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Pace of the Sicily Tours...Frantic as Rumoured?

Disclaimer and background: Since we got our first passports decades ago, hubby and I have been independent travelers throughout Europe and other parts of the world (except for a few long cruises.) We are taking our first “tour” this fall to Morocco. Just the hubby and me and a driver with a fairly relaxed itinerary over two weeks. We really wanted to go to Sicily this year, but the logistics of getting there from Malta (after our Morocco trip and before we fly to Vienna for a river cruise) were too complex.
We have heard good things about the RS 11-day Sicily tour and have thought about it for next year, but we wonder if it will work for us. Hubby will be 80 and using his cane, I’ll be 70 and hopefully not using a cane., but most likely with a back brace from time to time. We usually avoid hotels that don’t have elevators. When the blurb about the tour says, “strenuous,” what does that really mean? We do eventually get in gear on our travels and can cover 4-5 miles per day with rest breaks, but that is at a slow pace. Is there room for slower walkers on these tours? We’d plan it in the middle of a longer trip, so we’d be over jet lag and in peak condition for us!
Is it unrealistic for us to even consider this RS tour? Any RS tour?
Seeking feedback from older travelers or those with slight mobility concerns.
Many thanks!

Posted by
71 posts

I wouldn't call it frantic but it is listed as one of the most strenuous tours. I took it last October and there was a lot of walking and lots of ups and downs with stairs, hills, and uneven terrain. It was a very good tour but I did do miles and miles each day. I've been on other tours with slower walkers. They generally managed to keep and/or catch up or drop out of some activities. I think all the hotels had elevators except one - but there were some ground floor rooms for that one. Good luck in finding the right tour for you.

Posted by
5541 posts

Catrinatravels, it's a tough call. We've been on two tours in the past few years that had folks with mobility problems. They usually opted out of some of the more strenuous activities. In one case, the person with mobility problems wanted to do the 4 or 5 mile hike the rest of the group was doing, so she made arrangements with the guide to skip the activity following the hike. Then she waved all of us off, and insisted we go on ahead. We did, reluctantly, but we left markers along the way to guide her on some tricky spots, and to let her know we were thinking of her.

But sometimes this isn't an option. I see from your profile that you are indeed very well traveled. When you say "at a slow pace," what does that mean? We have been on some tours where the guide took off at a fast pace, and sometimes had to slow down for the group. Other guides set a more leisurely pace. And one or two kept a brisk pace, and insisted the group keep up.

I think on the Sicily tour I'd be more concerned about hills, stairs, and uneven ground than pace.

For example, the hotel the group usually uses in Palermo has an elevator, but it doesn't go all the way up to the rooftop terrace, where breakfast is served and some group activities (first meeting, sometimes a happy hour) are held.

When we took this tour a few years ago, I had just come down with bronchitis. I had to opt out of some of the activities that I knew would be hard for me. But the worst problem for me was in Ragusa, where we had to climb steep hills and stairs to get to the hotel (which did not have an elevator) and at least one of the activity venues (cooking class.) Normally I have no problem with hills and stairs, but this tour was hard.

Posted by
1788 posts

I think on the Sicily tour I'd be more concerned about hills, stairs, and uneven ground than pace.

That's my concern for you after having done this tour. It's really a combination that makes this one of the more strenuous tours.

Edited to add:

There is a quite long walk with your luggage to the hotel in Ortygia--might be almost a km? Not flat or smooth. The bus cannot get close and must park across the bridge in Syracuse.

Posted by
2634 posts

As much as I’d like to say go, having done this trip as a fit 70 year old this year I’d have to say no, it would not be for you. There are many RS tours where you can opt out of an activity and it does not matter much. But in Sicily you are really going at a fast clip. I think about just getting from the hotel in Palermo to the bus where it was a long half mile on rough pavement pulling our bags. I can’t see how anyone needing an assistive device such as a cane could do this.

Posted by
5541 posts

LizinPA, you're right. I had forgotten about the trek to Ortygia. That may well be a deal breaker.

I think Alan is right. There are wonderful RS tours that are not as challenging, Barcelona/Madrid, perhaps? I'm running through the tours we've taken to see which were less challenging. The Best of Belgium and Holland is another. Lots of walking, but nothing particularly strenuous. That is one, however, where about half the tour group complained that our guide walked too fast, although I know he slowed down quite a bit for us. I remember in Delft, after the local guide was introduced to us, she took off. Our guide hollered out: "Slow down! They're Americans!" Ouch.

Catrina, you might call the office and have a leisurely conversation with the wonderful staff. They would probably know what questions to ask you, and would have good suggestions.

And I'm expecting Pam to jump in any minute, and suggest you take a look at Road Scholar tours. Pam?

Posted by
7520 posts

RS tours are designed for active people, and the conditions that you agree to when you sign up are accurate descriptions. The coach rides between places are mostly short, so there's a lot more on-the-ground time at the frequent stops. We found the standing around (at museums, e.g.), and just being on your feet for long periods of time, to be tiring. No slow walkers group.

Posted by
11530 posts

Haha Jane!!

I’ve done 11 Rick Steves tours and start my 11th Road Scholar tour on Saturday. I’ve not done Sicily.

The Road Scholar tours are also rated on activity level but not broken down by the day like Ricks are. Over the last few years I’d say they are much more accurate than previously, having done one marked moderate that actually should have been strenuous. It’s changed now to challenging which is more to the point.

I’d agree about the Rick Steves Belgium and Holland tour as being one that might work for you. It’s the only Rick tour I’ve been on where someone used an assistive device. A couple of times the guide gave her a short cut and she made her way forward and waited for us.

I’ll also say I’ve not had anyone on a Road Scholar European tour with an assistive device. There was one participant who grossly overestimated her physical capabilities including her ability to get on and off the bus without assistance and really needed a cane but did not have one. I have done some US activity-based ones that were not active at all (genealogy) with several people with assistive devices.

You might look over the Road Scholar website at and see if anything appeals. If you have questions I’m happy to try and answer them.

Posted by
3794 posts

I'm 73 and having some physical challenges myself, the most difficult of the 5 RS tours I've taken were ones where the guides, either RS or local, tended to have this style of leading: walk quickly to a stopping point, wait for those at the end to catch up, repeat. This means that all the fast walkers get to rest while the slower ones never get to rest at all. Whereas if the guides slow down just a little, the slower walkers, the photographers and those who simply want to see what they are passing are better able to keep up. I suspect that if a time study was done, it would show that walking at a little bit slower pace would turn out to be faster overall.

In my experience, it's best to look at the the itinerary of the tour for the daily level of activity rather than the average shown with the map. It will give you an idea of what you might have to opt out of.

Daily Activity Key
Light = 2–4 miles of mostly level walking throughout the day.
Moderate = 2–6 miles walking throughout the day with some hills and stairs.
Strenuous = 2–8 miles of walking throughout the day with lots of hills, stairs, and uneven terrain.

Fortunately, the guides for my back-to-back Heart of Portugal and Best of Spain tours this past summer were very understanding and warned me when there were situations that might be too difficult for me. I took lots of taxis (not a bad thing since they go different ways than the walking ones) and opted out of more activities than I wanted to. That's mostly because I caught what turned out to be a nasty viral cold within 5 days of arriving in Lisbon. It lasted until I got back to Tucson about 4 weeks later. I hadn't had a cold in 5 years! Very annoying.

Posted by
3613 posts

I am younger than you, no serious issues, but would not consider a RS Tour because of their requirement that I take my own luggage up and down stairs. I am saving my knees for steps while sightseeing.

Posted by
1788 posts

While you have to handle your own luggage on RS tours, it's not that common to need to do stairs in hotels--most have elevators.

Posted by
52 posts

Thank you, everyone, for your informed and relevant comments. I am beginning to conclude that we’ll need to travel Sicily on our own taking maybe two to three weeks and a combo of driving and private tours. We both would love to do a RS tour some day, just because we think so much of him and have used his travel advice forever it seems.
Belgium/Holland might be a possibility although we have visited both places on our trips to Amsterdam and Bruges.
And thanks for the reminder about guides who rush and then stop and wait for the slow folks to catch up and then race off again! We ran into at least two guides like that on the one Viking River cruise we did, but your comments brought back the vow we made to never get stuck in that situation again. When we do the Danube cruise in December, we’ll take the bus into towns and then set off on our own!
Ah, to have good knees and a strong back! But, I am just thankful we have seen so much of the world already!
Happy travels, all!

Posted by
1990 posts

We’ve done 5 RS tours and 2 Viking river cruises, but we also did one tour with Odyssey’s Unlimited. Our travel partners are no longer able to do RS tours because of mobility issues, but they were very happy with their Odyssey’s tour of Sicily. The RS tours remain our favorite, but the Odyssey’s tours are similar in group size, they do less walking and all the baggage is taken care of. They are more mobile than our Viking experiences and it might be worth considering.

Posted by
3449 posts

We’ve been to Sicily twice; once in 1994, and again a couple of years ago. Both times, independently. I was certainly in my late 70’s for the second trip, and my knees were already bad. However, I was and continue to be quite fit for my age. Here are my reasons for preferring independent travel:

I like to set my own pace. See what I want and stay as long as I want. Eat where and when I want.

It’s cheaper.

I wouldn’t dream of chancing a hotel w/o an elevator.

Sicily is quite easy to do on your own. You can find day trips for some hard to reach or special places, but most of the sights are easily accessible.

Posted by
123 posts

Hi Catrinatravels,
My hubby and I have been taking RS tours for the past 12 years, and in the past 4 years we've retired, we have doubled up on RS and rivercruise tours (while we're young, LOL!).
I feel that RS is very transparent and honest about the level of activity on his tours. The sliding scale gives you a sense of how active a tour will be, and I often wonder if some travelers take the time to look at the activity levels before booking his tours. So I commend you for questioning this.
To answer your question about Sicily, I would lean toward not taking this tour based on your concerns. It is a very active tour and Sicily is very old. Generally speaking, the folks on his tours that need canes do struggle. Another consideration is that the walking tours are usually 4-5 hours in length, and that in itself is taxing, even without a cane. We took RS Sicily tour about 7 years ago and have been back on our own since then. We never drive out of the country and found Sicily public transportation challenging but doable between trains & taxis.
If you are set on going to Sicily I would hire a private driver to take you around. Our friends chose this in Portugal over a long train ride from Porto to south of Lisbon and were very happy.
A better choice may be a river cruise. We've taken three of them (not Viking), and with AmaWaterways, specifically, they group people according to their abilities to walk (gentle/slow/fast walkers). Also, the land excursions are shorter (1-2 hours typically) with a few exceptions (like Vietnam/Cambodia).

Some of the RS tours have long bus rides (4-6 hours/day for half the trip or more). We prefer river cruises over these long bus rides, which is partly why we now combine RS tours with river cruises.
I hope this is helpful.

Posted by
1087 posts

We were on this tour in 2016. The husband of one of the couples had mobility problems. Sometimes the tour guide was kind enough to give them a head start to a walking destination, and other times, he held the group so they could catch up. There is quite bit of walking with hilly conditions, and one of the hotels had no elevator. I did not hear any complaints from the gentleman who had trouble getting around. Sometimes he skipped activities (such as climbing a tower).

Posted by
30 posts

Catrina -
I did the RS Tour in September 2019. I am 71 years old and only in shape if round is a shape. Palermo Centrale Bus station to your hotel you may consider taking a cab. In the hotel used by the Tours the elevator goes to the 5th floor. the restaurant is on the 7th floor they are short flights and there is a landing - doable. In Segesta there is rough ground and hills that may make it very difficult for both of you to reach the temple. Erice hilly but probably doable as there was lots of time allowed. Agrigento some rough ground and a rather long walk but again doable. Taormina is built on a hill so lots of stairs. I found the pace of the tour doable but was often tired. Having said all of that I totally enjoyed my trip. I hope that wherever you decide to travel you will have a wonderful time

Posted by
5541 posts

bvowles, I loved this:

I am 71 years old and only in shape if round is a shape.

I think you just described me, too!

Posted by
11530 posts

Me too, she says ... with crumbs from the pear cake nicked from the breakfast buffet down the front of her!!

Posted by
5541 posts

Just think, ladies, now when someone says "Are you in shape?" we can enthusiastically answer "Yes!"