Explore the ruins of ancient cities, hike rugged mountain trails, and immerse yourself in indigenous culture on this 12-day deep dive into central Mexico. It begins in the capital with walking tours of the historic center before heading to Cholula and Oaxaca to visit local markets and see the sights. The last half of the trip is packed with active adventures like horseback riding and hiking through misty cloud forests before finishing on the gorgeous Pacific Coast.

Highlights

  • See the historic center of Mexico City and enjoy its street food
  • Ride a bicycle amid the ruins at Teotihuacán
  • Visit the markets of Cholula and hike in a biosphere reserve
  • Tour the Spanish-colonial landmarks in Oaxaca City
  • Go horseback riding in the jungles of Mexico's Pacific Coast

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Mexico City - History, Culture, & Gastronomy Tour Mexico City
Day 2 National Museum of Anthropology, Visit Chapultepec Park Mexico City
Day 3 Bike Tour of Teotihuacán, Transfer to Cholula Cholula
Day 4 Puebla History Walk & Cholula Highlights Tour Cholula
Day 5 Day Trip to Tehuacán-Cuicuitlan Biosphere Reserve Oaxaca
Day 6 Oaxaca City & Gastronomy Tour Oaxaca
Day 7 Temazcal Ceremony in Capulálpam, Optional Activities Capulálpam
Day 8 Forest Hike Outside Capulálpam, Transfer to Oaxaca Oaxaca
Day 9 Oaxaca to San José Del Pacífico, Cloud Forest Hike San José Del Pacífico
Day 10 Transfer to Mazunte, Optional Activities Mazunte
Day 11 Horseback Riding in Manialtepec, Biominuliscence Tour Mazunte
Day 12 Mazunte to Puerto Escondido, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Mexico City - History, Culture, & Gastronomy Tour

Tacos with carnitas and chicharrón
Tour Mexico City and nibble on some tacos

Welcome to Mexico! This beautiful Latin American nation is full of history, art, music, and some of the most delicious food in the world. The adventure begins in the nation's capital: Mexico City. Upon arrival at the airport, a personal driver will pick you up for the transfer to your hotel. After settling in, you'll head out and stretch your legs on a walking tour of "D.F." (Distrito Federal), as the locals call this city. On this excursion, you'll marvel at the historic architecture while also enjoying Mexico's renowned gastronomy.
 
It begins in the Centro Histórico (historic center), a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to many colonial and Aztec landmarks. 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, better known as Zócalo. This massive public square is home to historic buildings like the Metropolitan Cathedral (built over 250 years beginning in 1573), the 15th century National Palace, and the ruins of the 14th century Templo Mayor, once a principal temple of the Aztec Empire.

During the tour, you'll stop at a municipal market filled with produce vendors and food stalls. These markets are the heart of the city and are always buzzing with activity. Your guide will lead you through the maze of stalls and vendors as you hunt for the very best street tacos. As you go you'll inhale the aromas coming from each stall, and it's those enticing smells that represent Mexico City's history and culture.

Day 2: National Museum of Anthropology, Visit Chapultepec Park

Chapultepec Castle
After breakfast, you'll take a 2.5-hour guided tour of the National Museum of Anthropology, 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. Highlights 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.
 
Then you'll head into Mexico City's great outdoors for a 3-hour tour of Chapultepec Park. At 1,695 acres this is one of the largest urban green spaces in the world. It's also one of the oldest, as back in 1428 it was a summer retreat for Aztec rulers. Besides lakes and gardens, the park contains nine museums, a zoo, and an amusement park. One landmark that you'll visit is Chapultepec Castle, which dates to 1785 and is located atop the park's hill. Once the residence of the Viceroy of New Spain, today it's the National Museum of History, home to a magnificent collection of historic artifacts and murals.

Day 3: Bike Tour of Teotihuacán, Transfer to Cholula

Aerial view of the historic site
Aerial view of the historic site
In the morning your guide will pick you up at the hotel for the 1-hour drive outside the city to one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Mexico: Teotihuacán. Known as the "City of the Gods," this 8-sq-mile (20-sq-km) site was founded as early as 400 BCE, meaning it long pre-dates the Aztecs. During its heyday (around 500 CE) it was home to some 200,000 people and over 2,000 buildings, making it the largest city in the western hemisphere at the time. Rather than taking a walking tour of its wide pathways, you'll experience Teotihuacán a bit differently—on a bicycle. 
 
Upon arrival, you'll hop on a bike and cycle around the archaeological site, first passing the many murals that decorate the structures and which depict cultural and religious motifs as well as natural landscapes. Then travel down the Avenue of the Dead, Teotihuacán's main path that runs for 2 km. You'll also visit the Pyramid of the Sun, the most prominent structure at 215 feet (66 m), and the Pyramid of the Moon, which towers 140 feet (43 m). Then stop at the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (Temple of the Feathered Serpent), which has bas-reliefs of the feathered serpent deity carved into its sides.
 
After the tour, you'll enjoy a pulque tasting. Known to the Aztecs as "the blood of the gods," this traditional Mexican spirit is made from fermented aguamiel (sap) of the maguey plant, which is a type of agave. You'll also visit a workshop specializing in the pre-Hispanic flavors of the Teotihuacán region, which makes products from local flora like the fruits of the nopal and xoconostle plants. 

Later in the afternoon, you'll embark on a 2-hour drive south to the historic district of Cholula, located a couple of miles outside Puebla. After checking in to your hotel you'll have the evening free. 

Day 4: Puebla History Walk & Cholula Highlights Tour

Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios, in Cholula
In the morning, head into Puebla for a guided walking tour of its well-preserved historic center. Start at the 17th-century Baroque Cathedral, which overlooks the Zócalo de Puebla (main plaza). Then continue to a talavera (hand-made pottery) workshop followed by the Palafoxiana Library, which dates to 1646. You'll also visit the Calle de Los Dulces (home to an array of artisanal sweet shops), the Barrio del Artista (the city's Arts District), and Barrio de Los Sapos (a historic neighborhood where you can shop for antiques), as well as the El Parián handicrafts market.

Afterward, return to Cholula with your guide and explore this historic enclave's iconic architecture. On this tour, 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. From the church you'll have an impressive view of the city 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, which is a culinary tradition passed down from generation to generation. Needless to say, you'll get to sample many of the maíz (corn)-based dishes the region is known for.

Day 5: Day Trip to Tehuacán-Cuicuitlan Biosphere Reserve

Hike the cactus forests of Tehuacán-Cuicuitlan

After breakfast, your local guide will pick you up for the 2.5-hour drive south to the Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Reserve. This protected area's unique position in a valley bordered by three mountain ranges has resulted in incredible biodiversity, one example being its forests of columnar cacti endemic to the area. This in turn has led to the reserve being recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

In the indigenous Nahuatl language, Tehuacán means “Place of God,” and once you arrive you'll see why. On a walking tour of the area, your guide will point out the unique cacti that thrive here as well as the other flora and fauna that characterize this ecosystem, which is home to 85 reptile species and 338 bird species. After the nature walk, continue driving another 2.5 hours to Oaxaca City, which is the capital of the state of the same name. Getting there is half the fun, as this scenic drive through Mexico's fertile Oaxaca Valley boasts some of the country's most beautiful landscapes. 

Day 6: Oaxaca City & Gastronomy Tour

See the highlights of Oaxaca City

In the morning you'll head out for a 3.5-hour guided city tour to discover the cultural, historical, and gastronomic richness this incredible city offers. You'll visit 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.
 
At the corner of Oaxaca's Jardín Etnobotánico (botanical garden) sits Santo Domingo de Guzmán, an impressive Baroque church dating to the 16th century. Inside, 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 the nearby archeological site of Monte Albán. You'll also stroll the cobbled, pedestrian walkway of Alcalá Street and visit the 16th-century Metropolitan Cathedral, which overlooks the Zócalo, the busy main square filled with vendors and surrounded by cafés and restaurants.

Speaking of food, Oaxaca boasts some of the best in the country, and you'd be remiss if you didn't indulge. Traditional dishes include tlayudas (a kind of giant grilled quesadilla), tetelas (stuffed corn tortillas folded into triangles), tamales Oaxaqueños (tamales wrapped in banana leaves ), and chapulines (fried crickets often served with guacamole). After the tour, you can head to a mezcalería to sample this regional spirit made from the agave plant. Or, if you're a teetotaler, pull up a seat at an outdoor café around the main square and sip on a spiced hot chocolate, which is a staple of the region.

Day 7: Temazcal Ceremony in Capulálpam, Optional Activities

The highland town of Capulálpam
Today you're in for a real treat as your driver will take you on a 2-hour drive north into the Oaxaca highlands and the lovely town of Capulálpam, where you'll overnight. Here you'll experience an ancient ancestral ceremony known as temazcal, a ritual steam bath that dates back thousands of years. It was practiced widely in ancient Mesoamerica to promote health and hygiene while healing the body after physical trauma such as childbirth. Today's indigenous residents keep the tradition alive by performing these ceremonies for the same spiritual and purification purposes as their forebears.
 
Now it's your turn to enter the temazcal (a dome-shaped structure) and take part in the ritual. The experience is not unlike a Lakota (Sioux) sweat lodge ceremony, and indeed the basic design of the temazcal was inspired by the Lakota. However, the indigenous here altered the experience to reflect their worship of Goddess Tonantzin (Mother Earth)—so much so that this temazcal represents her womb. To emerge from the structure after purification is symbolic of rebirth, with the idea being that you are now operating at peak spiritual and physical health. 

After the experience, you can enjoy some free time in Capulálpam. Located in the mountains of the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca, this village is so beautiful it was named one of Mexico's 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. Activities here include strolling the cobbled streets, browsing the local markets, visiting the 16th-century Templo de San Mateo church, or taking a nature hike in the surrounding forest.

Day 8: Forest Hike Outside Capulálpam, Transfer to Oaxaca

Experience the beauty of Oaxaca's highlands

Your local guide will meet you bright and early for a hike around the woods outside of Capulálpam. You'll follow a scenic nature trail through the wooded highlands up to La Ventana ("The Window") one of the most stunning viewpoints in the region. From here, you can look out to panoramic views of Oaxaca's valley floor. The hike continues until you reach the crystalline waters of the Los Molinos River, and you'll follow the river's edge until you reach the Los Molinos Recreation Center. Stop here for lunch at the restaurant—which also offers incredible views of the Oaxaca Valley.

After the hike, you'll make the drive back to Oaxaca City, where you'll overnight. 

Day 9: Oaxaca to San José Del Pacífico, Cloud Forest Hike

Clouds blanketing the forests of San José Del Pacífico
In the morning you'll leave Oaxaca on a 3-hour drive south toward the ocean and the highland town of San José del Pacifico. This laid-back village is nestled in the coastal mountains of Oaxaca and has an almost mystical quality due to the mist that comes in from the ocean and blankets the surrounding forest. It also boasts stunning views and there are plenty of options for nature hikes. 

Speaking of which, upon arrival, you'll stretch your legs on a 3-hour, medium-level hike through the forest on the outskirts of San José. During the outing, you'll be accompanied by a local guide who will point out the flora and fauna of this scenic area and take you to magnificent viewpoints. You'll also hike up through misty cloud forest to a small village where you'll stop for a meal and to enjoy the sights. 

Day 10: Transfer to Mazunte, Optional Activities

Welcome to Mazunte

After breakfast, you'll take a 3-hour drive down from San José to the coast and the town of Mazunte. After checking in to your hotel, you'll have the rest of the day free. Besides enjoying the multiple beaches this town offers, you should also visit the sea turtle sanctuary and aquarium. At the latter, you can learn all about the 6 of the 7 species of sea turtles that call this part of Mexico home. Another attraction is an ecologically safe, all-natural cosmetics factory that is open to visitors.

For the perfect end to the day, make the 20-minute hike up the mountain by Mazunte to the Punta Cometa lookout which is the best place to watch the sunset over the water. 

Day 11: Horseback Riding in Manialtepec, Biominuliscence Tour

Biominuliscence at Laguna Manialtepec
In the morning you'll embark on a day trip that will carry over into the nighttime. It begins with a transfer to a village, from which you'll embark on a horseback riding tour around the coastal jungle and mangroves. It's not only a scenic trip but you'll also pass by the crops that are the engine of this regional economy. These include corn, papaya, peanut, and coconut farms—plus you'll see plenty of livestock. Riding around the mangroves is also a great opportunity to spot the various birds that call this area home, like parrots, falcons, pelicans, herons, kingfishers, ospreys, and ibises.

After the ride, you'll transfer to Laguna Manialtepec, a 3.5-mile (6 km) lagoon located just west of Puerto Escondido. From here board a boat and cross the lagoon to Puerto Suelo Beach to watch the sunset over the water. Then get back on the boat for the most incredible sight of all: bioluminescence. This spectacle is caused by microorganisms in the water that light up when agitated, such as by waves or boat motors. It's best experienced during a new moon, as that's when the sky is darkest and the colors here are more vivid, lighting up the waters all around you.

Day 12: Mazunte to Puerto Escondido, Depart

Come back soon!
At the appropriate time, your driver will pick you up at your hotel for the 1-hour drive to the airport in Puerto Escondido, where you'll catch your flight home. ¡Hasta Pronto!

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Map of Food, Culture, & Adventure in Central Mexico - 12 Days
Map of Food, Culture, & Adventure in Central Mexico - 12 Days