Solo Traveler: Tours

Solo Traveler: Tours
Column by SHERRY HARDAGE

Those of us who travel independently sometimes have disdain for tours. We know how much things generally cost and think tours are often a rip-off.

I do not enjoy being taken to a restaurant the tour company has chosen, and then told what to order off a limited “tourist” menu. And I’ve come to despise being taken to a “crafts workshop” that is actually nothing more than a high priced trinket store on the pretext of a “cultural” experience.

But sometimes I opt for day-tours so I can be assured of getting to the places of interest in relative safely. In a country where English is not widely spoken, or I don’t speak the local language, a tour is often a good choice.

For the solo traveler, tours are a way to connect with other travelers. All-inclusive tours involve airplanes, buses, boats, meals, hotels, visits to attractions, and knowledgeable tour guides. For those with limited time, a good tour company can take you to many sites for wonderful experiences.

The bear and cub photo was taken in Alaska, at the Anan Creek Wildlife Observatory. Photo by Sherry Hardage

I took a phenomenal tour, several years ago, of Alaska’s Inside Passage. In retrospect, I could not have arranged so many activities on my own by researching the Internet or travel guidebooks. In just one of the 14 days, we flew to an island and boated to a bear sanctuary where we could see bears up close, fishing for salmon.

Then we returned to the island for a visit to a clan house with a personal tour from the great-grand-daughter of the chief who built it. Afterwards we ate freshly caught halibut filets, berries from nearby woods, and a fiddle head fern salad at a tiny restaurant I would never have found on my own.

Sometimes it makes sense to take a tour, because there’s no other good way to get where you want to go.

On a recent trip to Chiapas, I could not locate a bus or collectivo that would take my friend and me slowly from San Cristóbal to Palenque.

Big comfortable buses, on lines like OCC and ADO, lumber up the insanely curvy road to Ocosingo for a brief rest stop, then rumble down a slightly less insane road to Palenque. It takes five hours, and they won’t stop like the collectivo buses that will pick up anybody who waves at them.

There are two wonderful waterfalls between Ocosingo and Palenque: Agua Azul and Misol Há.

Buses whiz right past the entrances. I had every reason to believe we could become stranded if we were to take a collectivo to the first waterfall, and then be unable to locate another to take us on from there.  

So we opted for a tour. There are many companies in San Cristóbal with varying degrees of service. Most of them exist solely as day-tours to nearby Mayan villages or ruins. Even attractions as distant as Palenque are explored in 15-hour day-trips that amount to ten hours sitting in the bus, with less than five hours at the waterfalls and Palenque ruins. This kind of tour is common and, though hard to believe, quite popular.

We decided to take the tour, see the waterfalls and ruins, but have the driver leave us in Palenque. We had to purchase a bus ticket for the return trip, but buses are cheap. Exploring the ruins in detail and spending many hours in the museum was so much better than a hurried dash through the ruins with a five hour ride back to San Cristóbal.

The cascade at Misol Há in Chiapas, Mexico. Photo by Sherry Hardage

Editor’s note: Sherry Hardage lives in Los Alamos and has been traveling solo in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe since she retired from Honeywell in 2009. She is a photographer, writer, and guide who organizes tours of Chiapas, Mexico through her website: www.mexadventures.com

Hardage welcomes comments via email: hardagesa@aol.com

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