My husband and I adopted a baby girl from Guatemala when she was 8-months-old. We have always told her that we would return with her to Guatemala someday so she can see her birth country. She is 15 now, and we decided it was time to return during her Spring Break. We were only in Guatemala for three days in 2002 when we went to meet and bring home our daughter, so we saw almost nothing of the country. This time around, we wanted to spend 10 days or so and see most of the highlights of the country as well as really experience the culture. After lots of research about Guatemala, I selected highlights or activities that I wanted worked into our trip: visiting Lake Atitlan, Antigua, Chichicastenango, Tikal, a coffee plantation, and an active volcano.
After deciding more or less on what we wanted to do while there, I next had to decide whether we would use a tour operator, and if so, what kind of tour did we want. My husband and I were concerned about safety during the visit due to current State Department warnings and various internet reports of violence against tourists to Guatemala. This made the decision about whether to engage a tour operator or not easy -- we definitely wanted the expertise of a tour operator familiar with the country. We also decided to make the trip a private tour even though it substantially increased the price. We felt the additional cost was worth it to have the extra attention and focus of private guides during the entire trip. After lots more internet research about tour companies for Guatemala, I reached out to 4 companies with a basic description of what we wanted and when we wanted to travel.
ZIcasso was one of the companies I contacted. I had read very good reviews about their services on the internet. This agent was the first of the four companies i had contacted to respond to me. I told her what we wanted to include in the trip, how long we wanted the trip to be, and when we wanted to go. In just a day or so, she sent me a complete proposed itinerary. Over the next few days, we communicated several more times, and we refined to what I had envisioned it. Our agent also reassured us about the safety of traveling in Guatemala -- especially with the experienced, local English-speaking guides we would have at all times. The other companies I had initially contacted did not respond as promptly as Zicasso and were not as responsive to our wishes about the itinerary. We felt very comfortable with Zicasso and the itinerary they had developed for us, and so we decided to book our trip with them.
Our trip ended up being just perfect! My husband, our 20-year-old son, our adopted 15-year-old daughter, and I were the travelers. We felt completely safe and at ease the entire 10 days we were in the country. During the trip, we had 3 guides. Each was outstanding! They all spoke English well. They were all very pleasant, easy to get along with, and patient and accommodating when we requested "off-the-itinerary" diversions. For example, during the entire trip, my son had looked for an authentic Guatemalan National Soccer Team jersey to purchase but had not seen one anywhere. On our last day in the country, our agent went out of his way and took us to 4 different stores in Guatemala City trying to find the jersey for him. On another occasion, during a "free day" on Lake Atitlan, our son wanted to go cliff jumping. Our guide was not scheduled to be with us, but he volunteered to arrange a cliff jumping trip for us on the lake. The next day he showed up at the hotel with a private boat and two drivers. They took us to a small village on the lake where there were cliffs from which it was safe to jump. Our guide not only arranged the trip and accompanied us to the village for the cliff jumping, but actually jumped with my son (my husband, daughter, and I did not jump :-). We cannot say enough good things about the guides -- they made the trip!
We all agreed that this is one of the best family trips we have ever had.
Overall, I would say the best part of the trip was the guides. Without them, we would not felt as comfortable; we definitely would not have learned as much about Guatemalan history and culture; and travel and sightseeing would not have been as smooth and easy so we would not have been able to see as much as we did.
As far as what I enjoyed most among the sites we visited, I would have to say the villages around Lake Atitlan. Each village had a very different "flavor", and was enjoyable in its own way. We bought some beautiful and very interesting textiles and art in the villages. I felt the villages gave us a good feel for how "regular" Guatemalans live and work.
We also enjoyed each of our accommodations. We had at least two nights at each location (except for our last night in Guatemala City) so we didn't feel like we were constantly packing and unpacking, and we had enough time to enjoy each resort. All three were beautiful and comfortable, but very different. We enjoyed the different decor and atmosphere at each. Our son and daughter enjoyed swimming in the pool at each resort. The staff at each resort was outstanding and went out of our way to make our stay enjoyable.
If we could redo our trip with a bit more time, we would take another day or two and visit the Pacific coast. Also, Semuc Champey was on our original list of places we wanted to include in the tour, but we scratched it because of warnings about tourist robberies in the area. In light of how fantastic our guides were and how comfortable we always felt during our tour, we would not hesitate to go to Semuc Champey now if accompanied by a guide. .
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