Escorted General Interest Tours

Make sure you have a clear, itemized list of what's included and what's not whenever you book a tour, and what are optional services you can choose to pay for along the way. Believe it or not, we think that the tours of Sicily that don't include all meals are often the best options, as they allow participants to break off and try the sorts of restaurants that locals patronize (as opposed to the ones that can accommodate 20-40 people debarking from a bus). 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.

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Experience Sicily (www.experiencesicily.com) are highly immersive, small tours from a company with a real depth of expertise (they ONLY do tours to this region of Italy). Many tours have themes, like cooking or small-town life. The company can also put together custom itineraries for individuals hoping to travel independently, but with support.

Globus and Cosmos Tours are large, multi-national operations that cover the globe, with Globus (tel. 800/338-7092; www.globusandcosmos.com) catering more to the budget-conscious traveler. Quality can vary greatly on these tours, but the prices are usually quite good.

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Another choice is Insight Vacations (tel. 800/582-8380; www.insightvacations.com), which offers several fast-paced itineraries in Sicily, some with options to visit regions of Southern Italy and Malta, too. For a truly cultural immersion Smithsonian Journeys (tel. 855/330-5158; www.smithsonianjourneys.com), in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution, offers tours of the island aimed at better understanding the art and history of Sicily, with lectures held by local experts in the field.

For more options, including walking, biking and other specialty tours, look at such marketplace sites as TourRadar orĀ StrideTravel.

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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. 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. All the major online travel companies such as Expedia (www.expedia.com), Travelocity (www.travelocity.com), and edreams (www.edreams.com) have packages to suit all ranges.

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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.