This is one of our most comprehensive adventures in Central America, rich in historical and cultural highlights. Start by getting up close and personal with the country’s diverse heritage, from the magnificent Aztec temples of Teotihuacan to the brightly-dressed Maya folk of the hills of San Cristobal.. A guided walking tour of Old Havana sheds lights on the difference between the lives of city and rural life in Cuba. Take in all the colours and aromas of Soroa, the stunning valley area known as the ‘rainbow of Cuba’.. Stroll along the rural dirt roads of Vinales as tractors, vintage cars and horse-drawn carriages pass you by. Finally, experience the diversity of Costa Rica’s environment, spot wildlife in the lush Monteverde cloud forest
Discover the culture and landscapes of this fascinating region on a trip that takes you from Mexico City to Havana to San Jose – with a spattering of enticing stops along the way. In Mexico, discover Maya history and culture at the incredible Chichen Itza ruins, and visit traditional communities in the charming San Cristobal de las Casas, and snorkel in the brilliant Caribbean waters. Cuba’s imminent political and cultural change makes it something to experience now before it evolves. Wander through Havana’s glittering colonial architecture, soak up the clear mountain air among Soroa’s vibrant mountain orchards, relax on Playa Ancon’s vast white beaches and admire Trinidad’s unrivalled ambience. Then onto the jewel of Central America, Costa Rica’s environment is world-renowned for being diverse, vibrant and healthy. Visit San Jose’s colonial streets; La Fortuna’s hot springs and volcano; Monteverde’s cloud forest; and Manuel Antonio’s turquoise seas. From food to ruins, then old cars to fragrant cigars then onto intense volcanic landscapes and superb Pacific beaches, this Central American combination is a trip not to be missed!
THIS COMBINATION TRIP WILL BE DISCONTINUED IN 2019. The ‘Costa Rica Express’ (QVKR) sub trip of this combination trip will be discontinued in 2019, so we are no longer offering it as a packaged combination trip. The ‘Costa Rica Express’ (QVKR) trip will be replaced with ‘Best of Costa Rica’ (QBKR). The ‘Best of Mexico’ (QVKD) will run in 2019 with minor changes. The ‘Beautiful Cuba’ (QUKA) will run unchanged in 2019.
Breakfast Included: 29 Lunches Included: 3 Dinner Included: 2
Arrive at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport and be transferred to your hotel. A complimentary transfer is included with your trip. Please ensure you provide your flight details to your booking agent at least 14 days prior to travel so the transfer can be organised.
Settle in and, if you have time, take a stroll to get a feel for this vibrant and rapidly growing capital where the ancient and modern collide.
In the evening, usually around 7 pm, you will meet your leader and other members of your group for a pre-trip meeting. The exact time and place of the meeting can be found at the hotel reception. This meeting will be followed by an optional group dinner at a nearby restaurant.
If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).
Enjoy a guided city tour. You'll visit the Metropolitan Cathedral, Zocalo, National Palace and Museum of Anthropology. After that, the day is yours to spend as you please.
There are enough activities to do in Mexico City to keep you busy all day. Some of the most popular activities in Mexico City (apart from the ones included in this trip) are:
La Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo Museum) - for a deeper understanding of this renowned Mexican artist. Bear in mind that queues can be long to enter this museum, particularly on weekends. An Uber taxi from your hotel to the museum should cost approximately MXN 160.
Closer to your hotel (about 1km) you'll find Plaza Garibaldi, where for about MXN 200 you can get a Mariachi band to perform for you!
Anahuacalli Museum - In the 1930's Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo's set in motion the plan to "give back" to Mexico two museums: The first one, La Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo Museum) and second one Anahacalli which hosts more than 50 thousand Pre-Hispanic pieces collected by Diego Rivera.
Leon Trotsky Museum - Having come second best to Stalin on the race to the helm of the Soviet Union, Trotski was expelled and found refuge in Mexico City - where he was eventually murdered. The entrance fee includes free guided tours in English. Ask about it at the ticket box. An Uber taxi from your hotel to the museum should cost you approximately MXN 100.
If you prefer to get out of the city and escape the crowds, take a trip to the canals and gardens of Xochimilco. An Uber taxi should cost about MXN 300 to get there.
Today we vist Teotihuacan, about 50 kilometres northeast of Mexico City. Here we'll discover the amazing Aztec ruins known as the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon which dominate the skyline. This was once the Aztec capital, and one of the biggest cities in the world. Stroll down ‘The Avenue of the Dead’ and see the clues to what life was like here nearly 2,000 years ago.
We return to Mexico City for one last night in town.
Today we travel by private vehicle to Oaxaca. On route, we'll stop in Puebla, a town of palpable colonial heritage despite rapid development. Time permitting you'll have a chance to visit the local markets, where some excellent hand-paint tiles are available.
Continue on to Oaxaca, the beautiful colonial city known for its cuisine and lively art scene. It's also a great place to browse for traditional Mexican handicrafts, with descendants of the Zapotec and Mixtec Indians selling an array of bright woven blankets and shawls.
Enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the streets and take the opportunity to feast on some regional delicacies. From the delicious banana-leaf-wrapped ‘tomales’ to the spicy baked chilli and lime grasshoppers, there's no shortage of unique and delicious fare, usually sold by the lovely old ladies of the markets.
Today we'll take on a city tour of Oaxaca which includes a visit to Santo Domingo Church, Zocalo, and local art and craft galleries. The plan is to arrive to the colourful 20 de Noviembre market in time for lunch, where you can search through the many local restaurants for whatever you feel like – perhaps focus on the famous grilled meats hall.
In the afternoon we'll visit the nearby village of Teotitlán del Valle. The settlement is famous for its weaving, particularly of colourful rugs. Here you'll visit a workshop and see a weaving demonstration.
Finish up at an artisanal mescaleria for a taste of some of the best mescal in the area. Salud!
today is a free day for you to explore Oaxaca at will. Perhaps you want pay a visit to the archaeological site of Monte Alban. The Zapotec civilisation began construction of this city around 200 BC, and Olmecs and Mixtecs have inhabited it at different times. Have your camera ready to go, because up here you can get an amazing view across the three legs of the valley of Oaxaca.
Season depending, a folkloric ballet performance is a also a great optional activity. There's also the Santo Domingo Cultural Centre which is worth a visit.
San Cristobal de las Casas
Today we fly from Oaxaca to Tuxla Gutierrez and continue by private vehicle to San Cristobal de las Casas (1.5 hr drive)
Once in "SanCris" take a walk and soak up the strong old-world atmosphere of this town, which is due in no small part to the grand Spanish colonial architecture, prominent indigenous cultures and winding cobblestone streets.
Time permitting you may want to visit Sumidero Canyon, a gorgeous, 800-metre-deep canyon carved out by the Sumidero River. It's roughly as old as the Grand Canyon!
San Cristobal de las Casas
Take a tour around the Mayan villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan. Nestled in the highlands, these villages serve as marketplaces and religious ceremonial centres for the indigenous folk who live in the surrounding hills. The local people have retained their traditional way of life and can often be seen wearing their own distinctive, colourful costumes. As you explore these villages with a guide, we'll learn more about these mostly Mayan communities.
The rest of the time in SanCris is free for you to explore town. You may want to pay a visit to the Na Bolom Museum, a small museum/research centre which was the home of anthropologist and photographer Gertrude Duby-Blom and her archaeologist husband Frans Blom. While Frans explored Mayan sites all over Chiapas, Trudy studied, photographed and fought to protect the scattered Lacandon people. Today, apart from a hotel and a museum, the house provides free accommodation to Lacandon people that make their way to San Cristobal for work, studies or medical reasons.
Alternatively, you may want to visit the amber (jade) museum, which displays and sells beautifully carved items and insect-embedded pieces.
Say goodbye to San Cristobal de Las Casas as you head for Palenque. On the way we'll visit Misol-ha – a fast-moving waterfall where water plunges 35 m, crashing into the pool below. Later, make tracks to the low and wide Agua Azul, which flows slowly over limestone rocks. Remember to pack your swimsuit for a quick dip in the afternoon. Otherwise, take a stroll around the beautiful surrounding area.
Once in Palenque, enjoy some free time exploring the town.
The local Zapatista movement in the region around Palenque has been quite active in recent months, occasionally holding protests or blocking roads. Our local operations team is constantly monitoring this situation to ensure the safety of our passengers and leaders. In some cases we might need to use an alternative route from San Cristobal to Palenque to avoid this activity - more so to bypass long traffic delays than any real danger. It's also possible that the Misol-Ha and Agua Azul waterfalls will not be accessible at the time we are scheduled to visit.
Today, early in the morning you will visit the archaeological site of Palenque. Located on a hilltop in an area of hot jungle, these are some of the most astounding Mayan ruins in the region, dating back as far as AD 600. Some of the ruins remain unexcavated and are hidden in the surrounding forest. Enjoy a guided tour of the site. As you explore this lost city keep an ear out for the strange calls of howler monkeys reverberating through the jungle.
In the early afternoon we drive north to Merida (approximately 8 hours).
In the morning, travel west out to the coast before taking a boat ride and visit the Celestun Bird Sanctuary and Biosphere Reserve (approximately 1.5 hours). Here, near extensive beaches lined with coconut trees, you'll see a variety of coastal birds. Depending on the season (usually Nov-Mar), you may be able to witness the magnificent sight of thousands of flamingos painting a pink streak across the landscape .
In the afternoon there’ll be some time to explore the many sights of Merida. Perhaps visit some of the museums, including the impressive Regional Anthropology Museum of the Yucatan, and stroll the city streets which are alive with art and culture. Hang out in the green and shady Plaza Grande, with the 16th-century cathedral on one side and City Hall, State Government Palace and Casa Mantejo on the other.
For a taste of Merida's 19th-century glory, go for a walk along the mansion-lined Paseo de Montejo. The outdoor market is another essential visit, with an array of hammocks and Mayan replicas for sale, plus a selection of enticing local cuisine, including the dish cochinita pibil ('little pig') or the mind-blowingly spicy El Yucateco hot sauce.
If you can't visit enough Mayan sites, you may want to head for the ancient ruins of Uxmal. Here you'll visit the amazing Palace of the Governors, considered by many to be the best example of classic Mayan architecture. You'll also see the mystical Pyramid of the Magician, comprising five super-imposed temples
Chichen Itza/Playa del Carmen
Chichen Itza is our first stop today. This is possibly the most famous Mayan site in Mexico. You'll see the marvellous Temple of Kukulkan standing over the ruins. Not far from the temple is the ‘ball court’, where many disputes are known to have been settled by way of a ball game that employed only the elbows, hips and wrists. Stone carvings depicting violence suggest it was not such a casual sport. Following a guided tour of the site, continue to the resort town of Playa del Carmen.