MEXICO: MAYANS, AZTECS & CONQUISTADORS
Few countries can compete with Mexico when it comes to unleashing the inner Indiana Jones in each of us. Jungle clad temples and abandoned ancient civilisations give way to colonial era towns with cobbled streets and Spanish architecture. Uncover Mexico’s historical and cultural layers as you journey from the highlands of Mexico City to the jungles and beaches of the Yucatan via the lands of Aztecs, Zapotec, Mayas and Conquistadors. Take a late October tour and join in festivities for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
- Experience Mexico’s culinary and artistic traditions
- Explore ancient temples, cities and colonial towns
- Discover highlands, jungles and coastlines
- Relax on a boat along the Xochimilco Canals
- Learn how to create popular Mexican dishes
AT A GLANCE
DAY 1: ARRIVE IN MEXICO CITY
Flights usually arrive in Mexico City in the evening, but you can arrive anytime today. Transfer to your hotel for the night.
No previous travel experience is required for this trip, just a basic level of fitness to enjoy the outdoors.
DAY 2: MEXICO CITY – COYOACAN NEIGHBOURHOOD, FRIDA KAHLO AND XOCHIMILCO CANALS
Exploring the Bohemian Side of Mexico City
Following a briefing, you start off by making your way to the south of the city and a particular house hidden behind cobalt blue walls known as Casa Azul. This is where the acclaimed artist Frida Kahlo was born; grew up and, eventually, lived with her muralist husband, Diego Rivera until she died in 1954 at the age of 47. Now a museum, the colonial house, set around a luxuriant garden doesn’t only showcase the collections and personal effects of the two great artists but is a window into the life of affluent Mexican bohemians in the first half of the 20th Century.
|Tour: Exploring the Bohemian Side of Mexico City|
Tour: Enjoy Your Journey Through Floating Gardens and Kitchens
Next, you visit the quaint neighbourhood of Coyoacan (meaning the place of coyotes) with its pebbled streets, colonial churches, bustling little markets, and quiet squares. This area was inhabited before the arrival of the Spanish and it is said that the conquistador, Hernan Cortes, made this the first capital of New Spain.
Enjoy Your Journey Through Floating Gardens and Kitchens
Finally, you will enjoy a relaxing ride on a pre-Hispanic boat along the peaceful waters of the Xochimilco Canals. These scenic waterways would have been used by the Aztecs and today see us enjoying a relaxing journey past floating gardens and little floating kitchens selling local food.
We will return to our hotel in the late afternoon.
DAY 3: TEOTIHUACAN AND MEXICO CITY’S OLD TOWN
Join a Local Guide to Explore the Ancient City of Teotihuacan
The ancient city of Teotihuacan reached its zenith around 1,000AD when it was the 6th biggest city in the world with a population of about 125,000. Amongst the avenues and structures are the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, the 3rd and 4th largest in the World. You will explore this impressive archaeological zone with an expert local guide to unearth some of the site’s secrets.
|Tour: Join a Local Guide to Explore the Ancient City of Teotihuacan|
Tour: Visit the Historic Centre
Visit the Historic Centre
Returning to Mexico City you visit the historic centre. Based around the Zocalo (main square) are the Palacio Nacional and the Cathedral Metropolitana. The Palacio Nacional not only contains the offices of the President, the Federal Treasury, and the National Archives but also murals depicting pre-Hispanic life and a large mural filling the central stairway depicting the entire history of Mexico from the conquest on.
DAY 4: MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY AND HISTORY AND PALACIO NACIONAL; ON TO PUEBLA
Mexico’s Collection of Artifacts
Before leaving Mexico City behind you will visit the Museum of Anthropology and History with its impressive collection of artifacts from Mexico’s many civilizations.
|Tour: Mexico’s Collection of Artifacts|
Tour: Visit the Largest Pyramid Base in Mesoamerica
Visit the Largest Pyramid Base in Mesoamerica
Starting your journey south you head towards the city of Puebla (about 4.5hrs). En route, you will visit Cholula, home to the largest pyramid base in Mesoamerica with a 16th-century church built on top of it. On a clear day, there are good views of Popocatepetl Volcano.
In the late afternoon, you will arrive in Puebla de Los Angeles, the City of Angels – so-called because of a legend that claims angels came down from heaven to place the cathedral’s bells in the towers when builders were unable to do so. The colonial city is known for its traditions, especially its handicrafts, including blue-and-white pottery, and its cuisine that is some of the best in Mexico.
DAY 5: PUEBLA CITY TOUR AND ON TO OAXACA
Take In Puebla, UNESCO World Heritage Site
You will spend this morning discovering the city of Puebla which has been given UNESCO World Heritage Site for its colonial architecture. You visit the Patio de Los Azulejos and the ex-Convent of Santa Rosa, both of which provide classic examples of how ‘talavera’ tiles were inbusinessd into buildings, inside and out. Early settlers who came from Talavera de la Reina in Spain introduced these tiles and associated ceramics. Today the glazed pottery has become synonymous with Puebla.
|Tour: Take In Puebla, UNESCO World Heritage Site|
After your city tour, you continue your journey and drive towards another Mexican World Heritage City, Oaxaca (about 4.5hrs). With a colonial centre of shaded pedestrian streets, bright, clear light, indigenous traditions, and a creative atmosphere, Oaxaca has attracted and inspired many artists and artisans alike.
The city boasts such sights as the beautiful zocalo (main square), the Cathedral, and the vast Convento de Santo Domingo, along with museums, fascinating markets, and charming inns.
DAY 6: MONTE ALBAN – OAXACA
A Maze of Subterranean Passageways
Your next exploration of Mexican history takes you to the Zapotecan site of Monte Alban. Whilst the name dates back to a Spanish landowner in the 16th-century, previous names come from the Mixtec word ‘Sahandevul’ meaning ‘At the foot of the Sky’ or the Zapotecan ‘Danibaan’ meaning ‘Sacred Mountain.
In 500 BC the Zapotecans moved into the Oaxaca region and began the monumental task of levelling the top of a 1,600m high mountain that intersects and divides three valleys. Here they built the city of Monte Alban with a maze of subterranean passageways, rooms, drainage, and water storage systems.
|Tour: A Maze of Subterranean Passageways|
Tour: Cobbled Streets and Vibrant Squares
Cobbled Streets and Vibrant Squares
You later return to Oaxaca and explore the cobbled streets and vibrant squares and churches of the historical town. You will also visit the Museum of cultures Santo Domingo.
DAY 7: OAXACA – LEARN HOW TO CREATE POPULAR MEXICAN DISHES
Visit a Local Market to Collect Your Cooking Class Ingredients
Oaxaca is possibly the most famed region in Mexico for its cuisine and you get more acquainted with it as you head for a cooking class, learning dishes that can easily be recreated at home. The exact menu can change but you generally learn how to make two types of tortillas, three different salsas, guacamole, mole, a starter, a soup, a dessert, and a drink. You will visit a local market where different ingredients are showcased and explained before returning to the restaurant for your class and a succulent lunch.
The afternoon is free to wander around Oaxaca on your own.
|Tour: Visit a Local Market to Collect Your Cooking Class Ingredients|
Meals: B, L
DAY 8: TEOTITLAN DEL VALLE, MESCAL TASTING AND ON TO TEHUANTEPEC
Hand-woven Rugs and Don Agave Distillery
A short distance from Oaxaca is the village of Teotitlan del Valle known for its colourful, hand-woven rugs and your first stop today. From here you continue to the Don Agave distillery to taste some mescal. Distilled from agave plants, mescal is different to tequila and is most popular in the Oaxaca region.
|Tour: Hand-woven Rugs and Don Agave Distillery|
Tour: Discover Mitla
You next head to Mitla, another Zapotecan city which contains tombs of kings and priests and which roughly dates from the 200-900AD.
After visiting the site you will be driven to Tehuantepec where you will spend the night (total drive time is about 7hrs plus stops)
DAY 9: EXPLORE SAN CRISTOBAL
Get Your Bearings in San Cristobal
Drive to San Cristobal (about 6hrs plus stops).
One of Mexico’s most popular cities with visitors, San Cristobal de las Casas is filled with cobbled stoned alleyways of whitewashed buildings with red-tiled roofs that give onto plazas and picturesque arcades.
Upon arriving in San Cristobal in the afternoon you will have a short orientation tour of the historic city before checking into your hotel.
|Tour: Get Your Bearings in San Cristobal|
DAY 10: FREE DAY IN SAN CRISTOBAL
Explore on Your Own or Book an Optional Tour
Today is a free day to explore San Cristobal at your own pace. Wander the colonial streets, take in the lively cafés, or buy handicrafts produced by the local Tzotzil indigenous groups with their different colourful dress.
It’s also possible to do an optional boat trip through the Sumidero Canyon and/or visit one of the traditional Mayan communities who live in the villages surrounding the city.
DAY 11: TO PALENQUE VIA AGUA AZUL WATERFALLS
Waterfalls and Natural Pools
The road you be taken on towards Palenque is very windy but picturesque. En route, you will visit the waterfalls of Agua Azul (after about 5hrs driving plus stops). Agua Azul is a group of beautiful waterfalls that create wonderful natural pools and has been a protected area since 1980.
Following a stop at the falls, it’s a further 2.5hrs to the town of Palenque, named after the nearby impressive ruins.
|Tour: Waterfalls and Natural Pools|
DAY 12: PALENQUE RUINS, ON TO CAMPECHE
Temples, Sanctuaries, and Pyramids
Emerging from the jungles of the Chiapas’ low-lying hills is one of Mexico’s most impressive ruins: the Mayan site of Palenque. The temples, sanctuaries, and pyramids, with their sculptured walls and ceilings, are some of the best-preserved and finest examples of Mayan buildings despite the city-state having peaked over 1,300 years ago in the 7th century.
|Tour: Temples, Sanctuaries, and Pyramids|
You will explore this magnificent site before continuing on the road towards the Yucatan Peninsula and the Caribbean town of Campeche (about 5hrs plus stops).
Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the colonial town’s best feature are its impressive city walls built to protect it from the constant attacks by English and Dutch buccaneers and pirates during the 16th and 17th centuries.
DAY 13: UXMAL, TRADITIONAL LUNCH AND MERIDA
Uncover the Stories of Uxmal
About two hours drive from Campeche is your second Mayan site: Uxmal. Quite open, it is in contrast to the jungle-ruins of Palenque we visited yesterday. This site, which dates to the late classic era (500-800AD) and features the Pyramid of the Magician; the Nunnery Quadrangle with long, elaborately carved facades; and a ball court where a traditional ball game was played, sometimes ending in human sacrifice.
Having worked up an appetite you will have lunch at a local Mayan family restaurant. Here you will get to eat Pollo Pibil and Cochinita Pibil – slowly cooked pork and chicken. The meat is roasted for about 5hrs along with achiote past and wrapped in banana leaves. This is a typical Yucatan dish and representative of the local cuisine.
|Tour: Uncover the Stories of Uxmal|
Tour: Guided Walk of the Streets of Merida
Meals: B, L
Guided Walk of the Streets of Merida
After lunch, it’s about 1.5hrs drive to Merida. A number of the city’s buildings, including the cathedral, were built using Mayan stones found on this site and, along with traditional colonial architecture, features 19th-century houses built in a French style.
Arriving mid-afternoon you will have a walking tour of Merida, returning later to enjoy the main square which is particularly delightful at night.
DAY 14: TIXKOKOB CRAFT VILLAGE, IZAMAL MAGIC TOWN AND ON TO CHICHEN ITZA
Learn About Hammock Weaving
Your first stop is at the traditional Mayan village of Tixkokob where local families practice the age-old craft of hammock weaving.
|Tour: Learn About Hammock Weaving|
Tour: The Town of Yellow and White
The Town of Yellow and White
After learning about how hammocks are made you will continue to the ‘magic town’ of Izamal. Once a Mayan settlement, the name means ‘Place of the God of Medicine’. The town is covered in buildings painted yellow and white and is known for the 16th-century Franciscan monastery built on top of the base of a huge Mayan pyramid (which was probably once larger than the Castillo in Chichen Itza).
From here you will transfer to Chichen Itza, possibly the best known and most impressive of all Mayan sites. You should arrive early enough to enjoy the beautiful hotel and gardens where you will spend the night right by the ancient site (total drive time of about 3.5hrs plus stops).
DAY 15: CHICHEN ITZA VISIT; ON TO CANCUN; END IN CANCUN
Early Rise Catches the Best Views of Chichen Itza
Your final day starts with a visit to the most famous Mayan temple city: Chichen Itza. Having spent the night right by the site means you can get in nice and early before the hordes of day-trippers coming from the beach resorts.
Chichen Itza served as the political and economic centre of the Mayan civilization and thrived from around 600 to 1,200AD. The pyramid of Kukulkan, the Temple of Chac Mool, the Hall of the Thousand Pillars, and the Playing Field of the Prisoners can still be seen today and demonstrate the extraordinary commitment to architecture, space, and composition. The pyramid itself was the last, and possibly the greatest, of Mayan pyramids.
This afternoon you will be driven about 2.5hrs to Cancun to catch your flight out or stay the night (extra cost).
|Tour: Early Rise Catches the Best Views of Chichen Itza|
Select dates October & November
From US$3799 – twin
From US$4499 – single
*Tours in October feature a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Festival in either Romerillo or Oaxaca – special pricing applies to these two departures.
Prices are shown in US$, per person, based on two people sharing a twin room or one person in a single. Prices vary by date – please ask us for details on dates and pricing.
Disclaimer: We do our utmost to ensure that information posted on our website is correct at the time of publication, however trip details are subject to change without notice by the suppliers and operators involved. We update the information as soon as possible when changes are advised to us, however, we cannot assume responsibility for such changes made by the suppliers and operators.