- Discover Mexico City's colonial and Aztec history on a walking tour
- Stroll the ancient pathways and hike the giant pyramids at Teotihuacán
- Travel the canyons of Chiapas and immerse yourself in indigenous culture
- Explore ancient Maya archeological sites on the Yucatán Peninsula
- Visit Chichén Itzá and go snorkeling in the marine reserve at Puerto Morelos
|Day 1||Arrive in Mexico City||Mexico City|
|Day 2||Mexico City Walking Tour & Museum of Anthropology||Mexico City|
|Day 3||Day Trip to Teotihuacán, Flight to Tuxtla Gutiérrez||Tuxtla Gutiérrez|
|Day 4||Tour Sumidero Canyon & Chiapa de Corzo, Transfer to San Cristóbal||San Cristobal de las Casas|
|Day 5||Cooking Class in Zinacantán, Free Time in San Cristóbal||San Cristobal de las Casas|
|Day 6||San Cristóbal to Palenque, Stop at Agua Azul & Misol-Ha||Palenque|
|Day 7||Tour Palenque, Visit the Roberto Barrios Waterfalls||Palenque|
|Day 8||Palenque to Campeche, Fortress City Walking Tour||Campeche|
|Day 9||Day Trip to Edzná||Campeche|
|Day 10||Day Trip to Uxmal, Transfer to Mérida||Mérida|
|Day 11||Walking Tour of Mérida||Mérida|
|Day 12||Day Trip to Chichén Itzá, Transfer to Playa del Carmen||Playa del Carmen|
|Day 13||Cenotes of Chemuyil, Tulum Archeological Site||Playa del Carmen|
|Day 14||Snorkeling in Puerto Morelos Marine Park||Puerto Morelos|
|Day 15||Puerto Morelos to Cancún & Depart|
Day 1: Arrive in Mexico City
Welcome to Mexico! This beautiful Latin American nation is full of history, art, music, and some of the most delicious food in the world. A personal driver will meet you at the airport in Mexico City for the transfer to your hotel. After checking in, you'll have the remainder of the day free. Perhaps head out and see some famous sights and monuments, like the Angel of Independence, a towering victory column on a roundabout in the center of the Paseo de la Reforma thoroughfare. There are also plenty of museums and art galleries in the trendy neighborhoods of Roma and San Miguel Chapultepec.
Just be aware that DF (Distrito Federal, as the locals call it) is one of the largest cities in the world. This metropolis is home to around 10 million people spread over 350 colonias (neighborhoods). It's also a high-altitude city (7,349 feet / 2,240 m), so you'll want to acclimate before exerting yourself on any long walks.
Day 2: Mexico City Walking Tour & Museum of Anthropology
In the morning, you'll meet your guide and embark on a three-hour walking tour of Mexico City's awe-inspiring historic center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You'll visit the Palacio de Bellas Artes (a white-marble cultural center and concert hall built in 1905), the pedestrian-only Madero Street, and the Plaza de la Constitución, known as the Zócalo. This massive public square is home to historic buildings like the Metropolitan Cathedral (which dates to 1573), the 16th-century National Palace, and the ruins of the 14th-century Templo Mayor, once a main temple of the Aztec empire.
After walking around the historic center, you'll head to the National Museum of Anthropology for a 2.5-hour guided tour. This is one of the most important museums in Latin America—its 23 rooms and outdoor exhibit spaces are home to the largest collection of ancient Mexican art in the world. There are many pre-Columbian sculptures here as well as ethnographic exhibits about modern-day indigenous groups. Highlight items include the Aztec Calendar, The Olmec colossal head (a giant stone head carved out of basalt), and the jade Mask of the Zapotec Bat God.
Day 3: Day Trip to Teotihuacán, Flight to Tuxtla Gutierrez
After breakfast, your driver will meet you for a drive northeast of Mexico City to Teotihuacán, one of the most incredible archeological sites in the country (which is saying something). Over five hours, you'll explore this ancient city that dates to 400 BCE and covers a sprawling 8 sq miles (20 sq km). Known as the "City of the Gods," during Teotihuacán's heyday (around 500 CE) it was home to about 200,000 people and boasted over 2,000 structures, the ruins of which remain today. And many of the great pyramids here have been restored to near-total glory.
Your intro to this bygone metropolis starts with a walk along the Calzada de Los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead), Teotihuacán's main path, which runs 1.2 miles (2 km) and connects the site's major structures. Then hike up the 248 steps of the Pyramid of the Sun, the largest structure at 215 feet (66 m), before continuing to the Pyramid of the Moon, which towers 140 feet (43 m). Afterward, visit the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (Temple of the Feathered Serpent), which features representations of the feathered serpent deity carved into its sides. Discovered under the temple were the remains of 100 bodies that date to around 200 CE and were possibly sacrificial victims.
Day 4: Tour Sumidero Canyon & Chiapa de Corzo, Transfer to San Cristóbal
Welcome to Chiapas! You won't waste any time, as right after breakfast you'll head out on a six-hour day trip just outside the city to the historic town of Chiapa de Corzo, which sits on the Grijalva River. This is the embarkation point into Sumidero Canyon National Park. You'll board a boat and follow the river through the canyon, whose vertical limestone cliffs soar as high as 3,300 feet (1,000 m). On this tour, you'll see a wide variety of flora and fauna including giant crocodiles sunning themselves on the riverbanks. The boat also passes by cascading waterfalls and natural caves.
When you return to the dock, you'll have some time to explore Chiapa de Corzo on foot. Founded in 1528, it's one of the oldest cities in Latin America and beguiles visitors with its colonial buildings ringing a massive central plaza home to an ancient ceiba tree. Anchoring the plaza is a Mudejar-style fountain, called La Pila, which is made of red brick and dates to the 16th century. In addition, you can visit the 16th-century Santo Domingo Monastery, which houses a museum featuring hundreds of colorful lacquerware items from Latin America, Thailand, and even Japan.
After Chiapa de Corzo, you'll transfer one hour east up into the Chiapas highlands to another Spanish-colonial gem: the charming town of San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Day 5: Cooking Class in Zinacantán, Free Time in San Cristóbal
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
First thing in the morning you'll head just outside San Cristóbal to Zinacantán (an indigenous Tzotzil word that means "land of bats"). This highland town in Chiapas has been inhabited since pre-colonial times and remains mostly populated by the Tzotzil Maya indigenous people. And since one of the best ways to experience any culture is through its food, today you'll participate in a four-hour farm-to-table (literally) cooking experience.
It begins when you arrive at a local home in Zinacantán. After introductions, your hosts will show you the kitchen in which you'll prepare the meal. If it's milpa season, you'll accompany them on a tour of the fields to learn about this ancient farming system in which different species, like corn and beans, are intercropped and share resources such as water. From the fields, you'll harvest your requisite ingredients and then return to the home where, with your hosts' help, you'll prepare a 5-course traditional meal that celebrates local indigenous culture.
After lunch, you'll return to San Cristóbal and can spend the remainder of the day walking its cobbled streets, visiting its animated plazas, and admiring its old buildings. Many of these date from the colonial period, like the main Cathedral, which was founded in 1528. Other landmarks include the baroque Temple of Santo Domingo and the Church of Guadalupe, a twin-steepled chapel atop a long stairway that overlooks the town below. Also worth visiting are the Lagrimas de la Selva, an artisan amber workshop, and the Jade Museum, which features exhibits recounting the history of this gemstone in Mesoamerica.
Day 6: San Cristóbal to Palenque, Stop at Agua Azul & Misol-Ha
In the morning, you'll leave San Cristóbal on a full-day tour of the Chiapas highlands. Your destination is the ancient Maya archeological site of Palenque, but you'll break up the 5-hr drive with various stops. First up is a real treat: the waterfalls at Agua Azul. Located on the Xanil River, these terraced falls are famous not for their height—the largest plunge about 20 feet (6 m)—but for the vivid turquoise water. Feel free to take a dip before continuing to the much larger Misol-Ha waterfall, which cascades 115 feet (35 m) down a limestone cliff into an emerald lagoon. You can swim here, too.
From Misol-Ha it's another 12 miles (20 km) to Palenque, the remains of an ancient Maya city that existed from around 226 BCE to 799 CE. Though not as large as other famous ruins in Mexico (Palenque is 1 sq mile / 2.5 sq km, compared to Chichén Itzá's 4 sq miles / 10 sq km), it is one of the most fascinating. Archeologists have learned much about Maya history from Palenque's well-preserved epigraphic records, sculptures, and bas-relief carvings. You'll reach the site in time for sunset, which is an ideal time to visit as there are few to no crowds. Also, the warm hues bathe the temples in a spectacular golden light.
Day 7: Tour Palenque, Visit the Roberto Barrios Waterfalls
After breakfast, you'll take a two-hour tour around some of the 800 structures that comprise Palenque. Like many ancient cities, when Palenque was abandoned in the 8th century it was reabsorbed by the surrounding jungle. Only in the early 1950s was it discovered by Mexican archeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier. Since then, excavations revealed various royal tombs (including that of ruler Pakal the Great) as well as glyphic texts on different temples that map nearly 200 years of history—by far the most such text of any Maya archeological site. For these reasons, Palenque enjoys UNESCO World Heritage status.
Once you've finished touring the ruins, you'll then travel about 20 miles (32 km) south from Palenque to Roberto Barrios. Upon arrival, you'll have three hours to enjoy one of the lesser-known of Chiapas' incredible waterfalls. Like at Agua Azul, there are many cascades plunging into turquoise pools here, and the vivid colors derive from the mineral content of the water. You can swim in the lagoons, explore the caves, and enjoy natural rock waterslides. There are also platforms great for diving (provided the water is deep enough). Keep an eye out for howler monkeys and parrots in the trees.
Day 8: Palenque to Campeche, Walking Tour
Hit the road for the five-hour drive north into the state of Campeche and its capital of the same name. This port city is so rich with well-preserved history that it's been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated on the Gulf of Mexico in the Yucatán Peninsula, Campeche was founded in the 16th century and quickly became one of the most vital ports in Spain's New World. For these reasons, it was prone to attacks from pirates, and in the 17th century defensive walls were built around the city and they still stand today. Also remaining are two hilltop fortresses that were used as lookouts to spot invaders.
Stretch your legs on a three-hour walking tour into the heart of Campeche's storied past. Stroll some of the remaining iconic walls, fortresses, and bastions—plus tour Pirate's Alley, the once fortified entrance to the city. Today it's part of Campeche's historic center and is flanked by colorful colonial homes. Then visit the tree-shaded Plaza de la Independencia, which is lined with Spanish-colonial buildings, and the famous Baroque Cathedral, which dates to 1540. Perhaps hop on one of the vintage trams that rumble along the cobbled streets of Campeche's center.
Day 9: Day Trip to Edzná
In the morning, take a 45-minute drive south from Campeche to the archeological site of Edzná. Unlike Mexico's ancient megalopolises like Teotihuacán and Chichén Itzá (also located in the Yucatán), Edzná flies a bit under the radar. What it lacks in mass popularity, however, it more than makes up for in awe-inspiring ruins. Edzná is one of the most vital of the ancient Maya cities because it pioneered great advances in hydraulic technology. The system of canals the residents developed at once irrigated their fields, drained the land during rainy seasons, dammed lagoons, and provided fish.
On a four-hour tour of the site, you'll learn all about Edzná history as a major economic and political capital of the region. Many of the structures on the site date between 300 BCE and 1200 CE. The four main structures are comprised of palaces, residences, and pyramids. One of the most impressive is the Temple of Five Stories, which is built on a platform 131 feet (40-m) high. Also here are ball courts, dozens of stelae (carved stone slabs), and a rare Hieroglyphic Stairway with symbols and characters carved into the stone steps.
Day 10: Day Trip to Uxmal, Transfer to Mérida
In the morning, you'll drive about two hours north from Campeche to Uxmal. Along with Chichén Itzá, Palenque, and Calakmul (located in the jungles near the Guatemalan border), Uxmal is one of the most important ancient Maya archeological sites. Located in the low hills of Yucután's Puuc region, Uxmal's early structures date to the 6th century CE, and the city was a major seat of power until its influence waned in the 10th century. Embedded in its ruins are ornate friezes, sculptures, and carvings that archeologists regard as some of the finest architectural sculptures in the ancient Maya world.
There are also incredible pyramids and temples here. You'll see the highlights on a walking tour of the central ruins, which cover an area of around 150 acres. Most famous is the Pyramid of the Magician. Legend has it that a magical dwarf built this structure overnight—although that's more than a little impossible since this is a five-level pyramid. Another highlight is the Governor's Palace, which was likely both a royal residence and administrative center that covers an area of almost 13,000 sq feet (1,200 sq m). During its heyday, this city was home to some 25,000 Maya.
Day 11: Walking Tour of MéridaToday you'll spend some time exploring the captivating city of Mérida, also known as the White City due to the local white limestone used as a building material. Not only is Mérida the economic heart of the Yucatán Peninsula, but it's also a cultural hub and convenient base to explore ancient Maya sites in the region. The city's history also runs deep. It was founded in 1542 right over the ancient Maya city of T'ho, with the Spanish leveling that city's five pyramids. Then, in 1598, they unsubtly used the pyramid remains to build Mérida's Cathedral.
Day 12: Day Trip to Chichén Itzá, Transfer to Playa del Carmen
Get ready to spend a day at one of the New Seven Wonders of the World: Chichén Itzá. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most popular of the ancient Maya cities in Yucatán. Covering 4 sq miles (10 sq km), Chichén Itzá was first settled in the 5th century BCE and enjoyed a 1,000-year run as one of the great cities in the ancient Maya kingdom before declining around 1440 CE. This site is unique because at one point Toltec warriors from the Mexican plateau conquered the city, which resulted in a blending of Toltec and Maya traditions and architecture styles.
You'll see these details on a group walking tour of Chichén Itzá's famous ruins. This includes the iconic El Castillo, a majestic pyramid. Other highlights are the Jaguar Temple, the House of Eagles (a ceremonial platform), El Caracol (a circular observatory), and the largest ball court in Mesoamerica. Most of these structures contain detailed reliefs and architectural sculptures depicting everything from jaguars and eagles to feathered serpents and human sacrifices. For example, in the 200 stone columns of the Temple of the Warriors, you'll see carvings of soldiers in bas-relief.After the tour, enjoy a delicious lunch before driving about three hours east to Playa del Carmen, where you'll check in to your hotel. This coastal resort town lies in the heart of the Yucatan's Riviera Maya, a section of gorgeous Caribbean coast spanning over 100 miles (160 km).
Day 13: Chemuyil Cenotes & Tulum Ruins
In the morning, your driver will pick you up for the short ride south to Chemuyil for a five-hour tour. This small coastal town is famous for its nearby cenotes (limestone sinkholes), part of a system fed by the largest underground river in the world. Upon arrival, you'll hop on a bicycle and follow a local guide to three cenotes. The first is La Cuevita (The Little Cave), a hidden cave lagoon with crystalline waters. You'll then visit two open cenotes great for diving and swimming. Plus, you can hike around the nearby forests and spot some of the endemic birds of the Yucatán, like parrots, motmots, and woodpeckers.
After Chemuyil, continue south to the UNESCO World Heritage archeological site in Tulum. The ruins here were once an ancient Maya fortress city (the word tulum is actually a Yucatán Mayan word meaning "wall") built on high cliffs overlooking the ocean. The city was built around the year 1200 CE and reached its height of power in the 15th century. On a guided tour, you'll visit major structures like El Castillo, a stone fortress overlooking the sea, which served as a lighthouse and temple. After exploring the ruins, head down to Playa Ruinas (the beach below the site) for a swim.
Day 14: Snorkeling in Puerto Morelos Marine Park
After breakfast, your driver will pick you up for the 30-minute drive north toward the village of Puerto Morelos, where you'll check in to your hotel. Besides the surrounding jungle and nearby cenotes, Puerto Morelos is famous for its National Reef Park. This marine reserve protects a nearby section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which is the largest reef in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
This part of the reef is closer to shore than other sections on the Riviera Maya. That makes it great for snorkeling, which is exactly what you'll do here. On a 2-hour snorkeling excursion, you'll be led by a certified guide through the crystalline waters around the reef. As you swim, enjoy the incredible sights of this underwater kingdom. These include tropical fish congregating around a variety of colorful corals like brain and elk-horn coral. There are plenty of other aquatic animals here, including rays, octopuses, parrotfish, barracudas, starfish, sea snails, turtles, and much more.