An Aztec Adventure
Duration: 15 Days
Start: Mexico City
Finish: Playa del Carmen
Travel through vivacious Mexico from Mexico City to Playa Del Carmen
Discover the heart of Mexico's Aztec, Zapotec, Mayan and Spanish cultures on this two-week journey spanning ruins, pueblos and beaches. Arrive in Mexico and travel through the mad metropolis of Mexico City to the relaxed beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula, and unravel the magnificent mystery of the ancient Mexican civilisations along the way. With plenty of opportunities for swimming, snorkelling and hiking, this is the ideal introduction to one of Latin America's most colourful and exciting destinations.
Why you'll love this trip
You've never seen true colour until you've been to a Mexican market. Practice your bargaining skills, snap some photos and pick up traditional handicrafts at the markets in multiple destinations
Eat your way through arty Oaxaca. Mole, mezcal and chocolate for dinner? Delicioso!
Escape the Mexican heat in San Cristobal de las Casas. This old-world town is surrounded by ancient tribal villages that have retained their traditional customs and roots
Discover the colonial history of charming Merida. Loaf around in leafy plazas, get cultural at a museum or work your salsa shimmy with a friendly local
Chichen Itza is one the New Seven Wonders of the World. It's not hard to see why - strolling around the ancient Mayan ruins feels pretty wondrous
Splash around, sun-bake and play on Playa del Carmen's white sandy beaches
Is this trip right for you?
This trip involves some long days of travel by local transport, including two overnight buses. While this can be tiring, it's also a fantastic way to rub shoulders with the locals and get under the skin of a place.
Mexico's climate is sultry and tropical, so can get really hot and humid. Wear loose clothing and make sure stay hydrated, especially while out on walking tours.
Day 1: Mexico City
Bienvenidos a Mexico City! Welcome to Mexico City!
Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm today. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be checking your passport details, insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting. 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).
Modern meets ancient in Mexico City - one of the world's largest urban centres. Although crowded and smoggy, D.F. (Distrito Federal) offers a great variety of museums, galleries and architecture, along with exciting nightlife and delicious street food. If you arrive into the city early, head to the Zocalo, the city's huge central square, to see Aztec ruins and colonial architecture. Perhaps relax in one of the many parks, plazas or gardens or take an Urban Adventure with an expert local guide.
Day 2: Mexico City
This morning your leader will take you on an orientation walk to point out places of interest nearby the hotel and facilities such as the metro station and ATMs. The rest of the day is free for you to explore. If you like art, the Frida Kahlo Museum is a must-see. Another fascinating activities is a boat tour through the canal district of Xochimilco.
Alternatively, you can choose to take an optional day trip to the archaeological ruins of Teotihuacan, 50 kilometres out of the city. A local guide will lead you down 'The Avenue of the Dead', pointing out the historic Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. You'll also visit the religious landmark of the Virgen de Guadalupe.
- Mexico City - Orientation walk
Day 3: Puebla
This morning and most of the afternoon are free to continue exploring Mexico City. Later in the afternoon, take taxis to the bus station and catch a local bus to Puebla (approx 2.5 hours). Please make sure you bring bottled water and snacks for the journey. Local buses in Mexico aren’t the colourful school buses you’ll see in other areas of Central America. Most of the buses we use in Mexico are comfortable coach-style vehicles, with a bathroom and seats for all passengers. Local buses tend to blast the air conditioning so remember to pack a jacket in case you get cold.
On arrival, your leader will take you out to orient yourself around the hotel for the further exploration the next day. At some point tonight or tomorrow your leader will run over some common Spanish phrases and words to set you up for the trip ahead.
- Puebla - Orientation walk
- Informal Spanish Lesson
Day 4: Puebla
Today is free to discover Puebla at your leisure. Although a rapidly growing city, Puebla features many well-maintained colonial churches and buildings. Two good examples are the Santa Domingo Church and Rosary Chapel. Head to the markets to brush up on your bargaining skills and pick up some hand-painted tiles or other handicrafts. If you're looking for something outside of the city, perhaps take the train to Cholula town to visit the Great Pyramid. After a day sightseeing and shopping, why not try some mole Poblano, a dish native to Puebla and famous all over Mexico? You could even try making it yourself during an optional cooking class.
Day 5: Oaxaca
Today travel by local bus to Oaxaca (approx five hours). You'll have two full free days here. Your leader will provide ideas for activities and help you to make the most of your time. As usual, start with an orientation walk.
A beautiful old colonial town, Oaxaca is full of graceful arcades and colourful markets. The markets are populated by descendents of the Zapotec and Mixtec Indians selling colourful woven blankets and shawls. Oaxaca is also known for its arts scene, including folk art, fine art and dance. Explore the narrow, cobbled streets or simply sit in the square drinking mezcal as the world goes by. Your hotel is within walking distance of Oaxaca's nightlife hot spots.
- Oaxaca - Orientation walk
Day 6: Oaxaca
Today, perhaps visit the spectacular mountain top temples of Monte Alban just outside the city. Monte Alban was inhabited for 1,500 years by the Olmec, Zapotec and Mixtec peoples, and is an outstanding example of a pre-Columbian ceremonial centre. The settlement's terraces, dams, canals and pyramids were literally carved out of the mountain. Alternatively, you could take a day tour out to the nearby Mitla Ruins, the mineral springs of Hierve el Agua and a mezcal distillery. Back in town, why not whip up something delicious at a cooking class?
Today, take the chance to do whatever optional activity you couldn't fit in yesterday or perhaps simply stroll the streets and people watch at a local cafe.
In the evening, take a first-class overnight bus to San Cristobal del las Casas (approx 13 hours in total). First-class buses in Mexico are quite comfortable. They are equipped with toilets and reclining seats with plenty of leg room. They are always air-conditioned, so make sure you take a light jumper with you as it may get cold on board. While the bus is very comfortable, the road from Oaxaca to San Cristobal has some very winding sections. If you suffer from motion sickness, this will be a good time to have your medication ready.
Arrive into San Cristobal early in the morning. Check-in at the hotel isn't usually until midday, so if you can't check in on arrival, leave your luggage and start exploring San Cristobal. Start with an orientation tour so you have a head start on where the most important facilities are located.
Today and tomorrow are at your leisure. As always, your group leader will help you arrange to take part in optional activities. With its winding cobblestone streets and colonial architecture, San Cristobal de las Casas maintains an old-world feel mixed with strong pre-hispanic roots.
- San Cristobal de las Casas - Orientation walk
The surrounding villages are home to Tzotzil and Tzeltal groups who maintain their tribal origins through their traditional costumes and customs. You might like to explore the villages by mountain bike. If you take a day trip to San Juan Chamula, make sure to visit the church. The floor is covered with pine needles and the air is heavy with incense. Shamans come here to carry out cleansings with firewater, ancient prayer and chickens. If you visit, please be aware of a strict ban on cameras as the local people maintain their traditional customs. There are also markets selling colourful handicrafts. Another option is a day trip to Sumidero Canyon. Back in town, wander to a local cafe and try an 'elote', a traditional highland corn snack.
Today travel along a windy road by private minivan to Palenque (approx 6 hours). Once you've arrived, the afternoon is free for you to relax or explore. Situated in hot jungle, Palenque is the jumping off point to the nearby Mayan ruins of the same name. You'll have tomorrow to check them out.
Today you have the chance to visit the ruins of Palenque. Situated on a hilltop, the ruins date back to 600 AD and are some of the most impressive Mayan relics in Mexico. As you walk among the temples (closed-toe shoes recommended), listen out for the eerie calls of howler monkeys echoing from the jungle. There are many ruins which are still un-excavated and remain hidden in the forest. You can opt to take a guided tour of the ruins or through the surrounding jungle. This evening, transfer to the bus station and board an overnight bus to Merida. The journey should take around eight to nine hours in total.
- Palenque - Palenque Ruins (Entrance only)
Early this morning arrive into the historic town of Merida. Founded in 1542, Merida still retains much of its old-world charm. After your orientation walk around the hotel, wander through the Old Town, check out some museums 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 others. For a taste of Merida's 19th-century glory, go for a walk along the mansion-lined Paseo de Montejo. Mornings are the best time to visit the outdoor markets, where you can stock up on hammocks and Mayan replicas. This is also a great place to sample local food specialities, such as 'cochinita pibil' or the extremely spicy El Yucateco hot sauce.
- Merida - Orientation walk
Merida is the gateway to the Maya ruins of Uxmal. Today perhaps choose to take a tour of the ruins which includes transport and a local guide. Little is known about the site's origins but it is thought the city was founded around 500 AD. Much of the site is decorated with masks of the rain god Chac. You can also visit a nearby bird sanctuary or a variety of other ruins. Merida's locals love dancing. Every Sunday the town's streets are transformed into an open-air dance floor, with salsa and merengue bands providing the music.
Travel to Playa del Carmen by private minivan, stopping en route for an included visit to the Maya ruins of Chichen Itza (this first leg will take about two hours). Recently named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza contains both Toltec and Mayan ruins lying alongside each other. The famous El Castillo pyramid dominates the site. There is also a large ball court where games used to be held. Nearby, excavations of the Well of Sacrifice offered up treasures of jade, copper and gold as well as many human and animal bones. The group will spend 2-3 hours at Chichen Itza before continuing on to Playa (approx three hours). Blessed with azure waters, powdery beaches and a European feel, Playa del Carmen is a resort city close to Cancun also with a party atmosphere. After your quick and easy orienation walk, pick a place to kick back with a margarita and watch the sunset.
- Chichen Itza Ruins - Entrance Fee
- Playa del Carmen - Orientation walk
Your adventure ends today. There are no activities planned for the final day.
If you are lucky enough to have the time to spend a couple of extra nights in Playa del Carmen, use your time snorkelling in fresh water rock pools (called Cenotes), strolling along the white sands or for an adventure further afield, take a ferry across to Cozumel, an island famous for its reef diving. Perhaps take an Urban Adventure with an expert local guide.