Mexico: Cities, Cuisine & Ruins Map
Day 1 Mexico City
Arrive in at any time. Check into our hotel and enjoy the city. Please try to arrive before 6pm for an important group meeting where you can meet the Chief Experience Officer (CEO) and the other group members.
Day 2 Mexico City
Explore one of the world's largest metropolitan areas or take an optional day trip to the famous archaeological site of Teotihuacán. Today, Mexico City is the world’s fastest-growing urban centre, offering a great variety of impressive museums and galleries as well as a wealth of architectural styles likely unequalled anywhere else in the Americas. Mexico City--or D.F., as the locals refer to it--also hosts a variety of food to complement its impressive visual style. If you prefer to get outside the city, the pyramids of Teotihuacán and the canals and gardens of Xochimilco are two good places to start. A former Aztec capital, Teotihuacán was destroyed in the struggle against Cortez and the Spanish conquistadors who followed him. You can still see some of the ruins of the great Tenochtitlán in the city centre, and a subway takes you through one of the temples. At night, you’ll have the option to witness the high-flying practitioners of “lucha libre,” Mexico’s world-famous brand of wrestling. Combatants don colourful masks and catapult themselves towards their opponents off of the ring’s ropes, employing a variety of different moves and holds to pin them to the mat for a three-count. The largely Mexican crowds are usually rowdy, making “lucha libre” an entertaining way to throw yourself head-first into the local culture.
A word of caution: Mexico City may be slightly overwhelming at first. The world’s most populous centre is a crowded, smoggy, urban place where the altitude combined with atmospheric conditions may cause irritation of eyes, nose and throat. Also be aware that the heat may affect you upon arrival, with a general sense of lethargy and/or loss of appetite. This is no cause for alarm; it is simply a reaction to the heat. Be sure to drink plenty of water (cold bottled water is available everywhere) and do not attempt too much in any given day. We prefer fan-cooled rather than air conditioned rooms to avoid having to acclimatize to the heat and humidity every time you go outside. This is also a more eco-friendly method compared to air conditioning.
Day 3 Puebla
After a short drive on one of Mexico’s comfortable and often colourful buses, we arrive in Puebla, famous for its hand-painted tiles, unique handicrafts, mouth-watering Mole Poblano and rich colonial history. Orientation walk around town upon arrival to help you get your bearings.
Puebla has managed to incorporate its colonial past with a growing and progressive modern city centre. There are enough churches and well-maintained, colonial buildings to satisfy the most ardent lover of architecture. The markets, of course, are also present for buying, browsing or photographing. If you want to get out of town, you can head to nearby Cholula, home to a massive pyramid that hosts a church at the top and is now covered by the town, to catch an impressive sunset.
Estimated Travel Time: 2 hours
Approximate Distance: 130 km
Day 4-6 Oaxaca
Arriving in Oaxaca your CEO will take you an orientation walk around town to introduce you to this fascinating city. The colourful and lively markets and the impressive Zapotec ruins of Monte Albán are just two of many reasons to visit wonderful Oaxaca. The conqueror of Mexico, Hernán Cortez, chose the Valley of Oaxaca as his personal domain in the Americas and many visitors have followed in his footsteps. Surrounded by the Sierra Madre del Sur and Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountain ranges, Oaxaca is a lovely colonial city, which has maintained not only the physical structures, but also the serenity of an era gone by.
Monte Albán, a spectacular grouping of pre-hispanic (Zapotec) mountain top temples, is just a short bus ride away, as is the Valley of Mitla with its colourful ruins and hand-loomed carpets. Stepping from the cultural to the culinary, Oaxaca is also a great area for trying out new tastes and textures. From the sublime to the exotic, the restaurants and markets around town will challenge you to one adventure after another. After all, this is the home of Mezcal (look for the unfortunate worm at the bottom), Oaxaca chocolate, cheese, and yes, even dried grasshoppers covered with chili and lime, if you are so inclined.
Estimated Travel Time: 6 hours
Approximate Distance: 320 km
On the evening of day 6 we take a night bus to Cristóbal de las Casas.
Day 7-8 San Cristóbal de las Casas
Crossing into the highlands we make our way to the colonial city of San Cristóbal de las Casas. An included orientation tour will introduce you to the city and help give you your bearings. Known for its ties to the Zapatista revolution, San Cristóbal is also an architectural and cultural wonder. We have the option to take a trip to some of the outlying villages and learn how locals combine traditional beliefs and modern religion with intriguing results. Tours go into local homes to learn about day-to-day village life—an experience which should not be missed. You can also take a horse ride in the mountains, a day trip to Sumidero Canyon or mountain biking in the local hills.
The Highlands of southwestern Mexico retain a more traditional feel. Only about 210 km (130 miles) separate the Atlantic and the Pacific, at the hot heavily jungled Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Entering the state of Chiapas, you will see and feel its uniqueness. This is the richest area of Mexico in natural resources, yet it is also home to the poorest citizens of the country. The mountains of Chiapas are the birthplace of the revolutionary Commandante Marcos and the Zapatista movement. It is also home to some of Mexico’s poorest people, the majority of whom are of pure or mixed indigenous descent.
San Crístóbal De Las Casas, the old State Capital, stands in a high mountain valley at 2110m (6921 ft). You will find fine examples of 16th century architecture, including a church whose engraved altar is solid silver, and a crown shaped fountain. The city enjoys a temperate climate and most visitors find that walking the old cobble-stoned streets is the best way to discover the city’s past and present. The city’s mountain valley setting and proximity to the jungle of the Chiapas lowlands, also allows various opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, where you will appreciate the natural scenery of the area.
Most indigenous groups in this area are members of the Tzotzil and Tzeltal groupings. Within these groups are the Tenejapans who wear black knee-length tunics, the Chamulans who wear white wool tunics and the Zinacantecos who wear multi-coloured outfits, with the ribbons on their hats signifying how many children they have. The people here are as curious about foreigners as foreigners are about them. Please respect their traditions. Dress conservatively when visiting the villages and refrain from photographing religious ceremonies, or individuals who do not wish to be photographed. Put yourself in their place before you act.
Estimated Travel Time:11 hours
Approximate Distance: 625 km
Day 9-10 Palenque
A travel day by bus through the mountains takes us to the outskirts of Palenque. We travel through the Chiapas highlands, passing spectacular Misol-Ha and Agua Azul waterfalls, considered sacred by the Maya. One of the most significant ruins in the whole Mundo Maya, Palenque is set within the lushness of the Chiapas jungle, and the colourful, riotous wildlife and profuse flora will impress you as much as the ancient structures will.
The ruins of Palenque are impressive indeed, particularly the central Temple of the Inscriptions. It was here in 1952 that a large sarcophagus was found by Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz; it contained the mummified remains of Lord Pakal, the last of the city’s great rulers.
In Palenque temples abound, with over 200 buildings of varying size and complexity. The sculptured wall panels and fantastic comb-like decorations on their still-intact roofs are undoubtedly amongst the most exquisite achievements of the Maya. The surrounding jungle growth and its bird life are as fascinating as the ruins, with toucans, macaws and the unmistakable Howler Monkeys making the park their home.
Estimated Travel Time: 6 hours
Approximate Distance: 190 km
Day 11-12 Mérida
Hit the highway with the locals crossing the States of Chiapas, Tabasco, and Campeche to Yucatan state and its capital, Mérida where you will be given an orientation walking tour. Mérida was founded in 1542 on the site of the Mayan city of Tihoo. Its centre, the Plaza Mayor (or zocalo), is green and shady and is surrounded by the twin-towered 16th Century Cathedral, City Hall, State Government Palace, and the Casa de Montejo. There are several 16th and 17th century churches scattered throughout the city, as well as some interesting museums. Mornings are the best time to visit the busy and colourful markets where you can buy traditional crafts, a good selection of Mayan replicas, or try out new and wonderful food items; nearby Calle 65 is the main shopping street.
Be sure to stroll down the Paseo de Montejo (or take a hose drawn calesa ride), lined with shops, restaurants and stately mansions dating from the late 19th century. Go see the murals at the Municipal Palace or visit the newly renovated Anthropological Museum to learn more about Mayan history. Mérida is a fascinating and beautiful city, and easy to explore on foot.
If cities aren’t your thing, escape to the beach town of Progreso and see the Dzibilchaltun ruins on the way. Mérida is also the gateway to the Mayan ruins of the Puuc Route, the most famous of which is Uxmal, which rivals Chichén Itzá in its scale and extent of excavation. Visit 3 nearby cenotes or water sink holes in the town of Cuzama, not far outside Mérida. Transportation to the cenotes is an adventure as it involves taking small wooden horse-drawn carts that runs for 9 km along old rail tracks. Enjoy a refreshing swim in the crystal clear waters of the cenotes!
Estimated Travel Time: 9 hours
Approximate Distance: 550 km
Day 13-14 Chichén Itzá/Playa del Carmen
Begin the day with an included guided tour of the beautifully restored ruins of Chichén Itzá. The city of Chichén Itzá was founded in 432 and taken over by the Toltecs in the 10th century. Today it is probably the most visited and best-restored site in the Mayan world; it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. Some of the finest examples of Mayan architecture ever excavated can be found here, including El Castillo with a balustrade of 91 steps up each of the four sides, a ball court with a grandstand and towering walls and the famous observatory. The attention to detail and fusion of architecture, science and religion within the structures and city itself will no doubt impress you.
Chichén Itzá is best known for an amazing phenomenon: during the spring and fall equinoxes, the light of the rising and setting sun projects the sun's rays into a diamond-back rattlesnake of light and shadow. The shadow forms the illusion of a snake ascending or descending the giant staircase of El Castillo, a reference to Kukulcan, the serpent-like god of the Maya.
An impressive cenote, or sinkhole, can be seen only five minutes walk from the main plaza. It’s said that ancient ceremonies of offering and sacrifice were performed here for the Mayan rain god, Chac.
Our final stop is Playa del Carmen, located on the beach just a 45-minute drive south of Cancún. The town is your last chance to enjoy some nightlife, buy last minute souvenirs and to relax and swim in the Caribbean Sea. There is also snorkelling and diving available, and long stretches of sandy beaches which are perfect for walking and relaxing after a hectic day. Just off the coast is the island of Cozumel, renowned for its world-class diving. Take the ferry from Playa del Carmen (30 to 75 minutes depending on the boat) across the turquoise waters and explore the towns and the reefs of the island. For a final dose of ruins, Tulúm is just a 45-minute drive south of Playa. Aside from its unusual late Mayan architecture, it offers possibly the most appealing setting for any ruins, as it is located on a palm-fringed, white-sand beach, where you can even go for a swim within the ancient walls.
Estimated Travel Time: 7 hours
Approximate Distance: 390 km
Day 15 Playa del Carmen
Depart at any time. Playa del Carmen is located just south of Cancún airport (45 minute drive) so you can easily head directly there without returning to Cancún.