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Honeymoon in Mexico: Lost cities and beaches of the Mayan Riviera

12 days from £3245pp

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Honeymoon in Mexico: Lost cities and beaches of the Mayan Riviera

12 days from £3245pp
 

Private Journey

 

Day 1

Arrive in Cancun. Transfer to your hotel in Tulum.
 

Transfer to Tulum at the southern end of the Caribbean Riviera Maya. While many people are familiar with Cancún and its fleshpots, it doesn’t make for the most romantic or private of holidays, with its hectic atmosphere. We therefore send you to the small town of Tulum, a low-key beach alternative to the major resorts. Small thatched palapa-style hotels and guesthouses flank the main road that cuts through town and continue 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 Mayan ruins of Tulum are spectacularly perched on a cliff behind the delightful main beach.

 

Tulum Ruins

Day 2-3

At leisure.
 

At leisure at Tulum, which means “City of the Dawn”. There’s plenty of time to explore the 12th century Maya-Toltec ruins which cling to the cliff-top 15m above the Caribbean Sea. The site is particularly attractive as the buildings are constructed from white stone. It isn’t the most imperial of the sites and the buildings are quite modest but the location makes up for all that. It is particularly striking before sunset, as the colours which frame the ruins, and the sea beyond, deepen.

The village itself now receives quite a number of visitors but has maintained a rustic atmosphere, while some of the back-packer thatched hostels are now thatched boutique hotels.

If you are keen to visit more Mayan sites, just 47km inland from Tulum is Cobá, an abandoned Maya city stifled by jungle. There are pyramids to climb but the area has not been fully excavated.  There is a small, friendly village close by which welcomes only a few visitors.

Day 4

Transfer to Chichén Itzá. Guided tour of Mexico’s most extensive Mayan archaeological site.
 

Travel by road north to Chichén Itzá, 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 cenote well.

Accommodation is a short walk from the site (you have the honeymoon suite) and in the evening there is the option to return for the Sound and Light Show.

Chichen Itza

Day 5

Morning at leisure. Transfer to Mérida.
 

Continue by road inland east to Mérida, capital of the state of Yucatán. The city was founded by the Maya and named Tiho. In 1542 it was conquered by the Spanish conquistadores who dismantled the Mayan pyramids and used the stones as foundations for the cathedral. Mérida then became an immensely wealthy city, described as the ‘Paris of the New World’.

Its money came mainly from the production of sisal, cactus fibres that are used to make rope, and it 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 market stalls, while you are there.

Mestizo dancers in Merida.

Day 6

Swimming and snorkelling expedition to the cenotes – steep-sided freshwater sinkholes.
 

Enjoy a full day swimming-and-snorkelling expedition to the cenotes near the village of Abala, some 50km from the city. Cenotes are steep-sided freshwater sinkholes fed by underground rivers, deep enough for you to take a dip into their sparkling clear turquoise and emerald waters. They are dotted all over the Yucatán, surrounded by forest, dappled by sunlight or in mystical underground caves.

You'll be invited to snorkel so that you can observe a wondrous underwater sculptural display of stalactites and stalagmites. The cenotes were sacred to the Maya as entrances to the Underworld and, on a more practical level, were the only source of fresh water for the people. 

Cenote swimming

Day 7

At leisure. Evening son et lumière show at Uxmal ruins.
 
An afternoon guided excursion of the sites followed by the son et lumière show at the Mayan temple complex at Uxmal, 80km from Mérida. The site is 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. The site with the most mystic ambience, it is the ideal place for a sound and light show. 
Mayan site of Uxmal

Day 8

Transfer to Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya.
 

Drive back to the coast and down to Playa del Carmen on the soi-disant Mayan Riviera. Despite becoming an increasingly popular holiday resort, Playa del Carmen, or 'Playa', still retains much of its ramshackle beach town atmosphere. Crystal-clear turquoise waters make for good swimming, snorkelling and diving.

Laid out in a grid system, this friendly city has plenty of good restaurants and bars to choose from, with most tourist and nightlife activity (live mariachi music, happy hour) taking place on the pedestrianised street parallel to the beach.

Head further back into town and you’ll discover authentic restaurants and local bars. There used to be a local planning law that no new building could exceed the height of the tallest tree, so the town has spread out horizontally along the coast.

Your intimate boutique hotel is a good 15-minute taxi-ride along the coast from the action, so it is close enough for you to go into town for lively entertainment or a meal, but far enough away to guarantee a good night’s sleep. 

Playa del Carmen

Day 9

At leisure in Playa del Carmen.
 
At leisure on the beach. There are many excursions and water-sports on offer which you can book in Playa, or you could rent a car for a day if you are feeling more adventurous. 

Day 10

Hiking expedition in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
 

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

Hike through the jungle and discover the historical site of Muyil, an impressive Mayan temple.  Cross the lagoon by boat while your certified guide will explain more about the reserve's ecosystem and wildlife. You even have the opportunity to swim and float on the freshwater stream through the channels.

 

 

Floating through Sian Ka'an biosphere.

Day 11

At leisure in Playa del Carmen.
 

Day 12

Transfer to Cancún airport.
 

12 days from £3245pp

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