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Santo Tomas de Castilla, GTM


ourbreaktime

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I was concerned about a 4 hour boat ride back, and decided I'd do only part of the Rio Dulce, out of Livingston, to the national park there, with stops wherever you want when you have a small group of 6 or so. Gus at Hotel El Delphin and Javier at Hotel Casa Rosada can help you plan it. They will get you back to the ship on time. No Quirigua, however, and no bus ride.

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  • 4 weeks later...

We were in Guatemala (Santo Tomas de Castillo) on March 14th, on the Norwegian Sun. After doing extensive research and reading so many warnings, we had decided to take a quick shopping trip right at the port and spend the day on the ship. That all changed, and I am so glad! Hopefully, my post will help others have a fantastic day. :)

 

We did do our shopping thing right there at the port. It reminded me of a large exhibition building at the State Fair Grounds. They sell mostly jewelry and textiles here. Virtually every booth sells the same thing. Don't forget your $1 soda here! I didn't buy much, only a few beautiful oven mitts for 2/$5, a few textile hot plates for the dinner table, 2/$3, and a little straw bag magnet for $2. All just gorgeous. My daughter bought a lovely table runner for $10, which would have cost more than double that here at home. They had nice tote bags, change purses, etc., but I wasn't in the market for them. I didn't encounter anyone who spoke anything more than very basic English here, but they know how to make change!! Very funny. They also had a local band giving a show, which was nice. That's it, nothing else there.

 

Some of our group left to go back on the ship. The rest of us were taking some pictures outside the souvenir building trying to figure out how to get to the fishing pier you can see from the ship, when a tour guide approached us. Again, let me emphasize that we hadn't planned on venturing anywhere at this port. This tour guide happened to speak pretty good English and she sold our party of 8 on a guided tour of the waterfalls for $15 pp, including the taxi trip. I don't know the name of the tour company. All I have is my receipt from the waterfall park. It says: Fundaeco - Las Escobas. I was VERY skeptical at this point, but was outnumbered, so away we went. We all piled in a ten person van and I immediately locked the door. Yes, I was still scared. Our cab driver spoke not a drop of English so we relied on our son's high school Spanish for what little communication we had! We drove for about 20-25 minutes up the mountain through the poorest town I've ever seen in my life. I can't begin to explain how poor these people are. I wish we would have had some candy to throw out to all the little children we saw. I videotaped the entire drive up the mountain. After about 5 minutes my nerves settled down and I felt very comfortable. Everyone was waving to us. We drove past a school where all the students were lined up outside in school uniforms. They were beautiful people who smiled and waved. The young girls here are very pretty. Our cab driver never said a word, but kept smiling at us in his rear view mirror. Up the mountain we went. So much beautiful greenery and such a beautiful countryside with little itty bitty shacks no bigger than most of our bedrooms. Some houses were made of what looked like scrap metal and odd pieces of wood. Clean laundry hung on lines at almost every single house. Every so often we would see a concrete house with an iron fence. We figured this was where the wealthy lived. Tiny little storefronts were every few blocks.

 

We arrived at the park, which looked like any American State Park. Nobody spoke any English here. We really felt lost, but saw many people with their cruise ship towels, so we ventured on. We had a young girl about 15 who was our guide. She stopped every so often up the mountain to point out various things to us... but we couldn't understand anything she was saying. Our son caught a few things here and there! We walked up the mountain on a very nice path for maybe about 20 minutes. The path had some steps with handrails, but it was a dirt path. We crossed over a few very sturdy twig bridges. The bridges are really pretty. We saw so many butterflies! Again, very lush greenery. This was a very easy walk for anyone of any age even though you keep going UP.

 

Along the way you'll see some little waterfalls. We ended up at the finale of the tour, which was a beautiful waterfall with a "swimming pond". When we arrived, there were only about 10 people there. We were so hot from walking up the mountain that we got in and swam with our clothes on. Remember, we hadn't planned on anything! You can walk up the rocks to the top and jump into the pool of crystal clear water. Surprisingly, the rocks were not slippery at all. I took the most fantastic video and snapshots of members of our party going up the rocks and jumping from the top! I would guess it was a 15 foot drop, although I didn't take myself up there to jump off! We stayed there for probably about an hour and a half just soaking in the wonder of the waterfall. By the time we left there were at least 50 people doing the same thing.

 

This was such a great excursion. The walk was easy, the scenery was beautiful, the water was clear, the falls just beautiful. Our guide sat with our pocketbooks and cameras while we swam. She waited until we were ready to leave, then guided us back down the mountain. The walk down was much quicker/shorter than the walk up. I heard someone say there was another large waterfall down the path, but we didn't see it.

 

My advice for you if you decide to do this is to wear water shoes or old tennis shoes. The bottom is soooooooooooo rocky at the falls. It's really hard to walk on in bare feet.

 

We left really happy and realized our taxi driver had been right there with us the entire time. On the way back down the mountain we took a turn and drove through what I imagine was their Main Street district. It was still very poor, but we saw two story homes, more concrete homes, some restaurants, and businesses... even a car wash! Somehow or another my husband said something silly like, "Musico Upo", and our driver cranked up the radio. It sounds great on the video.

 

We found these people to be so warm and friendly, even with the language barrier. I would encourage everyone to take this tour. It's only a few hours and you will come away with a true appreciation of what you have and wonderful memories. Our driver even took us all the way up to the gangway of our ship so we didn't have to walk.

 

My Mom was sitting on her balcony as we pulled out of this port and said all the taxis and busses lined up and blew their horns when our ship pulled up anchor. I had read that on another post, but it still gave me goosebumps. She said it made her cry. I had a great day in this port! Lovely people. I hope more people become comfortable with this port so money can pump into this poor town. :)

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Thank you for your review and being brave! I'd read some other reviews about the youngsters being guides but not speaking English. At least your son spoke some!

 

For anyone who pre-plans, try to get someone into your group who speaks at least rudimentary Spanish. The taxi driver will greatly appreciate it, and feel more comfortable. I speak some Spanish and every cab driver exhausted his English in about one sentence, and were so relieved when I started asking questions in Spanish. the driver became himself, and not so formal or scared to try to speak English.

 

I had organized a group on Veendam the same day you were there, and the Americans were at times reliant on me, although our official guide, when we got to Livingston, spoke English, so I wasn't really necessary then. But I'd ask an occasional question in Spanish if I felt we weren't getting the full picture. That act opened the guide to tell us more, and we treasure his personal stories.

 

I guess the rain must have stopped before you took your excursion. We got soaked on the boat to Livingston, but laughed it off. It was all part of the adventure.

 

Remember that anyone you book with at the pier will be licensed, and therefore reliable ie picking you up at a designated time, or better yet, not going to "take you for a ride" which you hear about in some foreign cities.

 

But Santo Tomas, even though it is the largest commercial port in Guatemala, still has good, simple people trying to earn a living.

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SalingSwan - I'm lovin' reading all your reviews! We'll be on the Sun in April & can't wait. Thanks for taking the time to report back

For this one, do you think it is the same as the "Las Escobas Waterfall Explorer" that is offered via NCL? Here is it's description:

 

LAS ESCOBAS WATERFALLS EXPLORER

Approximate Duration: 3 1/2 hours Level 2

You will depart from the port and drive to the Escobas Waterfalls to observe the diversity of flora and fauna. One of the most important protect areas is San Gill Hil, located in Izabal. All the rivers that flow into the Atlantic go trough Izabal. You arrive and will start walking along a trail seeing the beautiful diversity of flora and fauna, and a reminder of the very humid tropical forest of Guatemala. These forests are real living creation laboratories, that lodge unexplored resources with a lot of benefits for humanity. This rainforest is found in the jurisdictions of the boroughs of Livingston and Puerto Barrios and forms part of the mountains chain of El Mico. In 1996 the congress of Guatemala declared the area as Ecological Reserve for protection for the flora and fauna species of the said live zone, protection of the river basins that provide drinking water to the neighboring communities, erosion and sedimentation of Santo Tomas de Castilla Bay, and the protection of the landscape that promotes tourism of the area. You will make a stop for a swim at Las Escobas, one of the crystal clean waterfalls.

Note: Participants must be in good health and not exceed 200 lbs. in weight.c

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For this one, do you think it is the same as the "Las Escobas Waterfall Explorer" that is offered via NCL? Here is it's description:

 

LAS ESCOBAS WATERFALLS EXPLORER

Approximate Duration: 3 1/2 hours Level 2

 

It looks like the very same to me. I just looked at my NCL literature and it costs $59 through the ship, compared to the $15 we paid. I hadn't noticed it before now since we always said we wouldn't do anything at this port. Good to know for anyone comparing prices!!!!! Thanks.

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Below is a copy of a post from further on down this board.

 

It relates to a tour offered by Independent Tours - they have a booth set up in the metal building at the port. The cost was $45 - even while the sign says $75. Gus lives in NYC for several months a year and our guide lived in Houston for 18 years so there was no communication problem.

 

 

Similiar to Flashdogs trip - you are loaded in a 20 person boat. But with Gus, its at dockside and you go up the coast for 40 minutes and then up river for about an hour. Tons of beautiful birds all around. We passed many people traveling on the river in dug-out canoes. Men fishing and children traveling to school and such. We visited a Mayan school with a thashed roof and English teachers trying to instruct science, math and language to students. The students were very interested in us and several spoke to us. They have limited English and I have even more limited Spanish. I felt disappointed that I had not paid better attention to my own studies and learn more when I was in school, so I could communicate better.

 

It was easy to see that this was not a show and that each and every student was trying hard with a great enthusiasm.

 

Gus owns a hotel and when you return from the school tour you have a nice lunch there and enjoy some local dance and music - pass the hat type.

 

Gus then have us a tour of Livingston and we got a first hand look at a developing country turning the corner and improving with each day.

 

As the ship was leaving port in the setting sun - the local cabs and vans lined up ( maybe 50-75) and put on their flashing lights and horns and all waved good bye to us.

 

 

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20 years -

 

Gus is businessman.

The waterfalls, the connection where the Rio Dulce connects with the Lake, the mayan school and Gus's hotel are all on the same route.

 

The boat he took us up river in holds maybe 20. If you had a group of 15 all saying what they wanted - I sure the trip would be modified to fit the majority wish.

 

It's a little further up river to the waterfalls, so all Gus would have to do is reduced or drop the walk thru Livingston and shorten the stop at the Mayan school.

 

As long as he gets the dining $ in at his hotel. ;)

 

There were others offering to do the Falls trip directly outside of the metal building at the port. They would walk up to you and tell you all about their trip and how good it was.

 

Since it was only myself and DW when I got to the port, I had no leverage. I was holding out for Gus because he had a good review on this board which gave me some comfort that he wasn't a total crook.

 

If not for the review - I would have been fliping a coin or going on a ship offered excursion

 

Enjoy

 

J

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  • 2 months later...

Hello,

I have been researching this forum and have found a lot of good ideas. I will be in Santo Tomas in November on the Norwegian Sun. In reviewing their list of offered excursions, I found one that is of interest to me. I wondered if anyone had seen this or taken it. It is called Tijax Hiking exploration and apparently is conducted at the Hacienda Tijax. The website for this hacienda is certainly appealing [ http://www.tijax.com ].

If anyone has information about the place or has taken this tour would love to hear your impressions.

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  • 3 months later...

Hello.

My friends were in the Port of Santo Tomasl and traveled with agency Happy Fish in a trip to RioDulce and Livingston says that he was wonderful. I contact myself by means of his page with agency Happy Fish to reserve that trip.

 

I wait for the information serves your question, the email info@happyfishresort.com

 

I ask for information of activities in port santo tomas de castilla, we are 6 people.
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