Could Guatemala Be The Next Big Cruise Hub?
PHOTO: Guatemala’s colonial city of Antigua is a major visitor draw. (Photo by Brian Major)
A mystical landscape of giant lakes, tall forested mountains and smoldering volcanoes, filled with enduring Mayan culture, historic colonial cities and an array of distinctive boutique hotels, Guatemala is a natural draw for land-based adventurers and experienced travelers.
But Guatemala is also a fast-growing Central American cruise hub. The country has recorded 120,000 cruise passengers in the last six months and this year expects to host 79 cruises at Santo Tomas de Castilla Port on Guatemala’s Caribbean coast and Puerto Quetzal port on the Pacific coast.
Also, officials at the Guatemala Tourism Board (INGUAT) are negotiating for an additional 16 cruises in 2015. Guatemala’s cruise tourist arrivals are a fraction of the two million visitors who arrive each year, yet the country’s cruise traffic growth, up 11 percent in 2015 over 2014, is clearly on the rise.
Cruise lines calling at the country’s ports rank among the industry’s leading brands, including Azamara Club Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Royal Caribbean International.
Diego Sierra, INGUAT’s aviation and cruise advisor, recently met with cruise industry executives at last week’s Cruise Shipping Miami conference. He spoke recently about Guatemala’s growth as a cruise vacation destination and its array of distinctive attractions.
TravelPulse: What can cruise visitors do in Guatemala?
Diego Sierra: The main attractions in the north include Rio Dulce and Quirigua, a UNESCO heritage site boasting interesting ancient history. Fishing aficionados will [also] get a thrill; Sailfish Bay Lodge is a waterfront lodge offering world-class accommodations and big-game fishing adventures. The property overlooks the Pacific Ocean and is located close to Puerto Iztapa.
For those arriving on the Pacific coast, nearby is the famed city of Antigua, which boasts beautiful colonial architecture and charming cobblestone streets. The El Convento Hotel, across from Capuchinas Convent, blends contemporary with tradition and earned the Trip Advisor’s 2013 Traveler’s Choice award. If travelers are looking for an adventure, nearby Pacaya volcano is a fun outdoor hike that shouldn’t be missed.
If arriving on the Caribbean coast, visit Livingston or Monterrico and experience the volcanic black sand beaches and magnificent sea turtles. Both locations offer a tropical, relaxing vibe.
TP: What are the main cruise ship ports in Guatemala?
DS: Guatemala has three ports, two of which receive the majority of our cruises. Our main port is Puerto (Port) Quetzal on the Pacific Coast. The country’s second largest port is Santo Tomas de Castilla, located on the Caribbean Coast.
Thirty-two cruises will operate out of the port while 47 will arrive to Puerto Quetzal on the Pacific coast. Puerto Quetzal is the leading port in the country with an estimated 20 percent increase in cruise arrivals.
TP: What is Guatemala doing to support cruise tourism growth?
DS: INGUAT has made numerous investments in the past year, including adding and training more personnel to attend to visitors arriving by sea. Other investments have also been made to improve the infrastructure of the ports’ terminals, further improving the first impressions for cruisers disembarking.
Today, 4,500 cruise passengers are able to disembark simultaneously and be attended to in an efficient manner due to these investments. The training focused on enhancing custom-tailored services to visitors once on the ground, as well as on improving security procedures.
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