Pompeii: Beware of bad tour guides, and don't hurt the ruins

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Vandals, wild dogs, and reckless visitors are taking a toll on the archaeological site of Pompeii. The Italian government recently declared the site to be under a state of emergency.

Though the ancient city was preserved for nearly 2,000 years after an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, it is now in dire need of maintenance. Large parts are closed, sometimes to protect visitors from shaky walls but often to protect the ruins from the visitors!

Media reports from Bloomberg and elsewhere have overlooked a problem facing budget travelers: Unlicensed guides are bilking many of the roughly two million tourists who visit Pompeii every year.

How can you find an honest guide? For advice, we got in touch with Gaetano Manfredi, a third generation tour guide in Pompeii that Rick Steves recommends in his guide book.

Manfredi typically gives two hour tours of the site. "Tourism is the only industry we have, and so everybody tries to do it," says Manfredi, adding that in the last ten years, local politicians, trying to resolve unemployment have lowered their standards in giving licenses. "So, you do not find 'fake' guides, but a lot of official bad guides!" He advises that travelers book in advance instead of taking their chances with just any guide at the main entrance.

Official guides will have a license from the Region Campania, and travelers should ask to see their license before agreeing to take a tour. On top of the $17 admission, the official price for groups of eight to 25 people is $155 ($3, for each extra person). For a list of tour operators, contact the Tourist office of Pompeii (011 39 081 850 7255)

Gaetano Manfredi can be reached by e-mail, or on his mobile phone at 011 39 338 725 5620.

Of course, when you visit, you'll want to be respectful and not damage the site. But how can you be a careful visitor?

We contacted Marella Brunetto, a superintendent at Pompeii. She passed along the following recommendations on how to minimize damage to the excavations:

Don't stand on the edge of the digs or climb the walls.

Low-heeled shoes are suggested on your visit.

Respect all entrance and access restrictions.

Refrain from making unnecessary noise, writing on the walls, and littering.

Store all bags, knapsacks, umbrellas and other bulky objects in the wardrobe at the main center.

Smoking is not permitted.

Pets are not allowed.

Bonus Pompeii tips:

Mineral water and restrooms are "very few and crowded," says Manfredi, and can be found outside the ruins. There was a restaurant and toilet inside the archaeological area, but they are temporally closed, said Brunetto, adding that there is a picnic area near Porta Nola.

An audio tour is also available at the ticket booth. There are three main entrances to the sites at Pompeii: Porta Marina, Piazza Anfiteatro, Piazza Esedra. For visitors with physical disabilities or heart problems, the main entrance at Piazza Anfiteatro is recommended. [pompeiisites.org]

Have you been to Pompeii? What are your thoughts?

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