Arrive in at the Cancún airport at any time. A G Adventures representative will meet you at the airport and transfer you to our joining point hotel in Playa del Carmen. There are no planned activities during the day, so check into the hotel and enjoy this charming 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. Note: the heat and humidity of Mexico may affect you upon arrival, with a general sense of lethargy and/or loss of appetite. This is no cause for alarm; it is 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. In some places, we will stay in fan-cooled rather than air conditioned rooms to avoid having to acclimatize to the heat and humidity every time you go outside. This is also a more eco-friendly method compared to air conditioning. Mexico is the third largest country in Latin America and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world. Its geography ranges from swamp to desert and from tropical lowland jungle to high alpine regions. Our travels take us mainly through the Yucatán Peninsula and the highland Chiapas region - the heart of the Maya civilization. Spanish is the official language of both Guatemala and Mexico. A number of indigenous languages are also spoken. If you are interested in learning Spanish before your departure, evening courses are available in most cities through language schools or continuing education programs. Another option is to start your vacation early at a Spanish School! Even basic knowledge of the language will not only open doors within the countries you visit, but will also make you feel more confident and at ease in a new environment.
Playa del Carmen town has great nightlife, great beach and some clear blue waters. There is also snorkelling and diving available, and long stretches of sandy beaches which are perfect for walking and relaxing after a hectic day. Just off the coast is the island of Cozumel, renowned for its world-class diving. Take the ferry from Playa del Carmen (30 to 75 minutes depending on the boat) across the turquoise waters and explore the towns and the reefs of the island. For a first dose of ruins, Tulum is just a 45-minute drive south of Playa. Aside from its unusual late Mayan architecture, it offers possibly the most appealing setting for any ruins, as it is located on a palm-fringed, white-sand beach, where you can even go for a swim within the ancient walls.
Begin the day with a guided tour of the beautifully restored stepped pyramids of Chichén Itzá. By early evening we arrive at the charming colonial city of Mérida for a relaxed two-night stay. The city of Chichén Itzá was founded in 432 and taken over by the Toltecs in the 10th century. Today it is probably the most visited and best-restored site in the Mayan world and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. Some of the finest examples of Mayan architecture ever excavated can be found here, including El Castillo with a balustrade of 91 steps up each of the four sides, a ball court with a grandstand and towering walls and the famous observatory. The attention to detail and fusion of architecture, science and religion within the structures and city itself will no doubt impress you. Chichén Itzá is best known for an amazing phenomenon: during the spring and fall equinoxes, the light of the rising and setting sun projects the sun's rays into a diamond-back rattlesnake of light and shadow. The shadow forms the illusion of a snake ascending or descending the giant staircase of El Castillo, a reference to Kukulcan, the serpent-like god of the Maya. An impressive cenote, or sinkhole, can be seen only five minutes walk from the main plaza. It’s said that ancient ceremonies of offering and sacrifice were performed here for the Mayan rain god, Chac. You will have an included orientation walking tour of Mérida, the capital of Yucatán State, which 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 is surrounded by the twin-towered 16th Century Cathedral, City Hall, State Government Palace, and the Casa de 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 where you can buy traditional crafts, a good selection of Maya replicas, or try out new and wonderful food items; nearby Calle 65 is the main shopping street. Be sure to stroll down the Paseo de Montejo (or take a caleche ride), lined with shops, restaurants and stately mansions dating from the late 19th century. Go see the murals at the Municipal Palace or visit the newly renovated Anthropological Museum and learn about Mayan history. Mérida is a fascinating and beautiful city, and easy to explore on foot. If cities aren’t your thing, escape to the beach town of Progreso and see the Dzibilchaltun ruins on the way. Mérida is also the gateway to the Mayan ruins of the Puuc Route, the most famous of which is Uxmal, which rivals Chichén Itzá in its scale and extent of excavation. Or, visit 3 nearby cenotes or water sink holes in the town of Cuzama, not far outside Mérida. Transportation to the cenotes is an adventure as it involves taking small wooden horse-drawn carts that runs for 9 km along old rail tracks. Enjoy a refreshing swim in the crystal clear waters of the cenotes! Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours Approximate Distance: 320 km
A lengthy minivan ride takes us to the town of Palenque. One of the most significant ruins in the whole Mundo Maya, Palenque is set within the lushness of the Chiapas jungle, and the colourful, riotous wildlife and profuse flora will impress you as much as the ancient structures will. The ruins of Palenque are impressive indeed, particularly the central Temple of the Inscriptions. It was here in 1952 that a large sarcophagus was found by Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz; it contained the mummified remains of Lord Pakal, the last of the city’s great rulers. In Palenque temples abound, with over 200 buildings of varying size and complexity. The sculptured wall panels and fantastic comb-like decorations on their still-intact roofs are undoubtedly amongst the most exquisite achievements of the Maya. The surrounding jungle growth and its bird life are as fascinating as the ruins, with toucans, macaws and the unmistakable Howler Monkeys making the park their home. Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours Approximate Distance: 620 km
Travel deep into the Chiapas highlands, passing spectacular Misol-Ha and Agua Azul waterfalls, considered sacred by the Maya. Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit! The Highlands are a more traditional part of Mexico. The indigenous people who inhabit the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the mountains of Chiapas beyond were less influenced by the Spanish conquest than other groups. Here only 210 km of hot, heavy jungle separate the Atlantic and the Pacific at the isthmus. In contrast, San Cristóbal De Las Casas, the old State Capital, stands in a high mountain valley at a cool 2110m—visitors in winter months may appreciate a scarf and gloves for the cool nights. Here you find fine examples of 16th century architecture, including its church adorned with a solid silver engraved altar, and its crown-shaped fountain. The Spanish Colonial architecture of San Cristóbal de Las Casas is a highlight our stay. Most villagers in this area are members of the Tzotzil and Tzeltal groups. The Tenejapans wear black knee-length tunics, the Chamulans white wool tunics and the Zinacantecos multi-coloured outfits with ribbons on their hats signifying the number of children each person has. Explore the nearby indigenous communities—some of the most traditional in Mexico—on a guided tour. Alternatively, there are so many great options in the area it would be impossible to see them all. Some of the best include a boat trip up the Sumidero Canyon, horseback riding, biking, and shopping in the local markets. A final note: the people here are as curious about you as foreigners are about them. Please respect their traditions, dress conservatively when visiting the villages and refrain from photographing religious ceremonies, inside churches or individuals who do not wish to be photographed. Please put yourself in their place before you act. Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours Approximate Distance: 220 km
Cross the Mexican-Guatemalan border on this travel day and spend a quiet, relaxing evening on the shores of Guatemala's most beautiful lake, Lake Atitlán, ringed by volcanoes and colourful villages. Guatemala is a country of rare and varied natural beauty, chains of lush mountains and volcanoes, huge volcanic lakes and winding tropical rivers, a Caribbean coast, miles of untouched jungle, and thousands of indigenous species of flowers, birds and animals. The possibilities for adventure are nearly limitless. Lake Atitlán is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Central America. Twelve villages, blue-grey mountains and three volcanoes line the shores of the lake. The resulting combination is a place of unusual natural beauty and traditional culture. Compared to many Mayan villages on the lake, Panajachel is a relatively modern town with paved streets in its centre, and is an important crossroads for locals and travellers alike. The main street is lined with stores flogging colourful local products, from bags to pants to skirts to coats. The best way to see Panajachel is on foot. Visit the old churches and explore the back streets to see the more traditional side of ‘Pana’. We have a full day here to explore the lake and the surrounding area. Visit the villages on the lake by boat, departing in the mornings and returning in the afternoon. Get ready for spectacular views of the surrounding volcanoes and everyday life in a highland village. The people of this area have received tourists for some time and are friendly and ready to smile at strangers as readily as they will at a life-long friend. Stop off in San Juan la Laguna for cultural tour of the town and an included typical lunch in a Mayan home. Your visit here offers you insights into Mayan culture and day-to-day life and allows for a bit of interaction with the local Mayan community. 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! Estimated Travel Time: 9 hours Approximate Distance: 380 km
We take a day trip to visit the Sunday market of Chichicastenango. The bustling market and parade make this an event not to be missed! Today Chichi attracts tourists as well, who come to witness the town’s fascinating mix of Christianity and ancient Mayan beliefs. Immerse yourself in a sea of colour, as Mayan villagers, dressed in traditional costumes specific to the villages where they live, go about their market business. You can test your communication and bargaining skills in the local markets, of which there are many. The Chichicastenango (or “Chichi”) market is the best known, but there are a number of others, where you may wish to purchase any number of handicraft items. Our final stop in the Guatemalan highlands is the colonial town of Antigua, where optional activities include volcano climbing, mountain biking through the countryside strewn with coffee plantations, or simply relaxing at one of the many cafés. The trip is a 95km drive from Panajachel on winding mountain roads, and takes you through many small towns and villages, past red tile-roofed huts and local people in their colourful traditional clothing. The natural scenery is striking with high mountain peaks surrounding deep valleys, and every inch of land covered with lush growth. Once the third largest city in all of Spanish America, Antigua served as Guatemala's capital city for more than 200 years until an earthquake destroyed it in 1773. In 1979 UNESCO declared Antigua a World Heritage site, and Antigua today is a peaceful colonial city that is a pleasure to explore. Walk through quiet cobblestone streets past rebuilt stucco homes with heavy, beautifully carved wooden entrances. The point of reference for finding one's way around Antigua is the Central Park, and the place to be in the late afternoons/evenings. 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, colonial buildings and soak up the atmosphere in this delightful city, one of the best-restored Spanish colonial cities in the world. Antigua has various 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 more traditional 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 also offers good buys in ceramics and antiques as well. For the museum and gallery buffs, one of the best in the Central America is found in the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo. It houses colonial religious, contemporary Latin American and pre-Colombian art pieces. These form only part of the galleries and museums of the 5-star Hotel Santo Domingo, formerly a Dominican monastery. There are 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. Estimated Travel Time: 3 hours Approximate Distance: 80 km
Today we fly from Guatemala City to the town of Flores, also capital of the Petén region, where we will then transfer to the Mayan ruins of Tikal. We will have a full day to visit the renowned ruins of Tikal and view the abundant wildlife of this National Park. Our local guides are experts on the bird life as well as the Maya architecture. It was to the Petén region of Guatemala that the descendants of the Maya of Chichén-Itzá immigrated, moving here several centuries after the collapse of the great Maya cities in the Yucatán. These descendants founded the city of Tayasal on an island in Lake Petén-Itzá, and lived there for about four hundred years, isolated and forgotten by the rest of the country, including the Spanish conquistadors. It was not until 1697 that this small city was finally conquered by a military expedition led by Martín de Ursúa, who stumbled upon the city by accident. The city of Tayasal was transformed into the city of Flores, officially founded by the Spanish in 1700. It remained an isolated area, relying on the subsistence farming of corn and beans, and the gathering of chicle from nearby trees, used in the manufacture of gum. The sheer scale of the ruins at Tikal may at first seem daunting. If you make it only to the main plaza or spend an hour relaxing in deep contemplation, you certainly won't be disappointed. The central area, with its five main temples, forms by far the most impressive section. Explore beyond this and you can wander endlessly into the maze of smaller structures and outlying complexes hidden in the jungle growth. If your energy levels are high enough to make it to the top of Temple IV—the tallest structure in the Mayan world—spectacular views of the surrounding jungle canopy greet you. Peaks of the various temple complexes rise above the trees, giving a sense of the enormous scale of the site, impossible to gauge from ground level where the view is obscured by dense jungle. Occasionally you may spot toucans, macaws and other bright birds from this artificial perch within the greenery. Marvel at the engineering and organizational skills needed to construct this city within the jungle. A local bilingual guide will accompany us through the site during our foray into Tikal. After spending several hours at the ruins, we will fly back to Antigua in time for dinner. Estimated Travel Time (roundtrip): 7 hours Approximate Distance to Flores: 550 km
Enjoy a guided walking city tour of Antigua on your last day in town. The morning tour focuses on cultural trends, city history, and restoration efforts and brings to life the rich history, life, and culture of Antigua, Guatemala. The rest of the day is yours to do as you like! Shopping, sipping Guatemalan coffee, mountain biking, and dining with your fellow travellers for one final evening await.
There are no planned activities this day, so feel free to leave at whatever time you choose. Note: Antigua is located approximately 45 minutes southwest of the Guatemala City airport.