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126 Top Travel Specialists

by Wendy Perrin | Published August 2009 | See more Condé Nast Traveler articles

For the tenth year Wendy Perrin picks the travel specialists who offer the best blend of expertise, access, and good value. These select travel consultants are the pros to turn to for your next big trip

Twenty years of interviewing travel agents and tour operators for "The Perrin Report" and other Condé Nast Traveler articles has given me a well-thumbed directory of the most trusted insiders—people who offer the best combination of specialized knowledge (based on firsthand travel experience), local connections, user-friendliness, and value for your dollar.

Each year, my team and I evaluate hundreds of new applicants to this list, and only a small number make the cut. Our recommended specialists have undergone a rigorous screening process that begins with a 47-question application with sample itineraries and client references, then continues with phone interviews and, in most cases, road-testing by Condé Nast Traveler staff. Those who unnecessarily book trips through pricey middlemen (as opposed to directly with local hotels and suppliers) or use on-site contacts that charge exorbitant rates are disqualified. Even so, the travel specialists who make the grade can be expensive. The price quoted within each listing represents the minimum cost per day for two people for the trips that he or she typically books.

I receive hundreds of letters annually from readers reporting back on their trips that were arranged by these travel planners. Any specialist who is the object of valid complaints is removed from the list. To read these user reviews or post one yourself go to my blog, the Perrin Post. To share feedback with me privately or to nominate someone new for consideration, e-mail perrinfeedback@cntraveler.com.

Prefer not to hop from specialist to specialist but to develop a relationship with one travel agent? The consultants marked as Recommended generalist are your best bet. Even if you settle into a long-term relationship with one of them, when booking a journey where the right guides and local connections are critical it's still advisable to contact the listed specialists to find out what they offer that your generalist travel agent doesn't.

AFRICA

Madagascar
Monique Rodriguez, Cortez Travel & Expeditions, Solana Beach, California
Thanks to more than 100 trips to this Indian Ocean island, Rodriguez—an honorary consul of Madagascar who visits three or four times annually—knows the best places for spotting its one-of-a-kind wildlife (including the rare aye-aye lemur), experiencing Malagasy culture (via lunch in the homes of native Malagasy who are her friends), and luxuriating on pristine beaches. Her local connections enable Rodriguez to open doors to just about any plantation, atelier, or factory (800-854-1029; monique@cortez-usa.com; cortez-usa.com; $600*).

Morocco
Joel Zack, Heritage Tours Private Travel, New York City
Recommended generalist
An expert on Moroccan architecture and historic preservation, Zack has made 30-plus trips to the country and returns at least twice a year. He'll help you dive into the culture inside the casbahs—whether through a meeting with art gallery owners or a visit to villagers' homes—and, as much as he loves Marrakech's hot hotels and the museums of Fez, may try to coax you out of the major cities to the beaches of Essaouira or the ethereal High Atlas Range (800-378-4555; joel@HTprivatetravel.com; HTprivatetravel.com; $800*).

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Prices and other information were accurate at press time, but are subject to change. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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