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How not to do Horseshoe Bend + Antelope Canyon from Las Vegas

Updated: 24th October 2016

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So, America sucks if you are a solo traveller who has made it to 28 and still don’t have a driving license (Hey!). The obvious way to tour the USA is to get an RV or car hire, drive to these incredible locations and then at Horseshoe Bend just walk right in and at Antelope Canyon arrange a local guide (it’s compulsory) to show you around.

My time in the USA was meant to be short so I knew I wanted to tie this tour in from Las Vegas and do both Horseshoe and Antelope Canyon on the same out of city excursion as these were both on my must visit list. If I had more time on my side I would also have loved to tick off Great Sand Dunes national park as well.

I found tours leaving from Flagstaff and Sedona easily enough but it was a struggle to find one from Las Vegas. Eventually, I found the option with Tours 4 Fun and it was a great price compared to the other cities, the reviews seemed good and when my first tour got rained off half way through, the booking company were great at getting me re-booked on one a few days later at no extra charge.

Sadly, the rest of it (except incredible mother nature) was a bit of a disaster..

Horse Shoe Bend from Las Vegas

So, on my first tour, it rained heavily in the morning and Antelope Canyon got closed because of the flash flooding danger. Weather shit happens and this is pretty rare. I get it and actually, it provided a bonus of being able to see Horseshoe Bend twice and at different times of the day.

What it did mean however was I re-booked the tour again, to experience another 14 hours of multilingual Mandarin guided madness twice in one week. I couldn’t complain though, it gave me an extra two days in Sin City so I hunted out a guide to Las Vegas, got my poker face on and kept myself entertained by losing money quite quickly.

For sure, if you really want to explore Las Vegas and in style, you would get your friend togethers, and book yourself some luxury – like Limo Find who allow you to secure a limo for you and your crew. Sadly, half way through a six week solo trip in the states, my budget was starting to struggle for a Motel 6, let alone a luxury strip hotel and a limo transfer to the star attractions. Anyhow, back to my reality…

To make up for the initial tour having its itinerary slashed in half we stopped and spent some time at Hoover Dam before coming back to Las Vegas. Whilst the bridge is an impressive photo and the dam itself huge, I’ve gotta admit after five minutes here I was ready to move on. What would have been a really awesome replacement is to drive down to Lake Powell and hop on a boat, which is certainly another reason to self-drive if you can whilst touring the USA.

If there is one thing that the United States nails it is National parks in abundance. The drive from Las Vegas, which is close to five hours one way, took us through Utah and Arizona and occasionally crossing back and forth with incredible views of red rocks, clouds and desolate landscapes through the windows.

On both tours we stopped for food as it wasn’t included. Both times at different places which seemingly depended on where the drive got his cup of (free?) coffee. And every time it felt super rushed.

So this was my main issue with the tour, especially given we lost over two hours of the itinerary on the first one, the constant rush rush rush attitude seemed over the top.

For someone like me who enjoys taking his sweet time chatting crap to new people, taking too many photos of a single rock or just lingering in the chocolate bar aisle of the gas station it doesn’t work.

I realised slow travel is just how I enjoy to do it and at that point, halfway through the tour I pushed my flight home back for another four weeks. Suddenly everything seemed so rushed and manic and I knew I didn’t want the rest of my travels in America to be 75% travelling and 25% enjoying.

Antelope Canyon Tour

Antelope Canyon was my main reason for the tour and one of my biggest must visits in the USA. It didn’t disappoint.

I’ll let the photos do the talking but this natural slit canyon created by the erosion of sand stone, mainly due to flash flooding is mesmerising. You have to take an official Navajo guide who are native to the land and walk through the canyon (around 1.5 hours) accompanied. Entrance costs just under $30 and was an additional inclusion on the tour I booked.

Whilst there I discovered they do photography specific tours at a slower pace complete with crowd dispersing guide. Had I known, I would have booked me and my tripod straight on to it.

At the end of the tour, whilst driving back the microphone announced it was tipping time and the recommended amount.

Now, I’ve worked in hospitality for a good eight years and get the value of tipping and happily tip great service. Maybe I just won’t get the American tipping rules but to tell someone they have to tip seems a bit far to me. One girl mentioned she had no cash and a little later the guide stopped the bus and announced on the microphone he was stopping so she could get off and use an ATM. Given the minimum wage in Nevada is less than California I respect tipping, but I also found the whole process super rude. Especially given at Antelope Canyon you have a personal guide and at Horseshoe Canyon you just take yourself there from the car park.

The first tour guide I had was a legend, to be honest, and kept the banter going (in two languages no less) and was as helpful as possible when the tour had to be postponed and he deserved his dollar. The second time around it wasn’t such a good experience.

Plus, American companies sort your shit out and pay these people what they are worth. A coach full of us paying $80pp should allow you to reward your staff right.

So, breathtaking views and my honest review. Was it all worth it to get to see the two incredible sights? Hell yeah. If your only option is to day trip them both from Las Vegas then I say go for it, but if you can find an alternative way it may well just be worth taking it rather than a day tour.

6 replies
  1. Barbara says:

    Sorry about your tour experience but so glad you totally enjoyed your visit to Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. Renting a car and touring on your own schedule is definitely the way to go when you can. Of course, a drivers license is a must for this option so maybe it’s time to look into that :) We’ve had the pleasure of visiting both of these wonders several times and I can agree with you, both sights are worth the trip! Happy Travels.

  2. Matthew says:

    Too bad about your tour. There are a few of these Chinese companies that offer these bare bones tours to AC from Las Vegas. Mandatory tips are the fee that always burns the most. Tips are optional and given for good service. I have heard horror stories about the service on these tours, so having to tip for bad service is plain wrong.

    Things have gotten better since your trip, but there still aren’t many non-budget operators.

  3. Shawn says:

    Ah, traveling on a coach operated on Chinese business models is startling to say the least. Having been on over 15 of them here in the US, it never ceases to amaze (and slightly offend) me that they will sell a tour covering 12 National Parks, 4500 miles, over 8 days for $900 USD, and when the passengers arrive they get informed that they now owe the park entrance fees, guide service fee, driver service fee, fuel surcharge fee, and so on – adding another 700-900 per person.

    But that is common business practice with Chinese operators. I think you will find things much better with US operators, albeit the tipping is still present – just not enforced.

    Your travel experience did give pause for thought. Traveling on your own has value, but meeting up with a local guide can enhance the experience. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Birthe says:

    We’ve toured the US (not all of it of course) in 3 months, on our own pace, with a rented car, and we would definitely recommend it. Go get your driver’s licence, Dan! :D
    Of all the things we’ve seen, Antelope Canyon and the Horseshoe Bend are in my top 5. Too bad we didn’t see the Horseshoe Bend in such great light as you did. We’ve been to the Hoover Dam as well. To watch it from that bridge, is pretty impressive, but you should do the tour inside the dam, THAT’s impressive!


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