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Escorted General Interest Tours

Escorted tours are escorted by a group leader, and the itinerary is scripted, leaving little or no room for improvisation, although they offer a great way to socialize with travelers who share the same interests.

Consider all of the following before making a booking: This type of tour requires payment up front, and often you'll have to fork out before the trip with no say in the matter on accommodations or meals, unless you specifically request a variation (read: pay more). Make sure you have a clear, itemized list of what's included and what's not, and what are optional services you can choose to pay for along the way. Before parting with your cash, it makes sense to ask what the cancellation policy entails. Tours can be cancelled, for example, if the participant quorum isn't met or due to severe weather conditions (such as volcanic ash). Also, inquire about what happens if you have to pull out of the tour, and what the policy is, and get it in writing. Another element of escorted tours is that they are often designed to visit high-tourist-density areas in minimum time, where you are literally herded from one place to another at speed, leaving you little if any time to experience the place you're visiting or fathom where you are.

Other factors to consider when choosing an escorted tour are the expected size of the group, and the demographics. There is better interaction and cohesion in a smaller group, while large groups are a little impersonal -- and there's always someone who's bound to get lost and hold up the bus. Ask specifically to whom a certain type of tour is aimed -- a couple on their honeymoon, for example, might not want to be on a busload of families with rowdy children.

The following are a list of reputable tour operators that have a wide range of tours to Sicily, for every budget.

Visit Italy Tours, based in Los Angeles (tel. 800/255-3537 or 310/649-9080; www.visititalytours.com) offers year-round treks to Sicily. You can join one of the pre-packaged tours around the island or build your own. Perillo Tours (tel. 800/431-1515; www.perillotours.com) has been in the business of tourism to Italy since 1945 and offers tours to suit every wallet.

Globus and Cosmos Tours are another top contender in the business with Globus (tel. 800/338-7092; www.globusandcosmos.com) catering more to the budget-conscious traveler. Globus offers a cuisine-themed tour around the island while Cosmos (tel. 800/276-1241) includes Sicily as part of a tour of southern Italy.

Another choice is Insight Vacations (tel. 800/582-8380; www.insightvacations.com), which offers an 8-day tour of Sicilian highlights. For a truly cultural immersion Collette Vacations (tel. 800/340-5158; www.collettevacations.com) in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution, offers an 11-day tour of the island aimed at better understanding the art and history of Sicily, with lectures held by local experts in the field. For a truly vast range of choices, nothing tops Academic Tours (tel. 800/875-9171 or 718/417-8782; www.academictours.com).

From the U.K., Titan Hi-Tours (tel. 0800/988-5823; www.titanhitours.co.uk) offer two tours: The 7-day Taste of Eastern Sicily and a 10-day Sicily Jewel of the Mediterranean tour, including flights from the U.K. Travelsphere (tel. 0844/567-9960; www.titanhitours.co.uk) have an 8-day Classic Sicily Tour. Also check the national newspapers for special deals and discounted tours.

Packages for the Independent Traveler

Package tours can be as basic as air travel and hotel to an all-inclusive package that may include meals, guided tours, transfers to and from airports, and so on. While on the one hand everything is planned out and (hopefully) sorted for you from beginning to end, on the other it allows minimum flexibility, which is something to think about if you are an adventure-seeker and like to decide on your sleeping accommodations as you go along. If basing your choices on price range, search engines will often show you very different packages for the same price, but analyze carefully: If one package includes a flight with lots of connections to your destination but a very good three star hotel, another may offer a direct flight but an absolute rat hole as a hotel room. Read the fine print carefully about what's included in the package. If you need specific accommodations (an extra bed in the room or a bathroom that allows wheelchair accessibility) request it, and get it in writing. The same goes for dietary restrictions: Ask if there are gluten-free options or if meals that respect religious affiliation are offered. Check what their policy is regarding cancellation fees: A dirt-cheap package almost always offers no cancellation refund while more expensive ones might allow some compensation.

Sometimes you may need to look no further than the airline companies themselves to book a package tour. Try Alitalia Vacations (tel. 800/914-9000; www.alitaliavacations.com). All the major online travel companies such as Last Minute (www.lastminute.com), Expedia (www.expedia.com), Travelocity (www.travelocity.com), and edreams (www.edreams.com) have packages to suit all ranges.

Vacation Together (tel. 800/839-9851 or 877/444-4547; www.vacationtogether.com) allows you to search for a package and compare prices between different agencies and air lines. The United States Tour Operators Association (tel. 212/599-6599; www.ustoa.com) also allows you to multi-search for a specific destination. Liberty Travel (tel. 888/271-1584; www.libertytravel.com) heavily advertises their package deals in the Sunday papers. Perillo Tours, a company that has long specialized in travel to Italy, also offers a wide range of packages and services (tel. 1-800/431-1515; www.perillotours.com).

In the U.K., one of the leading Italian specialists with holiday packages to Sicily is Citalia (tel. 0844-415-1987; www.citalia.com). To compare package prices, also check out TravelSupermarket (www.travelsupermarket.com). It is always advisable to make sure your holiday company has an ABTA bond, so that in the unfortunate event your holiday company goes bust while you're abroad, you won't be left stranded.

Travel packages are also found in print media. You may also want to check out www.bestofsicily.com for advice on package tours to Sicily.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.