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Mexico: Mayans, Aztecs & Conquistadors

Kukulkan Pyramid, Chichen Itza
  • Mexico

  • 14 nights


Grade 2 - Moderate
Moderate

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Highlights

Few countries can compete with Mexico when it comes to unleashing the inner Indiana Jones in each of us. Jungle-clad temples and abandoned ancient civilizations make way to colonial-era towns with cobbled streets and Spanish architecture. This fusion of history has led to Mexico’s unique culture from the art of Frida Kahlo to Oaxaca’s succulent cuisine. 

Walk on sacred land, and discover the Mexican ancient cultures and history that still breathes over the cities and archeological sites today. With guides from Exodus Travels, you'll discover more than you would do on your own with secrets and stories few people know. Learn how people used to live and what makes Mexico so loved by travelers from all over the world. Each day will bring you new sights, adventure, awe-inspiring moments and a vibrant feeling the country and its people know well how to provide. 

Basics

Duration: 15 days

Start/Finish: Mexico City to Cancun

Travel Style: Leisurely

Group Size: Max 16

Uxmal
Xochimilco Lake, Mexico City
Izmal, Yucatan

Experience

Uncover the country’s historical and cultural layers as you journey from the highlands of Mexico City to the jungles and beaches of the Yucatan via the lands of Aztecs, Zapotec, Mayas and Conquistadors.

  • Learn the rich history and culture of the ancient lands of Mexico
  • Experience Mexico's intense culinary and artistic traditions
  • Visit ancient temples and cities to colonial towns
  • Journey through highlands, jungles and coastlines
  • Be a part of something unforgettable with experts to guide you 

Videos

Itinerary

Welcome to Mexico City! This is your day to get settled into your hotel before you begin your adventure. Those on the group flights normally arrive in Mexico City in the evening and those arriving via land can arrive at any time.

Overnight at Hotel Royal Reforma or similar.

Get excited for a day in Mexico City where we'll explore the bohemian side together. You'll start your day with a visit to the well-known "Casa Azul" (Blue House), hidden behind cobalt blue walls. This is where the acclaimed artist Frida Kahlo was born, grew up and, eventually, lived with her muralist husband, Diego Rivera, until she died in 1954 at the age of 47.

Now a museum, the colonial house, set around a luxuriant garden, doesn’t only showcase the collections and personal effects of the two great artists but is a window into the life of affluent Mexican bohemians in the first half of the 20th Century.

Next, you'll visit the quaint neighborhood of Coyoacan ("the place of coyotes") with its pebbled streets, colonial churches, bustling little markets and quiet squares. This area was inhabited before the arrival of the Spanish and it is said that the conquistador, Hernan Cortes, made this the first capital of New Spain.

Finally, you'll enjoy a relaxing ride on a pre-Hispanic boat along the peaceful waters of the Xochimilco Canals. These scenic waterways would have been used by the Aztecs and today, a relaxing journey past floating gardens and little floating kitchens selling local food awaits.

Overnight at Hotel Royal Reforma or similar.

Today, you'll explore the ancient city of Teotihuacan which reached its height around 1,000 AD when it was the 6th biggest city in the world. Among the avenues and structures are the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon — the 3rd and 4th largest in the world. You'll explore this impressive archaeological zone with an expert local guide to uncover some of the site’s secrets.

Returning to Mexico City, you'll be guided through the historic center on a walking tour based around the Zocalo (main square) and the Cathedral Metropolitana (largest cathedral in the Americas). The Zocalo square is considered one of the biggest squares in the world, and just as it was an important gathering place for the Aztecs, it remains so in modern-day Mexico, often hosting book fairs and concerts. You'll then end today's tour with a visit to the famous "Palacio de Bellas. Artes."

It's a day filled with impressive history and archeology!

Overnight at Hotel Royal Reforma or similar.

Before leaving Mexico City behind, you'll visit the Museum of Anthropology and History with its impressive collection of artifacts from Mexico’s many civilizations. You'll visit The Palacio Nacional*, which not only contains the offices of the President, the Federal Treasury and the National Archives but also murals depicting pre-Hispanic life and a large mural filling the central stairway depicting the entire history of Mexico from the conquest on.

Starting your journey south, you'll head toward the city of Puebla (about 2.5h). In the late afternoon, you'll arrive in Puebla de los Angeles – the City of Angels – named after a legend that claims angels came down from heaven to place the cathedral’s bells in the towers when builders were unable to do so.

The colonial city is known for its traditions, especially its handicrafts, including blue-and-white pottery, and its cuisine that is some of the best in Mexico!

Overnight at Hotel Colonial Puebla or similar.

*Please note that the Palace may occasionally close at short notice due to official events involving the President.

Today, you'll spend your morning discovering the city of Puebla which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its colonial architecture. You'll visit the "Patio de los Azulejos" and the ex-Convent of Santa Rosa. Both of which provide classic examples of how "Talavera" tiles were incorporated into buildings, inside and out. 

After the city tour, you'll continue your journey and drive toward another Mexican World Heritage City — Oaxaca (about 4.5h). With a colonial center of shaded pedestrian streets, bright, clear light, indigenous traditions and a creative atmosphere, Oaxaca has attracted and inspired many artists and artisans alike.

The city boasts the sights of the beautiful Zocalo, the Cathedral and the vast Convento de Santo Domingo, along with museums, fascinating markets and charming inns.

Overnight at Hotel Oaxaca Real/Hotel Aitana or similar.

Your next exploration of Mexican history takes you to the Zapotecan site of Monte Alban. Whilst the name dates back to a Spanish landowner in the 16th-century, previous names come from the Mixtec word Sahandevul, meaning "At the foot of the Sky" or the Zapotecan Danibaan, meaning "Sacred Mountain."

The Zapotecans moved into the Oaxaca region in 500 BC and began the monumental task of leveling the top of a 5249 ft (1600 m) high mountain that intersects and divides three valleys. Here, they built the city of Monte Alban with a maze of subterranean passageways, rooms, drainage and water storage systems. After exploring this amazing site, you'll return to Oaxaca and walk through the cobbled streets, vibrant squares and churches of the historical town. You'll also make a visit to the Museum of cultures Santo Domingo.

Hotel Oaxaca Real/Hotel Aitana or similar.

Oaxaca is possibly the most famed region in Mexico for its cuisine and today you'll get familiar with it as you head for your cooking class, learning dishes that can easily be recreated at home. The exact menu can change but generally, you'll learn how to make two types of tortillas, three different salsas, guacamole, mole, a starter, a soup, a dessert and a drink.

You'll visit a local market where different ingredients are showcased and explained before returning to the restaurant for your class and a succulent lunch.

In the afternoon, you're free to wander around Oaxaca on your own and explore whatever you wish, or just relax and take it all in.

Overnight at Hotel Oaxaca Real or similar.

A short distance from Oaxaca is the village of Teotitlan del Valle known for its colorful, hand-woven rugs and it is your first stop today. From here you'll continue to the Don Agave distillery to taste some authentic Mexican Mescal. Distilled from agave plants, Mescal is different from tequila and is most popular in the Oaxaca region. After the tasting, you'll drive to Tehuantepec where you will spend the night (total drive time is about 7 hours plus stops).

Overnight at Hotel Calli or similar.

Today, you'll drive to San Cristobal (about 6h plus stops) which is one of Mexico's most popular cities with visitors. San Cristobal de las Casas is filled with cobbled stoned alleyways of whitewashed buildings with red-tiled roofs that give onto plazas and picturesque arcades. Arriving in San Cristobal in the afternoon, there will be a short orientation tour of the historic city before checking into your hotel.

Overnight at Hotel Casa Mexicana or similar.

Today is a free day to explore San Cristobal at your own pace. Wander the colonial streets, take in the lively cafés, or buy handicrafts produced by the local Tzotzil indigenous groups with their different colorful dresses. It’s also possible to do an optional boat trip through the Sumidero Canyon and/or visit one of the traditional Mayan communities that live in the villages surrounding the city (for an additional cost).

Overnight at Hotel Casa Mexicana or similar.

Today's road toward Palenque is windy but picturesque and en route, you'll visit the waterfalls of Agua Azul (Blue Water). Agua Azul is a group of beautiful waterfalls that create wonderful natural pools and has been a protected area since 1980. You'll then continue a stop at the falls to the town of Palenque, named after the nearby impressive ruins.

Overnight at Hotel La Aldea del Halach Huinic.

Emerging from the jungles of the Chiapas' low-lying hills is one of Mexico’s most impressive ruins: the Mayan site of Palenque. The temples, sanctuaries and pyramids, with their sculptured walls and ceilings, are some of the best-preserved and finest examples of Mayan buildings despite the city-state having peaked over 1,300 years ago in the 7th century.

You'll explore this magnificent site before continuing on the road toward the Yucatan Peninsula and the Caribbean town of Campeche (about 5h plus stops). Being another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the colonial town’s best feature is its impressive city walls built to protect it from the constant attacks by English and Dutch buccaneers and pirates during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Overnight Hotel Lopez or similar.

About a two-hour drive from Campeche, your second Mayan site Uxmal awaits. Quite open, it is in contrast to the jungle ruins of Palenque from yesterday. This site dates to the late classic era (500-800 AD) and features the Pyramid of the Magician; the Nunnery Quadrangle with long, elaborately carved facades; and a ball court where a traditional ball game was played, sometimes ending in human sacrifice.

Having worked up an appetite, you'll have lunch at a local Mayan family restaurant. Here, you'll try the Pollo Pibil and Cochinita Pibil – slowly cooked pork and chicken. The meat is roasted for about 5 hours along with achiote paste and wrapped in banana leaves. This is a typical Yucatan dish and representative of the local cuisine.

After lunch, you'll head to Merida. A number of the city’s buildings, including the cathedral, were built using Mayan stones found on this site and, along with traditional colonial architecture, featuring 19th-century houses built in a French style.

Arriving in mid-afternoon, you'll enjoy a walking tour of Merida, returning later to enjoy the main square which is particularly delightful at night.

Overnight at Hotel Caribe or similar.

Today your first stop will be the traditional Mayan village of Tixkokob where local families practice the age-old craft of hammock weaving. After learning about how hammocks are made, you'll continue to the "magic town of Izamal." Once a Mayan settlement, the name means "Place of the God of Medicine." The town is covered in buildings painted yellow and white and is known for the 16th-century Franciscan monastery built on top of the base of a huge Mayan pyramid (which was probably once larger than the Castillo in Chichen Itza).

From here, you'll transfer to Chichen Itza, possibly the best known and most impressive of all Mayan sites (total drive time of about 3.5h plus stops).

Overnight at Hotel Chichen Itza or similar.

Your final day starts with a visit the most famous Mayan temple city: Chichen Itza. Having spent the night near to the site means you can get in nice and early before the hordes of day-trippers coming from the beach resorts.

Chichen Itza served as the political and economic centre of the Mayan civilisation and thrived from around 600 to 1200 AD. The pyramid of Kukulkan, the Temple of Chac Mool, the Hall of the Thousand Pillars and the Playing Field of the Prisoners can still be seen today and demonstrate the extraordinary commitment to architecture, space and composition. The pyramid itself was the last, and possibly the greatest, of Mayan pyramids.

In the afternoon, you'll be taken to the Cancun airport in time for the group flight. This is where the tour’s land only portion ends.

After an unforgettable journey through the wildest and richest history and culture of Mexico, you'll have memories few people get a chance to create. 

FAQ

The group size normally consists of 6 to 15 people, plus a leader.

The minimum age for this package is 16 years. 

Covering a lot of ground from Mexico City to Cancun does mean there are some long drives – some of which are on windy mountain roads. Some of the trips, in the lowlands of Chiapas and the Yucatan in particular, are likely to be hot and humid, especially in the summer months.

Whilst this is a leisurely trip, walking city tours. as well as visits to various pre-Hispanic sites. does mean a lot of time spent on your feet. Many of the areas visited on the trip are at high altitude and some short walks (normally one to three hours) are planned. A reasonable level of fitness is required for this trip. 

Please note that this trip includes a water-based excursion on the Xochimilco Canals where local safety standards may differ from those you are used to. There are unlikely to be personal flotation devices (i.e. lifejackets or buoyancy aids) available for you to use during the activity. If you cannot swim you should not take part in this activity/excursion. If you are concerned about taking part in this activity, please discuss it with your leader at the start of the tour so they can make alternative arrangements. Drinking plenty of water and dressing in loose cotton clothing will help.

These are the items you will need for this trip:

  • Sunglasses
  • Sunhat
  • Sunscreen
  • Rain poncho or lightweight waterproof jacket
  • Warm sweater
  • Swimming gear
  • Shorts
  • Sturdy walking shoes for ruins
  • Long trousers
  • Long‐sleeved lightweight shirts
  • Insect repellent.
  • Refillable water bottle

*Dressing is fairly conservative. Women do not normally wear shorts in the towns and men should always wear a shirt or t‐shirt.

Terms

This tour is hosted by Exodus Travels.

Deposit Policy

A deposit of at 25% per person is required upon booking (minimum US$500 per person).

Room Occupancy and Single Supplement

You can request a single supplement for an additional cost. Where a single supplement is available, paying for a single will only guarantee a room for single use. It does not necessarily mean that a twin or double room will be provided for sole occupancy. Please note that a member of the group may be allocated a single room by default if the make-up of the group means there isn’t anyone for them to share rooms with.

To guarantee a single room, payment must be made in advance. Single supplements cannot be refunded retrospectively.

Transfers

Throughout the week we have little need for transfers, however, when required we use a private minibus or make use of local buses, a practical and cost-effective way of reaching start points or returning from the end of our walk walks.

COVID-19 Policy

No vaccinations are currently obligatory but this is subject to change. Please make sure to view the latest travel updates to Mexico before traveling. 

You must be fully insured against medical and personal accident risks (to include repatriation costs and air ambulance or helicopter rescue services where appropriate). On arrival at the destination for your trip, you will be asked to present details to your leader or local representative of your policy.

You will get a refund if you have to cancel your trip due to COVID-19. You must contact your travel insurance provider in the first instance to ascertain if they offer cover for COVID-19-related reasons and if your circumstances qualify for a claim to be made with them.

For the purposes of these terms a “COVID-19 reason” is either a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 within 21 days prior to departure or an order, via your government's track & trace team, to self-isolate due to contact with a person who has, or may have, COVID-19 or your government has changed its advice against travel within 21 days prior to departure.

You must notify us of your need to cancel for a COVID-19 reason as early as possible (and at the latest 24 hours before your scheduled departure), and must provide us with appropriate written official evidence of the COVID-19 reason. Please note that evidence must be provided so if you have what you believe to be COVID-19 symptoms, you must arrange and take a test as soon as possible.

In the event that there is insufficient time to take a test before your departure on holiday, please call us by telephone or contact us by e-mail as soon as you can so that we can discuss your options with you. Failure to notify us at the time of the covid-19 reason may result in a refusal to the refund.

We have the right to refuse to allow you to cancel and receive a cash refund where we are not reasonably satisfied that you are canceling for a COVID-19 reason. In such circumstances, normal cancelation terms will apply.

Your COVID-19 reason must prevent you from safely joining your scheduled departure and will take into account the current applicable local government and/or destination government coronavirus guidance.

Cancellation and Refund Policy

If you cancel your booking more than 42 days prior to your trip, there is no cancelation fee. The deposit can be transferred to a new booking departing within 2 years of date of travel of the original booking. Any remaining balance will be refunded.

If you cancel your booking between 41 and 21 days (inclusive) prior to your trip, there is no cancelation fee and the balance and deposit can be transferred to a new booking departing within 2 years of date of travel of original booking.

If you cancel your booking between 20 and 15 days (inclusive) prior to your trip, you will be charged 80% of the total holiday cost.

If you cancel 14 days or less prior to your trip, (or fail to join the holiday) (inclusive), you will be charged 100% of the total holiday cost.

Safety 

You understand and acknowledge that your travel in connection with and participation in your trip may involve risk and potential exposure to injury, including emotional injury, injury to person or property and death. You also realize and acknowledge that risk and dangers may be caused by the negligence, fault or wrongdoing of the owners, directors, employees, contractors, subcontractors, officers or agents of Vacayou and Exodus or of other trip participants, contractors and/or subcontractors to Vacayou and Exodus.

You also recognize and acknowledge that risk and dangers may arise from foreseeable and unforeseeable causes. You fully understand and acknowledge that the aforementioned risks, dangers and hazards are a potential in connection with your travel and recreational activities which may take place during your trip. In consideration of the services and arrangements provided by Vacayou and Exodus, you, for yourself and for your heirs, personal representatives or assigns, do hereby release, waive, discharge, hold harmless and agree to indemnify Vacayou and Exodus, and their owners, officers, directors, agents, employees, contractors, subcontractors and affiliates from any and all claims, actions, or losses for bodily injury, emotional injury or distress, property damage, wrongful death, loss of services, lost profits, consequential, exemplary, indirect or punitive damages or otherwise which may arise out of or occur during your travel in connection with the scheduled travel package and any activities conducted in conjunction therewith.

YOU SPECIFICALLY UNDERSTAND AND AGREE THAT YOU ARE RELEASING, DISCHARGING AND WAIVING ANY CLAIMS OR ACTIONS THAT YOU MAY HAVE PRESENTLY OR IN THE FUTURE FOR THE NEGLIGENT ACTS, OMISSIONS OR CONDUCT OF THE OWNERS, DIRECTORS, OFFICERS, EMPLOYEES, CONTRACTORS, SUBCONTRACTORS, AGENTS OR AFFILIATES OF Vacayou AND Exodus.

Additional terms must be agreed upon payment.