? See what others have said about the various experiences on reviewer sites such as TripAdvisor.

WHAT'S ON KLOOK?

Klook, founded in Hong Kong in 2014, offers more than 80,000 experiences, including tours, activities and transportation, in 250-plus destinations. Travellers redeem the services using QR codes or e-vouchers. See klook.com

CONSULT FELLOW TRAVELLERS

Strike up conversations with your fellow travellers. Ask them what activities they've already ticked off and if they'd recommend them.

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