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Best Cultural Travel Organizations and Programs

A violinist in Poland
A violinist makes wonderful music in the streets of Krakow, Poland. Photo by Jim Kane of Culture Explorers from Culturally Sensitive Photography.

Transitions Abroad, from its founding in 1977, has had "Cultural Immersion Travel" as a central part of our mission and vision.

We chose to name this growing selection of travel programs "Best Cultural Immersion Travel," since the term "cultural travel" is now too often used by travel agencies to describe group tours that primarily visit monuments, museums, and historic sites with less emphasis on contact with the local people and culture who are the hosts in their country and travelers are the guests.

In our original definition, cultural travel implies respectful contact and interaction as guests in the land of hosts and culture. Cultural travel is how we attempt to participate in our hosts' lives, activities, and traditions abroad if invited and respectfully, not just admiring a country's historic sites and scenic attractions as a tourist destination. Going to local markets, cooking local food, buying local products, exploring lesser-known locations, enjoying coffee and wine at a local cafe, dancing in festivals, and attempting to learn the language can all help enhance communication and benefit the host economy without unintended consequences.

For this section, we have chosen our favorite travel organizations that provide travelers with more authentic cultural experiences based on sharing traditional rituals and daily activities with the local population.

Note: Transitions Abroad has a section on Cultural Travel Articles includes many in-depth and illustrated articles involving cultural travel experiences undertaken independently or in small groups, as appropriate to location and age.

Culture Explorers offers small-group cultural immersion tours in regions of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Spain and provides travelers with an insider's access to the local culture and living traditions.

The Experiment in International Living is an international nonprofit membership association that offers homestays, group travel, study abroad, language training, work exchange, and other cultural immersion programs, with members in 20+ countries worldwide. The summer immersion cross-cultural exchange programs are for high school students.

G Adventures offers many small group tours, including adventure, classic, family, cooperation with National Geographic Journeys, and other trips emphasizing cultural travel. The emphasis on small groups allows for more responsible travel in contact with local people.

Global Awareness Through Experience offers cultural immersion programs, women's spiritual quests, and pilgrimage opportunities in Latin America. GATE strives to create an awareness of other cultures and their realities through people-to-people connections.

Globetrekkers is a rich and sensitive cultural travel site featuring Irene Butler, an award winning writer, along with the fine photographs of her husband Rick Butler. Browse through hundreds of stories and photos covering countries emphasizing local people and cultures whom they have encountered in their travels around the world. 

Holbrook Travel: Cultural Travel offers cultural immersion trips designed to help travelers experience foreign cultures, foods, and traditions worldwide in-depth while being in close contact with locals.

Intrepid Travel is a tour operator that seeks to offer "grass-roots" small group tours worldwide to allow for rich cultural travel and intercultural exchanges responsibly and respectfully. Essential, Original, and Comfort travel styles are offered, depending on your preference. However, in general, the most basic mode of travel allows for the greatest immersion.

Where There Be Dragons offers unfiltered and immersive travel programs during the summer, semester, or gap year in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Mapmakers once drew Dragons to represent lands unknown. Those who ventured beyond the map's edge were said to go, "Where There Be Dragons." At Dragons, students learn by doing. Students travel like locals, live with families, apprentice with artists, and learn from scholars, sages, and community leaders. The program offers access to phenomenal beauty, deep engagement with local communities, and an arousal of curiosity.

Wild Frontiers is an award-winning tour operator emphasizing cultural travel, responsible travel, adventure travel, and exploration in small groups.


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