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Signature Mexico: Cultural heartlands to Caribbean coast

14 days from £2,346pp

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Signature Mexico: Cultural heartlands to Caribbean coast:
Trip Dossier

Mexico is one of Latin America’s most vibrant and entertaining destinations, with a huge diversity of historical, cultural and natural attractions. On this jam-packed private holiday lose yourself in the superb museums and teeming plazas of the megalopolis that is Mexico City, where Aztec and Spanish heritages sit side by side. 

Drive through the dramatic vertiginous landscapes of Sumidero canyon. Wander through the cobbled streets and soak up the colonial atmosphere in Oaxaca and Mérida. Go on to explore the evocative ancient monuments, testament to bygone Mayan empires, which lay hidden and silent for centuries amid the deep valleys and jungles of the south. The journey ends on the white-sand beaches that fringe the Yucatán Peninsula.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Mexico City. Transfer to central hotel.

Day 2

Guided city tour of Mexico City.

Day 3

Shared guided excursion to Teotihuacan pyramids; Guadalupe shrine.

Day 4

Fly to Oaxaca.

Day 5

Half day guided excursion to the ruins of ancient city Monte Albán.

Day 6

Fly to Tuxtla Gutierrez, continue by road to San Cristobal de las Casas.

Day 7

Guided tour of San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Day 8

Transfer to Palenque.

Day 9

Guided tour of Palenque ruins.

Day 10

Fly to Mérida, transfer to hotel.

Day 11

Optional guided excursion to Mayan ruins of Uxmal and Kabah.

Day 12

Transfer to Chichén Itzá. Guided visit to the ruined city.

Day 13

Option to re-visit the ruins. By road to Playa del Carmen, Mayan Riviera.

Day 14

Transfer to Cancún airport for international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Mexico City. Transfer to central hotel.
 

You’ll be met at the airport by 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 Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire, and it lies at 2,250m above sea level. Vast, chaotic and vibrant, this sprawling megalopolis of more than 20 million people has a multitude of attractions.

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Day 2

Guided city tour of Mexico City.
 

Mexico City has evolved over the centuries into a modern day metropolis from its founding as the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán in the 14th century

A history of agricultural cultivation, religious ritual, and warring tribes took a seismic turn with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores and the development of the city was fuelled by silver mining.

This is all reflected in the cultural vestiges apparent all over the modern cay city which you will glimpse during your guided city tour. Visit the vast Zócalo, or main square, monumental Metropolitan Cathedral and National Palace with its murals by Diego Rivera. Take a look at a handicraft market where you can browse for purchases and travel down elegant boulevards.

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Mexico City . Palacio Bel Artes

Day 3

Shared guided excursion to Teotihuacan pyramids; Guadalupe shrine.
 

Passing through the northern suburbs of the capital, you head into the countryside towards the megalithic archaeological site of Teotihuacán which 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. Soak up the history as you 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 the ruins and the surrounding countryside.

Visit also the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the most venerated shrine and pilgrimage site in Mexico. Here, the Virgin Mary appeared disguised as an indian princess appeared to the fabled indigenous Mexican Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, leaving her image impressed on his cloak. It is not certain that he ever existed, but he was canonised by the Roman Catholic church in 2002 as the continent’s first indigenous saint.

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Teotihuacan Mexico

Day 4

Fly to Oaxaca.
 

Leave the capital by air and travel southeast towards the southern highlands and the city of Oaxaca, set among arid mountains. 

The population in this area is still dominated by people of Zapotec and Mixtec descent, although the town has many examples of well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture, some fine museums and a thriving artistic community, as well as a wonderful climate. The peace and quiet of the cobbled streets is a welcome contrast to the busy capital.

Discover at your leisure the colonial delights of Oaxaca. You can get around easily on foot with the main square (zócalo), and the boulevard of Calle Alcalá being free from traffic. You might visit the city's government palace, cathedral and Santo Domingo church, as well as its colourful food market. Oaxaca is a centre for Mexican art; there are also opportunities to buy gifts in some of its art and craft shops.

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Central Oaxaca

Day 5

Half day guided excursion to the ruins of ancient city Monte Albán.
 

Head out of town to nearby Monte Albán, the grand Zapotec ceremonial centre. Strategically located on an artificially levelled hill where three valleys meet, the site has superb views over the surrounding area. There is time to explore the pyramids, steep staircases, walls covered with strange carvings, burial chambers and temples. Although there is a theory that the main plaza was a religious ceremonial site, most of the imagery is decidedly militaristic, featuring tortured captives and devastated conquered settlements.

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Monte Alban Ruins Oaxaca

Day 6

Fly to Tuxtla Gutierrez, continue by road to San Cristobal de las Casas.
 

Fly from Oaxaca to Tuxtla Gutierrez, a dynamic commercial city and capital of the state of Chiapas.  

Drive to San Cristóbal de las Casas via a scenic drive through the Sumidero Canyon. The scenery becomes dramatic with some of the canyon walls towering over 800m.

San Cristóbal is a delightful town on many levels. Its striking location in a fertile valley bound by chunky mountains and its pleasant climate (altitude 2,100m) enhance the rustic charm of the graceful baroque and neoclassical homes, churches and public buildings. 

But it is the mélange of cultures, Spanish and indigenous, reflected in the markets and craft-shops that is perhaps the biggest draw. A great place to ramble and relax.

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Sumidero Canyon in Mexico's Chiapas region

Day 7

Guided tour of San Cristóbal de las Casas.
 

Begin your guided city tour at the pretty main plaza in San Cristóbal de las Casas.  On the north side of the square is the cathedral, most recently restored in the 1920s after earthquake damage in the 1800s. You'll also discover the Santo Domingo temple, a 16th century church with a beautiful pink exterior behind which the church is ornately decorated with gilded baroque features.

Browse the local market before travelling to the indian villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán, about 10mins' drive from San Cristóbal.  San Juan Chamula is notable for local costumes: men in grey, black or light pink tunics, and women in blue. The church, a centre for numerous festivals and rituals, is well worth a look-in. The Sunday market is a popular tourist attraction.  In Zinacantán, traditional costumes are also still worn: men wear embroidered red jackets and women, blue shawls. Photogenic but ask first!

 

 

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Day 8

Transfer to Palenque.
 

In the morning you'll be driven to Palenque via Toniná archaeological site and Misol-Ha.

Toniná has a gruesome history, having served as a prison for captured rulers of other cities. Some of the sculptures depict these unfortunates prior to decapitation. Misol Ha river drops into a wide pool via a waterfall fringed by tropical vegetation. There's a path leading to a cave behind the main fall.

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Misol Ha Waterfall

Day 9

Guided tour of Palenque ruins.
 
Guided tour of Palenque ruins. The Mayan site of Palenque is set on a hill amongst lush green rainforest abundant with monkeys and birdlife, and a majority of the buildings remains unexcavated.

The temples that have been renovated are in remarkably good condition, the most impressive being the Templo de las Inscripciones . Also impressive is Temple 13 that houses a tomb and red-coloured skeleton believed to have been a queen.

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Palenque

Day 10

Fly to Mérida, transfer to hotel.
 

Fly 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.

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Mestizo dancers in Merida.

Day 11

Optional guided excursion to Mayan ruins of Uxmal and Kabah.
 

We recommend you take an optional guided excursion to 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. Strolling through the ruins, cradled in dense vegetation shading the visitor from the scorching sun is an almost mystical experience. Continue to Kabah, with its incredible Palace of Masks, with intricate mosaics representing the face of Chac the rain god 260 times.

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Uxmal

Day 12

Transfer to Chichén Itzá. Guided visit to the ruined city.
 

From Mérida drive 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. You have a guided tour in the evening. Accommodation is a short walk from the site and in the evening there is the option to return to the site for the Sound and Light Show.

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El Castillo pyramid at Chichen Itza

Day 13

Option to re-visit the ruins. By road to Playa del Carmen, Mayan Riviera.
 

Drive 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. Cancún is a sprawling resort of high-rise hotels and Disney-like themed bars and restaurants. 

As you head south towards Tulum, the built up area thins out and there are some lovely exclusive hotel properties. Playa del Carmen, an hour’s drive south of Cancún, is a pleasant family resort with a lively pedestrianised centre overflowing with restaurants and bars. 

If you fancy some beach-time, we recommend you extend your stay here for a few days. There are loads of activities and excursions, from visits to Mayan ruins to scuba diving.

These are easy to book locally. You might even hire a car for a day or two to have more flexibility to explore.

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Playa del Carmen

Day 14

Transfer to Cancún airport for international flight home.

Essential information

Transport

3 jet flights; 3 scenic road journeys (longest 5hrs not including stops at places of interest).

Accommodation

This trip combines mid-range small, friendly hotels, colonial or modern in style with well-equipped rooms, private bathroom and heating/air-conditioning; an international chain hotel and  and superior accommodation with plenty of local colour and special features, considered by many to be first class.

Meals

Breakfast daily.

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

• City tour of Mexico City.
• Full day guided excursion to Teotihuacan pyramids and Guadalupe shrine in Mexico City.
• Half day guided excursion to the ruins of ancient city Monte Albán, Oaxaca.
• Route to San Cristóbal via Sumidero Canyon.
• Half day guided excursion to Palenque archaeological site.
• Visit Chichén Itzá ruins (one of the New Seven Wonders of the World).

Summary of nights

14 days, 13 nights: Mexico City 3; Oaxaca 2; San Cristóbal 2; Palenque 2; Mérida 2; Chichén Itzá 1; Playa del Carmen 1.

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.
• International flights to Latin America.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
• Optional excursions.

Optional excursions

There are a number of half-day, full-day or longer excursions or activities you may wish to consider in order to customise your holiday to cater for your interests. Please contact us to discuss these further or to add them to your itinerary before you depart. A selection of these:

• Visit the historic neighbourhood of Coyoacán, home to the Trotsky museum in Mexico City and the museum and former home of artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, in Mexico City.
• Take a cruise in traditional wooden boats on the ancient canals of Xochimilco, in Mexico City.
• Take a city tour of Oaxaca.
•  Visit Uxmal and Kabah, important Mayan archaeological sites.

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$35-45 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 additionally you 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 (American Express are the most widely accepted), though these are gradually falling out of use. 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

Generally this fast-paced and excursion-packed holiday is suitable for most visitors, including families with older children. If you have a disability, please contact us.

Climate

In Mexico City and the mountains towns the climate is temperate all year round and, because of the altitude it rarely gets too hot.  

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, when you'll see 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.

Temperatures can drop to freezing in Mexico City and Oaxaca over the winter months.

Clothing and special equipment

For day-to-day wear you should go prepared to encounter all seasons - a light fleece jacket and a waterproof/breathable outer shell makes a good combination. Trousers, skirt or shorts made from light, quick-drying synthetic materials work well. If you plan to eat in smart restaurants, although clothing is not formal (no need for jacket and tie), something quite smart would be appropriate. 

Strong, comfortable footwear is essential and you should bring insect repellant, sun block and sun glasses. You should take swimwear for the beach and pools, though most hotels don’t have a pool. 

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 Mexico.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following; typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. For specific requirements you must consult your GP.

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 your application to 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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