The group flight arrives in the early evening and we transfer to our start hotel. Those on Land Only arrangements should join us at the hotel in the evening.
After a group briefing we set off for a walking tour of the historical centre of Mexico City. We will visit the largest Cathedral in Latin America and the archaeological site of Templo Mayor (where the main pyramid of the former Tenochtitlan stood - please note, entrance to this last site is not included but we will see it from the outside). In the afternoon there is an excursion to the holy city of Teotihuacan, one of the oldest known archaeological sites in Mexico, thought to have had 25,000 inhabitants in its time.
After breakfast we depart towards Oaxaca, stopping our journey after around 2 hours at the Great Pyramid of Cholula. By volume, this is the largest pyramid in the world, influenced by the Olmec, Toltec and Aztec cultures. The pyramid was covered in grass when the Spanish conquered Cholula and they built a large church on top of it - one theory about this is that they mistook the pyramid for a hill! Archaeologists have found some 8km of tunnels inside the structure - we will spend some time at this famous site to understand the history surrounding it. Our second stop will be in nearby Puebla, where we will walk around the colonial centre and see the many religious structures that it is famous for. This afternoon our journey continues for around 4.5 hours to Oaxaca City where we check into our hotel for the night, located in a central position just a few blocks from the main square.
This morning we visit the incredible pre-Columbian ruins of Monte Alban, sitting 1,315 feet up on the side of a mountain overlooking the fertile valley of Oaxaca. It is thought that the Zapotecs (also known as the 'Cloud People') began levelling the top of the mountain around 500 BC in order to build Monte Alban, a place of divine worship where rituals, sacrifices, ball games and astrological observations took place. A 30 minute drive takes us back to Oaxaca where we will spend the afternoon exploring the plazas and colourful food markets. Oaxacan cuisine is famous for its oversized tortillas, quesillo (a type of cheese in long strips wound into a ball) and of course the world-renowned mole sauce - a blend of chocolate, garlic, nuts, chilli and onions that has tantalised the nation! Mole negro chocolate sauce is the perfect accompaniment to shredded chicken heaped on a freshly cooked tortilla.
We have a short drive to Teotitlan del Valle ('Place of the Gods'), a Zapotec community that make traditional weavings in a myriad of colours. The textiles and pottery produced by the Zapotec people follow ancient traditions and have remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years - we will learn about the weaving process and see this traditional craft in action. Our journey then continues to the archaeological site of Mitla, impressive ruins surrounded by a town of the same name that was recently classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The intricately carved stone mosaic patterns found throughout the site are unique to the area. We spend some time exploring Mitla, crowned as one of the architectural wonders of Mexico, before contiuning our journey for around 4.5 hours to Tehuantepec.
We drive for 5 hours to San Cristobal de las Casas, considered to be the cultural capital of the state. We will have a city tour of the cobbled streets this afternoon, before checking into our centrally located hotel, within a short walking distance of the central plaza.
Today is a free day to explore San Cristobal de las Casas at your leisure. Undoubtedly one of the most interesting colonial towns on the itinerary with many old churches and squares amongst a lively cafe scene. It is also a major centre for the Tzotzil Indians, each group having different, colourful costumes. The extensive market has some good handicrafts for sale and plenty of interesting foodstuffs on offer! Alternatively, it's possible to take an optional boat trip through the Sumidero Canyon, or visit a traditional Mayan community in one of the villages outside San Cristobal.
We set off for Palenque today, stopping our journey after around 2 hours at the archaeological site of Tonina which is less well known than some of Mexico's other sites and as a consequence tends to have relatively few visitors. Tonina is an impressive site with two ball courts, one that is sunken and, at 60 metres long, one of the Mayan world's largest and another that has an altar where it is thought that sacrifices took place. A 2 hour drive this afternoon brings us to Palenque where we check into our hotel for the night - on the way we stop at the Agua Azul waterfalls, a beauty spot where it's possible to take a refreshing dip.
This morning we have a guided tour of the impressive Mayan site of Palenque. The jungle-covered complex is one of the most famous in Mexico and is located in the low hills of Chiapas. The pyramids, sanctuaries and temples, with their sculptured wall-panels and roofs are remarkably well preserved and are probably the finest surviving examples of Mayan buildings. This afternoon it's possible to continue exploring Palenque at your leisuire, or take an optional excursion to Misol Ha waterfall, a cascading stream pouring 120 feet into a deep pool of water below. Surrounded by lush vegetation, Misol Ha is perfect for a relaxing afternoon!
We have an early departure today to visit Yaxchilan, some 'lost' ruins that are surrounded by jungle. After a 2.5 hour drive we board fibreglass boats and travel along the Usumacinta River in order to reach Yaxchilan, hopefully giving us a chance to see some of the wildlife that frequents this region: ocasionally Howler monkeys and Red macaws can be seen. After visiting the ruins, we cross the border into Guatemala where our journey continues with a 4.5 hour drive (at times on a dirt road) to the small village of El Remate, close to tomorrow's attraction: Tikal.
Tikal is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular of all Mayan sites, surrounded by rainforest and with pyramids rising above the tree tops. We spend the morning here, in the middle of the jungle, exploring nearly 20 square miles of classic Mayan ruins. We take a tour of the city, visiting the Q complex, Main Plaza, North and Central Acropolis, Seven Temples and Mundo Perdido (Lost World). Tikal is a superb area for observing wildlife in the jungle environment and visitors regularly see Howler monkeys, Spider monkeys, toucan, Weaver birds, coatimundi and even tarantula (if you know where to look and wish to find one!). In the afternoon there will be free time to relax by Lake Peten Itza.
Today is primarily a long travel day of around 7 hours which also involves a border crossing to get to Copan in Honduras. We break our journey near Rio Dulce for lunch (not included) and to visit the former Spanish fort of Castillo de San Felipe de Lara.
Nestled in the Rio Copan Valley, the ancient city of Copan was once a major Mayan capital, the most southerly site of the Mayan empire. Copan is renowned for its striking carvings and architecture and has a huge number of sculptures making this one of the most artistic of all sites. The jungle surrounding Copan is a haven for birds and wildlife and we will also spend some time exploring the eco-park before we return to the quaint town of Copan Ruinas.
We make our way to Antigua after breakfast this morning, crossing the border back into Guatemala. The drive should take around 6 hours giving us a free afternoon in Antigua to explore the cobbled streets and numerous churches. Beyond the tiled roofs there are stunning views of the Agua and Fuego Volcanoes - it is not hard to see why Antigua is regarded as one of the most attractive cities in Latin America.
Our trip ends today in Antigua, but clients on group flights will return to Guatemala City airport in order to catch the flight home. Land Only clients are free to make onward arrangements from Antigua or can return to Guatemala City airport with the group transfer, providing that there is room.