Exodus do describe this trip clearly, so maybe it’s our fault for not appreciating that it does try to cram too much into too short a time. As a result the abiding memories are that: (1) We had too many long stints on less-than-luxurious buses. (2) There were so many visits to so many Mayan ruin sites that they all seem to telescope together and become one jumbled memory, and (3) We always seemed to arrive at overnight stops too late, and leave too early to enjoy the quite nice hotels (although one was absolutely dire) and the seductive towns we stopped at.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
My wife says that if it hadn’t been pouring with rain, and if we hadn’t spent the previous night at a dreadful hotel, the visit to Palenque would have been “inspirational”. She also makes positive noises about Uxmal and Tikal.
But, for me, although I enjoyed Campeche, Tulum and Caye Caulker, there really was nothing on this trip that I'd call “inspirational” – and I frequently found myself wondering why we’d forked out all that money. (We’ve done quite a bit of long-haul travel, and a great deal within Europe; and we have found most of these "inspirational". But this was our first ever guided group tour, and I’m still not sure whether it was the group structure, the guidance or the location that made it one of our least satisfactory trips.)
- What did you think of your group leader?
José was knowledgeable, well-meaning and a nice guy. But he was clearly nervous and during the first few days his management and organisational skills were sadly lacking. His briefings were rambling, unclear and incomplete, and his many jokes ceased pretty quickly to be funny; he was also bad at keeping the group together, and came close to losing people. By the end of day 5, most of us had “taken him to one side for a chat”, and it was noticeable that his performance improved significantly thereafter.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Buy your local currency (with a “buy-back guarantee”) before departure. The exchange rates you’ll get “in country” can be pretty poor, and, the currency exchange process is hugely time-consuming and irritating. Despite what the Exodus trip notes tell you, the US$ is not king (although it works well in Belize); you will need local currency for most things in the countries you visit. We found that £30 per head per day covered everything (including many cocktails for Herself!).
A lot of the places this trip calls at are at quite high altitude, and it’s worth reinforcing that, if you’re travelling outside high summer, you’ll definitely need something warm for the evenings, as well as some seriously good but light rain gear.
Watch your luggage like a hawk at all times (one of our party only just managed to stop their luggage being accidentally loaded onto the wrong tour bus !)
All the hotels we stopped at had free wi-fi, but phone coverage is very patchy (3G almost non-existent) and very expensive.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
Here are some worthwhile improvements Exodus might consider:
- Instead of making us spend ½ an hour on our first morning filling out forms (listing insurance policies, passport details, medication, next of kin, etc), supply the forms in advance, so that those who want to can fill them out before departure.
- Each morning at breakfast hand out a brief typed “plan for the day” (where we’re going, where and when we’ll stop, where and when to meet, what kit we need – eg swimming gear, walking shoes, etc – the name and address of that night’s hotel, and so forth [we found it nigh impossible to extract this information from José in the early stages of the trip]).
- Tell us in advance what sort of money to lay aside for tips (it transpires that you’re expected to tip the Group leader, three bus drivers, the bell boys at each hotel, a tour guide at each of the sites you visit, and sundry others - at many of the “comfort stops” you’ll have to pay to go to the loo!).
- Use buses suitable for European-sized people to sit on for long stretches.
Thank you for reviewing your recent trip to Guatemala, Belize and Mexico. I was sorry to hear that you felt the trip didn’t live up to your expectations. We describe the trip as “an in-depth exploration of the highlights of the Mayan world”, which, as you pointed out, is an accurate portrayal of what is involved. Given the many important historical sites to visit in this area we do need to cover a fair amount of distance in order to see them. We feel that this is balanced with time spent in the colourful colonial cities of Antigua, Campeche, Merida and San Cristobal de las Casas, as well as 2 night stays at both Lake Atitlan and Caye Caulker, where the trip emphasis shifts towards relaxation.
The hotels that we use on this trip tend to be a real highlight for our clients. We have reviewed the use of the property that you mentioned you didn’t enjoy and are due to change this for upcoming departures. In regard to transport, I have discussed your concerns about the bus with our in-country manager and he has assured me that we are using the best buses available within the countries visited. Unfortunately the road conditions are poor in places and this can increase the journey times. Local guides do receive regular training as part of their work with Exodus, but in our next session we will emphasize the importance of providing clear and accurate briefings – I am sorry for any confusion this caused you. I believe that our Trip Notes are very comprehensive and contain all of the essential information for this trip but I will be updating them shortly with the most recent information that I have obtained regarding currency, tipping, airport taxes and fees.
With kind regards, Vicky Boughton (Trip Manager)