Arrive in Playa del Carmen at any time. Shuttles and buses from the Cancún airport are easy to find and reasonably priced. 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. This once sleepy village is quickly becoming a destination among sun worshippers worldwide. Stroll along the cool, white sands of the Caribbean coast, spend your time snorkelling or diving in underground caverns, or simply sipping on cool margaritas and catching some rays. Playa del Carmen is also known for its vibrant nightlife. 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, Tulúm 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.
En route to Mérida, our bus stops to visit the Mayan ruin site of Chichén Itzá (entry is optional). 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. 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. We include an 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 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! Estimated Travel Time: 7 hours Approximate Distance: 390 km
Leaving sunny Yucatán behind, we hit the highway and travel through the states of Campeche and Tabasco to the state of Chiapas, home of Palenque. One of the most beautiful Mayan sites in Mexico, Palenque is set in the Chiapas jungle and is rich with colourful, riotous wildlife and profuse flora. The Palenque ruins are impressive indeed, particularly the Temple of the Inscriptions, where a large sarcophagus containing the mummified remains of the Lord Pakal was found in 1952 by Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz. The many 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. And the surrounding jungle growth and its wildlife are as fascinating as the ruins. The ancient city holds over 200 buildings of varying size and complexity. Optional visits to the two impressive archeological sites of Bonampak and Yaxchilan can be arranged. Bonampak is known for having some of the most well preserved frescoes in all of Central America. Amidst the Chiapas jungle, Yaxchilan is set on the Usumacinta River and has numerous exceptionally fine engraved monuments. Estimated Travel Time: 9 hours Approximate Distance: 550 km
Crossing into the highlands we make our way to the colonial city of San Cristóbal de las Casas. Known for its ties to the Zapatista revolution, San Cristóbal is also an architectural and cultural wonder. You will receive an included orientation walking tour of the city and then we have the option to take a trip to some of the outlying villages and learn how locals combine traditional beliefs and modern religion with intriguing results. Tours go into local homes to learn about day-to-day village life—an experience which should not be missed. You can also take a horse ride in the mountains, a day trip to Sumidero Canyon or mountain biking in the local hills. 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. San Crístóbal De Las Casas, the old State Capital, stands in a high mountain valley at 2110m (6921 ft). 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: 6 hours Approximate Distance: 190 km On the evening of Day 9, we take a night bus to Oaxaca.
The colourful and lively markets and the impressive Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban are just two of many reasons to visit wonderful Oaxaca. Your tour leader will give you an orientation walking tour of the city and then you will get a chance to explore in more depth. Its an excellent spot to pick up handicrafts and souvenirs. The conqueror of Mexico, Hernán Cortez, chose the Valley of Oaxaca as his personal domain in the Americas and many visitors have followed in his footsteps. Surrounded by the Sierra Madre del Sur and Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountain ranges, Oaxaca is a lovely colonial city, which has maintained not only the physical structures, but also the serenity of an era gone-by. Monte Albán, a spectacular grouping of pre-hispanic (Zapotec) mountain top temples, is just a short bus ride away, as is the Valley of Mitla with its colourful ruins and hand-loomed carpets. Stepping from the cultural to the culinary, Oaxaca is also a great area for trying out new tastes and textures. From the sublime to the exotic, the restaurants and markets around town will challenge you to one adventure after another. After all, this is the home of Mezcal (look for the unfortunate worm at the bottom), Oaxaca chocolate, cheese, and yes, even dried grasshoppers covered with chili and lime, if you are so inclined. Estimated Travel Time: 11 hours Approximate Distance: 630 km
After a short drive on one of Mexico’s comfortable buses, we hit Puebla, famous for its hand-painted tiles, unique handicrafts, mouth-watering Mole Poblano and rich colonial history. Orientation walk upon arrival to help you get your bearings. Puebla has managed to incorporate its colonial past with a growing and progressive modern city centre. There are enough churches and well-maintained, colonial buildings to satisfy the most ardent lover of architecture. The markets, of course, are also present for buying, browsing or photographing. If you want to get out of town, you can head to nearby Cholula, home to a massive pyramid that hosts a church at the top and is now covered by the town, to catch an impressive sunset. Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours Approximate Distance: 320 km
Explore one of the world's largest metropolitan areas or take an optional day trip to the famous archaeological site of Teotihuacán. Today, Mexico City is the world’s fastest-growing urban centre, offering a great variety of impressive museums and galleries as well as a wealth of architectural styles likely unequalled anywhere else in the Americas. Mexico City--or D.F., as the locals refer to it--also hosts a variety of food to complement its impressive visual style. If you prefer to get outside the city, the pyramids of Teotihuacán and the canals and gardens of Xochimilco are two good places to start. A former Aztec capital, Teotihuacán was destroyed in the struggle against Cortez and the Spanish conquistadors who followed him. You can still see some of the ruins of the great Tenochtitlán in the city centre, and a subway takes you through one of the temples. At night, you’ll have the option to witness the high-flying practitioners of “lucha libre,” Mexico’s world-famous brand of wrestling. Combatants don colourful masks and catapult themselves towards their opponents off of the ring’s ropes, employing a variety of different moves and holds to pin them to the mat for a three-count. The largely Mexican crowds are usually rowdy, making “lucha libre” an entertaining way to throw yourself head-first into the local culture. A word of caution: Mexico City may be slightly overwhelming at first. The world’s most populous centre is a crowded, smoggy, urban place where the altitude combined with atmospheric conditions may cause irritation of eyes, nose and throat. Also be aware that the heat 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. We prefer 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. Estimated Travel Time: 2 hours Approximate Distance: 130 km
Depart at any time.