Tag Archives: Shore Excursions

The ruins at Chichen-Itza are among the most impressive Mayan sites.
The ruins at Chichen-Itza are among the most impressive Mayan sites.

When it comes to ancient ruins, there’s more to explore than just Europe and South America. Mexico boasts some of the most incredible and significant ruins in the world. The Mayan civilization spanned more than 2500 years, and hundreds of ruins in Mexico have been documented. In fact, there are so many sites that it’s believed that more than 4,000 undocumented sites exist.

On western Caribbean cruises that call at Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico, guests have the opportunity to take a shore excursion that steps back in time and walks the footsteps of those who lived in the Mayan era. If you’re taking a western Caribbean cruise that visits Mexico, the shore excursions can be pre-booked so you get the tour of your choice.

Some of the most famous ruins can be visited from Cozumel. Probably the most well-known, guests can explore one of the new Seven Wonders of the World — the Mayan ruins of Chichen-Itza. Chichen-Itza is one of the most important and exciting archeological sites on the American continent — the home of one of the great Mayan empires — and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. These awe-inspiring monuments were left as a reminder of the incredible Mayan culture. The guide will escort guests through this legendary city, which extends over six square miles and contains hundreds of structures throughout the area. You will visit the Pyramid of Kulkulcan, the largest and best preserved Mayan ball court, the mystical Cenote where human sacrifices were performed, the Temple of the Warriors and the Observatory, where Mayan priests accurately calculated celestial events from over a million year span. This is the premier site for Mayan culture and certainly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Admittedly this is very long excursion but it is well worth it. Everything was very well organized overall and I would highly recommend this trip … Once we arrived we were each given a bottle of ice water as well as a choice of which guide to go with. We went with Carlos for a slower paced tour of the site. He was superb and I feel I learned so much more from him than we did on our first trip there. After he was finished we were left to wander about Chicen Itza for an hour. This site is very large and you may not have time to see it all but you can always take another cruise to see what you have missed! — Guest Nancy1006

Chichen-Itza is a must-see for guests looking to explore Mayan ruins.

Chichen-Itza is a must-see for guests looking to explore Mayan ruins.

From Cozumel, guests also can visit the Coba Mayan Ruins. Coba is one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s most picturesque and popular archeological ruins. The site is around 30 square miles in size and is swathed in jungle. A tender ride to Playa del Carmen is followed by a motor coach ride to the ruins. The guide will share the secrets of this mystical place and you’ll explore newly restored structures that have only recently been opened to the public. Make your way on foot along a pathway flanked by jungle to the first excavated ruins, which consist of a large pyramid, Grupo Coba and a ball court. See the second-tallest temple in the Mayan world, Nohoc Mul, which is around 136 feet tall with 120 steps to the top. Stop along the way to admire La Iglesia — the small but lovely ruin of church that resembles a beehive.

Coba is one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s most picturesque and popular archeological ruins.

Coba is one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s most picturesque and archeological ruins.

The city of Tulum is a popular site to visit from Cozumel. The walled city of Tulum is the only Mayan city built right on the coast, overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The adventure begins with a 45-minute ferry transfer to Playa del Carmen. The guide will lead you on a scenic and informative one-hour drive to Tulum. Once there, your guide will escort you through the ruins, offering a complete narration along the way. See more than 60 restored temples and some of the mysterious hieroglyphic writings still visible today. Visit the Temple of the Frescos, famous for the detailed carved figures and original paints. And perched on the edge of the Caribbean and rising high above all of the other ruins is El Castillo, with its breathtaking view of the aqua-colored water below.

Well run tour, professional driver and tour guide. Chance to view/buy local artifacts is possible. Tulum is a post card perfect site for pictures of Mayan ruins, the Caribbean surf & beach, and a good historical review of Mayan culture and the Tulum site. — Guest FlyOverCountry

Tulum is the only Mayan city built right on the coast.

Tulum is the only Mayan city built right on the coast.

For a shore excursion that combines history, nature discovery and beachside relaxation, the San Gervasio Archaeological Site & Beach tour is ideal. Head into Cozumel’s jungle interior where you’ll explore the site of an ancient Mayan settlement. Immerse yourself in the mystical feeling that pervades the San Gervasio archaeological site as you walk limestone roads through the vestiges of Mayan construction with native trees and plants all around you. Keep your eyes open for butterflies, birds, iguanas, and other local residents. Once the island’s center of culture and religion, this is the only protected Mayan site on Cozumel and the natural setting offers a real sense of the Mayan life. Your guide will share fascinating stories about the incredible civilization that thrived here 1200 years ago, when Cozumel was a trade stop and center of worship for the goddess of fertility. Next, travel to a beautiful beach club where you’ll have free time to relax on the white-sand beach, swim in the sea, and enjoy the tropical surroundings.

The tour at San Gervasio combines sunshine and history.

The tour at San Gervasio combines sunshine and history.

We did this tour on our recent Nieuw Amsterdam cruise. We really enjoyed it. The tour is very well organized and our tour guide, Mimi, did an extraordinary job explaining the background and details of the Mayan ruins. After the stop at the ruins, the goes to a nice little beach with a restaurant – where you can get a full meal or you can simply relax and have a cold Mexican beer. — Guest Richard1s

The ruins of Chacchoben.

The ruins of Chacchoben.

At Costa Maya, the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins tour visits Chacchoben — the Place of Red Corn. In the company of experts in Mayan history, guests explore the ancient ruins and learn about the temples and other structures only recently partly uncovered in the rain forest. Guests have time to climb the Gran Basamento taking them above tree level. Here archaeologists found ceremonial offerings dating to around 1000 BC. The guide will explain about the wildlife and medicinal plants that are used by the modern-day descendants of the ancient Mayan people.

Our guide Daniel (a full-blooded Mayan; he proudly told us so) was superb. Unlike some guides, he gave interesting information on the way back to port — not just going to and on the tour. We viewed numerous fascinating ruins and gained an understanding of the marvelously accurate Mayan calendar — more accurate than the one we use routinely! — Guest ew2103

Guests at Costa Maya also can visit the Kohunlich Mayan Ruins. Situated in a secluded jungle setting near the border of Belize, guests view detailed Mayan temples combined with the lush green manicured gardens. See the Temple of the Large Masks, the Plaza of the Acropolis, the Plaza of the Estelas, Plaza Hundida and Plaza Merwin. Kohunlich may have been one of the most important sites in the lower Peten region. In today’s world, Kohunlich’s broad range of architecture, natural beauty and expansive, uncrowded seclusion sets it apart from the more widely visited sites.

This day-long excursion to a Mayan archeological site was enhanced by our wonderful tour guide Manuel. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that he was a retired history teacher with a wealth of knowledge on Meso American history. As we strolled along the site his colorful detail made the tour come alive for us. We returned by bus to a wonderful local restaurant where the entire group enjoyed fajitas and cool beverages on an inland lake. A very beautiful setting indeed. We would highly recommend this excursion to any interested in ancient Mayan culture. — Guest ddhodnik

The Kohunlich ruins are nestled in the jungle.

The Kohunlich ruins are nestled in the jungle.

To write a review on a shore excursion, visit the shore excursion page on the Holland America Line website and click on the “review” tab. To read more reviews, visit the individual tours to see what your fellow travelers think about the experience.

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The Great Theatre at Ephesus.
The Great Theatre at Ephesus.

Guest Elizabeth set sail on a Mediterranean cruise aboard Noordam with her family and wrote about her adventure. Step back in time with her to some of the world’s most amazing ancient cities.

The Mediterranean has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. It features incredible beaches with water so blue, any picture is postcard worthy. But it is also home to some of the most important, well-preserved and breathtaking ancient cities and ruins. I recently took the 11-day Mediterranean Dream cruise aboard ms Noordam. If you’re looking for an interesting and exciting history lesson on your next trip, here are the places you must see:

Katakolon, Greece

The first stop on my cruise was Katakolon, Greece. This stop is the gateway to Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games and where the Olympic flame is lit every two years using just a mirror and the sun. I took the Ancient Olympia & the Museum tour. The arch, pictured below, is the entrance to the Olympic Stadium. When it was built it was actually a tunnel but it fell apart during earthquakes. What is shown is a small part that was reconstructed. The marble starting blocks where the Olympians lined up for their races are still intact. Make sure to wear a good pair of Nikes because your guide will invite you to step up to them for a race. You can imagine 40,000 spectators cheering around you for some added motivation!

After walking through the arch to the Olympic Stadium, you can step up to the starting line to run your sprint.

After walking through the arch to the Olympic Stadium, you can step up to the starting line to run your sprint.

Holland America Line lets you couple your tour of Ancient Olympia with a tour of Mercouri’s Vineyards, Olympia village, Zorba, or the Archaeological Museum of Olympia, which is what I chose to do. The newly renovated museum is considered one of the most important in Greece and features sculptures from the Archaic to Roman periods. It also holds the famous 4th century Parian marble statue of Hermes of Praxitelis.

Piraeus (Athens), Greece

Calls at Piraeus are the perfect way to see Athens, one of the oldest cities in the world and the birthplace of democracy. Being my first time in Athens, I took the Scenic Athens & the Plaka on Foot tour. I wanted to take advantage of my short time there and see as much as possible. I couldn’t have made a better choice. During our drive through the city we saw an incredible amount of historical monuments. In Athens, it feels like their is a “sight” on every corner. We drove by Hadrian’s Arch, the statue of Lord Byron, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus and watched the changing of the guards at the Parliament Building at Syntagma Square, the oldest square in the city. We also got off the bus to take in the beautiful all-marble Panathenaic Stadium, which hosted the first modern Olympic games in 1896.

The Panathenaic Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium, built on the land where the Panathenaic Games were held in ancient times to honor the Goddess Athena.

The Panathenaic Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium, built on the land were the Panathenaic Games where held in ancient times to honor the Goddess Athena.

I only viewed the Acropolis from the bottom, but it is worth mentioning that Holland America offers plenty of tours that will take you to a closer view including the Athens & Acropolis tour and the Athens, Acropolis & Cape Sounion tour.

Of course it is Athens’ most famous sight, but trust me when I say that you can’t miss Areopagus. Located northwest of Acropolis and just steps away from its entrance, Areopagus, also known as Mars’ Hill, was where the council of elders met in pre-classical times. In classical times, it was the sight of the high Court of Appeal and is said to be where Ares was tried by the gods for the murder of Poseidon’s son. A climb up the steps of Areopagus takes you to what has to be one of the most gorgeous panoramic views in all of the Mediterranean. This view of Athens and the Parthenon will take your breath away. I can’t imagine how stunning it is with all of the city lights at night, but I can tell you that seeing it that way has been added to my bucket list!

From the bottom, Areopagus just looks like a big rock, but if you climb up the steps you'll enjoy an incredible view.

From the bottom, Areopagus just looks like a big rock, but if you climb up the steps you’ll enjoy an incredible view.

Afterward, we enjoyed a traditional Greek lunch and had time to walk around the plaka. This old, historical neighborhood features neoclassical architecture, winding roads and plenty of opportunities to pick up local souvenirs.

Kusadasi, Turkey

In the first century B.C., Ephesus was one of the largest cities in the world. Today, it features one of the largest collections of ruins in the eastern Mediterranean, and it is very conveniently located to a stop at Kusadasi, Turkey.

The Odeon Concert Hall and Celsus Library are two of the most popular sights at Ephesus.

The Odeon Concert Hall and Celsus Library are two of the most popular sights at Ephesus.

Walking through the streets of Ephesus, you are surrounded by incredible statues and structures. The Odeon Concert Hall served not only as a concert hall but more importantly as a Bouleuterion for the meetings of the Boulea, or Senate, making it the sight where the most important city matters were discussed. The Celsus Library may have been the most stunning structure at Ephesus. Built in 117 A.D. by Julius Aquila to honor his father Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, it housed more than 12,000 scrolls, making it the third largest library of the time.

EPHGreat Theater

The Great Theater is a marvel in itself and the most impressive structure at Ephesus. It was built in the third century B.C., during the Hellenistic Period, and was enlarged during the Roman period. With a seating capacity of 25,000, it held the most important theater performances and religious and political assemblies of the time. The acoustics are so great that in the 1980′s it even featured concerts by Elton John and Sting.

The Temple of Hadrian (left) was being restored during my visit, the perfect excuse to go back to Ephesus. On the right, the Fountain of Trajan, an Ephesian cat nap and a relief of the goddess Nike.

The Temple of Hadrian, left, was being restored during my visit, the perfect excuse to go back to Ephesus. On the right, the Fountain of Trajan, an Ephesian cat nap and a relief of the goddess Nike.

You can couple your visit to Ephesus with a visit to the Virgin Mary’s house, a Catholic shrine and the house where Jesus’ mother is said to have lived the last years of her life; the Terrace Houses, a recently excavated section of Ephesus that was home to its wealthiest people; or Sirince Village, where Greek style houses are decorated with Turkish interiors and there is plenty of shopping for souvenirs.

Naples, Italy

I was really looking forward to our call at Naples, Italy, knowing that I would get to see Pompeii. This sight is visited by millions of people ever year and I was excited to see why. We know much of what we know about how the ancient Romans lived thanks to Pompeii. When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., it buried the town in ash. The town stayed buried for about 1,500 years until it was rediscovered. It is preserved in such incredible detail, that walking through is like a first-hand experience of Roman life.

I took the Ruins of Pompeii tour, which gave great insight into ancient life. Our guide took us through the maze of streets, pointing out the chariot wheel marks in the stone. He also pointed out the cat’s eyes — small tiles in the stone that reflected the light of the moon at night allowing people to see where they were walking. We went to the Forum, which served as the center of the town and was surrounded by many important government buildings. It was once two stories high and you can still see the foundation of the second story. We also went to the market where meats and vegetables were sold. In the center you could buy fish, which we know because of the amount of fish bones found in the area during the excavations. The painting fragment on the walls of the market is an original and has never been restored. The detail and use of perspective is incredible.

Hundreds of artifacts were found at Pompeii. Also pictured, clockwise, a mural at the market, myself in the Forum, a statue of the Goddess Artemis, and an oven.

Hundreds of artifacts were found at Pompeii. Also pictured, clockwise, a mural at the market, myself in the Forum, a statue of the Goddess Artemis, and an oven.

We also entered the spa which still has a roof above it. It featured three bathing rooms including a sauna, marble floors and exquisite details.

Though the entrance is small, the spa was actually very spacious and featured many different rooms.

Though the entrance is small, the spa was actually very spacious and featured many different rooms.

My Mediterranean Dream cruise was just that — a dream. It felt like I had stepped back in time to some of the most beautiful eras in world history. But it was also just the tip of the iceberg. From the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, to Knossos and Delphi in Greece and Perge in Turkey, there are still plenty of other Mediterranean ruins to be explored.

If you’re taking a Mediterranean cruise that visits these ports, the shore excursions can be pre-booked so you get the tour of your choice.

Have you visited any of these Mediterranean ruins? Which was your favorite? Which is at the top of your list to see next?

Guests on the 2015 Grand World Voyage will have an overnight call at Bali to explore the country's beautiful temples like Ulundanu.
Guests on the 2015 Grand World Voyage will have an overnight call at Bali to explore the country's beautiful temples like Ulundanu.

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Cruise Radio Host Doug Parker, left, and writer Craig Zabransky on Alaska's Mendenhall Glacier.
Cruise Radio Host Doug Parker, left, and writer Craig Zabransky on Alaska's Mendenhall Glacier.

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Can you find any trolls at Trollstigen? Photo by Terje Borud, courtesy of Innovasjon Norge.
Can you find any trolls at Trollstigen? Photo by Terje Borud, courtesy of Innovasjon Norge.

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Ornate and opulent,  Catherine's Palace is a highlight of a visit to St. Petersburg.
Ornate and opulent, Catherine's Palace is a highlight of a visit to St. Petersburg.

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Istanbul, Turkey, is among the top "bucket list" ports. Find out what other cities made the cut.
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