Mayan Explorer

(Tulum - Chetumal - Tikal National Park - Palenque - Campeche - Mérida)

Overview

Iconic Mayan sites, an idyllic Caribbean coast and a laid-back tropical ambience – the Yucatan Peninsula has it all. And this small group tour features them all. This is a week packed with sightseeing, taking you through three Central American countries from the largest Mayan archaeological site of Tikal, to smaller sites that sit off the beaten track.

What to expect

• Up to 7 hours a day is spent travelling to the next amazing destination. You should be prepared for extensive travel but it is well worth making this unique journey

• Active days exploring ruins, some of which are set over expansive areas

• Border crossings can be lengthy and waiting times can vary so patience and understanding is required
• A departure tax of approx. 900 Mexican Pesos (US$65) per person is payable locally in cash upon re-entering Mexico from Guatemala.

Tour Highlights

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Day 1: UK to Tulum

Day 1: UK to Tulum

Depart from the UK on your daytime flight to Mexico. Your discovery of Central America’s Mayan past begins with a night on the breathtaking Tulum coast. Stay: Dreams Tulum. ALL.

Day 2: Tulum to Chetumal

Day 2: Tulum to Chetumal

This morning you will visit the first of the Mayan archaeological sites, the stunning ruins of a former port city at Tulum. The combination of dramatic coastal landscapes, well preserved ruins and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean make this one of the most picturesque and popular attractions in Mexico. As your hotel is located just along the coast, you will have the opportunity to explore the ruins before the crowds arrive. During a tour of the ruins you will witness the three most famous structures – the Temple of the Frescoes, the Temple of the Descending God and El Castillo – as well as smaller ruins of interest such as watch towers, gateways and some remains of the city wall; be sure to keep your camera at hand as the views here are absolutely spectacular. Continue along to the city of Chetumal, which sits close to the border between Mexico and Belize. Here you will visit the Museum of Mayan Culture to gain a basic understanding of Mayan life which you will build on during the tour. This evening’s welcome dinner at a local restaurant provides the perfect opportunity to get to know your fellow travellers. Approx. journey time: 5 hours, 154 miles. Stay: Fiesta Inn or similar. B, L, D.

Day 3: Chetumal to Tikal National Park

Day 3: Chetumal to Tikal National Park

From Chetumal cross the border into Belize and travel through this small nation’s interior towards the border with Guatemala, where you will visit the Mayan site of Xunantunich. The journey to this former ceremonial spot is a bit of an adventure as you take a hand cranked ferry across the Mopan River. This is a truly charming way to begin a visit of one of the smaller Mayan sites you will witness during the tour. As well as taking in the main ruins, which include the second tallest structure in Belize, El Castillo, you will also be able to enjoy views over the jungle landscapes of Belize and neighbouring Guatemala from the elevated position. Following the border crossing into Guatemala, the journey continues to the Camino Real Tikal which sits on the northern shore of Lake Peten Itza. Approx. journey time: 7 hours, 218 miles. Stay: Camino Real Tikal or similar. B, L, D.

Day 4: Tikal National Park

Day 4: Tikal National Park

Today is undoubtedly the highlight of the tour as the entire day is spent at one of the America’s largest Mayan sites – the UNESCO-listed Tikal. Set deep within the jungle of the Tikal National Park, this is an expansive site with approximately 3000 buildings, including temples and palaces, which are set out over 6 square miles. A knowledgeable guide will enlighten you as to how it developed from a small village into one of the most important pre-Columbian cities and home to an estimated 90,000 Mayan Indians in the 8th and 9th Centuries. You will stop for lunch during your time here. Stay: Camino Real Tikal or similar. B, L, D.

Day 5: Tikal National Park to Palenque

Day 5: Tikal National Park to Palenque

This morning you will travel west to reach the riverside archaeological site of Yaxchilan. Reaching the ruins is part of today’s adventure as you will take a 30 minute narrow-boat ride along the Usumacinta River, which marks the border between Guatemala and Mexico. Once the border crossing procedures are completed you will be able to explore this beautiful site, which has a real off-the-beaten-track quality. Yaxchilan means ‘green rocks’ and these moss-covered structures appear to have been swallowed up by the jungle. With a guide you will explore the complex of plazas and temples which boast beautifully preserved stone lintels, relief carvings and hieroglyphs. Upon leaving the ruins by boat you will continue by road to the town of Palenque. Approx. journey time: 7 hours, 190 miles. Stay: Villa Mercedes or similar. B, L.

Day 6: Palenque to Campeche

Day 6: Palenque to Campeche

A visit to the pre-Hispanic city of Palenque is the focus today. Another set of ruins seemingly engulfed by the Central American jungle, Palenque dates back to the 3rd Century BC and reached its height in the late 8th Century AD before being completely abandoned to the encroaching jungle. Although not as expansive as the site at Tikal, these ruins are some of the most beautiful and elegant that you will see on the journey through Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. During the guided tour there will be a visit to the astronomic observatory, which it is believed was once used for stargazing and making astronomic predictions. This afternoon the tour will continue on to the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and the fortified port town of Campeche. The city is a colonial gem and it is home to narrow cobbled streets lined with vibrantly-painted houses. Parts of the historic city wall still stand, as do a number of bastions and two colonial forts which overlook the city and the Gulf-of-Mexico coastline. The evening here is free to explore independently and perhaps find a charming restaurant for dinner. Approx. journey time: 5 hours, 223 miles. Stay: Ocean View Hotel or similar. B.

Day 7: Campeche to Mérida

Day 7: Campeche to Mérida

This morning the group will travel to Mérida, visiting the pre-Hispanic Town of Uxmal en route. Here you will witness a different style of architecture than you have seen so far on the tour. Discover the late-Mayan, ‘Puuc’ style buildings with their smooth, almost rounded walls. You will stop for lunch in Uxmal before continuing the journey to the city of Mérida. This evening you will have free in the region’s cultural capital, exploring the enchanting historic colonial centre. Perhaps seek out a fantastic restaurant where you can enjoy dinner and a bar or two for some drinks to celebrate the final night of your tour, and spend some time soaking up the atmosphere in the city’s main square. Approx. journey time: 4 hours, 140 miles. Stay: Casa del Balam Hotel or similar. B.

Day 8: Mérida to UK

Day 8: Mérida to UK

The tour comes to a conclusion at the most famous and popular Mayan site of them all – Chichen Itza. Believed by many to be the most important of the region’s pre-Hispanic cities, this is a fitting end to your exploration of the relics of the Mayan civilisation. Arrive here first thing in the morning before the crowds arrive, and spend your time discovering the ruins of this breathtaking sight. You will then travel onward to Cancun where you will catch your flight to the UK, arriving the following day. Alternatively, you can extend your holiday with a few nights on the Caribbean coast. B.

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