Days 1 – 2, Mexico City
Hola! Welcome to Mexico.
Modern meets ancient in the world's fastest growing urban centre. Although crowded and smoggy, the former Aztec capital offers a great variety of impressive museums, galleries and architecture. Head to the city centre and see Aztec ruins or take the subway right through one of the temples. If you prefer to get out of the city and escape the crowds, take a day-trip to the pyramids of Teotihuacan and the canals and gardens of Xochimilco. In the evenings, explore Mexico's exciting night life. Learn some dance moves from the locals, or try out your own to the music of a mariachi band.
Days 3 – 4, Puebla
In the morning of Day 3 we take taxis to Mexico City's bus station and catch a local bus (approximately 2.5 hours) to Puebla. Please make sure you bring bottled water and snacks for the journey.
This afternoon and tomorrow are at your leisure to discover Puebla. Although a rapidly growing city, Puebla has managed to combine modern development with its colonial past and there are plenty of well-maintained churches and colonial buildings to admire. Head to the markets to brush up on your bargaining skills and take some fantastic photos. This is a great place to pick up hand-painted tiles and other handicrafts. If you're looking for something more active, go for a hike near one of the area's looming volcanoes. After a full day sightseeing and shopping, why not try some mouth-watering mole Poblano, a dish that is famous all over Mexico and that originated in Puebla.
Days 5 – 7, Oaxaca
Today we travel by local bus (approximately 5 hours) to Oaxaca. We have two free days here and your group leader will assist you to make the most of your free time in this fascinating city.
When the conqueror of Mexico, Hernan Cortez, chose the Valley of Oaxaca as his personal domain, he chose wisely. Sitting in the three Valles Centrales, between the Sierra Madre del Sur and the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca, Oaxaca has an impressive city skyline, especially at sunset. The city centre has retained its serene colonial air and just about everything here can be reached on foot. Oaxaca is an ideal place to have a Mexican culinary adventure; it is after all the home of mescal, complete with a worm at the bottom of the bottle. Chocolate and cheese are firm favourites here, and if your tastes run that way, you can even try a chocolate-covered grasshopper.
Outside the city the spectacular mountain top temples of Monte Alban are just a short distance away, as is the Valley of Mitla with its colourful ruins and hand-made carpets. Our hotel is within walking distance to some of Oaxaca's nightlife hot spots, so that you can make the most of it.
In the evening of day 7 we take a first class local bus (approximately 13 hours) to San Cristobal del las Casas. First class buses in Mexico can be quite comfortable. They are equipped with seats that recline and have more leg room than regular buses. They usually make a quick toilet stop every 4 to 5 hours, however they normally also have a toilet at the rear of the bus, which you may use in case of an emergency. They are all air conditioned, so make sure you take a light jumper with you as it may get a bit cold on board.
Days 8 – 9, San Cristobal de las Casas
We arrive in San Cristobal early in the morning. Check in at the hotel is usually not until midday, so if we can't check in upon arrival, we will be able to leave our luggage and start exploring San Cristobal straight away. Go for a stroll and try to spot the cafe with the most locals in it for a taste of the traditional 'elote', a corn cob which makes a common snack in the highlands of Chiapas.
The remainder of today and tomorrow are at your leisure and, as always, your group leader will assist you arrange the many optional activities. Well known for its ties to the Zapatista revolution, San Cristobal is an architectural gem and oozes provincial colonial charm. The outlying villages mix traditional beliefs and modern religion - with unusual results. If you take a day trip to San Juan Chamula, make sure to visit the church. The floor is covered with pine needles and the air is heavy with incense. Shamans come here to carry out cleansings with firewater, ancient prayer and sometimes chickens. There are also markets with colorful handicrafts for sale. Take the opportunity to go for an optional horse ride in the mountains or a day trip to Sumidero Canyon.
Days 10 - 11 Palenque
Today we travel on a windy road by local bus to Palenque (approximately 6 hours). The afternoon is at your leisure to take part in any of the optional activities in town.
The wildlife-filled jungle trying to reclaim the ruins of Palenque is almost as fascinating as the ruins themselves. The ruins rise up above the trees and a climb to the top of the towers reveals the great Yucatan plain just down the road. Take an optional stroll around some of the 200 buildings that make up the city and admire the temple walls, sculpted with images of gods, rulers and ceremonies. Imagine yourself in the shoes of the archaeologist Alberto Ruz as you walk down the steps to Pakal's tomb. Pakal was the greatest of all Palenque's rulers and in 1952 Ruz unearthed his tomb, discovering Pakal's sarcophagus decorated with the richest offering of jade ever seen in the Mayan world.
Don't forget to bring your bathing suit, as nearby are the Agua Azul and Misol-Ha waterfalls, perfect for cooling off after the heat of the temples.
Days 12 – 13, Merida
Today we leave Chiapas and take a local bus (approximately 8 hours) to the Yucatan Peninsula. Our destination is La Ciudad Blanca (the White City) of Merida.
The following day is free for you to explore this colonial city. Hang out in the green and shady Plaza Grande, with the twin-towered 16th century Cathedral on one side and City Hall, State Government Palace and Casa Mantejo on the others. For a taste of Merida's 19th century glory go for a walk along the mansion lined Paseo de Montejo. Mornings are the best time to visit the outdoor markets and you can stock up on hammocks and Maya replicas. It's a great place to try out the local food specialities, like cochinita pibil or the head-blowingly spicy el yucateco.
Merida is also the gateway to the Maya ruins of Uxmal and there is an opportunity to visit thesimpressive ruins. Little is known about the site's origins but it is thought the city was founded around 500AD. Much of the site is decorated with masks of the rain god Chac. This is no great surprise as the area has a lack of natural water supplies and the city relies on rain water. The local people from Merida are very relaxed and they like dancing! Every Sunday some of the roads are turned into an open air dance floor with a variety of Salsa and Merengue bands.
Days 14 – 15, Chichen Itza/Playa del Carmen
We travel to Playa del Carmen, stopping enroute for an optional visit to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza (approximately 2.5 hours), recently named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. We have about 2-3 hours to spend at Chichen Itza before we travel onwards to Playa (approximately 3.5 hours). The city of Chichen Itza was founded in 432 and aligned with the Toltecs in the 10th century. In the 13th century civil war broke out and the city went into decline. In more recent years it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Playa del Carmen, our final destination is a slice of beach paradise on the Caribbean coast, where optional activities abound: go snorkelling among the mangroves or strolling along the white sands; in the evenings, kick back and watch the waves with a margarita before heading out to try the island's vibrant nightlife. For adventures further afield take a ferry across to Cozumel, an island famous for its reef-diving.
For a taste of Mayan architecture, a short trip brings you to Tulum. These ruins sit atop a cliff amid palm-fringed, white sand beaches. You can even go for a swim within its ancient walls.
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the hotel at any time. Check out time from the hotel is 10:00am.