Port and Shore Excursions
The ship docked at Puerto Quetzel, Guatemala, which has a well-done tourist area right there, but nothing else in the area. "Antigua On Your Own" is a ship's tour. A number of busses took this trip. Our bus had a guide, the driver, and an "assistant" (security guard). Armed personnel were present in all the tourist areas, and one also saw them sitting on top of cargo in the back of trucks along the way. The guide told us a lot about what we were seeing on the 90-minute drive to Antigua, including that coffee had been the major crop, but it had been surpassed by sugar cane. Upon arrival in Antigua, we were given a map and were dropped off at a tourist center, with shopping opportunities and restrooms. You could hire a guide or go it on your own. We went on our own, taking in the ambience, visiting the local market (a cacophony of sights, smells, and sounds), and stumbling upon a Subway sandwich shop for lunch - fun to see the similarities and differences from the versions at home. Note: the streets in Antigua have very large cobblestones; there are sidewalks but they have their issues too - wear good walking shoes! The busses picked us up from the tourist center and the ride back was quieter but not devoid of more description of what we were seeing.
Booked "Kayak the Arch and Snorkel Lover's Beach" through ShoreExcursionsGroup/Cabo Outfitters. Casey (from Oregon) picked us up and took us to meet Rojo Manny, a Mexican native. There were only four of us tourists on this outing. We were outfitted into lifejackets and snorkel gear, boarded our double kayaks, and set off. This tour was fairly early in the day, and we were able to take photos of our group at the Arch with no other boats in sight - just like in the brochures! We paddled out to the Pacific Ocean side, then back to walk on the beach some. Next, to Lover's Beach, where we geared up and went out to look for sealife - the only folks out snorkeling. We had not snorkeled in warm water before, and it was a real treat to enjoy not just the fish (of which there were many!) but also the warm water. It began to get crowded with other snorkelers when our time was up. Manny, who was very helpful with kayaking and snorkeling, pulled out snacks for us, then we packed up and headed back. Casey drove us back to the pier. It was a delightful trip!
Dora and (air-conditioned!) van with driver picked us up on time and right at the foot of the gangway, as pre-arranged. She tailored the tour to suit our desires, and the mobility of our group; the tour was just what was requested. Dora is known at many of the tour stops. She explained how best to fend off the numerous souvenir vendors that swarmed like flies around us. Dora was most accommodating about the number in our group (which doubled after our Cruise Critic meet-up on the ship). One of our group wanted to stop at a grocery store and buy 12 cans of local beer; Dora fronted him the money so he wouldn't have to get US Dollars changed into local funds for the purchase (then he paid her back in dollars). Each couple on our tour paid Dora in cash at the end of the tour. Dora was happy to answer questions about life in Cartagena and Colombia. She was easy to work with via email, prompt in her replies, and spoke easy-to-understand English. I would recommend her without hesitation!
Boarding a bus, we went to the Malecon and walked some distance along this beach path, with our guide Victor explaining the various statuary along the way. Up to the Cathedral, to Gringo Gulch, the older areas of town, and to a jewelry store (which could have been left off the tour entirely - although I suppose some enjoyed the restroom and/or the free shot of tequila there). Victor said PV has a reputation as the friendliest city in Mexico, and he tried hard to uphold that! We walked through a park (saw where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had their homes) and Victor told the story of how his future father fell in love with his future mother while the latter was doing the laundry in the river at age 7. The tour also included some free time in the tourist area along the Malecon. This tour went longer than scheduled. I give this tour a so-so rating.
Jackie of Greenway Tours took us (via mini-bus with driver) to a resort area in the forest. She led us on a hike through the forest, including over several hanging bridges, while four others on our minibus did zip-lining. We also enjoyed a boat ride to see crocodiles, ate lunch at a local spot with a gift shop attached, drove through the countryside and toured through the city. Jackie was great about explaining Costa Rican culture (Pura Vida!) and we came away with a high regard for the country and its people.