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. Stay: Hotel Lepanto ()
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. Stay: Hotel Lepanto () (B)
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. Stay: Hotel Lepanto () (B)
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. On this tour, we will spend time in Oaxaca during the Day of the Dead celebrations.
This is one of the best places to witness the Day of the Dead as the streets become alive with parades, and markets selling flowers and local delicacies fill the air with colour and perfume. Due to the nature of the celebrations many of the festivities take place at night in the local cemeteries. During our time here we will experience as much of the carnival-like atmosphere that brings the streets of Oaxaca to life as we can. Stay: Oaxaca real (Comfortable) (B)
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). Stay: Oaxaca real (Comfortable) (B)
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. Stay: Hotel Calli (Comfortable) (B)
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. Stay: Hotel Arrecife (Comfortable) (B)
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. Stay: Hotel Arrecife (Comfortable) (B)
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 Agua Blanca before driving onto our hotel. These falls tumble over a series of limestone hills, forming a natural pool to swim in, with a cave to explore next door. Stay: Hotel Maya Tulipanes (Comfortable) (B)
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'. Stay: Hotel Maya Tulipanes (Comfortable) (B)
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. Stay: Escudo Jaguar (Simple) (B/D)
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 blue waters of the lake (optional). Stay: Hotel Casona de la Isla (Comfortable) (B)
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. Stay: Hotel Casona de la Isla (Comfortable) (B)
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. Stay: Midas Resort (Comfortable) (B)
We drive to Belize City for our first view of the Caribbean and board our water taxi for the one-hour journey to the enchanting tropical island of Caye Caulker. Once a pirate lair, this tiny but beautiful island lies 34km northeast of Belize City and about 1.6km inside the greatest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere.
Please note that the seven days in Caye Caulker and the Yucatan are designed as an extension to our Contrasts of Mexico tour, and some of your fellow group members may leave the tour today in Belize City. Whilst the extension has been designed to complement the trip, we wish to point out that it may not be a group experience and you may not be travelling with other customers. Stay: Anchorage Resort (Comfortable) (B)
The island remains uncrowded and unluxurious, and the local fishermen catch lobster, conch, fish and crab to supply domestic and foreign markets. It's a popular place with backpackers, so there is a proliferation of good, reasonably priced restaurants. There's time to relax or enjoy a number of optional trips. You may take a snorkelling trip out to the nearby Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark and Ray Alley, or take a full-day trip out to Goff's Caye to observe manatee in their natural mangrove habitat. Scuba diving is also available. Stay: Anchorage Resort (Comfortable) (B)
We leave Caye Caulker by boat this morning, sailing back to the mainland and crossing into Mexico via the port of Chetumal. We then continue by vehicle to the small town of Bacalar, situated on the banks of the beautiful Lake Bacalar in the Riviera Maya. The lake is frequently named 'the Seven Coloured Lagoon' for its many different shades of blue, and has strikingly clear waters due to the white limestone bottom. We have this afternoon free, with the possibility of taking a boat trip across the lake or visiting the Fort of San Felipe, with it's interesting museum on the local pirates who scourged the area in the 17th and 18th centuries. Stay: Hotel Stone (Comfortable) (B)
We head northeast from Bacalar this morning, towards the dramatically situated site of Tulum, situated on its clifftop perch overlooking the turquoise water and golden sands below. The ruins of Tulum date back to the late period of the Mayan civilisation when there was developing enmity between Mayan provinces, so the city is guarded by thick ramparts and a watch tower. After visiting the site we will continue on to the colonial city of Valladolid, via one of the areas magnificent cenotes (an underground pool naturally formed in limestone and used by the ancient Maya as a source of water) where we'll have the chance for a swim. Stay: Hotel Meson De Marquez (Comfortable) (B)
This morning we visit the ruins of Chichen Itza. Founded in AD432, re-founded in 987 and conquered by the Toltecs in the 10th century, the culture of the Maya and the Toltec gradually fused. The pyramids, palaces, temples and ballcourt (where death was the penalty for defeat) are adorned with astonishing sculptures. Under the pressure of the civil war, the great monuments deteriorated and the Maya civilisation collapsed. Chichen Itza remains one of the most outstanding sites in the Americas, and one of UNESCO's Seven New Wonders of the World. We then drive via the colonial backwater of Izamal to Merida, famed for its beautiful Spanish-Moorish style architecture. Stay: Hotel Colonial (Comfortable) (B)
This morning we will visit the site at Uxmal. Encircled by hills, Uxmal is expansive in its design with majestic palaces and pyramids. Long geometrical friezes rank among the most splendid examples of ancient American Art. The incredible Pyramid of the Magician and the beautiful Governor's Palace are two of the finest examples of Mayan art anywhere. Later in the day we return to Merida, where we have time to wander along the narrow streets watching the horse-drawn carriages rattle past. Alternatively there is an option to visit Celestun, the pink flamingo sanctuary. Stay: Hotel Colonial (Comfortable) (B)
The trip ends in the morning at our hotel in Merida.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Merida at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Manuel Crescencio Rejon International Airport (MID) which is approximately a 20 minutes' drive from the hotel. (B)