By Scott S. Bateman
Santo Tomás de Castilla is the kind of cruise port that doesn’t have one or two major excursions like Grand Cayman.
Instead, it has a series of smaller ones that have a similar level of popularity with cruise visitors.
Proof of that fact is available for anyone who walks off the ship and sees the line of excursion buses on the docks as well excursion operators hawking their tours.
Four basic types of excursions are available:
- Nature tours
- City / historical tours
- Mayan ruins
- Beach escape
The following examples come from a variety of excursion operators, cruise lines and excursion websites that get their information from local operators. Travel planners should refer to their cruise lines or visit search engines for current offers. Times, prices and availability are subject to change.
Amatique Bay Hotel is the only meaningful beach escape among all of the tour operators. The hotel is a 20-minute drive from the docks; it’s also accessible via water taxi. The pool is nicer than the beach. The cost is about $50 per person.
The Los Pozas waterfall in Los Pozas Nature Reserve is a three-hour tour costing about $50 per person. The waterfall drops into a natural pool where visitors can go swimming.
Some tours allow people to hop on boats right next to the ship for a quick start. A tour of Rio Dulce Canyon begins that way, followed by a 45-minute trip up to the town of Livingston and the Rio Dulce River. The four-and-a-half hour trip costs about $85 per person.
Another operator offers a five-hour kayak trip on the Rio Dulce River, again with a boat ride starting from the cruise docks. Passengers disembark at the Rio Dulce Canyon and
City / Historical Tours
A three-and-a-half hour tour of Santo Tomás de Castilla and Puerto Barrios with a guide is a chance to learn much more about the culture, history, economy and politics of the area. Our guide was a practicing lawyer who made the trip educational. The tour ended with time on the beach at the Amatique Bay Hotel.
One of the more common excursions is a seven-hour trip to the San Felipe Fortress and a banana plantation. The Spanish fort on Lake Izabal dates from the early 1500s. The cost is about $100 per person.
The most important Mayan ruins in the area are found at Quirigua National Park. The ruins are known for their intricate carvings rather than temples. They are one and a half hours away by excursion bus. The cost to get there is usually less than $100.