Explore a Maya village outside of San Cristobal where the right to autonomy was hard-won decades ago, and a unique spiritual blend of ancient ritual, Catholicism and animism has shaped local tradition and ceremony. Journey into the Guatemalan jungle and uncover the remains of the lost Maya civilisation in Tikal. Discover the culinary paradise of Oaxaca, where you can slurp warm, thick mole (a rich sauce often served over rice) and sample the edible plants and flowers that the indigenous Zapotec people have eaten for centuries. Relax at a 2 night feature stay at Hotel Atitlan, an elite establishment on the shore of Lake Atitlan with botanic gardens, a spa and jaw-dropping views of the lake and volcano
This lengthy trip allows you to spend time in two places that compliment each other, yet retain enough difference to stay interesting. The countries share an ancient history and Maya wonders abound in both, from the pyramids set against flat Mexican plains in Chichen Itza to the temples that remain under the cover of jungle in Guatemala’s Tikal. The indigenous folk who descended from these ancient peoples have developed regionally unique cultures and as such you’ll find much to compare between the customs of the Maya of San Cristobal and the way of life of the Tz’utujil of Santiago.
Breakfast Included: 16 Lunches Included: 5 Dinner Included: 2
Playa del Carmen
You'll soon be soaking up the powdery beaches and azure waters of Playa del Carmen. Arrive at Cancun's International Airport, and enjoy a complimentary transfer to your hotel in Playa del Carmen. Ensure you provide your flight details to your booking agent at least 14 days prior to travel so the transfer can be organised. Meet your group at 6 pm in the hotel. Please look for a note in the lobby or ask the reception where it will take place, and have your insurance details and next of kin information ready for collection. Afterwards, get acquainted with this walkers-haven during an orientation stroll. Then, choose whether you would like to dine together or go your own way. Perhaps take in the salty night air with a walk along the beach before returning to your hotel.
Playa del Carmen
The vestiges of the grand Maya city of Chichen Itza are around 3-hours away. A guide will walk you through these spectacular ruins, the ingenious design of which often manipulates light and sound. Make sure you stop and listen for strange echoes and watch for serpentine shadows. During the drive back, stop for an hour or so for an included buffet lunch and cool down in the fresh water rock pool of Cenote lk Kil. A cenote (pronounced say-NO-tay) is a natural sinkhole created where a limestone cave ceiling has collapsed creating a window to this spectacular subterranean world. In the evening, the bars and restaurants of Playa are yours for the taking.
San Cristobal de las Casas
The colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas awaits you after a morning of travel. Beginning with a 10 am private transfer to Cancun Airport, board a 12.30 pm flight to Tuxtla Gutierrez, where you'll have another private vehicle waiting to escort you to your destination. Use the hour-long drive to take advantage of an informal Spanish lesson from your tour leader, then maybe try those new skills during a free afternoon in this city of colour and craft. At around 5.30 pm, your leader will walk you through the stunning, mural lined streets. Then, decide whether you would like to eat with the group or strike out on your own.
San Cristobal de las Casas
A short drive takes you to nearby Maya villages where local customs, habits and laws often prevail over the conventions of non-indigenous Mexico. This independent spirit is encapsulated in the church of San Juan Chamula where, if the timing is right, you can witness a ceremony that combines Maya customs and animism with a heavy dollop of Catholicism. Join some local women at home in Zinacantan, and watch as they create the textiles typical of the area. Choose between lunching or strolling further, then return to your hotel where you can decide what to do with the rest of your day. If you're interested in Mesoamerican art, why not visit the Jade Museum? This privately-owned museum is a labour of love, designed to educate about the historical and cultural importance of the green mineral.
Rise with the sun and enjoy breakfast before driving towards Oaxaca (5-6 hours), with a brief stop in Tehuantepec for an included lunch. If you’d like, take a quick walk and observe the colourful dress of the local ladies, the style of which famously inspired artist and icon Frida Kahlo. After another 4 hours, arrive in Oaxaca in the evening and take a quick orientation walk before an optional dinner. If you’re craving local fare, why not sit down for a bowl of sweet and spicy mole negro, a Oaxacan staple made from ground chilies, garlic and chocolate.
Oaxaca is a city that needs to be savoured, just like the spiced cacao the locals drink. Enjoy a full day tour with transport, entrance fees and other details taken care of, so you can relax and feast your eyes on the sights instead of digging into your wallet or staring at a map. Speaking of feasts, food is central to understanding Oaxaca, a biodiverse culinary paradise with many regional dishes that are difficult to replicate elsewhere. With that in mind, today you'll enjoy a special lunch prepared and served in an indigenous Zapotec household, where you’ll likely be stunned by the variety of dishes that can be prepared from the humble corn cob. The rest of the day is full to the brim with essential activities. Explore the Zapotec roots of modern Oaxaca in the ruins of Mitla, learning from a guide about this important religious site. Then, gaze upon the gnarled bark of the Tule Tree, the stoutest trunk in the world. The petrified falls of Hierve El Agua also await you. Despite their name (roughly boiling water) these cascading falls appear to be frozen in time and provide ample opportunity for stunning videos and photographs. Your Oaxacan culture immersion would not be complete without a tour of a mezcal distillery, and the proud folks at Don Agave Mezcal will be happy to show your how they make their traditional spirit. In the evening you can dine with the group in an optional dinner, then why not follow your nose and your ears to a local music cafe?
The locals rise later than you might be used to, so feel free to sleep in and then enjoy a rich black coffee made with local beans. The city is full of quirky streets dedicated to different foods and crafts, like de los Dulces (candy street), for you to take in at your own pace. If you wish to learn more about the history of the regions indigenous people, why not walk the impressive Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban?
Rise early to make a 7.30 am fight to Mexico City. We should arrive before 9 am, giving you just enough time for a nap on the plane if you need it. Drop your bags and take an orientation walk around the salmon-coloured Hotel Geneve. Your luxurious lodgings have a curious history as a neutral zone during the Mexican revolution and meeting point for intellectuals and artists since opening in 1907. Later, check-in and begin exploring the city with your leader. Visit vast Zocalo Square, which has been a prominent hub since Aztec times, and listen to a cacophony of laughter, rapid fire Spanish and booming drums that characterise the busy square. The dome topped Palacio de Bellas Artes is the next attraction. Within the stark marble palace you will find walls painted by the likes of Diego Rivera.
Enjoy a free day to soak up the capital. For those who prefer to let their tastebuds lead the way, why not partake in a Mexico City Markets and Food Tour with Urban Adventures? You'll see the markets most travellers don't and savour traditional treats while learning how they are made. The Leon Trotsky and Frida Kahlo museums are two popular sights worth checking out. Trotsky, having come off second-best to Stalin in the Soviet era, was expelled and found refuge in Mexico City where he was eventually murdered, while Frida Kahlo is perhaps the most renowned Mexican artist in history. If you're seeking something more relaxed for your second last day, perhaps hop aboard a colourful boat and glide through the tree-lined canals of the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco. In the evening, head to Garibaldi square, where a mariachi band will be waiting to serenade you. Mariachi is equal parts longing and joy, and you'll get to listen to this delightful music in the centre of a popular and busy square. Enjoy a final dinner with your fellow travellers.
Today you will catch your International flight from Mexico City to Guatemala City independently. Transfer straight to the small city of Antigua in the Guatemalan central highlands, approximately an hour away. The next part of your journey begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm where you’ll meet your next tour leader and fellow travellers. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, Antigua was once the capital of Guatemala and despite a history of destructive earthquakes and the ever-present Pacaya Volcano, the incredible Spanish architecture stands strong. Afterwards, join in for the optional group dinner or head out on your own to find some Guatemalan gastronomical delights.
Leave Antigua at approximately 9 am for Panajachel. You’ll first be transferred in a private vehicle to the highlands’ Solola market (2.5 hours), where colourfully-dressed locals shop for vegetables, fruit, meat, clothing and knick-knacks. There’ll be an informal Spanish lesson on the journey for you to improve your purchasing prowess and your leader will take you on a tour of the market, just be sure to bring your camera and all your senses. From Solola, the vehicle will continue to Panajachel (30-45 minutes) and the Hotel Atitlan, a stunning hotel on the shores of Lake Atitlan. The afternoon is yours: stroll around the lake, take a dip in the pool or submerge yourself in the infinity hot tub and soak up the incredible views.
Lake Atitlan / Panajachel
Communities are scattered around Lake Atitlan and today you’ll take a boat across the water to visit Santiago, the largest of the them. Santiago remains very traditional with many villagers continuing to live a Tz’utujil lifestyle. Take a guided tour of the community and experience a naif painting workshop. Meet local artists Antonio and Angelina Coche and learn from them about your Maya 'Nahual', a local equivalent of the zodiac that assigns animal spirits based on birth date. You might even want to try painting your own symbol before heading back to Panajachel. The actual town of Panajachel is a short drive from the hotel, so this afternoon your leader will take you on a walking tour through town. Pana, as it’s known in Guatemala, is popular with tourists and you’ll have an opportunity to buy handicrafts from locals before returning to the hotel.