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Caravan Tour - Guatemala

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Manhattan Beach
posts: 6
reviews: 11
Caravan Tour - Guatemala

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.

The Dalles, Oregon
Destination Expert
for Guatemala, Belize
posts: 6,722
reviews: 137
1. Re: Caravan Tour - Guatemala

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?

http://www.caravan.com/tour/guatemala

Thanks again for taking the time to post.

Manhattan Beach
posts: 6
reviews: 11
2. Re: Caravan Tour - Guatemala

When I went to Chichen Itza many decades ago, I climbed over and inside the ruins. Maybe time has changed its appeal. I saw Tikal 40 years ago but I came through Belize. I didn't think it was fun to climb the ruins in the heat then or now but I did it anyway. The jungle at Tikal is an attraction but, having seen the jungles of Africa and South America, the Tikal jungle was pretty tame although beautiful.

The Dalles, Oregon
Destination Expert
for Guatemala, Belize
posts: 6,722
reviews: 137
3. Re: Caravan Tour - Guatemala

Now at Chichén Itzá you can't climb or go in or even really touch any of the buildings. The big temple there - El Castillo - is a fraction of the size of the temples at Tikal. We stayed nearby in Valladolid and were at the site when it opened so we could beat the crowds and the heat. Even so, it felt like a let down to just walk around on the parched grass and look at buildings and temples that were not impressive compared to others we had visited (and climbed!).

The jungle at Tikal is loaded with spider monkeys and black howlers - I really enjoy watching them. I get it that there are more intense jungles around but that combination of massive ruins and jungle is magic for me. And with a knowledgeable guide you see the hidden places, Maya graffiti, etc. you wouldn't find on your own. It is hot, though! That's why I always recommend the Tikal Inn - nice to have that lovely pool after a morning of ruins hopping. :-)

St. Louis, MO
posts: 505
reviews: 7
4. Re: Caravan Tour - Guatemala

Thanks for posting about your tour, Jeannette. My cousin and I are signed up to take the tour in October, so I'll bring a book and be prepared for a couple of long bus rides. My daughter saw Tikal and thought it was awesome, so I expect I will also be impressed. I haven't been able to travel as much as you have (although I have seen the pyramids in Egypt), so I often tour with open-eyed wonder.

Austin, Texas
posts: 62
reviews: 20
5. Re: Caravan Tour - Guatemala

I took the Caravan tour of Guatemala 5-6 years ago and thought it was great--a very good deal for the cost and a very professional company. I like to travel independently too but did not want to do so in Guatemala so we took the tour. And yes, there was one very very long day on the bus but I also had the same experience on a tour of Turkey last year. I think when you are on a group tour it is just part of the deal when covering a large amount of territory within a specified length of time. I thought Tikal was amazing. I have been to all of the major Mayan ruins in Mexico so Tikal was on my list. On my tour the tour ended in Antigua and there was only a short time there. On my own I spent a week more in Antigua and loved it--I am so glad that I did that. I think now the tour sequence is a little different with more time in Antigua. I would recommend this tour to anyone. We had a very nice group of people on our tour and it was nice getting to know each other.

Mi Wuk Village...
posts: 1,603
6. Re: Caravan Tour - Guatemala

This shows the importance of doing research. Those long bus rides are something a bit of reading would have shown. If not a bus person there are flights to Flores/Santa Elena from GC. Helicopters in Guat? You do have a death wish. Of course you miss out Quiriqua. An option on the return trip could have been Semuc Champey. But giving up those options is one of the benefits of paying double to Caravan. Three hours at Tikal? No wonder you were disappointed. I've had scads of multi day trips to Tikal. Also been to Chitzen Itza. But I studied both before going. Tikal is several times larger than Chichen (you gotta know where to look). Culturally and architecturally it is the most significant excavated site in the Mayan world. Doubt very much that Caravan is going to drop Tikal from their "we cut your meat for you" tours. Most would argue that it is the highlight of any trip to Guat. Sounds like you would do much better at one of the cartel mega resorts in Cancun. I think you would find that better at meeting your needs. BTW... don't take helicopters in Mexico either. Happy trailmix. Beware of touts with links.

7. Re: Caravan Tour - Guatemala

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