My husband and I recently returned from a 14 day tour to Patagonia with Active Adventures. We have been on 5 RS tours, and wanted to find a company with a similar mindset to do a more active trip outside of Europe. After researching lots of companies, we ended up going with Active Adventures, mostly because we liked their itinerary best. I just thought I would share my experience in case anyone is looking for a similar style of trip.
Active Adventures is a company based in New Zealand that runs hiking focused tours in New Zealand, South America, Asia and Europe. They run small groups, I believe the limit is 14 or 15, but ours only had 6. This, I imagine, contributes to the price, which is higher than Rick Steves', although the Patagonian region is a bit expensive to travel to anyway from what I saw.
We stayed in hotels that were reminiscent of Rick Steves' choices - smaller, family owned places. For one part of our trip we were on a 5 day hike from mountain lodge to mountain lodge, so those accommodations were a bit more rustic, but still comfortable.
The itinerary does not leave much in the way of free time, which is one thing I missed from the RS tour model, but I don't know what I would have wanted left out in exchange for more time.
The guides were unbelievable, very kind, enthusiastic and educated, reminding me very much of the RS caliber of guides. We had one main tour leader and then separate local expert guides for different treks. The tipping is all included for the local guides, but the company does recommend a tip at the end for your main guide, unlike RS.
The food was delicious. I was surprised that for most dinners we went to restaurants and were handed menus to order whatever we wanted rather than having a set list of options like on my RS tours. Dinners were 3 course affairs, but most nights drinks were your own responsibility if you wanted more than water. Breakfasts were at hotels, and many lunches were packed lunches on hikes. Unlike on RS, every single meal was included, which was nice for budgeting, but not as nice for having some free time.
This tour was very active, with 10-14 mile hikes many days. We also did bike riding, kayaking and a glacier hike. Many of the long hikes had shorter options for people who felt they couldn't complete the entire thing, although the best views were on the long hikes so we all pushed through. Our group had my husband and I - in our upper 30's, a couple in their 50's, and one very active friend pair who were both 70.
I was very impressed with the organization of the whole trip. Every little detail was planned for and the trip went so smoothly. Like RS tours, the guide seemed to have extra spending money and would buy us treats like empanadas, ice cream, and extra snacks. They did their best to teach us about the culture and history of the area as well. For our final dinner, they had a local asador come to the hotel and cook us a grilled dinner that would be something he would normally make on Sundays for his family. This personal cultural connection is similar to the cooking lessons and things like that which I enjoy on RS tours.
One example of the personal attention: my birthday occurred on the trip, and though I never mentioned it, my guide knew. She greeted me in the morning with a happy birthday and a hug. Every local guide we interacted with that day wished me a happy birthday. After dinner in our refugio, she brought out a cake with a candle and the whole lodge sang happy birthday. This was the end of a 4 day hike in the park, so she had packed the cake the whole time in preparation! I was really surprised, but impressed with her attention to detail.
Our trip with them was one of the best I've ever taken. If you are interested in an active hiking type of trip but like the RS style of traveling, I would encourage you to check them out.