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Family Mexico: Mayan temple adventures

12 days from £3,342pp

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Family Mexico: Mayan temple adventures:
Trip Dossier

Our family holiday to Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula is jam packed with fun things to do and exciting, educational opportunities to boot. It’s a perfect destination for families, with plenty of sunshine, sandy beaches and jungle ruins. Hotels have facilities and attractions for family members of all ages. 

Here, you’ll find vestiges of the once supreme Mayan civilisation. Sites replete with temples and pyramids festooned with sacred carvings were, once abandoned, swallowed up by a rapacious jungle but are now gradually being revealed. There’re all rather Indiana Jones. You’ll visit the best known sites, Chichén Itzá, Uxmal and Tulum: all are easily accessible; your guides will explain the history while the children climb the pyramids. 

You’ll also be based at the lively Spanish colonial town of Mérida, visit graceful Spanish colonial towns with their friendly Mayan inhabitants. Street markets, restaurants of all types and entertainments flourish here. 
 
At your beach hotel base on the soft-sand Caribbean coast at family-friendly Playa del Carmen there is time to laze on the beach and take part in water-sports and visit nearby wildlife reserves.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Cancún. Transfer to your hotel not far from the centre of town.

Day 2

Guided visit to sub-aquatic sculpture museum.

Day 3

Drive to Mayan archaeological site at Chichén Itzá. Overnight.

Day 4

Drive to Mérida, lively colonial and Mayan city; 4n.

Day 5

Guided tour to sisal hacienda Sotuta de Peón.

Day 6

Guided explorations of Mayan sites Uxmal and Kabah.

Day 7

Guided day trip to Celestún on the Gulf coast.

Day 8

By road to Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera.

Day 9

Guided excursion to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

Day 10

Guided trip to Tulum and Xel Há.

Day 11

At leisure on the beach.

Day 12

Transfer to Cancún airport for international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Cancún. Transfer to your hotel not far from the centre of town.
 
On arrival at Cancún you’ll be transferred to your hotel close to the town centre.  Cancún straddles a lagoon on the north-eastern tip of the Yucatán peninsula. It's a purpose-built resort. Beautiful beaches, good diving and water sports are the main attractions.
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Beach in Cancun Mexico

Day 2

Guided visit to sub-aquatic sculpture museum.
 
Guided trip to the Sub-aquatic Sculpture Museum. This unique underwater attraction is the brainchild of a British artist. Displayed on the ocean bed off the shores of Cancún, Isla Mujeres and Punta Nizuc are over 400 clay sculptures. The highlight is the so-called 'Silent Evolution' where life-size figures eerily hold hands in a circle.

The aim of this ongoing project is not only creative but focuses on the need to conserve the coral environment.  The clay models promote marine growth and in turn will form artificial coral over time, altering the appearance of the sculptures. A high-power speedboat takes you to the site where you will have a chance to snorkel amongst the various exhibits. All snorkelling equipment is included.

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Underwater sculpture

Day 3

Drive to Mayan archaeological site at Chichén Itzá. Overnight.
 
By road (2hrs) inland to Chichén Itzá, the grandest and best organised of all the Mayan sites, dominated by the huge, symmetrical, stepped El Castillo pyramid. You’ll have a private tour of the site with guide.

The origins of the site are mysterious. 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.

Accommodation is a short walk from the site and in the evening there is the option to return for the Sound and Light Show.

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El Castillo pyramid at Chichen Itza

Day 4

Drive to Mérida, lively colonial and Mayan city; 4n.
 
By road to Mérida (2hrs direct) capital of the state of Yucatán. The city was founded by the Maya but in 1542 it was conquered by the Spanish conquistadores and became immensely wealthy, described as the ‘Paris of the New World’. The city was culturally and geographically isolated from the rest of the country until transport infrastructure reached it in the 1950s.

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 Maya and the colonists, love a good fiesta, and you may well find one going on, with live music and street stalls, while you are there. Stroll around the sunny streets, shop for local lace or one of the region’s famous hammocks.

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Mestizo dancers in Merida.

Day 5

Guided tour to sisal hacienda Sotuta de Peón.
 
Today you have a guided excursion delving into the history of the Yucatán region and how it was shaped by the henequén (sisal) boom in the 1800s. The trip begins with a drive to a working henequén hacienda, Sotuta de Peón, 35km south of Mérida. The experience transport you back to the colonial era, as you witness the entire henequén production process - from plant to fibre, from fibre to finished product - all using century-old machinery. Ride out to the farming fields on an authentic wooden cart pulled by mules, with the option of a refreshing swim in a nearby cenote (a natural sinkhole typical of the Yucatán peninsula). 
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Hacienda Sotula

Day 6

Guided explorations of Mayan sites Uxmal and Kabah.
 
Guided exploration of the ruined ceremonial temples of Uxmal, for many the most dramatic forest-clad Mayan site. It’s just over an hour from Mérida, but you enter a different world. The site is dominated by the majestic Pyramid of the Magician, inhabited by birds and bats, alongside which is an elegant ‘nunnery’ quadrangle with Puuc-style complex stonework pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. The rain god Chac is represented by grotesque stone masks.

You’ll also visit the site of Kabah, where Chac also features in mosaic stone, with 250 masks on the Palace of Masks.

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Uxmal

Day 7

Guided day trip to Celestún on the Gulf coast.
 

Guided day trip to Celestún on the remote, undeveloped and swampy gulf coast.  In contrast to the lively city of Mérida,  Celestún is a low key beach resort favoured by Mexican families;  this once isolated fishing port has an inviting, broad white sandy beach and plenty of restaurants. But it is most famous for the lagoons at the entrance to town which are filled with rose-coloured flamingoes, usually on display.

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Celestun

Day 8

By road to Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera.
 
By road to Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera (4hrs). As its name suggests, this stretch of white-sand coastline has been comprehensively developed for tourism, with varying degrees of success from an aesthetic point of view. As you head south towards Tulum, the built-up area thins out and there are some lovely exclusive hotel properties. Playa, an hour’s drive south of Cancún, is a pleasant family resort with a lively pedestrianised centre overflowing with restaurants and bars. 
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Day 9

Guided excursion to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
 
Visit the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, a natural protected area 2hrs south of Playa del Carmen. It is a small ecotourism and education centre, an example of sustainable development in sensitive tropical ecosystems.

The reserve embraces tropical forest, mangrove and savannah and a coast and offshore marine reserve. The area is abundant with wildlife particularly aquatic birds. Other inhabitants include monkeys, tapirs, turtles, ocelots and jaguars.

Take a guided boat trip through the wetlands or hike through the jungle and discover the historical site of Muyil, an impressive Mayan temple.  You even have the opportunity to swim and float on the freshwater stream through the channels.

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Sian Ka'an

Day 10

Guided trip to Tulum and Xel Há.
 
Day trip to Tulum further south on the Caribbean coast. The small town of Tulum has small thatched palapa-style bars, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses flanking the main road which cuts through town and continues along the peninsula as far as Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve.

 The nearby beaches are simply superb with sugary white sand and enticing turquoise waters. To cap it all, the white Mayan ruins of Tulum are spectacularly perched on a cliff behind the main beach.

You’ll also visit the marine-life lagoon at Xel-Há, surrounded by mangroves and brimming with tropical fish. It’s rather commercialised, but the waters are inviting and you see a kaleidoscope of sub-aqua life forms.

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Tulum

Day 11

At leisure on the beach.
 
At leisure. Explore the ruins and relax on the beach below, or head inland to Mayan Cobá in the jungle. For a change from Mayan ruins you might visit the effervescent little resort of Playa del Carmen up the coast, a family friendly place where there is a plethora of restaurants, bars, shops and entertainment.  
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Mexico snorkelling

Day 12

Transfer to Cancún airport for international flight home.

Essential information

Transport

Accommodation

We have chosen family-friendly properties convenient for exploring the sporting and cultural attractions in the area. They are all mid-range resort style properties with plenty of facilities.

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch days 9, 10.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by clients on their return.

Included excursions

• Guided tour of Sub Aquatic Sculpture Museum
• Guided tour of Chichén Itzá Mayan city.
• Guided excursion to sisal hacienda.
• Guided tour of Uxmal and Kabah Mayan ruins.
• Guided day trip to Celestún on the Gulf coast.
• Full day guided adventure in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
• Full day exploration of Tulum and Xel Há.

Summary of nights

12 days, 11 nights: Cancún 2; Chichén Itzá 1; Mérida 4; Playa del Carmen 4.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office. • Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
• All land and air transport within Latin America.
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities.
• Meals other than specified.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket.
• Optional excursions.

Currency

The unit of currency in Mexico is the Mexican peso.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$45 per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking 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 also take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency, and possibly some travellers’ cheques, though these are gradually falling out of use (American Express are the most widely accepted). Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

Tipping

Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. 

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.

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

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

This holiday is suitable for family members of all ages. There are no long days of travel on this trip

If anyone in your family has a disability that we need to be aware of, please contact us. 

In the months of June to August the weather is extremely hot and humid. From July to November there are chances of tropical storms or hurricanes affecting the region.

Climate

The Yucatán peninsula is hot (around 30°C) and humid all year round. October to April is the driest and sunniest period. The hurricane season runs from July to November.

Clothing and special equipment

For day-to-day wear you should take loose-fitting, breathable clothes. Comfortable shoes are important and sandals are useful. A sun hat, sun block and sunglasses are necessary, and you should take a light fleece for cool nights, and a waterproof layer and/or umbrella, as well as swimwear and insect repellant. If you plan to go to good restaurants or out for evening entertainment, you might bring something a bit smarter as well (although formal attire will not be required).

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in South America.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following:  tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements, including advice on yellow fever and malaria tablets.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website. 

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.  Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to, or via the USA, you will need to fill in an ESTA application online at ESTA online
This costs $14 per person, and 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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