Guatemala: Customizing Central America

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A good way to start selling this diverse country is by working with expert U.S.-based tour operators that create customized packages.

The highland section of the country offers an excellent introduction to Guatemala. The route that begins in Guatemala City includes colonial Antigua, Santo Tomas de Chichicastenango and Lake Atitlan, and it is one of the country's two most popular itineraries, together with the Maya ruins of Tikal.


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Jeanne Conaway, president of Elegant Vacations in Atlanta, says, "The advantage for the agent is a market that offers fine local opportunities and attention to detail from excellent local tour operators." Antigua features many small hotels that were private homes and still boast a central courtyard and wide double doors. Casa Encantada, Lions Inn and Posada del Angel are examples. The largest hotel, Casa Santo Domingo, a 17th-century monastery, has been totally renovated.  The town of Antigua is the old capital of Guatemala and showcases several colonial styles.

Chichicastenango is on the way from Antigua to Lake Atitlan. In Lake Atitlan, Casa Palopo, with six rooms, a new suite and a swimming pool, sits above the lake. In Guatemala City, the large Quinta Real was built in colonial style with religious sculptures and period furniture. The InterContinental in the Zona Viva near restaurants and shops is another good choice, says Conaway.

An extension to Tikal includes a stay in La Lancha in Lake Peten Itza, which was beautifully restored and enhanced by owner Francis Ford Coppola. It has a swimming pool and ceiling fans, but no air-conditioning. The Westin Camino Real, not far from La Lancha, offers air-conditioning, a large swimming pool and restaurant. A sample seven-night package in the highlands with an extension to Tikal starts at $2,400 per couple, land-only. Agents get a 10 percent commission. Tikal is included in many tour itineraries.

Daniel Taramona, president of Tara Tours in Miami, organizes tours to familiarize agents with this complex country. Tara sells varied itineraries to Guatemala with roundtrip air from Miami and a private six-night tour in a private air-conditioned vehicle with English-speaking guides. This tour books first-class hotels in the capital, Antigua, Chichicastenango and Lake Atitlan. Price is $1,960 per person, double. Resources

Says Robert Beels, president of Mayatour in Boca Raton, FL: "It's a truly foreign culture close to home, which clients can explore on luxury tours while staying at high-class boutique resorts and receiving superb service." A seven-night first-class Mayatour of the highlands and Tikal includes two nights in Panza Verde, a converted mansion, or Casa Santo Domingo in Antigua. This private tour for two costs $1,587 per person, double. Your commission is 12 percent. Featured are a city tour of Antigua, visits to the markets of Solola and Chichicastenango and a motor launch crossing of Lake Atitlan to visit the town of Santiago de Atitlan, an artisan's community with an unusual local church and a shrine to the Maya god Maximom. Air transportation to Flores to explore the Maya ruins of Tikal is also included.