Bus tour company Green Tortoise Adventure Travel bills itself as offering "Affordable Adventures With Extraordinary People" and there's truth in that advertising!
Green Tortoise was founded 30 years ago with one bus and "the realization that beautiful places, great food, and sociable people were the only essentials for gratifying travel experiences". Today, they've ferried over 500,000 adventurers around the United States, Mexico and Central America in modern buses equipped with custom-built booths and couches which convert into comfy beds at night.
Green Tortoise Tours
Green Tortoise trips are not sightseeing tours, but adventure vacations ranging in price from $189 for a weekend Yosemite getaway to $1795 for a 27 day tour of Alaska. Click on any of our favorite trips listed below, most of which originate in San Francisco, and find out what's in store for you (each page has an online reservation utility):
- Alaskan Expedition
- Alaska Loop
- Burning Man
- Cross Country Adventure
- National Parks Loop
- Northern Pioneer
- Pacific Trek
- Yosemite National Park (several options)
- Baja Beach Daze - Mexico (whale watching!)
- Costa Rica (Panama and Nicaragua options)
- Maya Trail - Mexico (departs from Cancun - ahh)
- Pyramids and Playas - Mexico and Belize (mystical magic, including Tulum -- must see before that's completely touristed)
Or simply head to the Green Tortoise homepage to search for a tour that's right for you -- there's dozens to choose from!
What to Know Before You Go
The main thing to know is that the vast majority of Green Tortoise tours leave from San Francisco, although a few do leave from Mexico or Central America.
If you're on the east coast, you'll need to factor in a few extra travel expenses in order to get to California first.
Secondly, Green Tortoise tours are casual affairs. Although it's a professionally and tightly-run outfit, be aware that the itineraries are flexible and may change while you're on the road, depending on your driver's judgement.
Try not to let it bother you -- changing your mind half-way through a trip is one of the joys of travel, and your driver wouldn't choose to go somewhere else if they didn't think it was worth it. I love this laid back way of travel and recommend that every one embrace it on at least one trip.
Additionally, don't expect that you'll have anyone to wait on you while you're on one of these tours. You will be expected to help with the cooking and cleaning while you're on the bus, and if you don't pull your weight, you'll be annoying everyone on board. Brush up on your cooking skills before you leave, because preparing a dish for 20 people can be a daunting prospect if you've not done it before.
Finally, be sure to check your reservation info and costs carefully - 70% of your food, for example, is normally covered but you may have to pay additional food charges or other costs such as National Park entrance fees. Before you book, make sure you have a fair idea of what your trip will cost and whether you'll be able to finance it. And then make sure you bring enough money to last you through the adventure -- the last thing you want is to have to skip out on visiting Yosemite because you don't have enough cash to pay to get in.
What to Pack
- A sleeping bag is a good idea for nights on the bus, as bedding isn't provided on trips.
- It's worth taking both some sandals for hanging out on the bus and some hiking boots for all the exploring you'll be doing.
- Remember to pack a bathing suit if the trip involves beaches or any kind of water activities.
- Layered clothing is always a good idea if you'll be transiting through places with varying weather conditions. Lots of thin layers will keep you warmer and take up less space than one giant coat.
- Pack a flashlight for helping you get around the bus at night. There obviously won't be bright lights on the bus, so this is great for reading while everyone else is asleep. You won't disturb as many people if you use a small flashlight you strap to your forehead.
- Rain gear is essential if there's ever the slightest chance of rain on your trip. The last thing you want is to get all soggy and cold when you don't have a decent shower to use at the end of the day. You can get travel-specific ones that fold up to the size of an apple to save space and weight in your luggage.
- Sunscreen is essential, year-round, for preventing cancer and premature ageing. Don't travel without it!
- A quick-dry travel towel is great for saving space and weight in your backpack
- Water bottles are a good idea, too, so you won't have to keep buying plastic bottles as you travel around. I love the GRAYL because it allows you to drink the tap water anywhere in the world.
- Photo ID and passport will be necessary if you're leaving the U.S.
- A tent is essential if you choose a Costa Rican trip
What's it Like to Take a Group Tour?
Group tours are a fantastic way to make friends, and I always recommend opting for them if you're a solo traveler. The type of people who take group tours are travelers who love to meet people and are open to making new connections. I've yet to head out on a group tour, then head home without a Facebook newsfeed full of new faces.
If you need any further information about any of Green Tortoise's tours, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit their website or call the very friendly Green Tortoise gang at 1-800-TORTOISE.
This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.