Great pyramid in Chichén Itzá
Great pyramid in Chichén Itzá

Maya Mexico: Secrets of the Yucatan


14 days From $5,890

December 7 2019

Why, after reaching the peak of their power in the 6th century AD (the ‘Classic’ period), did the great Maya city-states of Mesoamerica fade into dramatic decline, leaving most of their huge stone cities abandoned by AD 900?

A definitive answer remains elusive, despite extensive excavations that have exposed the sites of towering Maya ruins whose temples and palaces (many in distinctive stepped pyramid shape and enhanced by elaborate reliefs and inscriptions) bear evidence of ritual human sacrifice. Although the unique Maya civilization is long gone, its pervasive influence remains embedded here in the landscapes and lifestyles of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.

With extensive exploration of the forested northern lowlands our tour will attempt to unravel some of these many enigmas, introducing you to the Maya skills in hieroglyphic writing, architecture, mathematics, astronomy – and more! We’ll discover some of the Classic period’s finest architecture at Palenque and Yaxchilán (perhaps the grandest cities of the era), Uxmal and Chichén Itzá (among the last to suffer decline), as well as visiting other lesser-known but equally impressive sites. We end in the southern highland town of San Cristóbal de las Casas, renowned for its lovely colonial buildings, poignant reminders of the impact of Spanish invasion upon the Maya world.

What's included?

  •  Expert Scholar & Tour Manager
  •  Accommodation
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary
  •  Local Transport
  •  Entries & Tips
Book Now $5,890
Includes deposit: $500 Single supplement: $1,150

Tour highlights:

  • Wander through atmospheric ancient ruins, including those of vast Calakmul, lost in thick jungle and known as the ‘Kingdom of the Snake’
  • Relax on a memorable river trip on the Río Usumacinta, amid tree-forest draped with vines and orchids
  • Discover amazing Uxmal, the Yucatan peninsula’s most spectacular ancient Maya city
  • Look out for colorful parrots and macaws flying overhead and monkeys scampering through the trees of the nature reserves through which we pass
  • Explore the archaeological site of Chichén Itzá, one of the largest Maya cities and one of the most visited in Mexico today

Tour details

Dates December 07 2019 - December 20 2019
Duration 14 days
Cost $5,890
Single supplement: $1,150
Deposit: $500 , balance due by 14 September 2019
Activity Level Easy-Going
Tour code A19MEX

Book Now or call 866-740-5130 if you have any questions

December 7 2019: Itinerary

We arrive in the seaside city of Cancún, a place known to its Mayan inhabitants as Nizuc – a word which translates to “promontory” or “point of grass”. These days the area is famed for its sandy beaches and azure seas. There is time to explore or relax in the city this afternoon. Tonight, we will come together as a group for our first night’s dinner, the perfect opportunity to get to know each other.

Meals include: Dinner

Hotel: Presidente Intercontinental, Cancún

Our second day begins with a trip to the Museo Maya de Cancún. This brilliant museum holds a priceless collection of Yucatán artifacts, including ceramics and jewelry, as well as exhibits on the modern-day Maya community. From here we head to the ruins of Ek Balam, a once flourishing Maya kingdom swathed in jungle, where we find a selection of stelae and reliefs, as well as a towering acropolis. As the day draws to a close we arrive at our hotel near Chichén Itzá where we have dinner.

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel Mayaland, Chichén

We divide one of the world’s greatest wonders into New Chichén and Old Chichén today, for a fully immersive encounter with this remarkably well-preserved Mayan complex. This morning it’s in with the new, as we tour buildings dating from the Toltec period of AD 1000-1200, while the afternoon sees us exploring the older Classic structures. Together we wander skull-carved platforms, admire iconic pyramids, peer into the sacred cenote, and listen to tales of Chichén Itzá’s thrilling, extensive, and sometimes bloody past.

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel Hacienda, Uxmal

Following breakfast we venture into the jungle for a full day’s encounter with Uxmal, a late-Mayan World Heritage site famed for its Temple of the Magician, an imposing yet graceful structure with an origin story shrouded in mystery. At the height of its influence, Uxmal was home to around 25,000 inhabitants. It was also allied with Chichén Itzá, making it the most powerful site in all of western Yucatán. Here we discover a host of pre-Hispanic ruins, carefully laid out in accordance with astronomical phenomena. Don’t miss the House of Turtles or the beautifully-carved Governor’s Palace.

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel Hacienda, Uxmal

This morning we pay a visit to Kabah, best known for its Palace of the Masks, a structure decorated with masks of the rain god Chaac. Though the site was inhabited as far back as the 3rd century BC, the buildings here date mainly from the 9th century AD. After lunch we make our way to Labna, a Mesoamerican ceremonial center situated in the forests of the Puuc hills. More carvings of the hook-nosed god Chaac can be found here, along with the remains of both a two-storey palace and a decorated archway. Later today we drive to Campeche, a city founded by the Spanish in AD 1540.

All meals included

Hotel: Gamma de Fiesta Inn, Campeche

We spend the morning at Campeche’s Archaeological Museum. Located in an 18th-century fortress beside the Gulf of Mexico, within the museum’s majestic walls we discover an array of discoveries from regional excavations, and relics from Calakmul, including two impressive jade death masks. We bid farewell to the city and make the long but scenic drive inland to Calakmul itself. Tomorrow we explore all that this exceptional site has to offer.

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel Puerta, Calakmal

This morning we take in the ruins of Calakmul, also known as the “Kingdom of the Snake”. Situated in thick jungle near the Guatemalan border, Calakmul was once one of the largest Maya lowland cities in Mexico and covered an area of around 27 square miles. Highlights include Yucatán’s tallest pyramid, and an amazing array of stelae and murals. Following lunch, we go wild on a tour of the Calakmul Reserve, one of Mexico’s largest swathes of protected land. This is our chance to spot native fauna such as toucans and howler monkeys.

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel Puerta, Calakmal

Our first destination today is Becán. Occupied from around 550 BC until the 1200s AD, Becán has a long history as a ceremonial center and holds some of the oldest defenses in Mexico. The nearby Xpuhil is our second and final stop of the day. Though less well-known than Becán and Calakmul, it too enjoyed a long period of occupation, and features ruins of elaborate structures. Xpuhil is also another great place to look for some of this area’s protected animal species.

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel Puerta, Calakmal

We begin this morning at Balamkú, a small site which contains the longest surviving Maya frieze in the world: over 16 meters of painted stone reliefs depicting the surface of the earth. This epic sight dates back as far as the 6th century and lay undiscovered until the 1990s. We depart the area and drive south to Palenque in preparation for our next two days of archaeological adventures.

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel Villa Mercedes, Palenque

Our busy day begins at Bonampak, an Early Classic site famed for the richly-decorated interiors of its temple. View vibrant murals showing ritual scenes, performances, and gory representations of death. From here we make our way to Frontera, where we board a boat to take us up the Usumacinta River, once an important trade route for the Mayan civilization. Cruising through the tropical forest, we arrive at Yaxchilan, the ancient city which once dominated this region, and dealt in dyes and resin.

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel Villa Mercedes, Palenque

Today is all about Palenque, one of the most outstanding ceremonial centers we will see during our trip. Rising out of the jungle, Palenque’s fine set of ruins includes a stately observation tower, as well as the tomb of King Pacal the Great, who ruled these lands for an incredible 68 years from the start of the 7th century AD. What has so far been revealed serves as a jaw-dropping testament to the former might of the Maya. The site yields more to us this afternoon by way of the Palenque Museum, which displays statues, reliefs, an ancient throne, and a copy of the lid of King Pacal’s sarcophagus.

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel Villa Mercedes, Palenque

We leave Palenque this morning, embarking on a journey to the Central Highlands, and San Cristóbal de Las Casas. En route we stop at the Classical period site of Toniná, where we admire groupings of pyramids and monuments bearing evidence of the city’s previous status as a rival to Palenque. Its tallest structure – a complex of temples and staircases – easily dwarves the majority of its contemporaries, and peaks at an astonishing 74 meters. In the afternoon we arrive at the gleaming colonial city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, and enjoy a leisurely walking tour of its historic center. San Cristóbal is a gathering place for the region’s many indigenous cultures, and there is much here to keep us all wandering in wonder. Later we come together for a lively farewell dinner as a group.

All meals included

Hotel: Casa Del Alma Boutique, San Crisóbel de Las Casas

The final full day of our tour sees us traveling to San Juan Chamula, a Tzotzil Maya town famed for its unusual church: a place carpeted with pine needles, that glows in the light of hundreds of colorful candles. Animal sacrifices take place here to this day. We also pay a visit to the charming town of Zinacantán, another modern-day indigenous settlement, where Catholic and Mayan traditions both show their influence. We return to San Cristóbal de Las Casas in the afternoon, where we use our free time to explore the city at our own pace. Peruse local handicrafts at the market, marvel at the 18th-century cathedral, or delve into the Maya Medicine Museum, to learn more about the history and practice of its healers.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Casa Del Alma Boutique, San Crisóbel de Las Casas

We transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.

Meals include: Breakfast

December 7 2019: Additional Info

December 7 2019: Accommodation

This resort in Cancun provides a private white sand Caribbean beach. The resort offers massage services, 5 restaurants and bars, 2 outdoor pools and a rental car desk.

Presidente InterContinental Cancun Resort rooms include flat-screen cable TV and an iPod docking station. Guests can stay cool with air conditioning and marble floors. Rooms also include WiFi access.

The Presidente features the Cana Brava, which is a beach and poolside restaurant open for lunch. There is another restaurant called El Caribeño and a seafront bar. The Tequila Bar offers the 600 different varieties of tequila. El Café features coffee and breakfast foods.

The resort is built within the ancient site. The resort is set in gardens which stretch around it, with wild jungle and manicured grounds to wander and enjoy… not to mention the miles of trails, if you haven’t finished exploring for the day! If you want to put your feet up,  you can relax in the jacuzzi. Here, you’ll wake up to the sounds of wildlife as you enjoy breakfast served on your terrace with a view across to the Observatory.

Just across the street from the Uxmal Pyramids, and a 40 minutes' drive from Merida. This historic resort offers 2 outdoor pools and a working plantation filled with fruit trees and jogging trails. The Uxmal Cacao and Chocolate Museum can be found on site.

Rooms at Hacienda Uxmal Plantation & Museum feature a blend of traditional Mayan and Spanish décor, and have terraces overlooking the pools and tropical gardens. Some also have plantation views.

All rooms offer air conditioning, a ceiling fan, flat-screen satellite TV and a private bathroom. Free Wi-Fi is available in most rooms, terraces and public areas.

Guests at the Hacienda Uxmal Plantation & Museum can dine at one of 2 restaurants serving Yucatecan and Mayan cuisine.

Gamma de Fiesta Inn Campeche Malecon is located on the Yucatán Peninsula, on Campeche’s seafront promenade. It offers an outdoor pool and air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi and flat-screen cable TV.

The rooms at Gamma de Fiesta Inn Campeche Malecon have city or ocean views. Each one comes with a coffee-maker and a private bathroom with hairdryer.

The hotel’s La Terraza Restaurant overlooks the gardens, and there is also a café. Lafittés Boulevard Café is in the shape of a pirate ship and offers live music.

You can walk to the Plaza del Mar Shopping Centre in 3 minutes from Gamma de Fiesta Inn Campeche. 

Walking through the jungle trees and vines you’ll hardly notice this eco-lodge, set in the center of a UNESCO nature reserve. The wooden exterior with thatched roof allow these lodge to blend in perfectly with their surroundings – but don’t panic these environment loving lodges are still luxury! They don’t scrimp on modern amenities plus there is access to the resorts bar & restaurant and swimming pool. In the evenings, if you’ve still got some adventure left in you the reserve has so much to offer on an evening stroll; spot toucans, howler monkeys and tapirs, not to mention the exotic flora.

Set in tropical gardens in Palenque, this hotel has 2 outdoor pools and a Mayan-style spa. Located in a collection of charming thatched buildings, rooms feature satellite TV and a private bathroom.

The restaurant at the Hotel Villa Mercedes Palenque serves traditional Mexican food. There is also a poolside bar with a terrace, loungers and hammocks.

Packed with Mexican art, crafts and furnishings, this hotel brings the Mexican culture to life. The bedrooms have wooden beams across the ceiling and are decorated in warm beige and oranges which make a comfortable place to relax and unwind. The hotel has a courtyard and gardens to spend the evenings or maybe you’d prefer a stroll down the cobbled streets to the town center.

December 7 2019: Enquiries

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