This 12-day exploration of the heart of Mexico will take you to its most historic locales. This includes stops at the 16th-century cities of Morelia and Querétaro, where you'll enjoy horseback riding through the rugged Guanajuato mountains. Then immerse yourself in the region's culture with visits to indigenous workshops, tours of coffee plantations, and outings to the most incredible sights in Puebla and Oaxaca.

Highlights

  • Tour Spanish-colonial cities like Morelia and Querétaro
  • Go horseback riding in the mountains outside Guanajuato
  • Visit the "magical town" of Cuetzalan and tour a coffee plantation
  • See the highlights of Oaxaca and go on nature hikes in the mountains

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Mexico City, Transfer to Morelia Morelia
Day 2 Morelia Walking Tour, Transfer to Guanajuato Guanajuato
Day 3 Guanajuato Walking Tour, Mountain Horseback Ride Guanajuato
Day 4 Transfer to Querétaro, City Tour & Transfer to Acaxochitlán Acaxochitlán
Day 5 Acaxochitlán Walking Tour, Nahua Cultural Workshops Acaxochitlán
Day 6 Acaxochitlán to Cuetzalan, Totonoca Culinary Experience Cuetzalan
Day 7 Visit Coffee Plantation, Cuetzalan Walking Tour & Transfer to Cholula Cholula
Day 8 Cholula Market Tour Cholula
Day 9 Cholula to Oaxaca, Tour Oaxaca City Oaxaca
Day 10 Hike the Puma Trail, Huatil Amaranth Workshop Oaxaca
Day 11 Guided Hike Near Teotitlán, Cultural Exchange Oaxaca
Day 12 Depart Oaxaca  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Mexico City, Transfer to Morelia

Welcome to Mexico
Welcome to Mexico! This culturally rich and beautiful Latin American nation is full of history, art, music, and some of the most delicious food in the world. Upon arrival at the airport in Mexico City, a driver will pick you up for the 4-hour drive northwest to Morelia, the capital of the state of Michoacán. This is a well-preserved colonial city featuring no shortage of 16th-century Baroque buildings, which you'll get to see. However, upon arrival, you'll check into your hotel and have the remainder of the day to unwind.

Day 2: Morelia Walking Tour, Transfer to Guanajuato

Morelia Cathedral
Morelia's Metropolitan Cathedral

After breakfast, you'll head out on a three-hour walking tour of Morelia's historic center. There's a lot to see in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, including 249 landmark monuments of prime importance. You'll find many around the city's main square, the Plaza de Armas. The star is the Cathedral, which dates to 1660 and is constructed of the famous pink stone mined in the area. Other landmarks include the Jardín de las Rosas, a park with beautiful gardens lined with cafés and fronted by the Templo de Santa Rosa de Lima, a beautiful church dating to the 16th century.

Another highlight of Morelia is its historic Acueducto (aqueduct). Made of the same pink stone as most of the city's historic buildings, it was constructed in 1785, features 253 arches that rise 26 feet (8 m), and runs about a mile (2 km). Outside of Europe, it's one of the most impressive Roman-style aqueducts in the world. You'll also stop at the Mercado de Dulces, near the Plaza de Armas. This is where to come for artisanal candies, handicrafts, clothing, and other items that make great souvenirs. 

After the tour, your driver will pick you up for the 2.5-hour drive north to Guanajuato, the state's capital of the same name. 

Day 3: Guanajuato Walking Tour, Mountain Horseback Ride

Witness Guanajuato's history on a walking tour

Bright and early, you'll head out on a two-hour guided walking tour through the historic neighborhoods of Guanajuato—another of Mexico's UNESCO-designated cities. Landmarks you'll visit include the Callejón del Beso (Kiss Alley), where legend says that couples who kiss on the third step of the stairway enjoy happiness for seven years. Then there's the University of Guanajuato, founded by the Jesuits in 1732, and the bright yellow Guanajuato Basilica, the most iconic church in the city, which dates to 1671. It sits on the Plaza de la Paz (Plaza of Peace), home to a small park.

Plan your trip to Mexico
Customize your trip with help from a local travel specialist.

In the afternoon, you'll head into the mountains just outside Guanajuato and enjoy a four-hour guided horseback ride around the dirt roads of the Sierra de Santa Rosa mountains. Following this scenic loop trail, you'll pass many oak trees and cacti. There's also the chance to spot native wildlife like rabbits, armadillos, white-tailed deer, coyotes, pumas, and even lynxes. The area is also great for birding, attracting many migratory species, including ducks, doves, swallows, wrens, hummingbirds, robins, finches, hawks, ibises, sparrows, and many more.

The Sierra de Santa Rosa is also one of many protected areas in Guanajuato. So during the tour, your guide will tell you about the conservation work undertaken by the local community as well as the importance of soil restoration, reforestation, and forest care. Afterward, you'll enjoy a traditional meal cooked by a local family.

Day 4: Transfer to Querétaro, City Tour & Transfer to Acaxochitlán

Queretaro
The historic streets of Querétaro

In the morning, your driver will pick you up for the two-hour drive southeast to Santiago de Querétaro. Like many of the other cities in this part of central Mexico, Querétaro's well-preserved historic center has led to it becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You'll see its many highlights on a three-hour guided walking tour as you stroll Querétaro's cobbled streets and stop at its colonial-era temples and convents. You'll also stop at the city's 18th-century Aqueduct. Commissioned by the Spanish, just like in Morelia, this version features 74 aches reaching 94 feet (28.5 m).

After the tour, your driver will pick you up for the ride 3.5 hours southeast from Querétaro to Acaxcohitlán. This town in the lovely mountains of Mexico's Hidalgo state has deep indigenous roots, inhabited long before the Spanish colonized it in the 16th century. Some evidence suggests there were human settlements here during the time of the Toltecs—an ancient indigenous culture that thrived from 950 to 1150 CE and pre-dated the Aztecs. After checking in to your hotel, you'll finish the day with a one-hour bonfire experience under the stars.

Day 5: Acaxochitlán Walking Tour, Nahua Cultural Workshops 

The town center in Acaxochitlán 

After breakfast, you'll head out for a quick tour around Acaxochitlán's city center. The town isn't so big, so there's quite a bit to see within a short distance. For example, you'll browse the handicraft markets and sample some delicious tidbits at a local bakery. You'll even visit a wine factory, La Herencia del Abuelo. This 200-year-old business produces and sells 18 artisanal wines made from various fruits of the region like apples, blueberries, passion fruit, and even coffee.

Then you'll enjoy a cultural exchange. The state of Hidalgo is mainly populated by the Nahua people—descendants of the Aztecs who represent the single largest indigenous group in Mexico. They also make up around 70% of the residents of Acaxochitlán. First, taste the roots of this culture in the home of a Nahua woman who will prepare a traditional meal for you. Then visit the nearby indigenous community of Santa Ana Tzacuala and meet Nahua women weavers to learn their embroidery techniques. You'll even get to make your own beautiful embroidered fabrics to take home.

At the end of the outing, you'll participate in a workshop with local women who will show you how to make xochimapales. The xochimapal is a Nahua ceremonial object that usually consists of a stick with three branches at one end. These are decorated with a variety of items, including totomoxtle (a veneer made of corn husks), wildflowers—even bread and fruit.

Day 6: Acaxochitlán to Cuetzalan, Totonoca Culinary Experience

The historic streets of Cuetzalan

This morning you'll transfer a few hours east with your guide from Acaxochitlán to Cuetzalan, a historic and colorful mountain town in Puebla. It's so incredible that it's one of Mexico's celebrated Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns). This is a very special designation the country has bestowed on some 132 places that have demonstrated historical importance, rich culture, great symbolism, and exceptional beauty.

The town was founded in 1547 and retains much of its colonial charm, right down to the cobbled streets and well-preserved historic center. It's probably most famous for its Sunday tianguis—a lively outdoor market during which the streets are lined with stalls and vendors selling everything from fresh produce to indigenous handicrafts. Nearby are many attractions as well, such as the Las Brisas waterfall and Yohualichan, the ruins of an ancient ceremonial center built by the indigenous Totonac people around 400 CE. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and can then go out and explore.

After a bit, you'll transfer to the nearby town of Remolino, in the neighboring state of Veracruz. Here you'll participate in an indigenous culinary workshop to experience the art form that is Totonoca cuisine. Over two hours, you'll watch elders create dishes from ancient recipes that indigenous mothers have passed down to their daughters for hundreds of years. This is more than cooking—it's an expression of culture and social rituals centered around food. Of course, once your hosts have finished preparing the meal, everyone will sit down to enjoy it.

Day 7: Visit Coffee Plantation, Cuetzalan Walking Tour & Transfer to Cholula

Visit to the coffee plantation
Enjoy a coffee tour near Cuetzalan

Besides the town's beauty, the region around Cuetzalan is known for its nearby coffee farms, as the climate and altitude in the Sierra Norte de Puebla mountains are ideal for growing this much-coveted bean. In the morning, you'll visit a coffee plantation that promotes a special kind of tourism. It's all part of a cooperative organized by indigenous farmers to improve their quality of life through communal farming and eco-tourism. Your hosts will take you on a tour of the plantation and explain the methods of sustainable agriculture they use in the 100% organic production of their coffee and other crops.

When you return to Cuetzalan, you'll continue the outing on a 1.5-hour tour of the town's lovely historical center. As you stroll the cobbled streets around the Plaza Principal (main square), you'll see several highlight buildings, including the neoclassical Municipal Palace. The most iconic landmark by far is the Iglesia de Los Jarritos. This Gothic Revival church was completed in 1895 and is one of 13 cathedrals in the state of Puebla dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

After the tour, your driver will pick you up for the 3.5-hour drive west to Cholula, a district within the historic city of Puebla.

Day 8: Cholula Market Tour

Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios in Cholula

Like Cuetzalan, Cholula is one of Mexico's Pueblos Mágicos. Located a few miles west of metropolitan Puebla, the area was first settled around 200 BCE, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities. By the time Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in 1519, Cholula was under Aztec control, and needless to say, the indigenous population didn't fare so well. One by-product of the Spanish occupation was the propagation of churches. This led to the popular myth of Cortés ordering the construction of 365 churches—"one for each day of the year"—though, in reality, the city has only 37.

You'll learn about Cholula's history, culture, myths, and legends on a 5-hour guided tour down its colorful streets. Then you'll head up to the Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios, Cholula's gilded neoclassical church that dates to 1574. It was famously built atop a 177-foot-high (54-m) pyramid that is part of a large pre-Hispanic archeological site. You'll have an impressive view of the city from the church and, on a clear day, can even see the towering volcanoes of the Valley of Mexico

A big part of the tour also focuses on the gastronomy of Cholula. To this end, you'll visit a local market and marvel at the wide variety of fresh produce and other foods on offer. In particular, Cholula is known for its handmade tortillas, a culinary tradition passed down from generation to generation. By participating in a tortilla workshop, you'll learn every step of this artisanal process, from milling the corn to shaping the final product with your hands. Naturally, once your batch of tortillas is ready, you'll get to snack on them with a refreshing drink. 

Day 9: Cholula to Oaxaca City, Walking Tour

Santo Domingo's Temple
Templo Santo Domingo

Head out early for the 4.5-hour drive south from Cholula to Oaxaca City, the state's capital of the same name. There are a lot of Spanish colonial landmarks here, but its deep culture comes from the predominantly Zapotec and Mixtec indigenous peoples native to the region. Upon arrival, you'll check in to your hotel and then head out on a 3.5-hour city tour to discover this culture.

The tour includes visiting the 18th-century stone Aqueduct, the historic (and colorful) Garcia Vigil street, and the Seminary of the Holy Cross. The latter is where Benito Juárez studied as a teenager. Juárez was a member of the Zapotec Nation and Mexico's first indigenous president. He's considered the father of modern Mexico, as he guided the country through revolutions and invasions.

Further on, you'll find El Templo del Carmen Bajo, a charming 16th-century church. Another historic church from the same time period is Santo Domingo de Guzmán, an impressive example of Baroque architecture. The area where the monastery was located has been converted into a museum and cultural center. Here you'll find pre-Columbian artifacts, including the contents of a tomb from nearby Monte Albán. You'll also stroll the cobbled walkway of Alcalá Street and visit the 16th-century Metropolitan Cathedral, which overlooks the Zócalo, the busy main square surrounded by cafés and restaurants.

Day 10: Hike the Puma Trail, Amaranth Workshop

Lookout point on the Puma Trail

For all the delights in the city, there are just as many adventures waiting for you in the surrounding Oaxaca Valley. Today you'll lace up your hiking boots and venture into this rugged territory. Your destination is San Pablo de Etla, a town in the Sierra Norte mountains. For years the community has devoted themselves to conserving the trees in this heavily wooded region of Oaxaca. From town, you'll embark on a 3-mile (5.3-km) guided hike through these protected pine-oak forests. The path is mostly clear and easy, and you'll stop at several incredible viewpoints that overlook the valley below.

You'll then pass by farmland, and your guide will reveal insight into how the locals cultivate their crops, as well as point out the various flora and fauna you see on the trail as you go.

The hike ends in San Pablo de Etla, where you'll participate in a workshop run by community members called Alegría de la Vida. It's run by local women dedicated to preserving the culture and use of amaranth. During this three-hour experience, you'll learn the history of this plant, utilized since antiquity and considered a "food of the gods" by the Aztecs. You'll learn how the grain is cultivated and the method to transform it into flour. You'll even participate in the making of a totally, a pre-hispanic dessert made with amaranth seeds.  

Day 11: Guided Hike Near Teotitlán, Cultural Exchange

Hike and tour of the handicraft village of Teotitlán
Hike in the countryside around Teotitlán

Wake early and embark on a full-day (nine-hour) excursion southeast of Oaxaca City to Teotitlán, a historic town whose residents famously produce artisanal handicrafts. It begins at sunrise, where after breakfast, you'll embark on a guided three-hour hike around the mountains and lake just north of town. The trail starts at the dam near Teotitlán, an excellent spot for birding. Here you can see hummingbirds, flycatchers, egrets, herons, and even roadrunners gathered around the water. The hike leads to the top of a mountain, where you'll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the Oaxaca Valley.

When you return to Teotitlán, a well-deserved, traditional meal will be waiting for you at the home of Josefina, a local woman whose prowess as a cook is matched only by her enormous heart. After lunch, she will show you the art of making hand-woven rugs, which is her family's trade. Afterward, you'll return to Oaxaca City.

Day 12: Depart Oaxaca

Adios, Oaxaca

This concludes your grand adventure in central Mexico. After breakfast, your driver will pick you up from your hotel for the ride to Oaxaca's airport, where you'll catch your flight home. ¡Buen viaje!

More Great Mexico Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Mexico? Check out these other Mexico itineraries, explore different ways to spend 12 days in Mexico, or learn about the best time of year to visit Mexico.

Map

Map of Discover Central Mexico: Morelia, Guanajuato, Acaxochitlán, Cuetzala, Cholula & Oaxaca - 12 Days
Map of Discover Central Mexico: Morelia, Guanajuato, Acaxochitlán, Cuetzala, Cholula & Oaxaca - 12 Days