I recently took a guided tour of Morocco with the Vermont-based Country Walkers (Traveler named the company’s guided tour through Brazil as one of this year’s “Tours of a Lifetime“).

Here are three lessons I learned along the way:

1. Seek a perfect match: There are many excellent outfitters as out there (our own National Geographic Expeditions is a great example.) The one you should go with, however, is not necessarily the one your roommate from college raved about on her Facebook page or even the one a travel expert recommends.

The tour you want is the one that best matches your wishes, needs, and price points. Among requirements such as destination and itinerary, I wanted a trip during which I could eat well without gaining weight (a problem I’ve had on other trips!). The walking tour I chose fit the bill. We went on daily treks on varied terrain that worked off the tagines, pastillas, couscous, and sweets I unabashedly enjoyed.

2. The guide matters: Travelers typically pore over the tour itinerary, counting up the number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, looking up hotels on TripAdvisor, and generally obsessing over minute details. But most fail to do due diligence on what I consider the most important factor of a trip: the guide.

An excellent guide can turn a trip into an experience of a lifetime. Conversely, a bad guide can sour a visit to the most astounding destinations. The guide on my Morocco trip, Fes native Saida Ezzahoui, added cultural context and a personal touch to the trip. She was also one of only a handful of female guides to lead trips outside the imperial cities. I found her insights as a woman in a North African and predominantly Muslim country to be invaluable. She also turned me on to a great fava bean soup recipe and a black soap made of crushed olives that does wonders to exfoliate and soften the skin.

3. Pick up the phone: You can’t get everything from the website and, hey, you’re spending a lot of money. Calling the company yields important information, such as what ground operator the company uses for its programs in a particular country. You want to make sure your operator has strong local ties that could come in handy in cases of emergency. I find the phone even better than e-mail as an indicator to determining the company’s philosophy, commitment to customer service, and knowledge of its products. Is the company right for you? By the end of a phone call, I often know whether it is a match.

Norie Quintos is executive editor of National Geographic Traveler. See more of her photos from Morocco on Instagram and follow her story on Twitter @noriecicerone.
Do you have a guided trip you’d recommend to friends? Tell us about it in the comments section below:

Comments

  1. Tours in Morocco
    United States
    July 4, 2013, 5:33 am

    Thanks a lot for such useful information. People who are planning tours in morocco should definitely read your blog, it will help a lot. Thanks again.

  2. Jana Pekova
    Marrakech
    June 15, 2013, 10:24 am

    Well written article. As a tour operator myself I know that not all things are true. Guide but also your driver is extremely important on the tours especially in Morocco. There are some important questions you need to ask before committing to the tour. You should ask does the driver speak English, is he experience driver, Is he knowledgeable, friendly. We are so picky with selecting the right drivers on the tour.
    http://www.your-morocco-tour.com

  3. Morocco Tour
    United States
    May 30, 2013, 3:11 pm

    A guide who is informative is quite important or else the whole tour can be ruined. That is the best advice to check the company’s local connections before planning a Morocco tour with them. Thanks for the advice.

  4. Elissa
    United States
    May 24, 2013, 7:50 pm

    I saw some website that described taking a guided tour as being “an armchair traveler who happens to be moving.” I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve travelled to 5 continents with tour groups and think that traveling with a company that’s taking care of the logistics frees me to focus on the place I’ve travelled to rather than the mechanics of traveling there. http://www.elissaexplores.com

  5. Chamintha Jayasinghe
    Sri Lanka
    May 23, 2013, 12:59 am

    Totally agree about #2. As a safari outfitter, we’ve found that local community-based guides at each point in your tour rather than one guide for entire tour ads far more value & flavour-on-the-ground when experiencing a country. See it through the eyes of the locals. And that’s where #3 comes into play – talk to the Company and see how strong their local ties are when hand crafting your tour. http://www.ayuinthewild.com

  6. vedat şafak yamı
    Turkey
    May 21, 2013, 1:51 pm

    Lovely journey, lovely narrative..

  7. Rogelio Feir
    Philippines
    May 20, 2013, 6:29 pm

    When i went to Morocco a few years back, our local tour guide, also from Fez, included a visit to a Berber family in an authentic Berber residence and served us Berber delicasies. And we experienced how the Grandma does her cooking. The guide brought us to his family abode.

  8. Steve Johnson
    United States
    May 20, 2013, 2:45 pm

    Good info…but regarding #2, how in the world can you know whether or not your guide will be good in advance? Is there a Yelp for tour guides…?

  9. Anant Desai
    India
    May 20, 2013, 6:31 am

    Very true information that you have taken care off here, it does hep others to understand the need of Guide while being on trip.