Day 1 Cancún
Arrive in Cancún at any time. Check into our hotel and enjoy the city. Please try to arrive before 6pm for an important group meeting where you can meet the Chief Experience Officer (CEO) and the other group members. Long a destination among sun-worshipping tourists and spring breakers, we only stay here long enough to meet and get primed for our adventure. As your fellow travellers are arriving at various times throughout the day, there are no planned activities other than a group dinner and info session. Look in the hotel lobby for notices on when/where the group meeting will occur. The heat and humidity of Cancún may affect you upon arrival, with a general sense of lethargy and/or loss of appetite. This is no cause for alarm, it’s simply a reaction to the heat. Be sure to drink plenty of water (cold bottled water is available everywhere) and do not attempt too much in any given day. We prefer fan-cooled rather than air conditioned rooms to avoid having to acclimatize to the heat and humidity every time you go outside. The famous resort of Cancún on the northeastern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, is a thriving town with skyscraper hotels and crowded beaches. Prices are higher in Cancún than elsewhere in Mexico because everything must be transported into the city. We use it as a starting and finishing point, and try not to spend too much time in this massive resort area.
Days 2-3 Chichén Itzá/Mérida
Departing Cancún at approx 9:00am under the already scorching sun, we stop for a guided tour of the famous Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá. Spend approximately two hours exploring this famous site, known for its huge stepped pyramids and elaborate stone carvings. The bus then continues on as we make our way to Mérida, the capital of the Yucatán State, where you will receive an included orientation tour. Also known as la ciudad blanca (the white city), Mérida offers the ideal opportunity to learn about Mexico’s fascinating mix of cultural influences. The city of Chichén Itzá, estimated to be founded in 432 AD, houses some of the finest examples of Mayan architecture ever excavated, including El Castillo (The Castle). This 75-foot pyramid, also known as the Pyramid of Kukulcan, is famous for its balustrade of 91 stairs up each of the four sides, a ball court with a grandstand, and towering walls. At about 3:00 PM on the day of the vernal equinox (approx March 20) and the autumnal equinox (approx Sept 21), the sunlight lands directly on the main stairway in a series of triangles that form a serpent's body and ultimately connect with the stone-carved serpent's head at the bottom of the pyramid. The attention to detail, and fusion of architecture, science and religion within the structures and throughout the city planning, will no doubt impress you. Mérida, the capital of Yucatán State, was founded in 1542 on the site of the Mayan city of Tihoo. Its centre, the Plaza Mayor, or zocalo, is green and shady and surrounded by the twin-towered 16th Century Cathedral, the City Hall, the State Government Palace, and the Casa Montejo. There are several 16th and 17th century churches scattered throughout the city, as well as some interesting museums. Mornings are the best time to visit the busy and colourful markets. You can buy traditional crafts, such as hammocks or Guyabera shirts, and a good selection of Maya replicas. You can also try out new and wonderful food items. Be sure to stroll down the Paseo de Montejo (or take a caleche carriage ride). Together with many shops and restaurants, you will see stately mansions dating from the late 19th century. Nearby you will find the main shopping street, Calle 65. You are sure to find Mérida a fascinating and beautiful city to explore on foot. Mérida is also the gateway to the Mayan ruins of the Puuc Route. The most famous of these ruins, Uxmal, is one of the Yucatán’s many ancient treasures. Uxmal rivals Chichén Itzá both in scale and extent of excavation. Optional visit to three nearby cenotes (water sink holes) in the town of Cuzama, not far outside Mérida. Transportation to the cenotes is an adventure in itself as it involves taking small wooden horse-drawn carts that run along old rail tracks. Enjoy a refreshing swim in the crystal clear waters of the cenotes! Approximate Distance: 320 km Estimated Travel Time: 6 hours (including tour of Chichén Itzá)
Days 4-5 Palenque
After a long day of travel we arrive at the monumental Mayan ruins of Palenque. The large sarcophagus containing the mummified remains of the Lord Pakal were found in 1952 by Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz and is only one of Palenque’s many treasures. The temples at this site, with fantastic comb-like decorations on their intact roofs, and the sculptured wall panels, are undoubtedly amongst the most exquisite achievements of the Maya. The ancient city holds over 200 buildings of varying size and complexity. Don’t forget to bring your camera. Here, we stay inside the national park in a jungle lodge. The lodge is quite close to the town, ruins and museum and offers a restaurant and bar on the lodge grounds. The Highlands of southwestern Mexico retain a more traditional feel. Only about 210 km (130 miles) separate the Atlantic and the Pacific, at the hot heavily jungled Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Entering the state of Chiapas, you will see and feel its uniqueness. This is the richest area of Mexico in natural resources, yet it is also home to the poorest citizens of the country. The mountains of Chiapas are the birthplace of the revolutionary Commandante Marcos and the Zapatista movement. It is also home to some of Mexico’s poorest people, the majority of whom are of pure or mixed indigenous descent. Estimated Travel Time: 9 hours Approximate Distance: 620 km
Days 6-7 San Cristóbal de las Casas
Visit the famous Agua Azul and Misol-Ha waterfalls, which are approximately 45 minutes away from Palenque and both well worth a visit. The 35-metre high Misol-Ha waterfall is set in the middle of lush jungle, with smaller falls just inside a nearby cave. Take a break from the heat with a swim in the stunning naturally formed pools at the waterfalls of Agua Azul, located just 15 minutes from Misol-Ha. Wind your way out of the jungle as you head towards San Crístóbal De Las Casas, which stands in a high mountain valley at 2110m (6921 ft). We include an orientation walking tour of the city and you will find fine examples of 16th century architecture, including a church whose engraved altar is solid silver, and a crown shaped fountain. The city enjoys a temperate climate and most visitors find that walking the old cobble-stoned streets is the best way to discover the city’s past and present. The city’s mountain valley setting and proximity to the jungle of the Chiapas lowlands, also allows various opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, where you will appreciate the natural scenery of the area. Most indigenous groups in this area are members of the Tzotzil and Tzeltal groupings. Within these groups are the Tenejapans who wear black knee-length tunics, the Chamulans who wear white wool tunics and the Zinacantecos who wear multi-coloured outfits, with the ribbons on their hats signifying how many children they have. The people here are as curious about foreigners as foreigners are about them. Please respect their traditions. Dress conservatively when visiting the villages and refrain from photographing religious ceremonies, or individuals who do not wish to be photographed. Put yourself in their place before you act. Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours (including stops) Approximate Distance: 220 km
Days 8-9 Panajachel (1L)
Our first destination in the country is the shores of Guatemala's most beautiful lake, Lake Atitlán. We stay in Panajachel, a lakeshore town surrounded by spectacular volcanoes and small villages. You’ll have the opportunity to visit the villages on the lake by boat, departing in the mornings and returning in late afternoon. Get ready for spectacular views of the surrounding volcanoes and everyday life in a highland village. The Planeterra project - The Mayan Homestay Project is located in the village of San Juan. The project currently hosts G Adventures groups twice per week and another company’s group once per month. Planeterra's initiative here is to help more families get involved in the Posadas Mayas program and current families to have more space by remodeling and constructing new rooms. The project also includes investing in solutions that reduce environmental impacts associated with tourism (i.e. waste and water management) and developing other small businesses to be linked to the Posadas Mayas. Panajachel is a relatively modern town with paved streets in its centre, with a great deal of old world flavour and charm. The best way to see Panajachel is on foot but beware as there aren't any street signs! Visit the old churches and explore the back streets to see the more traditional side of Panajachel. You can test your communication and bargaining skills in the local markets, of which there are many. There is also a number of community cooperatives that you may wish to visit. The proceeds from the sales return directly to the community and are a significant contribution to the local economy. The area is also ideal for outdoor pursuits like swimming, fishing, wind surfing, hiking, bird watching, kayaking, horseback riding, and for the really adventurous, parapenting! Opt to visit the Chichicastenango market, which is the best known market in the region, but there are a number of other markets around where you may wish to purchase any number of handicraft items. Renowned for its colourful handicrafts and intricate weavings, “Chichi” is also an important trading place for the local residents, and provides close views of daily life of modern Maya. Estimated Travel Time: 10 hours Approximate Distance: 380 km
Days 10-11 Antigua
Once the third largest city in all of Spanish America, Antigua served as Guatemala's capital city for more than 200 years until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773. Antigua today is a peaceful, partially restored colonial city that is a pleasure to explore. Your tour leader will give you an orientation walking tour to help you get your bearings. Walk through quiet cobblestone streets past rebuilt stucco homes with heavy, beautifully carved wooden entrances. It is a short 45 km from Guatemala City on a lovely winding road. The natural scenery is some of the most beautiful anywhere with high mountain peaks surrounding deep valleys, every inch of land covered with lush growth. The point of reference for finding one's way around Antigua is the Central Park, which is directly in the centre of town and the place to be in the late afternoon or early evening. You can pick up a map from the tourist office located on the ground floor of the Palace of the Captains-General on the south side of the Central Park. Explore the museums, the colonial buildings and other sites in this delightful town. Antigua offers three specialties that make shopping here very worthwhile. Textiles sold here and in the nearby towns are of the highest quality, beautifully designed and woven on foot looms or the rarer back strap loom. Jade, in carved statues and jewellery, is sold in several factories and shops in town and silver jewellery is sold in the better shops and also in a silver factory in nearby San Felipe de Jesus. The city offers good buys in ceramics and antiques as well. Estimated Travel Time: 3 hours Approximate Distance: 80 km
Day 12 Antigua
Guatemala City is a one hour transfer away. Your tour leader can help you to arrange a transfer from Antigua directly to the airport in Guatemala City, so you do not have to spend more time than necessary in Guatemala's capital.