Discover the best of Mexico with this magical 11-day tour offering an intriguing mix of ancient civilisations, breathtaking natural beauty and charming colonial cities. Beginning your adventure in Cancun, head inland to uncover mystical Mayan cities as well as the ruins of Zapotec and pre-Aztec cities. Be humbled by the jaw-dropping scale of the Sumidero Canyon, learn about indigenous culture in Chiapas and lose yourself in the timelessness of graceful Merida. Savour the delights of picturesque Puebla, explore the magnificent metropolis of Mexico City and cruise the historic canals of Xochimilco... this promises to be an unforgettable journey, which will captivate your heart as you fall in love with Mexico lindo. Groups vary in size but are typically made up of about six to 10 travellers.
Yucatan: Savour traditional Yucatecan dishes such as pollo or cochinita pibil, which are made from either chicken or suckling pig wrapped in banana leaves and baked underground
Oaxaca: Try typical toasted tlayuda tortilla prepared with grilled meat, beans and Oaxacan cheese while if you have an adventurous palate, roasted chapulines (crickets) are a must
Mexico City: Head to Mercado Roma, where the din of traders and customers, the colours of the product and the aromas of freshly prepared food make for a truly Mexican experience
A wide range of optional excursions and pre and post-programme extensions are available on request. Please ask tour designer Melanie Goldbecker for rates and conditions
Chichen Itza: Uncover the mysteries of Mayan civilisation at this ancient archaeological site dominated by the Temple of Kukulcan
Merida: The ‘White City’ is famed for the elegant tree-lined boulevards of the 19th century city centre
Uxmal: The Pyramid of the Magician in this UNESCO World Heritage Site rises above the jungle canopy
Sumidero Canyon: The 1,000-metre-high vertical walls of this verdant gorge are a truly awe-inspiring sight
Monte Alban: Visit the ruins in the Oaxaca Valley of the hilltop capital of the Zapotec civilisation
Teotihuacan: Behold the vast scale of this well-preserved ancient city dominated by the 2,000-year-old Pyramid of the Sun
Xochimilco: Board a colourful trajinera and explore these beautiful ‘floating gardens’ just outside the capital
Metropolitan Cathedral: The largest cathedral in the Americas is a glorious mix of Renaissance, baroque and neo-classical styles
Depart Cancun and head deep into the rainforests of the Yucatan peninsula in search of the legendary Maya city of Chichen Itza, which has been laboriously reclaimed from the jungle. Learn about the Maya and their civilisation as you admire the scale and detail of this ancient city. Behold the geometric perfection of the 25-metre-tall Temple of Kukulkan, popularly known as El Castillo (‘the Castle’), which was built both as a representation of the mystical Maya calendar and to reflect the optical illusion of a serpent snaking its way up or down the pyramid during the spring and autumn equinoxes. Admire the Great Ball Court, the largest of 13 discovered at the site, see the haunting Skull Platform, where the heads of human sacrifice victims and prisoners of war were impaled, and also the Sacred Cenote, where sacrifice victims were dumped. Also extremely well-preserved are the Temple of the Warriors, the Ossuary, the Nunnery and adjacent Church, and the large observatory known as the Snail. Continue to Merida, the capital of Yucatan, which is known as the ‘White City’ and boasts one of the largest colonial old towns in the Americas. Enjoy a city orientation tour on arrival, exploring the tree-lined Paseo de Montejo, which boasts a beguiling collection of mansions and palaces built by wealthy planters in the 19th century. In the city centre, appreciate the splendid Plaza Grande, location of the cathedral and the 16th century Spanish plateresque-style Montejo House, whose monumental carved stone façade is one of Merida’s most popular landmarks.
Breakfast at the hotel is followed by a morning exploring the ruins of another former Maya city clawed back from vegetation. Arrive at Uxmal and enjoy a guided tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which as you approach it comes into view as it rises above the canopy of the jungle Unlike other Mayan cities, Uxmal was devoured by the rainforest after the Spaniards had arrived. The most famous structure is the 35-metre-tall Pyramid of the Magician, which towers over the remarkably well-preserved Nunnery Quadrangle with its ornately carved interior and exterior walls. Across the central plaza, just beyond the ballgame court, is the Governor’s Palace with its elaborately decorated roof. At the southern end of the main complex is the Great Pyramid, of which only one side has been excavated with the other three still unclaimed from the bush. Continue to Campeche for a panoramic tour of this historic coastal city, driving through the heart of the picturesque old town, with its pastel-coloured colonial houses, colonnaded arcades and bell-gabled churches. Alight and explore further by foot, seeing sights such as ramparts of the old city walls and St Francis’s Cathedral. The final leg of the day takes us along the gulf coast to the Tucan Siho Playa Hotel for check-in.
Savour a delicious breakfast while enjoying views over the Gulf of Mexico before heading inland to Palenque, a bastion of the Ch'ol Maya people, in the state of Chiapas. We are now in Mexico’s ‘deep south’, where the colourfully dressed descendants of the Maya can be seen everywhere, and their languages frequently heard on the streets and in the marketplaces. For thousands of years, the Maya’s writ stretched across what are now the five southern Mexican states as well as all of Belize and Guatemala, and the eastern parts of both El Salvador and Honduras – until their civilisation mysteriously collapsed in the eighth and ninth centuries. It was during this period that the now ruined city of Palenque (or B'aakal as the ancient Maya called it) entered decline and was devoured by the jungle until it was encountered by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. In its heyday, Palenque was a sprawling city-state that spanned nearly 60 square kilometres but archaeologists estimate that they have excavated only 5-10% of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. So far, more than 200 structures have been unearthed, with the Temple of the Inscriptions, the Palace, the Temple of the Count and the Temple of the Cross the most prominent.
Feast on a hearty breakfast at the hotel before taking to the road for a journey through the highlands of Chiapas. Arrive to San Cristobal de las Casas for check-in at the hotel. Visit the baroque church of Santo Domingo and the colourful art and food markets where you can admire traditional wear of the Mayan cultures that inhabit the region.
Depart San Cristobal de las Casas after breakfast and head to one of Mexico’s outstanding natural attractions, the Sumidero Canyon. This awe-inspiring gorge carved into the earth over millions of years by the River Grijalva has to be one of Mother Nature’s least celebrated masterpieces – which makes the experience of visiting it all the more exciting. During a wondrous boat tour along the imposing canyon bed, you will be able to appreciate just how deep ravine gorge is as you find yourself dwarfed by the sheer scale of its walls covered in thick vegetation and which in places are as high as 1,000 metres. Then we make a stop at San Juan Chamula, which is famed for its whitewashed cathedral with colourful ornamentation and pine scented, candlelit interior, where you can observe the rare religious rituals that the locals perform. The town is almost entirely inhabited by Tzotzil Maya, who apart from speaking their own language also wear distinctive clothing, with the men donning tunics called chujes and the women favouring blouses known as huipils. Chamula is renowned for the quality of its weavers and local shops and markets offer a great variety. Return to your hotel in San Cristobal.
Take to the Pan-American Highway after breakfast, onwards to Oaxaca, stopping en route at the suburb of Santa Maria del Tule to admire the sacred Tule Tree, a Montezuma cypress, which according to local Zapotec legend is about 1,400 years old – and which science appears to confirm. The tree’s gnarled trunk has a circumference of 42 metres and a diameter of 14, making it the stoutest in the world. Take to the road for the brief journey to the Hostal de la Noria, which is just two blocks from the Zocalo square, for check-in.
After breakfast at the hotel, explore the bustling city centre with a guided city tour, taking in the main landmarks and attractions such as the tree-lined Zocalo, the Palacio de Gobierno and the Alameda de Leon, where the baroque cathedral is located. Oaxaca was built as a planned city by the Spaniards and the old town is set on a perfect grid centred on the Zocalo. Many of the colonial era homes and palaces have been expertly renovated and now house galleries, museums, boutique hotels and restaurants, adding an air of sophistication to an already elegant urban environment. Among the many beautiful churches, the Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude and the Church of St Dominic de Guzman stand out – while the former is famed for its baroque façade, the latter boasts a stunning ornamental gilded ceiling.
In the afternoon, head to Monte Alban, the ancient Zapotec capital, which is located on the summit of a mountain just a few kilometres west of Oaxaca. This archaeological site combines with colonial Oaxaca to constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Zapotec civilisation came to an end with the Spanish conquest in the 1520s but we can gain an insight into it through this engineering feat 400 metres above the Oaxaca valley. The ruins of pyramids, temples, plazas and other residential structures all centre on the Main Square, a large open area on the artificially flattened mountain top. From here, you can enjoy 360-degree views of the city and valleys below. The relics are in a remarkably good state and the ballgame court looks like it could still be used to practise sports. Return to Oaxaca with the rest of the day at leisure.
Take to the road after breakfast at the hotel, heading northwards through the highlands of the Sierra Mixteca and arriving after midday at the colonial city of Puebla. Enjoy a panoramic city tour taking in most of the city’s famous churches such as the cathedral, the imposing St Francis with its towering belfry and St Dominic, visiting the latter to admire the gilded and sculpted Rosary Chapel. A short stroll through the picturesque city centre allows you to appreciate the range of architectural styles, with a strong presence of baroque palaces, monasteries and mansions. Local geological features are reflected in the widespread use of cantera stone, a grey volcanic rock, as well as red brick and tiles. Continue on to Mexico City and check in to your hotel upon arrival.
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before heading to the heart of the capital for a tour of the historic city centre. Starting in the vast Plaza de la Constitución, universally known as the Zocalo, visit the National Palace and the architectural jewel that is the Metropolitan Cathedral. Located in the east of the square, the current version of the National Palace dates from the 17th century, which explains its more than 200-metre-wide baroque façade. A palace-fortress has stood on this site since pre-colonial times, with Montezuma, the last Aztec emperor, ruling his empire from this very spot. The Spanish conquistadors demolished his palace and built their new fortress over it, using the same materials. Since independence, the palace has at times served as both the Mexican parliament and as the official residence of emperors and presidents. The walls above the main staircase and along the corridor of the second floor are covered with magnificent murals depicting the history of Mexico from before the arrival of the Spaniards through to modern times. Other areas open to visitors include the Treasury, the former presidents' quarters, a number of courtyards and a botanical garden.
After, head southwards to Xochimilco, making a small detour at the UNAM university campus to view its famous façade murals, which were painted and sculpted by some of Mexico’s leading 20th century artists. All four sides of the Central Library are giant mosaics painstakingly designed by artist and architect Juan O'Gorman: one representing the Aztec past, one for the colonial era, one for independent Mexico and another celebrating the university’s academic and sporting prowess. In the afternoon cap off the day at the ‘floating Gardens’ of Xochimilco, which are the remnants of a pre-colonial lake and canal system. Hop aboard a colourful trajinera – a gondola-like vessel – and enjoy a gentle cruise along the canals, surrounded by the scents of flowers and food. Finally, make a stop by the Mercado Roma to have an up-close look at gourmet Mexican speciality food items. Return to the hotel.
Breakfast at the hotel is followed by a visit to the National Anthropology Museum, which houses a priceless collection of artefacts, some dating from as far back 35,000 years ago. Enjoy a guided tour of this purpose-built facility featuring 11 sections dedicated to different eras and civilisations. Perhaps the most famous exhibit is the Aztec sun stone but Olmec sculptures and Mayan murals have lost none of their fascination after all these centuries. Scale models of pre-colonial cities offer an insight into the architectural feats of these ancient peoples despite the rudimentary technologies at their disposal. Having observed artefacts from the different civilisations that inhabited Mexico before the arrival of the Spaniards, it is now time to visit the remnants of one at the well-preserved ruins of Teotihuacan, stopping at the famous Guadalupe shrine en route to visit both the old and new basilicas. Ancient Teotihuacan appears to have gone into decline in the sixth century but its influence on later civilisations such as the Aztecs cannot be doubted. Transport yourself back in time as you stroll along the Avenue of the Dead towards the imposing 2,000-year-old Pyramid of the Sun, the third largest in the world, and be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of this once vast city. At the end of the visit, there is some free time to explore the site and to climb one of the colossal pyramids to take in the panoramic views. In the evening return to the hotel with the rest of day at your leisure.
Transfer to Mexico City International Airport in the morning to catch your flight back home.