Mexico | The Maya
Of all Mesoamerican civilisations, the Maya have enjoyed the most enduring hold on the popular imagination. For a long time, the jungle-clad ruins remained intriguing, yet shrouded in mystery. Recent progress in deciphering Maya writing has unlocked many of their secrets, revealing a society as complex as their art and architecture previously suggested. This is one of Andante’s most adventurous trips, starting with the superb museums of Mexico City, then travelling via the uplands of Chiapas, into the jungle and the great river Usumacinta, before driving up the Yucatan peninsula. A thrilling journey through the rich and colourful landscapes of Mexico to see some of the greatest of the Maya cities.
- Travel by plane, 4x4 and motor-launch to sites deep in the jungles of the Maya, and up in the pine-clad highlands
- Exciting archaeology - lost cities, spectacular temples, and vibrant art
- World-class museums hold a cornucopia of artefacts from every Mexican civilisation...
- We visit Mexico city’s artisan quarter to see Frida Kahlo’s house
- The New World
- Historic Churches
- Special Access
- Small Group
- All Inclusive
We land in the awesome capital of Mexico City and transfer to our comfortable hotel at the centre of it all. ¡Bienvenido a Mexico!
After a delicious breakfast we venture out to explore the sights of the capital. Built on the site of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán, and atop a sacred lake, the city’s waterlogged foundations can’t quite support some of its older buildings, which we see at odd depths and angles, partially sunk.
As part of our introduction to Mexico City we enjoy special access to the remains of the Aztec Templo Mayor, just north of the central plaza, which are personally presented to us by a local archaeologist. This was one of the main temples for the city’s Aztec inhabitants, and is said to have been built on the spot at which a snake-carrying eagle landed on a cactus: apparently a sign from the god Huitzilopochtli that the Mexica people had reached the promised land.
On our second day in Mexico City, we encounter a wealth of artefacts at the National Museum of Anthropology, one of the finest museums in the world, with collections spanning every era of Mexico’s richly-textured past. Don’t miss the Aztec Calendar Stone, or Sun Stone, a prized sculpture unearthed from Mexico City cathedral in 1790, the precise purpose of which remains a tantalising mystery…
After lunch, we journey to the city’s artisan quarter to visit Frida Kahlo’s iconic Blue House. Kahlo grew up here, and lived in the building for years with her husband Diego Rivera, before passing away in one of its upper rooms in 1954. Inside we find dazzling interiors and original artwork from both Kahlo and Rivera – a visual feast.
This morning we fly south to the Chiapas Highlands, a dramatic region of plateaus, pine forests, volcanoes and mountains. On arrival we drive to the handsome colonial town of San Cristóbal, nestling in the verdant Hueyzacatlán Valley. Known in the Tzotzil and Tzeltal languages as “the place in the clouds”, the town is home to a large indigenous population, some of whom are involved in the production of local arts and crafts. This afternoon we take a look at the handiwork of some of the many hundreds of local weavers that reside here. A delightful way to get to know the area.
A relaxed day begins with a visit to the Mayan town of Chamula. Uniquely within Mexico, the town is autonomous and has its own indigenous police force – no Mexican military or police personnel are allowed within its limits. We stop at the enchanting Church of San Juan, which comprises both Mayan and Catholic features. Instead of pews, the floor is covered with pine needles, and thousands of candles usher in the light.
This afternoon we have more time to discover the charms of San Cristóbal, strolling along its cobbled streets and delving into bustling local markets.
We drive east to Toniná, a spectacular pre-Columbian site in the fertile Ocosingo valley. Here we find one of the largest pyramids in Mexico – an architectural giant at 74-metres high – and various traces of a ruthless Mayan civilisation, including sculptures of decorated rulers, reliefs of bound captives and images of savagely-murdered victims.
Evidence has shown that the people of Toniná were engaged in sporadic warfare with the inhabitants of Palenque. Tomorrow we visit the seat of their greatest rivals…
We spend a full day amid the ruins of Palenque, nestling in the wilds of the jungle. The city possesses original art and architecture of remarkable quality, most famously the Temple of the Inscriptions, where Palenque’s greatest king, Pacal, lies buried in a massive sarcophagus. The hieroglyphics here have been crucial in piecing the story of Palenque together. Established in around 226 BC, the city flourished for centuries, and frequently engaged in combat with other states such as Toniná and Calakmul.
It is believed that little more than 10% of the total city area has so far been uncovered away from the central acropolis. Who knows what secrets still remain beneath the forest floor?
This morning we journey to the wonderfully-preserved site of Bonampak, treasured for its colourful murals and detailed carved stelae. We marvel at the vivid scenes on display in the aptly-named Temple of the Murals: witness women engaged in ritual bloodletting, musicians performing, and figures involved in a tortuous cull.
We then enjoy an adventurous journey by motor launch along the wide Usumacinta River to the jungle site of Yaxchilán, a shaded assortment of dynastic hieroglyphics, carved stalactites, and ornamental lintels. A thrilling opportunity to channel your inner Indiana Jones!
Today we drive north to the coastal city of Campeche, which was founded by Spanish settlers in 1540. The city achieved UNESCO World Heritage status in 1991 thanks to its magnificent Baroque colonial centre. Prepare for magical cobblestone streets, model mansions, illuminating museums, and fortified ramparts – all complemented by the refreshing sea breezes of the Mexican Gulf.
We begin our day with a visit to the remote Puuc site of Edzná, with a grand plaza and a complex system of dams and canals. It is thought that a settlement was first established here in around 600 BC, and continued to thrive until the colonial era. Abandoned, the city lay undiscovered until 1907.
Our next stop is Sayil, a ruined Late Classic city believed to have been governed by a dynasty financed by agricultural successes. At the height of its power, some 10,000 inhabitants lived here.
We round off the day at Kabah, a site famed for its Palace of the Masks – a structure decorated with hundreds of stone masks of the long-nosed rain god Chaac; an effect seen nowhere else in Mayan architecture.
This morning we reach Uxmal, a Mayan city renowned for its elegant architecture and exceptional state of preservation. The name of Uxmal translates to “thrice-built”, a title which refers to its highest building, the Pyramid of the Magician, which was constructed on top of existing pyramids. The layout of the city indicates architects in possession of significant astronomical knowledge: its spaces are organised in relation to phenomena such as the transit of Venus. Highlights here include the House of the Turtles and the enormous Governor’s Palace.
We continue to colonial Mérida, the Yucatán’s cultural capital, enjoying a free afternoon to explore the pristine city centre.
We remain in Mérida this morning, and pay a visit to the new Mundo Maya Museum. This fabulous museum was built to celebrate Mayan culture and does so in a highly engaging way. Get up close to priceless artefacts such as a reclining chac-mool sculpture from Chichén Itzá, and learn how the culture of the region has transformed throughout the ages.
This afternoon we head for Izamal to visit the impressive Franciscan Monastery, the atrium of which is second only to that of the Vatican in terms of size. Pay close attention to the hills surrounding this city – not naturally formed, they are, in fact, the remains of ancient pyramids.
Prepare for an encounter with one of the Seven Wonders of the New World: staggering Chichén Itzá is the most famous of all Maya sites, and wows travellers from far and wide with its striking images of sacrifice and feathered serpents. View the well of the Sacred Cenote, from where a plethora of gold, jade, pottery and human remains has been recovered, and observe the bizarre echo effects which are experienced at the ballcourt and temple stairway.
After lunch we continue to the walled city of Ek Balam, a lesser-known archaeological site, which was the once the seat of a Mayan kingdom. Here it is possible to climb the steep steps of the pyramid for a marvellous view of the surrounding jungle.
We spend our morning at the Cobá ruins, where intriguing figures of the “diving god” adorn the ancient architecture, and brave visitors clutch ropes in order to ascend the crumbling steps of Nohoch Mul Pyramid. Astounding views of the Yucatán and nearby lakes make for an ample reward.
Our day’s adventures come to an end at the coastal site of Tulum, a pre-Columbian port and city situated spectacularly against the backdrop of the Caribbean Sea. Here lazy iguanas sun themselves on the open grass, and clifftop temples take the breath away.
Our last morning in Mexico sees us luxuriating, iguana-like, at our beach-side hotel, before we take a transfer to the airport for our return flight home. It is time to make our fond farewells.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
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