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An exciting and varied journey through the ancient heartland of the Aztecs, Zapotecs and the Maya. Discover many ancient sites including Palenque and Tikal, as well as travelling through charming colonial towns and the jungles of Guatemala, trying tacos and tequila along the way. Some departures have been set to coincide with Mexico's Day of the Dead Festival.
Explore Tour Leader
13 nights comfortable hotel
1 nights simple lodge
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
Arrive in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico and truly the heart and soul of the country. With so much rich history to discover, the city is filled with historic buildings, landmarks and the largest number of museums in the world.
Due to the number of evening flights into the international airport, your Leader plans to do the welcome meeting on the morning of day two, and will leave a message in reception with details on timings and everything else that you'll need for the day. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive into Mexico City at any time. If you would like to receive an airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Mexico City International Airport (MEX) which is approximately a 30 minute to one hour drive from the hotel.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to have a stroll around Alameda Central, Mexico City's oldest municipal park, or visit the Templo Mayor Museum, which is known for its exhibits relating to the Aztec civilization.
Hotel Regente (or similar)
On our first day in Mexico City we'll be exploring like a local, on foot and by public transport. The Zocalo is the beating heart of the city; the main square that has been a cornerstone in public gatherings since the ancient times. We'll walk down to the centre from the hotel, taking a trip to a local pasteleria en route to try some traditonal sweet bread. The National Palace is located on the east side of the square - the President lives here as his permanent residence, so we'll take a look at it from the outside, along with the grand metropolitan cathedral. The Zocalo also gives us our first taste of Mexico's wealth of ancient history - the remains of the ancient Aztec Templo Mayor were discovered here and are still well preserved, right in the downtown of the city.
From the area around the central Zocalo, we take public transport to the enormous Chapultepec Park, Mexico City's main green space, and walk through to the National Anthropology Museum. One of the finest museums in the world, its exhibits offer a taste of the history ahead of us.
Our city tour ends here at the museum. Opt to stay here longer, or return together with your Tour Leader.
Today's walk in the city may reach approximately 10km including the time at the museum.
Our destination today is the mysterious pyramids of Teotihuacan. En route, we will visit the Basilica de Guadalupe - an important pilgrimage site for Mexicans, with a miraculous story behind it that our Tour Leader will recount. Continuing to Teotihuacan, we enter into this complex of ruins that were abandoned thirteen centuries ago. Once the largest city in the Americas with perhaps 100,000 inhabitants, its influence continued through Middle America, and Maya craftsmen borrowed its decorative motifs and building designs. Centuries later the Aztecs revered Teotihuacan as 'the Place of the Gods'. We'll have lunch nearby (not included), and we may have the chance to see some of the ancient uses of agave and obsidian in a workshop and craft shop nearby. We'll return to Mexico City in the late afternoon. If you wish, you may like the chance to climb the Torre Latinoamericana this evening - one of the tallest buildings in the city, with a panoramic viewing platform that gives fantastic views across the downtown and beyond.
Leaving the capital we drive south through cactus country to Oaxaca, one of the most charming colonial cities in Mexico. Our drive time will be approximately 8 hours, including several stops. During the latter half of the drive we'll have some beautiful views of the Sierra Madre mountains, and the cactus-covered landscape. Arriving in the late afternoon we will have an orientation tour of the city with our Tour Leader. It's a captivating place, where the historical centre seems alive with people at all times of day. The pedestrian street that leads up to the ornate Santo Domingo church is lined with shops, cafes, small artisanal markets and restaurants, while the Zocalo attracts families, street vendors and entertainers in the evening, with terrace restaurants and bars looking over the hubbub.
Casantica Hotel (or similar)
As with many of the colonial cities in Mexico, Oaxaca was built in the 1500s with stones taken from ancient civilisations in the close surroundings. Today we'll visit Monte Alban, the most important site in the Oaxaca area, built by the Zapotec people who flourished here over 1,500 years ago. This impressive complex of temples, pyramids and enigmatic rock carvings was built literally on top of a hill, which means that there will be some hill walking and steps to conquer in the site today. The incredible views over the Sierra Madre and the fertile valley are well worth the effort. Unlike sites like Teotihuacan, Monte Alban was lived in until the arrival of the conquistadors, as the Mixtec civilisation took over from the Zapotecs and continued its use.
This afternoon we have free time at leisure in Oaxaca. The historic centre is simply a beautiful little place to wander, soak in the colourful buildings and the atmosphere in the many markets (both food markets and craft markets), or to visit one of the museums. The Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca, next to the Santo Domingo Church, is one of the best in town, hosting some of the exquisite treasures of Monte Alban within the building of an ex-Convent (opening hours vary over public holidays).
It's a long journey today, through the winding roads of the mountainous Sierra Madre range, making several interesting stops en route. Our first port of call is close to Oaxaca - the 2000-year old swamp cypress tree in Santa Maria del Tule, which, at 54 metres in circumference, has the stoutest trunk of any in the world. We continue to the small town of Teotitlan del Valle, a region where the Zapotec language is spoken more commonly than Spanish. Here the people have been weavers since the ancient times, and we should be able to see how this fine work is created, as well as getting an understanding how natural colours are achieved from the plants that they have around them.
Our next short stop is at the ancient Mixtec site of Mitla, where we will have a short exploration of these ruins. The largest part of the drive is ahead of us, with our destination this evening being the hot and windy isthmus of Tehuantepec, a convenient stopping point on our journey towards San Cristobal. The journey today will take approximately 10 hours including stops.
Hotel Calli (or similar)
Leaving early this morning we have a roughly 5 hour drive to Cahuare, the starting point for our visit to the spectacular Sumidero Canyon, a unique rift 41km long and up to 1000mts deep, cut by the Rio Grijalva. This is the spot where, in the 16th century, some 1000 Chiapa indigenous people committed suicide rather than submit to Spanish rule. We take a trip on a speed boat to fully appreciate the towering gorge, before driving up a scenic mountain road to San Cristóbal de las Casas. At 2210m above sea level, it can get cold at night, a sharp contrast to the heat of Tehuantepec.
Hotel Arrecife (or similar)
There is a unique atmosphere to the small colonial town of San Cristobal, high in the scenic Chiapas range. The indigenous groups from the surrounding hills fill the town and marketplace with their colourful dress including the distinctive Tzotzil community who still retain much of their Mayan customs and language. We will be visiting San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan, indigenous villages close to San Cristobal that practice an interesting blend of Catholicism and traditional Maya beliefs. This area is noted for the bright textiles and weavings in bold designs, and when we return to San Cristobal we'll have the afternoon free - you may like to bargain for some colourful souvenirs here.
Much like Oaxaca, San Cristobal is a charming town to explore on foot and has its fair share of museums on a variety of themes. The Na Bolom, House of the Jaguar, is dedicated to the preservation of the Lacandón tribe and displays many of their artefacts, while the Textiles Centre is a superb showcase of the weaving traditions found both in Chiapas as well as the rest of Mexico and Central America. There are also museums dedicated to amber and jade, that not only display historical pieces, but also give an understanding of the importance of these materials to the ancient civilisations.
Leaving the highlands, we have a long driving day ahead of us, approximately 8 hours plus stops. The road is slow and winding, but there are scenic views as we descend to the jungles of Palenque. We'll be driving via the town of Villahermosa, where we stop for lunch. We'll also take a stop at the waterfalls of Agua Blanca, which tumble over a series of limestone hills, before continuing on to our hotel.
Hotel Maya Tulipanes (or similar)
One of the highlights of our tour is today's guided visit to the famous jungle ruins of Palenque, a fascinating and important Mayan site. Once the choking forest was cleared, the ruins revealed the tomb of the high priest Pakal, his body adorned with a marvellous jade death mask - one of the most prized relics of the Maya culture, discovered only in 1952. The entire site, shrouded by the steamy rainforest, has an aura of deep mystery. During the afternoon you can continue to explore the site, or take a bus back to the waterfall of Misol Ha for a refreshing swim (optional). The stunning 30m high waterfall was featured in the titles of the movie 'Predator'.
Today we drive to Frontera Corozal on the border of Mexico and Guatemala. From the lodge we board our lancha (river boat) on the Ucumacinta River and head for the remote site of Yaxchilan, only accessible by boat and famous for its stelae and roof combs. The boat trip itself is a beautiful 40-minute journey, past banana plantations and through rainforest. After exploring the site we return by boat to our simple overnight lodge. The accommodation is a series of cabins with thatched roofs, en suite bathrooms and hanging mosquito nets; a no frills experience but perfect for visiting Yaxchilan and crossing the Guatemalan border. Listen out for the howler monkeys in the early hours of the morning.
Escudo Jaguar (or similar)
Our Maya rainforest experience continues up river by boat to the small settlement of Bethel, where we pass through Guatemalan customs formalities before progressing by road for approximately four hours to Flores, on Lake Peten Itza. The small island is colourful, beautifully picturesque and very laid back. You can while away the afternoon with a walk around the brightly coloured houses or people-watching in one of the cafes or restaurants. You may also like to take a boat trip on the lake itself, which can be done over sunset.
Hotel Casona de la Isla (or similar)
Today we visit Tikal, the great Maya metropolis set in the midst of the rainforest, which can justly be compared with the celebrated ancient cities of Egypt and Greece. Initially settled in about 600BC, Tikal was abandoned by its rulers around 890AD and totally deserted a hundred years later. The city covered an area of 16 square kilometres. Re-discovered in 1848, only a few of its great temples and pyramids have been excavated. The site is extensive, so we include a guided tour in the morning followed by free time to let you explore. We can appreciate the prolific birdlife in the surrounding rainforest and take in amazing views of the forest canopy from the tops of the pyramids. We drive back to Flores at around 3.30pm.
Today we drive over the border to San Ignacio in Belize, visiting the little known site of Xunantunich en route, with its fantastic array of pyramids and temples. We make our way to our hotel, where the rest of the afternoon is at our leisure. If you still have room for one more Mayan site, the ruins of Cahal Pech are worth a visit, high up on a hill near the centre of San Ignacio town. Alternatively, walk into the town and check out the lively local market (not Sundays).
Midas Resort (or similar)
Departing San Ignacio this morning we drive to Belize's Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport (airport code: BZE), where we will arrive at about 10am and this is where our trip ends. The earliest your flight can depart is 12.30pm.
This trip combines with our Contrasts of Mexico + Yucatan Extension trip. If you'd like to spend a further week travelling on the idyllic island of Caye Caulker, and through into Mexico's Yucatan with visits to a cenote, Lake Bacalar, and Mayan sites including Tulum and Chichen Itza, please find this trip available on our website.
Sub-tropical with a brisk prevailing wind from the Caribbean. Summer highs are rarely above 35°C, winter lows rarely below 15°C. Annual rainfall ranges from 107cm in the north to 364cm in the south and humidity can be high at any time of year. The rainy season extends from June through October with a short dry period in August, but some rain can be expected throughout the year.
2 Pin Flat
In the high plains (1524m-1981m) the climate is temperate all year round. In lower areas the climate is semi-tropical. The mountains can be cool especially at night. In general, the dry season in Guatemala lasts from Nov - April. From May to October there are often fine mornings and clear evenings but afternoon rains tend to be heavy. The Peten lowlands tend to be rainy all year round though less so from February to April.
Catholic and Protestant
Mexico is a vast country whose weather varies by season and region. The optimum time to travel is generally between December and April when rainfall is at a minimum. Temperatures are coolest between December and February and temperatures start to rise from March and the hottest months are May, June and July. The rainy season runs from May until October when humidity and temperatures are highest. The rains tend to be intense and short, clearing the humidity before building up again. The Caribbean coast can be affected by hurricane season between June and November. Please bear in mind that at altitude the temperatures can drop considerably at night and sudden changes can occur at any time.
Roman Catholic, Protestant
Spanish is the official language, but around 50 languages/dialects are also spoken by the indigenous peoples of Mexico.
Mexico City - Ballet Folklorico - US$70-120; Oaxaca - Museum of Cultures US$6 San Cristobal - Na Bolom US$5 Palenque - Misol Ha waterfall US$20 Flores - Boat trip on Lake Peten Itza US$ 25 (min 5 pers); Tikal Canopy zip wire US$50
In most locations, weather will range from warm in the highlands to very hot and humid in the jungles and as you get towards Guatemala and Belize. We therefore recommend light and cool layers throughout, and lightweight raingear for any time of year. In general, winter is dry and summer wet and hot. Temperatures in the highlands, can drop dramatically at night during the winter months, particularly in San Cristobal. Pack a warm layer, and warm sleeping clothes for hotels in this location. Note that Mexico is very religious, and occasionally shorts are not permitted when visiting churches.
Closed shoes are essential for visiting the ancient sites. Walking shoes or trainers with a good grip are both suitable, and a pair of sandals for your free time.
One main piece of baggage and a daysack. Remember - you are expected to carry your own luggage so don't overload yourself. Please note that luggage may be stored on a roof rack in both Guatemala and the Yucatan (for those on the extension) and you must be able to lift it.
An umbrella is useful for tropical downpours. A torch and waterbottle are recommended. Bring insect repellent, sunscreen and a sunhat. You may also wish to bring a small microfibre towel if you choose to swim in the waterfalls of Misol Ha.
During this trip we use a series of comfortable hotels, perfect for exploring Mexico's natural and archeological treasures (please read on for information about the Premium departure). We have one night at simple accommodation near Frontera Corozal. Amenities are basic but perfectly adequate for one night, particularly as a way to get to the Yaxchilan ruins and across the Guatemalan border. Cabins have ensuite bathrooms, mosquito nets, fans, and the hotel overlooks the river, giving us good access to the boats that take us to the Yaxchilan ruins. We also use some lovely colonial properties during the tour. These are traditional buildings, typically centred around a large internal courtyard and bordered on three sides in a terrace. Most rooms in these historic buildings do not have external-facing windows, and any windows will therefore open into interior parts of the hotel. Its worth noting that the hotels in the highlands of San Cristobal can be extremely cold at night. If you're prone to the cold we recommend packing a layer to wear under your pyjamas here, particularly if you're travelling in autumn or winter. On our premium accommodation Day of the Dead departure, we switch out our simple and many of the comfortable hotels for premium-graded properties. The tour is currently a hybrid of premium and comfortable-graded properties, and this allows us to offer more Day of the Dead departures by selecting higher quality properties in key spots such as Oaxaca and Mexico City. The key difference in the itinerary between our Premium tour and the standard trip is that on the Premium tour we stay directly in Tikal, at the Tikal Jungle Lodge. While this is a comfortable graded hotel, it is right next to the site of Tikal, giving us more possibilities to visit at dawn or sunset. On the standard trip we stay in nearby Flores.
Can you drink the water?
The water quality is poor and therefore it is recommended to avoid drinking tap water during your trip.
We strongly recommend that you check your government's travel advisory for up-to-date information and advice about your destination: safety and security, entry requirements, health, local laws and customs. For UK citizens, check the latest Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advice.
Please refer to our COVID-19 entry requirements page for any country-specific conditions of entry. Whilst we strive to update this on a regular basis we recommend you also check the FCDO website for the latest advice on entry requirements in this fast-evolving situation. Information can change at any time.
Please note that some countries require proof of parental consent when travelling overseas with under 18s. Please check requirements with the relevant embassy or consular office well in advance of travel if this applies to your party.
Once your booking has been confirmed we guarantee the price will not increase, whatever the circumstances. However, please note that if you voluntarily make any changes to your booking including changing your trip or departure date, any additional costs or charges incurred will not be covered. Before booking please ensure you have read our important tour pricing information.Booking Conditions
Mexico: Citizens from UK, New Zealand, Australia, New Zealand, US and Canada require a Mexican Tourist Card to enter. This is obtained on arrival if flying into Mexico City Benito Juarez Airport or Cancun International. Some airlines may give this to you at the check-in desk. Once you receive the tourist card you must keep this on you until you exit Mexico. If entering by another port - you will have to apply for this in advance online - website - https://www.inm.gob.mx/fmme/publico/en/solicitud.html. Other nationalities should consult the relevant consulate. All visa information is subject to change. You should confirm all visa related issues with the relevant Embassy prior to departure. Guatemala: Visas are not required for UK, New Zealand, Australian, US and Canadian citizens. Belize: Visas are not required for UK, New Zealand, Australian, US and Canadian citizens. Other nationalities should consult the relevant consulate. USA: If your flights pass through the USA, even if only in transit, you will require either a visa or an ESTA (an e-visa). Please read on for more information. Citizens of the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and passport holders from several EU countries can apply for an ESTA under certain conditions. This applies if you enter the country by sea or by air, and this must be done online via https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov, no later than 72 hours prior to travel. Travellers who have not registered before their trip are likely be refused boarding. You must have a biometric passport to apply for an ESTA. UK passports which are biometric feature a small gold symbol (camera) at the bottom of the front cover. If you have visited Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen since 2011 or are dual nationals of these countries, you cannot travel with an ESTA and instead you will need to apply for a visa from the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. If you are unable to provide a valid visa before boarding flights to the US, or entering via another method, you may not be permitted to travel. You should also be aware that if you have travelled to or have been in Cuba since the 12th of January 2021, you will not be eligible for an ESTA visa waiver and will need to apply for a US visa. You should consult the US State Department website to determine which you will need. Your ESTA application will ask for Point of Contact information. Please note that if you're only transiting through the USA then this is not required. If you're visiting or staying in the USA on an Explore trip, then our USA contact information will be listed on your final documentation which you will receive approximately 3-4 weeks before departure. Entry requirements for the USA can change regularly, therefore, please ensure you have the most up to date information before you travel by checking the US embassy website. Visa applications - http://london.usembassy.gov/niv/apply.html Canada: An electronic travel authorisation (ETA) is required by British citizens transiting via Canada. For more information see the official Canadian government website: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta.asp Other nationalities should consult their local embassy or consular office
If you do require assistance in obtaining a visa then you may be able to apply through Explore's recommended visa service in the UK, Travcour. See www.travcour.com to download the relevant visa application for your trip, if applicable (UK citizens only), along with details of how to apply for your visa through Travcour. The Team at Travcour will be happy to answer specific questions relating to visa applications, please call them directly on 0208 5431846.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of a full passport, with the correct validity for your chosen destination.
Before booking your Explore trip, please ensure that you read both our Essential Information and Booking Conditions.
Customers who have chosen to book on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements of our tour, please ensure that you have checked your tour specific ‘Joining Instructions’ prior to booking your own travel arrangements. Your joining instructions can be found below in the dates and prices information.
You may also be eligible for the Free Explore Transfer.
Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
The exception to this rule is customers who are booked on a tour where the joining and ending point is at the designated airport or train station.
Free transfers are not available for Polar customers.
If you are not eligible for the Free Transfer then you will need to make your own way through to the joining and ending point. On a majority of our tours Explore will be able to provide a private transfer at an additional cost. Please ask for a quote at the time of booking.
For more information regarding the Explore Free Transfer click here
It is a condition of booking with Explore that you have adequate valid travel insurance. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate travel insurance and ensure you have read and understood the full terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on the tour, including all optional activities. Your Insurance Policy must fully cover you for medical expenses and emergency repatriation to your home country. Please ensure your policy includes medical emergency helicopter evacuation in the event of illness or injury and covers the entire duration of your holiday. If you are trekking at altitude please ensure that there is no upper altitude limit which may limit or exclude cover for your trip. The cost of many of our Polar Voyages will exceed the capped amount covered by standard insurance premiums and you will be required to pay an additional premium to cover the full value of your trip. Please ensure that you are covered for the full amount of your holiday cost, as insufficient cover could invalidate a claim under the policy. Medical and repatriation insurance cover is not mandatory for UK residents who are travelling on trips within the United Kingdom.
Read more information about what travel insurance is required.
Explore offers a wide range of flexible flying options to make joining and leaving our trips easy. Read more about them here.
You are able to book this tour on a 'land only' basis or as a ‘flight inclusive’ package. Your flight inclusive package will be fully protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ATOL protection scheme.
We have a good selection of flights not only from London but from many regional airports around the UK allowing us to compare fares between scheduled carriers as well as low cost and charter airlines. Our dedicated flights team will match the best flight options to your arrival and departure airport.
On our website we display a UK flight inclusive package guide price which is generally based on a London departure. To avoid paying supplements or to secure your preferred flight option, we recommend booking as early as possible, especially for peak travel dates.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against typhoid, tetanus, TB, infectious hepatitis and polio. Please consult your travel clinic for the latest advice on Malaria, Dengue and Zika Virus. Please take preventative measures to avoid mosquito bites - these include mosquito repellent as well as long trousers and long sleeve shirts to cover up when necessary. Please note many countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean require a yellow fever vaccination certificates if travelling from infected areas. A detailed list of these countries can be found on the NaTHNaC website - http://travelhealthpro.org.uk/countries. Also on the NaTHNaC site there is a list of Countries (and specific areas within a country) which are at risk of infection and a vaccination is therefore recommended. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against typhoid, infectious hepatitis and polio. Please consult your travel clinic for the latest advice on Malaria, Dengue and Zika Virus. Please take preventative measures to avoid mosquito bites - these include mosquito repellent as well as long trousers and long sleeve shirts to cover up when necessary. Please note many countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean require a yellow fever vaccination certificates if travelling from infected areas. A detailed list of these countries can be found on the NaTHNaC website - http://travelhealthpro.org.uk/countries. Also on the NaTHNaC site there is a list of Countries (and specific areas within a country) which are at risk of infection and a vaccination is therefore recommended. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.
Nothing compulsory, but we recommend protection against typhoid, tetanus, infectious hepatitis and polio. Please consult your travel clinic for the latest advice on Malaria, Dengue and Zika Virus. Please take preventative measures to avoid mosquito bites - these include mosquito repellent as well as long trousers and long sleeve shirts to cover up when necessary. Please note many countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean require a yellow fever vaccination certificates if travelling from infected areas. A detailed list of these countries can be found on the NaTHNaC website - http://travelhealthpro.org.uk/countries. Also on the NaTHNaC site there is a list of Countries (and specific areas within a country) which are at risk of infection and a vaccination is therefore recommended. Please check the latest requirements with your travel clinic or doctor prior to departure. The above is not an exhaustive list. Further information regarding vaccinations and travel health advice can be found by following the NHS and NaTHNaC links at Explore Travel Health and from your local healthcare provider. Visa and vaccination requirements are subject to change and should be confirmed by you before travelling.