Caravan Tour of Guatemala July/August 2013


Aug 6th, 2013, 07:56 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 135
Caravan Tour of Guatemala July/August 2013

My husband and I went on a Caravan tour of Guatemala July 26-August 4, 2013. Although Caravan was a wonderful tour company, I can’t recommend this specific tour.

First, the good news. Our hotels were excellent. Most were like resort lodges with gorgeous landscaping, pools and amenities. The food in the hotels and restaurants was very good to excellent and that’s remarkable considering that, at times, we were in the rainforest or isolated areas. There were always many choices and vegetarians were accommodated. Many people on this tour were repeat Caravan customers – some were on their fourth or fifth Caravan tour.

Our tour guide, Jane Garcia, was first rate. She is a British woman married to a Guatemala for more than 20 years. She had in depth knowledge of the history, culture and politics of Guatemala. Although there were 40 of us, we could hear Jane at all times without difficulty. She was very organized and patient and she made the trip quite pleasurable.

Although we toured in the rainy season, rain was not an issue. It rained only twice in the late afternoon or evening when we were at the hotel or on the bus. Rain never interfered with our schedule and Jane said we were lucky in this regard because it usually rains regularly in the afternoons. The climate was comfortable except at Tikal where it was hot and humid. At Tikal, it was probably in the mid-90’s.

Now, the bad news. We spent way too much time on the bus. It’s not clear from the tour description that you spend one full day getting to Tikal and another full day driving to the next destination. I would never have booked this tour if I had known the time required on the bus. We had already spent a full day flying to Guatemala City for the tour and, after one day in the City, we were stuck on the bus for another full day of travel (with a minor stop at Quirigua). Jane tried to make the bus ride tolerable with educational DVDs and rest stops but the ride was not a vacation. We were grateful to arrive at our hotel but we were not yet at Tikal.

After an hour’s drive the following morning to Tikal, we spent three hours touring Tikal (more than enough time in the hot and humid jungle) and the rest of the day having lunch and driving back to the hotel. Tikal was interesting but not awe inspiring like the pyramids of Egypt and it didn’t compare to Chichen Itza in Mexico. It certainly was not worth almost three full days of my time on vacation and most people on our tour seemed to agree.

Caravan should drop Tikal from the main itinerary. Caravan could give people the option of adding it to a shortened tour via helicopter or bus. Some of us agreed that we’d pay for a helicopter rather than suffer the bus ride.

There were other long bus rides to other areas but they were far more manageable. Of course, some long bus rides are required when you tour a country to see the highlights. Overall, Antigua and Lake Atitlan were the most interesting although I don’t think I would have wanted to spend extra time in either place.

I definitely would consider using Caravan again but not to Guatemala.
JeannetteC is offline  
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Aug 6th, 2013, 10:23 AM
Join Date: Aug 2005
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Thanks for the report. People come on here asking about tours like that frequently, and I'm no help since I prefer to plan my own trips. I'm married to a math teacher and we've fallen into a theory of traveling where the 'math' needs to work out. If sitting on your backside in a bus or shuttle isn't your top travel priority, it shouldn't take up more days than things you prefer, like hiking, shopping, lounging in hammocks, snorkeling, local markets, etc. Only once have I bussed to Tikal and that was with a few days in Rio Dulce/Livingston to break up the trip; the other times I've entered from Belize or flown. The flights take just over an hour, I think, from GUA, a good way to go, though obviously more expensive. The night buses are a popular option, too, though I don't think I'd get much rest.

I wish you could have seen Tikal with a great guide - that really makes it come to life. I've visited 4 times and am sure to return, in part because of the guide I use. I think the jungle and wildlife are part of the appeal and I love climbing the Temples. I also love the nearby Yaxhá Maya site but - out of 20 or so Maya sites I've visited - Chichén Itzá is near the bottom (no climbing, no wildlife, no jungle, smaller ruins, more people...). "One man's ceiling is another man's floor"!

I'm glad, at least, you liked your guide and your lodgings. Looks like this is your tour?

Thanks again for taking the time to post.
hopefulist is online now  
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Aug 11th, 2013, 09:08 AM
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I agree driving to Tikal would be long and tiring. We are using a local guide and fly there on our last day and leaving the following morning for home.

I do have a question or two if you could answer please. When you were in Chichi or any other market would they take American money or did you have to exchange. Another site said to take a wad of dollar bills to use. Wondering if this is true? Also in Antigua-are they dollar and credit card friendly? Any other tips would be greatly appreciated. Than you and happy travels!
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Aug 11th, 2013, 10:39 AM
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If you prefer the more upscale restaurants, hotels, and stores in Antigua, I am sure they will gladly receive US$ and credit cards. Locals restaurants, smaller hotels, and mom-and-pop stores won't accept credit cards and might not turn US$ away but quetzales are better; those are the places I eat/stay/shop so I don't consider using US$. I frequently pay the shuttles from the airport in US$, though.

Re: Chichi, I would have quetzales for shopping there, partly to be culturally sensitive but partly because you're likely - in my personal experience and through observation - to get a better price with quetzales. The ATM machines give them out or you can exchange US$ for them in banks.

For what it's worth, the shopping is apt to be waaaaay better in Panajachel than in Chichi in terms of selection and prices. The main exception to this is carved masks; I have a favorite artisan in Chichi and buy masks for gifts from him every time I'm there.

Happy trails!
hopefulist is online now  
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Aug 11th, 2013, 11:34 AM
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Thank you for the information. We will be going to Panajachel so will save my buying til then. May I ask about what should we pay for the masks? Just a ball park figure. I am mainly interested in earrings,and necklaces not fabrics or purses or clothing. What can I expect to see in that area? I know to buy jade in only a reputable store but love inexpensive trinkets for fun wear. They pack well and bring back good memories.

Any other suggestions? Thanks!
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Aug 12th, 2013, 01:05 AM
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Masks range from a few dollars to $25 or more, depending on the mask and your negotiating skills. Lots of jewelry booths up and down Santander in Panajachel. ¡Buena suerte!
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