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Eagle: Aztecs, Mayas and conquistadores

14 days from £2,228pp

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Eagle: Aztecs, Mayas and conquistadores:
Trip Dossier

Mexico is one of Latin America's most vibrant and entertaining destinations, with a huge diversity of historical, cultural and natural attractions. Lose yourself in the superb museums and teeming plazas of the megapolis Mexico City, wander the cobbled streets and soak up the Spanish colonial features of Oaxaca, Campeche and Mérida. Explore the glorious ancient monuments which lay hidden, smothered and silent for centuries amid the deep valleys and jungles of the south, before ending your trip in the lush Yucatán Peninsula, fringed by white sand beaches. 

From here you're well positioned to extend your trip to Mexico's Caribbean coast, to Cuba, or across the border to Guatemala.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

UK clients depart arriving Mexico City the same day.

Day 1

Overnight in the capital.

Day 2

Optional visit to Coyoacán, Frida Kahlo museum and Xochimilco.

Day 3

Visit the Museum of Anthropology and Teotihuacán pyramids.

Day 4

Drive to Oaxaca via the city of Puebla.

Day 5

Visit pre-Columbian archaeological sites Mitla and Monte Albán.

Day 6

By air and road to San Cristóbal de las Casas via Sumidero Canyon.

Day 7

Excursion to villages San Juan Chamula and Zinancantán.

Day 8

Drive to Palenque via the waterfalls and pools of Misol-Ha and Agua Azul.

Day 9

Guided tour of the archaeological site Palenque.

Day 10

Drive to the historic city of Campeche.

Day 11

Continue to Mérida via Mayan temples at Uxmal.

Day 12

At leisure: explore Mérida or visit the gulf coast.

Day 13

Drive to Mayan Chichén Itzá; guided tour of the ruins.

Day 14

Depart from Cancún on international flight or extension.

UK clients arrive home the following day.

Detailed itinerary

UK clients depart arriving Mexico City the same day.

Day 1

Overnight in the capital.
 

Those passengers arriving on an international flight will be met at the airport by the tour leader or one of our local representatives and accompanied to your hotel. Mexico City, known by the local people simply as ‘DF’ (Distrito Federal), was built on the site of Tenochtotlán, the capital of the Aztec Empire, and it lies at 2,250m above sea level. Vast, chaotic and vibrant, this sprawling megapolis of more than 20 million people has a multitude of attractions.

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Mexico City

Day 2

Optional visit to Coyoacán, Frida Kahlo museum and Xochimilco.
 
Your day begins in Mexico City's colossal main square (or zócalo), with visits to the cathedral and to see Diego Rivera's impassioned murals in the National Palace, which depict episodes in the country's history. Later you have the opportunity to make an optional visit to the arty quarter of Coyoacán, on the outskirts of Mexico City, where Spanish conqueror Cortés set up one of his many homes. It is a colourful collection of colonial buildings, plazas, former mansions and museums. Visit the former studio of artist Frida Kahlo, with a touching display of her life and work, along with her relationship with both fellow artist Diego Riviera and Russian/Ukranian radical Trotsky, and continue to the museum Anahuacalli, which was built by Diego Rivera to showcase his collection of 60,000 pre-Hispanic artefacts.

You may prefer to opt for a guided tour taking you 10km south to the floating gardens of Xochimilco, which since Aztec times has been a major source of fruit and vegetables for the city. It is famous for its colourful gondola style punts known as 'trajineras' sometimes accompanied by mariachi bands who serenade you as you drift along.

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Teotihuacan

Day 3

Visit the Museum of Anthropology and Teotihuacán pyramids.
 
Today you visit the famous Museum of Anthropology, one of the world's finest, housing remarkable displays of Aztec artefacts alongside crafts and tools from other ancient civilisations. It's a fantastic introduction to the superb and sometimes grisly artistic achievements of Mexico's early inhabitants.

Head out into the countryside towards the megalithic archaeological site of Teotihuacán. Teotihuacán dates from the time of Christ and was once one of the largest cities in the world. It is hugely influential in the historic narrative of modern Mexico and, although it had already been abandoned by the time of the Aztecs, even this great empire held it in awe. Stroll along the imposing Avenue of the Dead leading to the vast Pyramid of the Sun, and take the opportunity to climb its vertiginous, ancient steps for a panorama of both the ruins and surrounding countryside.

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Day 4

Drive to Oaxaca via the city of Puebla.
 
Leave the capital and travel south-east by road towards the southern highlands and the city of Oaxaca. En route you break the journey in Puebla, the most Spanish of Mexican cities, with its hundreds of churches and thousands of colonial buildings, many adorned with hand-painted tiles.

In the afternoon you will travel into the remote, rugged sierras and reach the city of Oaxaca. The population in this area is still dominated by Zapotec and Mixtec indians, while the town has many examples of well-preserved colonial architecture, some fine museums and a thriving artistic community, as well as a wonderful climate.

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Oaxaca

Day 5

Visit pre-Columbian archaeological sites Mitla and Monte Albán.
 
You’ll head out of town to visit the nearby archaeological site at Monte Albán, a Zapotec ceremonial centre. Strategically located on an artificially levelled hill where 3 valleys meet, the site has superb views over the surrounding area. There is time to explore the strange carvings, burial chambers and temples.

Your excursion continues to Mitla; a name that translates as 'place of the dead'. Here you can explore the pre-Columbian ruins of four great palaces, their impressive mosaics and bas reliefs, many of which remain incredibly well preserved. The peace and quiet of the cobbled streets is a welcome contrast to the busy capital and there is time to wander around at your leisure; relax in the zócalo with a margarita, and snack on chapulin, the local delicacy of fried grasshoppers, or sample some of the other excellent cuisine for which the town is famed.

For 2017 we will have 3 nights in Oaxaca allowing for further exploration of the area.

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Day 6

By air and road to San Cristóbal de las Casas via Sumidero Canyon.
 
Fly to Tuxtla Gutierrez, via Mexico City and continue by road to the town of San Cristóbal de las Casas (2 hrs). En route there is a stop at the Sumidero Canyon; this is a geological fault where the cliffs tower above at over 900m. The canyon is considered important in the region and features on the coat of arms of the state of Chiapas.

San Cristóbal is a town of atmospheric streets, with a sprawling handicrafts market, bohemian cafés and hilltop churches. It is a heady mixture of wonderful colonial, baroque and neoclassical architecture, and indigenous culture and influences.

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Sumidero Canyon

Day 7

Excursion to villages San Juan Chamula and Zinancantán.
 
A short drive away is San Juan Chamula, a small indigenous village with an adobe church. Entering its wooden doors is like passing into another world; local people clad in traditional blue tops weave through a forest of candles and Coca Cola bottle lids that cover the floor, performing mysterious rites amid a dense fog of incense and accompanied by incessant murmuring.

From here there may be time to visit the neighbouring village of Zinancantán, where local men wear bright red tasselled jackets and women a distinctive blue shawl.

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Day 8

Drive to Palenque via the waterfalls and pools of Misol-Ha and Agua Azul.
 

This morning you’ll head north by bus, passing through highland forests and coffee plantations, before descending along a winding road out towards the Lácandon rainforest. As the journey progresses the air becomes more humid and there is a break for a refreshing dip in the clear blue water pool and waterfalls at Agua Azul (currently this is off limits due to roadblocks) and Misol Há. You arrive in Palenque in the evening (the journey time is approximately 5 hours, not including stops).

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Day 9

Guided tour of the archaeological site Palenque.
 
An early start today allows a chance to explore Palenque in the cool of the morning before the other visitors arrive. Perched on the edge of the foothills and surrounded by dense jungle vegetation, Palenque is perhaps the most beautifully situated of the classical Mayan sites. A maze-like palace and the impressive stepped Temple of the Inscriptions dominate; deep inside the latter there is a crypt containing the sarcophagus of Palenque's greatest ruler, Lord Pacal.

Discovered in 1952, the sarcophagus dates back to AD683. The great pyramids of the Maya were usually used as platforms from which to worship the gods, so this pharaoh-style burial is untypical. Exploring the ruins which emerge from the steamy rainforest, you feel as if you are discovering them yourself for the first time. Take some moments to wander off and be alone; it can be mystical experience.

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Palenque

Day 10

Drive to the historic city of Campeche.
 

Your journey continues northwards overland to the Gulf of Mexico and Unesco World Heritage city Campeche (5hrs). The city is rightfully proud of its status and has done much to restore and reconstruct its colonial heart, and along with the many Spanish built mansions that remain, there are still parts of the original city walls standing. A boulevard runs along the promenade which skirts the Gulf of Mexico, offering amazing sunsets as the clouds roll in across the sea.

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Day 11

Continue to Mérida via Mayan temples at Uxmal.
 
North-east of Campeche lies the archaeological site of Uxmal, dominated by the majestic Pyramid of the Magician, alongside which is an elegant nunnery quadrangle with Puuc-style complex stonework pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. Strolling through the ruins, cradled in dense vegetation shading the visitor from the scorching sun is a magical experience.

From Uxmal it’s a drive of just 80km to the capital of the Yucatán state, Mérida. Today, Mérida retains a lovely colonial centre, with a mix of opulent and crumbly buildings but it is a modern, bustling, thriving city, with lots of local character, some excellent places to eat and good shops and markets. The inhabitants, descendants of the Mayans and the colonists, love a good fiesta, and you may well find one going on, with live music and market stalls, while you are there.

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Day 12

At leisure: explore Mérida or visit the gulf coast.
 
For wildlife enthusiasts, an optional trip to Celestún can be arranged. Set in the middle of a wildlife sanctuary, this area abounds with resident and migratory waterfowl, with flamingoes being the main attraction. Combine some bird spotting with a stroll down the white-sand beach which stretches north from here for kilometres.

Alternatively you may prefer to spend a day at leisure, exploring the busy, cobbled streets of colonial Mérida, and browsing for souvenirs from the excellent selection of cotton handicrafts and jewellery (the town is known for its hammocks).

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Day 13

Drive to Mayan Chichén Itzá; guided tour of the ruins.
 

From Mérida you are driven to Chichén Itzá (3 hrs), the grandest of all the Mayan sites, dominated by the huge, symmetrical, stepped El Castillo pyramid. The origins of the site are mysterious, and appear to have Toltec as well as Mayan influences. It has the largest and best-preserved ball court in the Americas; the venue for an ancient ritual game that was played throughout the continent, but which is still not fully understood. Archaeologists have not been able to determine whether the losers or winners were decapitated, but judging from the gory carvings along the base of the court’s walls, someone certainly came to an unpleasant end. There is also a huge sacred well, the Cenote Sagrado, which was used for ritual purposes. Offerings (jade, gold and human) have been retrieved from its depths. Accommodation is a short walk from the site and in the evening there is the option to return to the ruins for the Sound and Light Show.

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Chichen Itza

Day 14

Depart from Cancún on international flight or extension.

UK clients arrive home the following day.

Essential information

Transport

1 flight (5 hrs with connections), 6 road journeys (longest 7 hrs with stops).

Accommodation

On this tour we use high quality hotels which are generally of a standard equivalent to 4 star accommodation in Europe; several oozing with local character. 

Examples of hotels are 
• Mexico City: Hotel Zocalo Central
• Oaxaca: Hostal de la Noria
• San Cristóbal: Casa Vieja   
• Palenque: Hotel Chan Kah 
• Campeche: Hotel Plaza  
• Mérida: Casa del Balam
• Chichén Itzá: Mayaland

 These hotels are subject to change and are dependent on availability. Address and contact details will be sent out with your final documents.

Meals

Breakfast daily.

Included excursions

• Mexico City: Museum of Anthropology
• Mexico City: city tour
• Mexico City: Teotihuacán archaeological site
• Oaxaca: walking city tour
• Oaxaca: Monte Albán and Mitla
• Sumidero Canyon
• San Cristóbal: San Juan Chamula and Zincantan
• Palenque Mayan ruins
• Mérida: Uxmal ruins
• Chichén Itzá: guided tour of Mayan ruins

Summary of nights

2016 - 14 days, 13 nights: Mexico City 3; Oaxaca 2; San Cristóbal 2; Palenque 2; Campeche 1; Mérida 2; Chichén Itzá 1.

2017 - 15 days, 14 nights: Mexico City 3; Oaxaca 3; San Cristóbal 2; Palenque 2; Campeche 1; Mérida 2; Chichén Itzá 1.

Included in the journey price

• Services of Journey Latin America tour leader
• All land and domestic air transport
• Accommodation as specified
• Meals as specified
• Excursions as specified

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and insurance
• Meals other than specified
• Optional excursions

Optional excursions

There are optional excursions which are booked locally through your tour leader once you are in Latin America. Not all excursions available will suit everybody, whilst others only operate within certain seasons, with minimum numbers or may not be included due to time constraints. A budget of around $120 should cover participation in the following options, but prices can fluctuate depending on the size of the party and so cannot be provided accurately until travel commences. The list below is only a guideline, so please enquire with your tour leader for any further areas of interest:

• Mexico City: visit the Frida Kahlo Museum in the historic neighbourhood Coyacán 
• Mexico City: cruise on a traditional gondola along the rural canals of Xochimilco
• Mérida: Visit the gulf resort Celestun: spot flamingos, take a boat trip, sunbathe on the beach

Travelling alone

There is no extra cost for single travellers who are willing to share a room. You will be accommodated with another same-sex member of the group who is also travelling solo. For single travellers who wish to have their own room there are a limited number of single rooms available which carry a surcharge.

Currency

The unit of currency in Mexico is the Mexican Peso.

Budget

A budget of around US$50 per day should cover the cost of meals, drinks and the odd souvenir.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds. 

We recommend that you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency. These bills should be in good condition as soiled or torn bills may be refused. Travellers’ cheques are increasingly less favoured by visitors who find them difficult to exchange as well as offering a poor rate of exchange. If you do decide to carry some with you they should be US dollar cheques only (American Express are by far the most accepted brand).

Tipping

Tips are normally welcomed and expected. Local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. We recommend approximately $US2 (or local equivalent) per person per day for each of guides and drivers, depending on the size of the group. 

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

If you would like to show your appreciation to your Journey Latin America tour leader, who you may feel has exceeded your expectations, a discretionary gratuity would be gratefully received. As a guideline we recommend an amount of between $4 and $6 per person, per day. You are obviously free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on your perception of service quality.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential. Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page. 

Airport taxes

International departure tax is included on the ticket.

Journey Grade

This journey covers some large distances and although we try and make it as relaxed as possible there are some long days of travel. However all transportation is private and comfortable and accommodation is of a high standard. Walks and excursions are optional; ascents to some of the pyramids at the Maya and Aztec sites can be steep and vertiginous. Consult your tour leader if you have any doubts.

Climate

In Mexico City and the mountain towns the climate is temperate all year round. 
The wet/rainy season lasts through June to August, which usually means a couple of hours of rain in the afternoon. Don't be discouraged from visiting the mountains during rainy season - you'll see a lush, green landscape (as opposed to the dry season's parched, brown landscape) and it often only rains in the late afternoons and evenings. During the rest of the year there is little or no rain.

The Yucatan is hot all year round, with temperatures consistently over 30 degrees Celsius, with the rainy season also falling from June to September.

Clothing and special equipment

Bring plenty of light cotton clothing and good, comfortable walking shoes. Some warm items and waterproof jackets are also necessary for all departures. We suggest that you plan to 'layer' your clothing; it is easier and more efficient to put on a couple of light layers than one thick jumper. Sandals are a good informal option for evenings. Protection against the sun (sunblock, sun hat) and mosquito repellent are essential and you should bring swimwear. It's a good idea to take a day-pack in which to carry guidebook, water, extra layers etc whilst on excursions.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements, including advice on malaria tablets. You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website. 

Although Yellow Fever is not prevalent in Mexico people arriving from a Yellow Fever at 'risk' country, may be denied entry without a valid certificate so please bare this in mind if arriving from outside the UK or countries with similar Yellow Fever status.

Cases of Zika virus have been reported in parts of Latin America. If you’re pregnant, or planning to be, you should follow the advice of the  National Travel Health Network and Centre

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins.   Clients with a different nationality enquire or check with the Mexican Consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online

This costs $14 per person. This must be done by you personally.

Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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