There is a relative absence of package tours from the United States to Guatemala , particularly as compared to Belize and Costa Rica. Still, there are a few good companies to recommend for travelers who want to visit Guatemala on a package tour or need the services of an established tour operator. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but the following come highly recommended for the quality of service and established experience.
Bird-watchers will want to contact German-owned Cayaya Birding (tel. 5308-5160, www.cayaya-birding.com ) for information on Guatemala’s birding hot spots and to arrange trip details, including full itineraries. Knut Eisermann, an ornithologist living in Guatemala since 1997, runs the company.
Highly recommended is Clark Tours (tel. 800/707-5275 U.S., www.saca.com/guat/intro.html ), represented in the United States by Massachusetts-based SACA Tours. The company, established by an American living in Guatemala, has been around for 80 years. You will probably come across the company’s large, luxurious tour buses more than once during your travels in Guatemala.
Clark Tours has a variety of established itineraries and can also tailor custom itineraries to suit the needs of the most discriminating travelers. Clark Tours is also the local representative for American Express Travel Services and has offices in many Guatemala City luxury hotels, including the Barceló, Westin Camino Real, and Holiday Inn.
Many people like to combine time abroad with the opportunity to help local communities. Cultural Embrace (7201 Bill Hughes Rd., Austin, TX 78745, tel. 512/469-9089 U.S., www.culturalembrace.com ) offers unique educational and cultural packages that serve as a soft introduction to the wonders of international travel. CE specializes in integrating travelers with local communities through educational, humanitarian, and cultural activities, and partners with a local language school.
Popular with high school and college students taking their first trip abroad, CE takes some of the legwork out of planning an international trip for the first time. Set departures are available, or ask for a custom group itinerary. CE can also hook you up with an internship in Guatemala or with multi-week volunteer programs.
George’s Travel Club of Guatemala (tel. 202/436-9983 U.S., 502/5175-9974 Guatemala, www.georges-travelclub.com ) is an Antigua-based travel company owned by a U.S. expat. Well-thought travel itineraries include luxurious accommodations, 4WD road trips, sea fishing, kayaking, volcano climbs, and exploring Mayan ruins.
Rated one of the top eco-outfitters in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, Maya Expeditions (13 Avenida 14–70, Zona 10, tel. 2363-4955, www.mayaexpeditions.com ) is a Guatemala-based adventure-travel outfitter that comes highly recommended for its adventurous itineraries, particularly white-water rafting. Company founder Tammy Ridenour, a Colorado native, started the company in 1987 and is credited with pioneering ecotourism in Guatemala.
Among the company’s various offerings, which also include archaeological and cultural tourism, is a trip retracing the steps of the wildly popular Survivor Guatemala television series.
Minneapolis-based PLAY it Forward Adventures (tel. 651/493-8817 U.S., www.pifadventures.com ) offers rugged, fun-filled, 10-day itineraries that include mountain biking rural areas around Antigua, visiting a Mayan women’s cooperative, kayaking the waters of Lake Atitlán, hiking a “City of Stairs”, building homes for families, and relaxing at an avocado farm/ecolodge just outside La Antigua.
Guatemala is a popular destination for student travelers, so it comes as no surprise that established, full-service student travel agency STA Travel (tel. 800/781-4040 U.S., www.statravel.com ) has offices here. Among its more than 300 offices around the world is a location in Antigua (6a Calle Poniente, #21). STA offers special student and youth discount airfares as well as travel-planning services.
Special student fares require the purchase of an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) available to bona fide students. Alternatively, those under 26 years of age can buy an International Youth Travel Identity Card providing essentially the same benefits as the ISIC. In addition to discounted airfares, many of these tickets are valid for stays of up to one year and allow changes without penalty.