Day 1 to 1 – Arrive Playa del Carmen
Welcome to Mexico! The first night of this tour will be spent at Playa del Carmen, a beachside paradise only one hour away from Cancún. We recommend booking extra nights to enjoy the paradise beaches as well as the optional activities including the Maya ruins at Tulúm.
1 night(s) in hotels at Hotel Playa del Carmen or similar
Day 2 to 3 – Mérida
The hectic days ahead are packed full of surprises for those who are interested in archaeology. We travel first to Chichén Itzá, an impressive Maya/Toltec site recently voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Constructed between the 7th and 10th century AD, Chichén Itzá was a centre of pilgrimage for the Maya for over 1000 years.
Among the sights your local guide will point out during the tour of the site are the ball court where the captain of the winning team was beheaded (no incentive to play your best!) and the sacred cenote where treasures and the remains of human sacrifices have been discovered. The most famous attraction is the great Pyramid of Kukulkan, dedicated to the feathered serpent god Kukulkan and built with such precision that a shadow serpent descends down the steps during the equinox.
Leaving Chichén Itzá we head to Mérida, Capital of the Yucatan province, the ‚white city‘ of Mérida is a pleasant mixture of colonial buildings, churches and plazas. The markets simply overflow with beautiful weavings, hammocks and batiks, making this a great place to buy handmade crafts and souvenirs. At night the city comes alive with live theatre and concerts. There are many city excursions on offer here – from a comprehensive hop on/hop off bus tour exploring the greater city area to a relaxing horse-drawn carriage tour around the cobbled streets of El Centro and Pasaje Montejo Boulevard. If you want to explore the region near Mérida you could visit the small fishing town of Celestún with its large flamingo population. You could also take a swim in the local ‚cenotes‘ (sen-o-tays), fresh-water swimming holes connected by spectacular limestone caverns and deep underwater rivers once sacred to the ancient Maya, covering the entire Yucatan peninsula.
Guided tour of Chichén Itzá
Anthropological Museum – MXN30 • Mérida city tour – free • Uxmal ruins – US$65 (approx) • Cenotes, it is possible to swim and snorkel in various cenotes which often resemble small, circular lakes or lagoons with vertical edges. – US$ 44 • Hop-on hop-off bus – US$8
2 night(s) in hotels at Hotel Colonial or similar
1 Breakfast(s), 1 Buffet Breakfast(s)
Day 4 to 5 – Palenque
Next we take a scenic and lengthy bus journey to Palenque. You will pass beautiful views as we travel for nine hours to the town and ruins of Palenque, famous for the tombs found filled with riches in honour of the renowned Lord Pakal and the Red Queen. This archaeological site houses more than 200 structures including a series of hilltop temples, towers, tombs and pyramids surrounded by steamy jungle. The most important constructions, which date back to the Classical period (400-700 AD) are the Temple of the Inscriptions, the Crypt, the Palace complex, the Temple of the Cross, the Temple of the Foliated Cross, and the Temple of the Sun. Decorated with elaborate friezes, sculptures and inscriptions, Palenque is unquestionably one of the most important Mayan archaeological sites. Paths cutting through the jungle lead to various temples and the gorgeous waterfalls, where over time, strange figures have taken shape in the rock formations. A local guide may offer you the extra option of going on a forest walk where you can see unexcavated ruins enveloped in jungle.
Other attractions near Palenque include the fantastic Agua Azul Nature Reserve with more than 200 small waterfalls, and the incredible Misol-Ha waterfall with a 30 metre drop (optional half day tour includes both these falls).
Guided tour of Palenque ruins
Tour by minivan to Agua Azul and Misol Ha waterfalls – US$25
2 night(s) in hotels at Hotel Xibalba or similar
1 Buffet Breakfast(s), 1 Breakfast(s
Day 6 to 8 – San Cristóbal
Ascending into the mountainous Chiapas region we arrive at the fascinating colonial city of San Cristóbal de las Casas. Situated in the middle of the highlands, here you will find Mexico’s richest example of indigenous culture, as it is surrounded by 21 indigenous villages with distinct languages, dress and customs. Red tiled houses painted in brilliant colours dominate the city, maintaining a delightful provincial charm. There are numerous interesting museums to see such as the Amber Museum, the Coffee Museum, the Maya Medicine Museum, and the ‚Na Bolom‘ Cultural Centre.
We can enjoy an included tour of the nearby villages where you can buy beautifully made local handicrafts and get a true feel for how modern descendents of the ancient Maya people live today. The tour gives you a fascinating insight into their pre-Columbian beliefs and their daily struggle to be heard in what is one of Mexico’s most isolated regions.
There is also an option to visit the stunning Sumidero Canyon on a guided speedboat tour along a 30 kilometre section of the Grijalva river to the hydro-electric dam. There are plenty of opportunities to photograph local wildlife such as birds, crocodiles and iguanas. The cliffs towering over the river reach 100 metres at the highest point, which will provide a dramatic backdrop to your pictures.
San Cristóbal village tour
Na Bolom Museum, the old house of Frans and Trudy Blom, an anthropologist and archaeologist, who worked with the Lacandon Indians. – MXN50 • Canyon Sumidero. A tour to a deep impressive canyon, where you can spot several sun-bathing crocodiles. – US$25
3 night(s) in hotels at Palacio de Moctezuma or similar
Day 9 to 11 – Panajachel
Leaving Mexico we cross the border into Guatemala at Ciudad Cuauhtèmoc. You will be required to pay a departure fee of 390 MXN in Mexico and an entrance fee of 10Q when in Guatemala but these fees are subject to change. You will find the Guatemalans to be some of the warmest and most colourful people in the world. Passing through the Guatemalan highlands we travel towards the Pan American Highway from where we will head down to Panajachel on the shores of Lake Atitlán. The drive down has simply stunning scenery, with breathtaking views of the lake and its three volcanoes, San Pedro, Atitlán and Toliman, all of which are over 3000 metres high.
A relaxing lakeside town, Panajachel is known to the locals as ‚Gringotenango‘ due to its popularity with foreigners and its hippie influence in the past. Rated by those who have seen it as one of the most beautiful and colourful lakes in the world, Lake Atitlán sits at a little over 1500 metres above sea level. Here you can take a boat tour to some of the many surrounding villages (optional) or possibly go for a swim in the lake. Panajachel also has many restaurants and interesting bars lining the main street, where you can have lakeside sunset drinks, listen to 60s music, and even eat some Asian food.
Lake Atitlan boat trip – US$25 • Nima’ya de Atitlan, walk the path past waterfalls (in season), across hanging bridges, to a bird observation deck, a monkey rescue centre, a butterfly reserve and a coffee finca. – US$5 • Lake Atitlan villages by ferry – US$5
3 night(s) in hotels at Posada K’amol B’ey or similar
1 Breakfast Box, 2 Breakfast(s)
Day 12 to 12 – Antigua
This morning we visit Guatemala’s most famous market town, Chichicastenango. This village’s population swells from approx. 1000 to over 20,000 on market day (when we visit). The local indigenous people, mostly descendents of the K’iche‘ (Quiché) Maya people, come down from the nearby hills to sell everything from kitchen pots and pans to live turkeys! Handicrafts, bags, jumpers and wall hangings are just a few of the bargains to be found here. After lunch we depart the market town and continue to Antigua.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Antigua is one of the most delightful colonial towns in Central America. To fully explore this beautiful town, we recommend booking pre-tour accommodation before the start of your tour.
The local indigenous can be seen throughout the cobbled streets and plazas of the city in their colourful costumes, selling their crafts and textiles. As the cultural centre of Guatemala, Antigua is an ideal place to experience the traditional music, architecture and art of the country. Rich in ornate churches, convents, parks, plazas, cafés, restaurants, bars and colourful street markets and surrounded by awe-inspiring volcanoes, Antigua is one place you will never forget.
Pacaya volcano climb – US$20 • Walking tour – US$30 • Chocolate making class – US$30 • Coffee farm tour – US$25
1 night(s) in hotels at Hotel Posada Los Bucaros or similar
Day 13 to 13 – Depart Antigua
Your adventure of a lifetime comes to an end today. If you have a late flight or have lengthened your stay by adding post tour accommodation you will have more time to explore the sights.