In the 1980s, when Myths and Mountains was born, a lot of people wanting to travel abroad had to opt for the “10 countries in eight days” tours, or ignore those destinations that were simply unreachable. Back then, “nobody was focusing on concept,” says Toni Neubauer, the company’s president. “I really wanted to introduce people in the best possible, most intimate fashion to the different cultures of the world and what other people had to share with us from their cultures. What we could learn from them.”
Combining a passion for travel with cultural immersion, Myths and Mountains has opened doors for both curious travelers wanting to really explore Asia, Southeast Asia and South America, and the people whose lives they touch on the way. “You can’t ask someone to invite you into their home unless you’re willing to share something back,” explains Neubauer. “So one side [of the idea behind the company] was the travel component, but the other side was the philanthropic component of really wanting to give something back to these countries.” In 1991, she founded READ (Rural Education and Development) Global, which builds community libraries and resource centers—so far in India, Nepal and Bhutan—while seeding businesses that sustain the centers. In 2006, this non-profit organization was the recipient of the Bill and Melinda Gates “Access to Learning Award.”
The backbone of the trips that the company offers is individualization—even if clients choose to participate in one of a wide range of pre-arranged group trips rather than come up with their own, they’re in for a unique experience, as Neubauer and her team have designed all the trips themselves. “Myths is a very customized travel business. In a world where many people really don’t like to do custom travel, one of the real niche specialties is designing some specifically for the individual clients or group. We will do a trip for one person, a trip for two, a trip for 30 persons, and we’ll focus on what people want.” This, she adds, can be anything from Vietnamese puppetry to shamans in Ecuador. “In many countries, particularly ones in which we have READ libraries, we have really unique experiences that nobody else can offer because of the relationships we have,” she says.
Although more than half of Myths and Mountains’ clients are women between the ages of 45 and 65, Neubauer says they offer many trips that are wonderful for families and quite a few where children are welcome. They also have a number of hiking trips and even top-of-the-line options for the luxury minded.
According to Neubauer, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos are hot destinations this year, as is India. One of her favorites is the Phnom Penh to Siem Reap Temple Safari & Kep, Kampot & Sihanoukville Beach Safari, an otherworldly exploration of some of Cambodia’s most beautiful temples and settings. This trip starts at $4,995 pp based on groups of three to five persons.
The Galapagos is also highly popular, says Allie Almario, Myths and Mountains’ v.p. and resident South America guru. “Unlike some other companies, we prefer to work with a number of different ships and that gives us the flexibility to work with clients who have different budgets, interests and time frames.” One of them, Classic Galapagos: Cruising Darwin’s Enchanted Islands, starts at just $2,185 pp dbl and plunges clients into the raw beauty of the islands with an 8-day cruise and exploration.
Another Myths and Mountains adventure is An Insider’s Machu Picchu & Lake Titicaca: Homestays & Home Cooking, a 9-day immersion into generational customs and ancient traditions. Clients go food shopping with their hosts—to find out, among other things, “…why mamacita chooses this potato over that one, for example,” says Almario—and get hands-on cooking lessons. Delving into the Andean way of life, guests enjoy a tour of Cusco, the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman, a music workshop with more than 4,000 ancient instruments, and visits to the homes of Quechan families, among other highlights. Plus, they get to explore and hike Machu Picchu and the islands of Lake Titicaca, and take part in a special ceremony celebrating Mother Earth. Group departure dates for this trip are Oct. 8 and Dec. 3, although custom dates are also—and always—available. The land cost of the trip starts at $3,450 pp dbl.