|Starts||Mexico City, Mexico|
|Ends||Antigua, Antigua and Barbuda|
|Region||South America & Central America|
Day 1 - Starting: Mexico City & Finishing: Mexico City
On arrival at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport you will be transferred to a hotel in the heart of the downtown area. In the evening (usually around 6pm) you will meet your tour leader and the other members of your group for a pre-tour briefing. Please check the notice board at the hotel reception for confirmation of the exact time and place of the meeting. This meeting is generally followed by an optional group dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Day 2 - Starting: Mexico City & Finishing: Mexico City
Mexico City is an exciting mix of modern cosmopolitan glamour with remnants from both its ancient and colonial history. Situated in the middle of a vast valley, this energetic metropolis, with a population exceeding 20 million, is one of the largest cities in the world. There is a saying that if it happens in Mexico, it happens in Mexico City! Following a city tour, you will have a free afternoon to discover the city's myriad of neighbourhoods and historic buildings.
Day 3 - Starting: Teotihuacan - Puebla & Finishing: Teotihuacan - Puebla
This morning you will travel by private minivan to Puebla, stopping at Teotihuacan along the way. Located 50 kilometres northeast of Mexico City are the 'must-see' archaeological ruins of Teotihuacan - the site of the massive Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon which dominate the skyline of the complex. This was once the country's biggest ancient cities, and capital of the Aztec people, who ruled over the largest empire in the pre-Hispanic era. Guarded by mountains, this magnificent city is thought to have been founded early in the 1st century AD and reached its peak around 500 AD, when its influence extended down to Guatemala and as far north as present-day Texas. With the help of a local guide, you will have time to stroll down ‘The Avenue of the Dead’, uncover its many wonders and imagine what life must have been like nearly 2000 years ago. Puebla has managed to maintain its colonial heritage despite rapid growth and development. There are a plethora of churches and colonial buildings that remain a testament to its proud history. You will spend time at the local markets, a great place to hunt down hand-painted tiles and other handicrafts, take colourful photos and try your hand at bargaining. To finish off a busy day, perhaps refuel with the local specialty, mole Poblano, a dish famous across Mexico. You may prefer to learn how to cook this famed dish for yourself at an optional cooking class.
Day 4 - Starting: Oaxaca & Finishing: Oaxaca
This morning you will travel by minibus to the colonial city of Oaxaca. If you're interested in purchasing traditional Mexican handicrafts, this is the place! Oaxaca is famous for its colourful markets and unique shopping opportunities, as well as its relaxed, laid-back feel. It is also a great place to try out some regional delicacies, from ‘mole’ sauces and banana leaf-wrapped ‘tomales’ to the baked chilli and lime grasshoppers. These are sold by the little old ladies at the markets, with each of them declaring that their creation is best! If the frenzy of finding a bargain becomes too much, chill out in one of the many laid-back cafés and soak up the ambience by observing everyday life passing by.
Day 5 - Starting: Monte Alban - Oaxaca & Finishing: Monte Alban - Oaxaca
Today you will drive the short distance up a nearby hill to the ancient Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban, which looks out across the three legs of the valley of Oaxaca. The Zapotec civilisation began construction of this city around 200 BC and it reached its peak during the period between 300 and 700 AD, when the population was estimated to be around 25,000. Monte Alban exercised political, economic and ideological control over the local communities and surrounding regions that include the peaks of three mountain ranges that converge in this valley. With the help of your local guide, you will have plenty of time to explore the remnants of plazas, tombs, palaces and temples that make up this fascinating site. We return to Oaxaca for the afternoon, which is free for you to explore at your leisure.
Day 6 - Starting: Tehuantepec & Finishing: Tehuantepec
This morning we drive south towards the Pacific coast on our way to Tehuantepec. On the way we will stop to see the Tule Tree (an impressively large Montezuma cypress tree), a Mezcal factory, and the ruins at Mitla. Mitla is an important Zapotec archaeological site and was the main religious centre for the Zapotec people. It was originally built as a gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead and the name Mitla is derived from the Nahuatl word Mictlan, meaning ‘underworld’. We spend the night in the town of Tehuantepec.
Day 7-8 - Starting: San Cristobal de Las Casas & Finishing: San Cristobal de Las Casas
Today we continue driving east into the state of Chiapas. On the way we visit Sumidero Canyon, an 800-metre deep canyon carved out by the Sumidero River and dating from the same time as the Grand Canyon. We then continue on to San Cristobal de las Casas. San Cristobal de las Casas has a distinctive old-world feel, thanks to the Spanish colonial architecture and pretty, cobbled streets. It also maintains its indigenous routes. Villages like Chamula are tucked in to the highlands surrounding the San Cristobal, these essentially act as market places and places of religious ceremonial import for the local indigenous people who live in the neighbouring hills. The traditional way of life has been preserved for the local people here, and you will have the opportunity to see them in customary dress. In order to gain a better understanding of these largely Mayan communities, you will have the chance to explore the myriad of surrounding villages on a cultural tour.
Day 9-10 - Starting: Palenque & Finishing: Palenque
You will depart San Cristobal de Las Casas and head for Palenque today. Due to increased activity by the Zapatista movement in the region around Palenque some changes to your itinerary may be necessary due to safety concerns. The Zapatistas have recently been targeting tourists in order to draw attention to their cause. As result some transport to and from Palenque may need to be rerouted which will mean longer travel times of up to 8-9 hours. Some activities, including the Misol-Ha and Agua Azul waterfalls, will be unavailable until this situation is resolved. Alternative activities will be organised as required and explained to you by your tour leader at the welcome meeting. At this time, there are no safety issues within the city of Palenque itself or at the nearby Mayan archaeological site. We’re constantly monitoring this situation to ensure the safety of our passengers and leaders. The following day we visit the ruins of Palenque. Situated on a hilltop in an area of hot jungle, lie some of the most incredible Mayan ruins in the region, dating back to AD600. The eerie calls of howler monkeys echo through the jungle as you wander among ancient ruins, further enhancing the majestic nature of this magnificent site. Some ruins remain unexcavated and hidden in the surrounding forest.
Day 11 - Starting: Campeche & Finishing: Campeche
Pack your swimsuits today as we drive north towards the Gulf of Mexico, where we stop at the beach for a swim. We then drive on to Campeche where we spend the night. Campeche is a typical Spanish colonial harbour town, complete with walls and fortifications. A UNESCO World Heritage site, many of the town's buildings have been restored, and as a result it is one of the most picturesque towns in Mexico. We take an orientation tour of the city and also visit the San Miguel Fort and museum.
Day 12-13 - Starting: Merida & Finishing: Merida
This morning we head into the ancient ruins of Uxmal to view the amazing Palace of the Governors, considered by many to be the finest example of classic Mayan architecture, and the mystical Pyramid of the Magician, which consists of 5 super-imposed temples. We then continue on to the city of Merida, and take a tour of the city. Known as the 'White City' due to its great use of limestone and white paint, Merida was a centre for Mayan culture long before the arrival of the conquistadors. Today Merida is a bustling city with much of its colonial influences intact. You will have plenty of time to explore the many sights and your guide will be able to recommend a number of sightseeing options, including the highly impressive Regional Anthropology Museum of the Yucatan.
Day 14-15 - Starting: Chichen Itza - Playa del Carmen & Finishing: Chichen Itza - Playa del Carmen
Chichen Itza is arguably the most famous Mayan site in Mexico. Its name came from the deep, natural well known as a ‘cenote’ (sinkhole containing groundwater) located near the centre of the site, which was used during the city's heyday as a place for human sacrifices to appease the Mayan rain god Chaac! The magnificent Temple of Kukulkan stands over the ruins and not far from the temple is the ‘Ball Court’, where it is believed many disputes were settled in a game with combatants hitting a ball by using only their elbows, hips and wrists. Stone carvings depict the violence of the play around the ball court walls, suggesting it was not such a casual sport. Following a guided tour of the site, you will continue to the resort town of Playa del Carmen. With azure waters, powdery beaches and a European feel, Playa del Carmen is a resort city close to Cancun but without the party atmosphere. Spend your time snorkelling among the mangroves, diving in underground caverns, or strolling along the white sands. In the evenings kick back and watch the waves with a margarita. For adventures further afield take a ferry across the turquoise seas to Cozumel, an island famous for its reef diving.
Day 16-17 - Starting: Tulum - Caye Caulker & Finishing: Tulum - Caye Caulker
You will travel by minibus to the cliff-top ruins of Tulum today. From the crumbling walls of the city ruins, you will enjoy breathtaking views across the coastline of the Caribbean below. Dating back to to the year 1200, these ruins are quite young by Mayan standards. The largest of the temples here is Castillo. Once coated in stucco, painted and decorated with masks, this temple has also served as a fortress. Temple of the Winds is perched over the water, and is reputed whistle when a hurricane approaches as a warning. From here you will get back on the minibus and cross the border into Belize. Continue to Belize City, where you'll catch a water taxi to Caye Caulker. Just a short boat ride from the coast are the Belize Cayes. You will be based at one of the more popular of the many islands here, Caye Caulker. From here you can arrange day trips to other cayes if you are in search of the best reefs for diving. You will notice that each of the islands has its own character, but there is an unmistakable Caribbean charm about all of them. You may also choose to take a local boat out to the reef of Caulker itself. There is a half-day of snorkelling on the reef included in your trip, where you will most likely see sharks, rays, fish and coral. You can upgrade this to a full-day snorkelling package at an additional cost if you wish - where you might also see turtles and manatees. Spend the afternoon sipping cocktails overlooking the water, swimming off the Split, or perhaps shopping for local souvenirs.
Day 18 - Starting: San Ignacio & Finishing: San Ignacio
Today you head to San Ignacio (approx. 3 hours). It is situated in the highlands, and is surrounded by forest, waterfalls, rivers, and Mayan ruins, a beautiful place in its own right, and a great base for uncovering the beauty and history of the area. This afternoon we will visit the impressive Mayan ceremonial centre, Xunantunich, where you can enjoy expansive views across the surrounding countryside. There is also a unique stucco frieze on the east side of the temple. Part of the joy of this tour is the hand-cranked ferry ride across the river.
Day 19 - Starting: Tikal & Finishing: Tikal
You will continue by minibus to Tikal today. Home to some of the most magnificent Mayan ruins, the Tikal National Park is awash with wonder. The five granite temples of Tikal tower above the impressive jungle canopy, while a veritable feast of smaller structures remain hidden among the jungle growth. For those who are interested, climbing to the top of the ruins will provide you with unsurpassed views over the jungle, you may even glimpse of a toucan, macaw or other tropical bird. You will stay overnight in the park, before an early morning tour of the ruins. Our accommodation is in a jungle eco-lodge. While facilities at the lodge are a little more basic, it is a great experience staying in the jungle, and hearing jungle sounds as you fall asleep. Electricity at the lodge is limited and is turned off at around 9-10pm each day.
Day 20 - Starting: Flores & Finishing: Flores
Following your early morning tour of the Tikal ruins, we have a short drive to Flores, where we spend the afternoon. Take time to stroll through the cobblestone streets past pastel-coloured buildings, buy local handicrafts or take a dip in Lake Peten Itza.
Day 21-23 - Starting: Antigua & Finishing: Antigua
This morning, we drive to the nearby airport and fly to Guatemala City, from where we transfer to Antigua. A beautifully preserved UNESCO World Heritage site, Antigua is home to a plethora of Spanish Baroque architecture and ruined churches. Once the capital of Spanish Guatemala, today Antigua is a town of over 30,000 people nestled between three towering volcanoes. The capital was moved to Guatemala City after the earthquakes of 1773. It is a very popular stop for travellers because of its historical relics, as well as the pleasant ambiance and vibrancy of the local people. There are a number of interesting markets, restaurants and cafes; be sure to try the famous Guatemalan coffee! It is also a place renowned for its many Spanish language schools. There is no shortage of things to do and places to discover during your time here. You will visit a women's cooperative while you are in town. Founded in 1992, the cooperative is an independent, grassroots organisation designed to assist community development, health, education, clean water and income generation. Skills like cooking, weaving and textiles are employed by the women here to demonstrate traditional crafts. Your trip will come to an end on Day 9 after breakfast.View Dates