An exciting and varied journey through the ancient heartland of the Aztecs, Zapotecs and the Maya. From the foodie hub of Oaxaca in Mexico to the jungles of Guatemala, explore charming colonial towns and discover ancient sites including Palenque and Tikal. Some departures have been set to coincide with Mexico's Day of the Dead Festival. Palenque - Arguably the most enchanting of the ancient Maya ruins, set in dense jungle Oaxaca - Wander the streets and markets of this delightful UNESCO World Heritage City Sumidero Canyon - Take a boat trip through this towering gorge
Arrive in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico and truly the heart and soul of the country. With so much rich history to discover, the city is filled with historic buildings, landmarks and the largest number of museums in the world. Due to the number of evening flights into the international airport, your Leader plans to do the welcome meeting on the morning of day two, and will leave a message in reception with details on timings and everything else that you'll need for the day. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive into Mexico City at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Mexico City International Airport (MEX) which is approximately a 30 minute drive from the hotel. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to have a stroll around Alameda Central, Mexico City's oldest municipal park, or visit the Templo Mayor Museum, which is known for its exhibits relating to the Aztec civilization.
On our first day in Mexico City we visit the Zocalo (main square) area. The Cathedral and National Palace with many of Diego Rivera's remarkable murals on the history of Mexico are all built on top of Tenochtitian the old Aztec capital. Afterwards we will visit the museum of Anthropology, one of the finest museums in the world, its exhibits offer a taste of the history ahead of us.
The next day we will drive out to the mysterious pyramids of Teotihuacan. Although abandoned thirteen centuries ago, they are still an unbelievable sight. Once the largest city in the Americas with perhaps 100,000 inhabitants, its influence continued through Middle America, and Maya craftsmen borrowed its decorative motifs and building designs. Centuries later the Aztecs revered Teotihuacan as 'the Place of the Gods'. Returning downtown we visit the Basilica de Guadalupe.
Leaving the capital we drive south through cactus country to Oaxaca, one of the most charming colonial cities in Mexico. Arriving in the afternoon, we will have some free time to explore the city on foot. The colonnaded Zocalo comes alive at night as families come to stroll in the shade, while street vendors and entertainers vie for their attention. Oaxaca also has several colourful markets.
Colonial Oaxaca was built with stones taken from ancient temples a few miles away. We explore the complex of temples, pyramids and enigmatic rock carvings at Monte Alban, a high spur that looms over the fertile valley. This mystical site was created by Zapotec Indians, who flourished here a thousand years ago. This afternoon there may be the chance to see some of the exquisite treasures of Monte Alban in the Regional Museum (known as the Louvre of Oaxaca) in town (optional).
Today we journey through the mountainous Sierra Madre range, stopping to visit the 2000-year old swamp cypress tree in Santa Maria del Tule just outside Oaxaca and continuing to the Mixtec/ Zapotec site of Mitla where we will have a short exploration of the ruins. Our destination this evening is the hot and windy isthmus of Tehuantepec, a convenient stopping point on our journey towards San Cristobal.
Leaving early this morning we have a roughly 5 hour drive to Chiapa de Corzo, the starting point for our visit to the spectacular Sumidero Canyon, a unique rift 41km long and up to 1000mts deep, cut by the Rio Grijalva. This is the spot where, in the 16th century, some 1000 Chiapa indigenous people committed suicide rather than submit to Spanish rule. We take a trip on a speed boat to fully appreciate the towering gorge, before driving up a scenic mountain road to San Cristóbal de las Casas. At 2210m above sea level, it can get cold at night, a sharp contrast to the heat of Tehuantepec.
There is a unique atmosphere to this small colonial town, high in the scenic Chiapas range. The indigenous groups from the surrounding hills fill the town and marketplace with their colourful dress including the distinctive Tzotzil community who still retain much of their Mayan customs and language. We will be visiting San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan, indigenous villages close to San Cristobal that practice an interesting blend of Catholicism and traditional Maya beliefs. This area is noted for the bright textiles and weavings in bold designs, and when we return to San Cristobal we'll have the afternoon free to bargain for some colourful souvenirs. You may also wish to visit the Na Bolom, the House of the Jaguar, which is dedicated to the preservation of the Lacandón tribe and displays many of their artefacts or the Kakaw museum where you can learn about the history and production of chocolate in the area.
Leaving the highlands, the road is slow and winding, but there are scenic views as we descend to the jungles of Palenque. We'll be driving via the town of Villahermosa, planning to bathe at the waterfalls of Roberto Barrios before driving onto our hotel. The river at Roberto Barrios tumbles over a series of limestone hills, forming a number of natural pools with overhangs, caves and numerous waterfalls to swim under.
One of the highlights of our tour is today's guided visit to the famous jungle ruins of Palenque, a fascinating and important Mayan site. Once the choking forest was cleared, the ruins revealed the tomb of the high priest Pakal, his body adorned with a marvellous jade death mask - one of the most prized relics of the Maya culture, discovered only in 1952. The entire site, shrouded by the steamy rainforest, has an aura of deep mystery. During the afternoon you can continue to explore the site, or take a bus back to the waterfall of Misol Ha for a refreshing swim (optional). The stunning 30m high waterfall was featured in the titles of the movie 'Predator'.
Today we head into the Lacandon area to the ruins of Bonampak. The discovery of the well preserved murals at this site had a profound impact on our understanding of the Mayans. Continuing to Frontera, we board our lancha (river boat) on the Ucumacinta river and head for the remote site of Yaxchilan, famous for its stelae and roof combs. We continue back up the river through the rainforest to our overnight lodge near where we boarded our boat earlier today. The lodge is simple in this remote location, a series of cabins with thatched roofs, en suite bathrooms and hanging mosquito nets. Listen out for the howler monkeys in the early hours of the morning.
Our Mayan rainforest experience continues up river by boat to the small settlement of Bethel on the Guatemalan side before progressing by road to Flores, on Lake Peten Itza. The afternoon can be spent enjoying a leisurely boat trip on the Lake Peten Itza (optional).
Today we visit Tikal, the great Maya metropolis set in the midst of the rainforest, which can justly be compared with the celebrated ancient cities of Egypt and Greece. Initially settled in about 600BC, Tikal was abandoned by its rulers around 890AD and totally deserted a hundred years later. The city covered an area of 16 square kilometres. Re-discovered in 1848, only a few of its great temples and pyramids have been excavated. The site is extensive, so we include a guided tour in the morning followed by free time to let you explore. We can appreciate the prolific birdlife in the surrounding rainforest and take in amazing views of the forest canopy from the tops of the pyramids. We drive back to Flores at around 3.30pm.
Today we drive over the border to San Ignacio in Belize, visiting the little known site of Xunantunich en route, with it's fantastic array of pyramids and temples.
Departing San Ignacio this morning we drive to Belize's Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport (airport code: BZE), where we will arrive at about 10am and this is where our trip ends. The earliest your flight can depart is 12.30pm.
7 Break Fast(s) 1 Dinner(s)
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