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Contrasts of Mexico & Yucatan Peninsula Extension (Day of the Dead Festival - Premium)

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Fully Guided Adventure Small Group Festivals & Events Day of the Dead
Our Price From 10,251 Per Person
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 Trip Length
21 Days
 Trip Starts
Mexico City
 Trip Finishes
21 Day Contrasts of Mexico & Yucatan Peninsula Extension (Day of the Dead Festival - Premium) Itinerary (Explore)
Countries Explored: Mexico, Guatemala, Belize
Trip Style
Max. Group Size
Full On
Guide Level
Fully Guided
Trip Code


Book online and enjoy exclusive savings on Explore's 21 Day Contrasts of Mexico & Yucatan Peninsula Extension (Day of the Dead Festival - Premium). An unbeatable in-depth exploration of the mysterious land of the Aztec, Zapotec and Maya civilisations. Covering archeological highlights in Tikal and Chichen Itza, this trip also takes in little known sites, as well as exploring the varied communities of Mexico's heartland, and includes a relaxing stay on Belize's Barrier Reef. Some departures have been set to coincide with Mexico's Day of the Dead Festival.


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 an airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Mexico City International Airport (MEX) which is approximately a 30 minute to one hour 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: Galeria Plaza (Premium)

On our first day in Mexico City we'll predominantly explore on foot. The Zocalo is the beating heart of the city; the main square that has been a cornerstone in public gatherings since the ancient times. The National Palace is located on the east side of the square - the President lives here as his permanent residence, so we'll take a look at it from the outside, along with the grand metropolitan cathedral. The Zocalo also gives us our first taste of Mexico's wealth of ancient history - the remains of the ancient Aztec Templo Mayor were discovered here and are still well preserved, right in the downtown of the city.

From the area around the central Zocalo, we drive to the enormous Chapultepec Park, Mexico City's main green space, and walk through to the National Anthropology Museum. One of the finest museums in the world, its exhibits offer a taste of the history ahead of us.

Our city tour ends here at the museum. Opt to stay here longer, or return together with your Tour Leader. Stay: Galeria Plaza (Premium) (B)

Our destination today is the mysterious pyramids of Teotihuacan. En route, we will visit the Basilica de Guadalupe - an important pilgrimage site for Mexicans, with a miraculous story behind it that our Tour Leader will recount. Continuing to Teotihuacan, we enter into this complex of ruins that were abandoned thirteen centuries ago. 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'. We'll have lunch nearby (not included), and we may have the chance to see some of the ancient uses of agave and obsidian in a workshop and craft shop nearby. We'll return to Mexico City in the late afternoon. If you wish, you may like the chance to climb the Torre Latinoamericana this evening - one of the tallest buildings in the city, with a panoramic viewing platform that gives fantastic views across the downtown and beyond. Stay: Galeria Plaza (Premium) (B)

Leaving the capital we drive south through cactus country to Oaxaca, one of the most charming colonial cities in Mexico. Our drive time will be approximately 8 hours, including several stops. During the latter half of the drive we'll have some beautiful views of the Sierra Madre mountains, and the cactus-covered landscape. We'll arrive in the late afternoon, and we can expect the historical centre to be extremely busy with people who have come from across Mexico as well as the rest of the world to take part in the Day of the Dead celebrations. Our hotel here in Oaxaca is out of the historical centre. Taxis are plentiful to use during your free time, and the gardens and swimming pool of the hotel will be a relaxing haven away from the busy centre.

The origins of the Dia de los Muertos can be traced back as far as the indigenous people of Mesoamerica; the Zapotecs, Aztecs and the Maya all had ancient rituals for celebrating the lives of their ancestors. The modern day festivities take place between the 31st October and 2nd November each year, when it is believed to be easier for the souls of the departed to visit the living. Relatives tend to gather in cemeteries where they build private shrines and altars and bring along food, drink, toys and other sentimental items to share with their returning relatives. The ceremonies are a fascinating insight into local culture and beliefs.

Oaxaca is one of the best places to witness the Day of Dead celebrations, as the traditions are very much alive in this part of Mexico. The city is often full at this time, and the streets will be busy - not just with local markets, street vendors, entertainers and parades (events change from year to year), but with visitors spilling out from cafes, restaurants and bars. Many of the festivities take place at night in the local cemeteries as well as in the streets of Oaxaca. Stay: Hotel Hacienda Los Laureles (Premium) (B)

As with many of the colonial cities in Mexico, Oaxaca was built in the 1500s with stones taken from ancient civilisations in the close surroundings. Today we'll visit Monte Alban, the most important site in the Oaxaca area, built by the Zapotec people who flourished here over 1,500 years ago. This impressive complex of temples, pyramids and enigmatic rock carvings was built literally on top of a hill, which means that there will be some hill walking and steps to conquer in the site today. The incredible views over the Sierra Madre and the fertile valley are well worth the effort. Unlike sites like Teotihuacan, Monte Alban was lived in until the arrival of the conquistadors, as the Mixtec civilisation took over from the Zapotecs and continued its use.

This afternoon we have free time at leisure in Oaxaca, with plenty of Dia de los Muertos celebrations still to enjoy. Stay: Hotel Hacienda Los Laureles (Premium) (B)

It's a long journey today, through the winding roads of the mountainous Sierra Madre range, making several interesting stops en route. Our first port of call is close to Oaxaca - the 2000-year old swamp cypress tree in Santa Maria del Tule, which, at 54 metres in circumference, has the stoutest trunk of any in the world. We continue to the small town of Teotitlan del Valle, a region where the Zapotec language is spoken more commonly than Spanish. Here the people have been weavers since the ancient times, and we should be able to see how this fine work is created, as well as getting an understanding how natural colours are achieved from the plants that they have around them.

Our next short stop is at the ancient Mixtec site of Mitla, where we will have a short exploration of these ruins. The largest part of the drive is ahead of us, with our destination this evening being the hot and windy isthmus of Tehuantepec, a convenient stopping point on our journey towards San Cristobal. The journey today will take approximately 10 hours including stops. Stay: Hotel Calli (Comfortable) (B)

Leaving early this morning we have a roughly 5 hour drive to Cahuare, 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 Diego De Mazariegos (Premium) (B)

There is a unique atmosphere to the small colonial town of San Cristobal, 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 - you may like to bargain for some colourful souvenirs here.

Much like Oaxaca, San Cristobal is a charming town to explore on foot and has its fair share of museums on a variety of themes. The Na Bolom, House of the Jaguar, is dedicated to the preservation of the Lacandón tribe and displays many of their artefacts, while the Textiles Centre is a superb showcase of the weaving traditions found both in Chiapas as well as the rest of Mexico and Central America. There are also museums dedicated to amber and jade, that not only display historical pieces, but also give an understanding of the importance of these materials to the ancient civilisations. Stay: Hotel Diego De Mazariegos (Premium) (B)

Leaving the highlands, we have a long driving day ahead of us, approximately 8 hours plus stops. 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, where we stop for lunch. We'll also take a stop at the waterfalls of Agua Blanca, which tumble over a series of limestone hills, before continuing on to our hotel. Stay: Hotel Chan-kah (Premium) (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 Chan-kah (Premium) (B)

Today we drive to Frontera Corozal on the border of Mexico and Guatemala. On arrival, we board our lancha (river boat) on the Ucumacinta river and head for the remote site of Yaxchilan, only accessible by boat and famous for its stelae and roof combs. The boat trip itself is a beautiful 40-minute journey, past banana plantations and through rainforest. We return by boat through the forest-lined water, continuing past Frontera Corozal to small town of Bethel, Guatemala, where we pass through customs and drive to Flores, on Lake Peten Itza. Stay: Hotel Casona Del Lago (Premium) (B)

The small island of Flores is colourful, beautifully picturesque and very laid back. After a busy trip so far, it's a wonderful place to spend some free time strolling around the brightly coloured houses, or people-watching in one of the cafes or restaurants. You can also choose to take a boat trip onto Lake Peten Itza to take in the views of the island itself.

In the afternoon we will drive to Tikal, site of one of the greatest of all Maya cities. Tikal can easily be compared with the masterpieces of Egypt and Greece. Initially settled about 600 BC, it was abandoned by its rulers around AD 890 and totally deserted a hundred years later. Rediscovered in 1848, the site itself comprises many great temples and pyramids, covering an area of more than 16 square kilometres, with palaces, causeways, ball courts, spacious plazas, and hundreds of other architectural ruins - a superb example of sophisticated Maya engineering. At its height the extended area of the city and its environs covered some 100km and its population was estimated at between 50,000-100,000. Many of the main buildings were completed between the 6th and 9th centuries, during what was called the Late Classic Period, during which the city traded with Quirigua, Copan and even Teotihuacan to the far west. Economic instability, civil unrest and warfare finally brought the city down, echoing a general demise amongst the Maya civilisation.

The remote jungle setting, with the constant companionship of howler monkeys and parrots, gives the site a feeling of true isolation, and its pyramid towers slicing through the lush canopy affords it an almost mystical feel. Our accommodation for the night is near the entrance of the site, in an unbeatable natural setting. As a jungle lodge, the electricity is often turned off in the evenings. Stay: Tikal Inn (Comfortable) (B)

Today will be spent exploring the site with a local guide. It is extensive, so we include a guided tour in the morning followed by free time to let you explore, perhaps visiting the on-site museum (optional, at an additional cost). 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 also have the opportunity to stay in, or revisit, the site for the sunset this evening. Stay: Tikal Inn (Comfortable) (B)

Today we drive over the border to San Ignacio in Belize, visiting the little known site of Xunantunich en route, with its fantastic array of pyramids and temples. We make our way to our hotel, where the rest of the afternoon is at our leisure. If you still have room for one more Mayan site, the ruins of Cahal Pech are worth a visit. Alternatively, walk or take a taxi into the town and check out the lively local market (not Sundays). Stay: Hotel Cahal Pech (Comfortable) (B)

Departing San Ignacio this morning we drive to Belize's Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport (airport code: BZE), where we will arrive at about 10am and this is where our trip ends. The earliest your flight can depart is 12.30pm.

This trip combines with our Contrasts of Mexico + Yucatan Extension trip. If you'd like to spend a further week travelling on the idyllic island of Caye Caulker, and through into Mexico's Yucatan with visits to a cenote, Lake Bacalar, and Mayan sites including Tulum and Chichen Itza, please find this trip available on our website. Stay: Seaside Cabanas (Premium) (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: Seaside Cabanas (Premium) (B)

We leave Caye Caulker by boat this morning, sailing back to the mainland and driving north to the Belizean border, crossing into Mexico via 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. Just next to the lake we plan to take a swim in the Cenote Azul, one of the Yucatan's famous water-filled limestone pools that have great spiritual importance for the Yucatan Maya people.

We have this afternoon free, with the possibility of taking a boat trip across the lake. Stay: Villas Bakalar (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, arriving in the late afternoon. We'll be free here to enjoy the picturesque and colourful town centre. Valladolid even has its own cenote just a few blocks away from the main Zocalo, which is a great option for a late afternoon swim. Stay: Hotel Meson De Marquez (Premium) (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, but undeniably Chichen Itza remains one of the most outstanding sites in the Americas, and its main pyramid was denoted as the Seventh New Wonder of the World in 2007.

After our visit to this extensive site, we will continue to the city of Merida, famed for its beautiful Spanish-Moorish style architecture. Stay: Hotel Gran Real Yucatan (Premium) (B)

We have our final site visit this morning; to those in the know, Uxmal is one of the Yucatan's most underrated ancient cities. Encircled by hills, Uxmal is expansive in its design with majestic palaces and pyramids, and long geometrical friezes that 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 found in Meso America.

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 Gran Real Yucatan (Premium) (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 an 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)

Trip Inclusions

  • Explore some of the very best Aztec & Mayan sites of Mexico
  • Experience the local life & colour of Indigenous villages
  • Discover little-explored ruins, hidden by rainforest

  • Full on paced trips are for travellers who like their holidays packed with activities and experiences, moving on quickly from place to place with lots of early starts and long, busy days. Some may find them tiring, but others get a buzz from packing their precious holiday-time as chock-a - block full of new experiences as possible.

  • Accommodation, itinerary and inclusions subject to change.
  • Price is for land, cruise and internal flights as specified. Flights not specified are not included
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