The pandemic has hit the tourism industry hard, impacting the people who work in travel’s hospitality, food and beverage, cultural history, and entertainment areas. Now there’s a creative and useful way to get at least some of the feel of travel while also supporting businesses and workers in the locations you yearn to visit. Amazon Explore allows anyone with a computer and internet connection to take a live guided tour of destinations and experiences around the globe. Here’s the lowdown on this rising new digital travel guide catalog — and a few of the most unique tour options to try this fall and winter.
Travel from your sofa
The idea of Amazon Explore is to allow travelers to experience a location, albeit digitally and without actually leaving home. You are paired up with a local guide in the location of choice who leads you through the location and the activity you select. Most tours last between 30 and 60 minutes and cost between $20 and $150. The best part is that each experience is one-on-one, so if you want to spend more time on a certain attraction during a cultural tour, or mastering a specific dish in a cooking class, that’s totally doable.
Each is held live with most operated by well-known tour companies like MyProGuide and Intrepid Urban Adventures. Along the way, you can ask questions and prod for local insight. You could also screenshot things along the way as if you’re photographing them in person — though there’s no guarantee that your friends and family will believe you were there. Many tours currently offered don’t specify whether your partner, friend, family member, or roommate can officially join you on the tour.
To select a tour, browse by global region, choose the tour you want to go on, and sign up for an available time. After signing up you’ll be given instructions on how to join the tour along with materials to help you prep for the best possible experience. Three types of tours are available: Culture & Landmarks, Learning & Creativity, and Shopping.
You might be thinking, “How am I supposed to go on a shopping tour in a location I’m not in?”
This, of course, is how Amazon plans to make its money on the venture. On many tours — and shopping tours in particular — you’ll have the opportunity to purchase the items you look at through Amazon. Purchasing items through the tour is a good way to support local merchants, but it won’t hurt to do your due diligence and ask the tour guide how much of that money actually makes it to the vendor.
Amazon Explore is designed to be as close to an in-person guided tour as possible. At the time of your experience, you’ll be connected to the host through the Amazon Explore platform. The two of you can talk back and forth to each other much like a normal walking tour, but the host cannot see you; the camera is only one-way.
The service is still new and only a few dozen tours are currently offered, though more will be launched in the coming months. Here are five of the most unique tour options so far.
The best Amazon Explore tours to check out this winter
Offered by Awamaki
$20, 35 minutes
Certain tour experiences are designed to showcase local sundries and support women in the communities where they were made. This tour is like visiting a Peruvian market or seller’s house, allowing you to learn the history behind Andean textiles and make purchases to support the Quechua women in Peru’s Sacred Valley. Clothing items, handbags, scarves, and other accessories are on offer, and unlike just buying the item off the internet, you get the story behind it and the comfort of knowing that your money will benefit the person who made it.
Offered by Barcelona Paella Experience
$55, 60 minutes
Few Spanish foods have reached global fame in the way that paella has. This rice dish, often cooked in a large pan with two handles, is tough to prepare correctly even with a specific recipe. As such, it makes for a popular cooking class among tourists to Madrid, Barcelona, and other parts of Spain. Now you can have the experience in your own kitchen, following along with a pro chef as they walk you through the process of preparing a perfect paella from start to finish. You’ll receive the list of ingredients, step-by-step instructions on assembling a paella, and tips on how to get the rice perfectly cooked and flavored.
Offered by ToursByLocals, Inc
$100, 70 minutes
Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay is a stunning collection of flora, fauna, and futuristic revelry. This tour walks you through the most iconic sites including the Supertree Grove, home to the 160-foot-tall artificial “trees” that collect rainwater and generate solar power while cleaning the air for the surrounding gardens You’ll also stroll through the tropical Heritage Garden to explore native plant life in Singapore and get some incredible views of the city’s skyline to boot, including of the famed Marina Bay Sands hotel.
Offered by Essence of Berlin
$109, 60 minutes
No longer is The Venetian on the Las Vegas strip the closest you can get to Venice without leaving the country. This tour takes you across the Rialto bridge and into the neighborhood’s bustling fish market, where you’ll have the chance to peruse while soaking in the scenery of the city as Venetian gondolas make their way up and down the Grand Canal. This tour is as much a historical one as it is a chance to experience the market, as your tour guide outlines the city’s role in the spice trade, as a major banking center, and how the area came to be an iconic symbol of travel to Italy.
Offered by Tour Me Away
$60, 60 minutes
More than 100 “folk gods” reside at Taipei’s historic Longshan Temple, built in 1738 above the Danshui River and serving as a major religious hub in the area ever since. The tour is a walk through the temple and a lesson in its history and significance — you could really get into the spirit and choose the god(s) you want to pray to. Perhaps you’re looking for a match made in heaven (Old Man Under the Moon) or a bit of empathy (you’ll see Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion and mercy immediately upon entering). Other gods you’ll glimpse are Wenshu, the bodhisattva of transcendent wisdom, and Puxian, the bodhisattva of action. You’ll also have your fortune read.