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Santo Tomás de Castilla Cruise Tips

Holland America ship docks at Santo Tomas de Castilla. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
Holland America ship docks at Santo Tomas de Castilla. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
The Santo Tomás de Castilla cruise port lies snugly inside Amatique Bay on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala.

Guatemala is not known as a destination for western Caribbean cruises in part because such a small amount of the country lies on the Caribbean coast.

It is dominated to the north by Belize and to the south by Honduras, which offers the better known Roatan island.

But it attracts cruise ships because of a port expansion in 2004. Otherwise, it is known for its commercial cargo activity and presence of the Guatemalan navy.

Attractions and Shore Excursions


The port is small and has no shops, restaurants or other tourism business except for a single large terminal building. Local sellers have bargain prices and are willing to haggle.

During our visit, the terminal had continuous entertainment from quality musical groups. Cruise passengers would sit and listen to the music in-between shopping, drinking or eating.

Otherwise, visitors must go on paid shore excursions to see what else lies in the area, starting with city tours to the nearby and much larger Puerto Barrios. Santo Tomás and Puerto Barrios are almost one long city.

The area was settled in 1840 by Belgian pioneers representing a private colonization company. Many of them died from malaria and yellow fever, and the company withdrew from the region in 1854. The Belgian cemetery is one of the best-known attractions in the city.

Santo Tomas de Castilla cruise terminal
Santo Tomás de Castilla cruise terminal. © 2019 Scott Bateman
Other than city tours, one of the most common shore excursions is a visit to the beach at Amatique Bay Resort, which also has a nice swimming pool. It is a 20-minute drive north of the city by taxi or excursion bus. Some visitors also can take a water taxi. Other beach options include Green Bay Hotel Beach and Punta de Palma Beach.

Some of the more popular attractions require longer rides that will consume most of a day.

Rio Dulce and the Castillo de San Felipe de Lara is a day trip that takes about 90 minutes each way by tour bus. Rio Dulce is a national park; one excursion operator says the boat tour through the Rio Dulce canyon is the area’s most popular excursion. Castillo de San Felipe is a Spanish fort and UNESCO World Heritage site that was built in 1644 to keep pirates out of Lake Izabal. This excursion usually costs about $100 per person.

Visitors will find that Guatemala is known for its Mayan ruins as much as the surrounding Central American countries.

The most important ruins in the country are the Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is a full day trip of more than 90 minutes each way. The excursions costs about $100 per person.

Quirigua was the capital of a major state starting in the 2nd century A.D., according to UNESCO. The park includes 17 monuments that were cared between 426 and 810 AD. Expect to pay about $200 or more per adult for the tour.

Another UNESCO World Heritage site lies at Tikal, which is a 40- to 90-minute flight by chartered aircraft depending on the size of the aircraft. It features the Great Plaza, the Pyramid of the Great Jaguar, the Central Plaza, the Palace of the Masks, Pyramid IV, the Central Acropolis and the North Acropolis. The tour takes about three hours.

Other attractions and excursions of Santo Tomás de Castilla include boating along the Rio Dulce River and visiting Ak' Tenamit village to see local culture, arts and crafts.

Weather


Like most of the western Caribbean coast, the Santo Tomás de Castilla cruise port has warm temperatures throughout most of the year ranging between the low 80s and high 80s Fahrenheit or high 20s to low 30s Celsius.

The rainy season runs from June through November in line with the Caribbean hurricane season. But the city also see higher rainfall in December and January.

The dry season goes from February through April.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Cruise Ports   Guatemala   

August 14, 2019

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