Let’s be honest. The over-saturation of generic tour companies have been played out for a while now. Travelers not only look for, but deserve, unique ways to experience the authentic side of a destination. Everyone desires to go beyond those overcrowded tourist attractions. As convenient as they are, those hulking, red, open-top hop-on hop-offers are not the answer.
Just take a look at the top floor of one of those double-deckers as they storm by and that should tell you what you need to know about their target demographic. Not to insult anyone, but this is a backpacker blog after all. Our legs are still spry and those buses are nothing short of a senior snoozefest.
So after a month in Cape Town, I fell in love with the city but knew that there was a lot more to the region that I have yet to discover. Aside from two quick jaunts to Stellenbosch and a whale-watching trip in Hermanus, I had confined myself to the amazing, but relatively sheltered, city of Cape Town. I had all of South Africa at my fingertips. Why shouldn’t I explore as much of it as I could? A company called Reveler Tours approached me about hopping on a tour through some of the Western Cape’s wine valleys.
As a new company that launched a month ago, I found very little of their presence on the Internet. However, after reading their purpose and missions on their website, it convinced me to take a leap and give it a go. Oftentimes, the most tenured tour companies of a city simply rest on their laurels and stop doing anything innovative. Reveler Tours was taking a risk but also was bold enough to try shaking things up. At the very least, I knew I could at least get a lot of wine drinking out of it.
I can talk about the actual tour itself and what we did and where we went and blah blah blah but as amazing as it all was, it isn’t the selling point for me. One of the most unique things about Reveler Tours is that they aim to be “tour companions” rather than just tour guides.
You don’t just get dumped on a structured tour with a tour group and a tour guide who could care less about your experience. After nearly three years of travel, I almost despised the ideas of guided tours. Unless I was with a good group of friends or through a good hostel, you couldn’t catch me dead on one of those cramped tour buses. There was a lot about my time with Reveler Tours that I look back on and think, “all tours should be this way.”
The Itinerary Is Personalized To What You Want
The great thing about Reveler Tours is that there is a lot of flexibility. They have suggested itineraries but those can quickly and easily adjust according to your preferences. The itinerary fits what you want but it is still broad enough for Blaine and Ryan to make last-minute adjustments according to what you want. If it turns out that you really don’t like a certain place or that you adore another, then there are quick adjustments that cater to your needs.
For example, if they discover that you like red wines significantly more than white wines, or despise Rosé, then they might bin a winery that specializes in Rosé and instead take you to a place that allows you to blend your own red wine. Looking at you, Mitch. They found out I like hiking quite a bit and suggested to throw in a morning hike on one of the days, as well as giving me the down-low on some of the good places to hike along the Garden Route.
Basically, if you’re not having fun, you aren’t trapped to one set itinerary like you would be in a bigger, more traditional tour group. And if you are having fun, then they’ll make sure you have even more fun.
Small Group Sizes
Reveler keeps the group sizes small and for the most part, it does feel like a private tour. You won’t feel cramped like sardines in a bus or minivan. With their monster bakkie, they easily take you to places that those clunky tour buses can’t.
The small group size also allows for a much more intimate experience than your typical guided tour. Although I admittedly did use Cape Town’s hop-on hop-off buses, or Ho-Hos as I affectionately call them, it isn’t my vibe. Hearing the monotonous audio recording droning on as everyone around you looks about as enthusiastic on their commute to work is definitely not my scene. It’s fine for quick and easy transportation between Cape Town’s hottest tourist destinations but it is definitely not for everybody, although it takes the one-size-fits-all approach.
Those small group sizes also benefit you in a couple of other ways. You become closer to your tour mates, and I still speak to everyone I met on that tour quite frequently. You get to know each other on a more personal level than overwhelming yourself with trying to make small talk with dozens of people. You also get through places more quickly than if you were waiting for 20 people to regroup, which allows for…
The itineraries usually allow a little bit of leeway to throw in an extra experience along the way. They might squeeze in an extra winery, throw in a morning hike, take you for a sundowner beer, or whatever you might want. We threw in a wine-making experience that was a last-minute addition. We also had a bit of time left over after bouncing around the Winelands and decided to mix it up with a craft beer place overlooking an incredible view.
Like I said, there are a lot of benefits to a flexible itinerary, especially when something doesn’t go as planned.
Solid Contingency Planning
The problem with multi-day tours is that things are bound to go wrong. Not everything goes perfectly all the time, especially with factors like weather, Cape Town traffic, or wild animals. Although we had relatively perfect luck with everything on our tours, Blaine and Ryan are able to make those quick on-the-spot decisions in case something does go awry.
Oh and last but not least…
The Power of Friendship
The whole point of being a “tour companion” is going above and beyond just being a tour guide. By the end, they will definitely be better friends with you than any other “guide” you have ever had. I mean how many times can you say you had a night out with your tour guides? It started off at the oldest bar in Stellenbosch, followed by a poppin’ pizza and beers place, and then a cool bar called Bohemia before calling it a night.
The following night, after a long day of exploring more wine valleys, we tucked ourselves up in the mountains. Sharing drinks next to a fire while Blaine and Ryan braaied for us is not something you’ll ever get from another tour company. Having a friend show you around their home country is the best way to experience a country. Not everyone has a friend lying around in every country. Reveler Tours is the next best thing. There is a perfect balance of the responsibility of a tour guide and the fun-lovingness of a good friend.
Their knowledge of and love for South Africa is unrivaled, and it shows in how they operate the tours. The idea of a tour companion is a unique one and it doesn’t end as soon as the trip ends. Blaine and Ryan keep in touch with you long before they pick you up and long after they drop you off. That’s where the value of the tour really shines. The amount of extra effort and care that they put in to ensure that you are having a good time before and after your time with them is over is priceless.
As stingy as I am when I travel, I do search for a good balance. In the rare occasion that I am willing to pay a premium for something, I do realize that at the same time, I am getting a much better experience than if I were to go with a generic, middle-of-the-road experience. With Reveler Tours, I got an experience that ended up being one of my best adventures through South Africa so far.
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