- You've never seen true colour until you've been to a Mexican market. Practice your bargaining skills, snap some photos and pick up traditional handicrafts in Oaxaca, Chiapas and Merida.
- Escape the Mexican heat in the culturally-rich highlands of Chiapas. San Cristobal de las Casas has an old-world town vibe, surrounded by ancient tribal villages.
- Head deep into the jungle and experience the lush wilderness and cultural significance of Palenque and Lacanja – a real Indiana Jones moment.
- Take an optional tour to the historic site of Chichen Itza to understand why these ancient Maya ruins are one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
Smash some delicious treats in Mexico City, see some of the bazillion churches in Puebla, taste the best mezcal around in Oaxaca, swing through San Cristobal, Palenque and Merida, then finish up snorkeling, swimming, tanning and eating by the Carribean. Life could be worse.
Day 1: Mexico City
Bienvenidos! Where better to start a Mexico exploration than in Mexico City. Modern meets ancient here in one of the world's largest urban centres. Forget about the crowds and the smog, D.F. (Distrito Federal) has got museums, galleries and great architecture for you, along with pumping nightlife and delicious street food. Let’s kick things off with a welcome meeting today at 6 pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so have all these details for your leader. If you arrive into the city early, head to the Zocalo, the city's huge central square, to see Aztec ruins and colonial architecture, or relax in one of the many parks, plazas or gardens. After the meeting tonight, you’re definitely going to want to seek out some tacos for dinner.
Day 2: Mexico City
Maybe grab some chilaquiles for breakfast this morning, then join your leader for an walk around the historic centre of the city, followed by a free afternoon. There’s so much to do here in the city – if you like art, the Frida Kahlo Museum is a must-see, and for all museum lovers there's the Museum of Anthropology or the Palace of Fine Art. Another great thing to do is to hop on one of the colourfully painted boats that cruise through the canal district of Xochimilco. Alternatively, you can choose to take an optional day trip to the archaeological ruins of Teotihuacan, 50 kilometres out of the city. A local guide will lead you down ‘The Avenue of the Dead’, pointing out the historic Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. Don’t forget to snack your way around the city too, munching on tostadas, tortas, and chicharrones all day long.
Day 3: Puebla
This morning and most of the afternoon are free to continue exploring Mexico City. Some of the most vibrant (not to mention most delicious) places in the city are its streets markets – from food, to handicrafts, to magic potions, these markets are a riot of colours, smells, and sights. Later in the afternoon, take taxis to the bus station and catch a local bus to Puebla (approx 2.5 hours). Please make sure you bring bottled water and snacks for the journey. Local buses in Mexico aren’t the colourful school buses you’ll see in other areas of Central America; most of the buses we use in Mexico are comfortable coach-style vehicles, with a bathroom and seats for all passengers. Local buses tend to blast the air conditioning, so remember to pack a jacket in case you get cold. Puebla sits in the Puebla Valley surrounded by snow-topped mountains and volcanoes, and it's got a growing art and nightlife scene.
Day 4: Puebla
Today is free to discover Puebla at your leisure. Although a rapidly growing city, Puebla's got an amazingly well-preserved centre with loads of colonial buildings. There are over 70 different churches alone. Two top ones to check out are Santa Domingo Church and Rosary Chapel. You can head to the markets to brush up on your bargaining skills and pick up some hand-painted tiles or other handicrafts. If you're looking for something more active, go for a hike near one of the area's looming volcanoes, or head to Cholula for the archaeological sites and massive pyramid. The city is also obsessed with food, so after a day of sightseeing and shopping, why not try some mole Poblano, a dish native to Puebla and famous all over Mexico. You could even try making it yourself during an optional cooking class. For something a bit more dramatic, check out a Lucha Libre show, the famous Mexican sport where masked musclemen combine wrestling and theatre in a memorable performance.
Day 5: Oaxaca
Get cosy with the locals as you travel by local bus to Oaxaca (approximately 5 hours). You'll have two full free days here. Your leader will provide ideas for activities and help you to make the most of your time. A beautiful old colonial town, Oaxaca is full of graceful arcades and colourful markets. Descendants of the Zapotec and Mixtec Indians selling colourful woven blankets and shawls populate the markets – a great place to shop for textiles and margarita flavours. Here you’ll also find some tasty regional food specialties – snack on everything from cactus fruit, to spicy baked chilli and lime grasshoppers and the heavenly Oaxacan cheese. Oaxaca is also known for its arts scene, including folk art, fine art and dance. Get lost in the narrow, cobbled streets or simply sit in the square sipping a mezcal as the world goes by.
Day 6: Oaxaca
Spend the next two days exploring Oaxaca. Maybe get out to the spectacular mountain top temples of Monte Alban just outside the city. Monte Alban was inhabited for 1,500 years by the Olmec, Zapotec and Mixtec peoples, and is an outstanding example of a pre-Columbian ceremonial centre. The settlement's terraces, dams, canals and pyramids were literally carved out of the mountain. You’d better have your camera ready, because up here you can get an amazing view across the three legs of the valley of Oaxaca. Alternatively, you could take a day tour out to the nearby Mitla Ruins. Mitla (the Nahuatl word for ‘underworld’) is an important Zapotec archaeological site and was the main religious centre for the Zapotec people. Drop by the mineral springs of Hierve el Agua, and on the way back to Oaxaca, stop into a mezcaleria (mezcal distillery). Although this tequila-like drop is experiencing a comeback in popularity all over Mexico, it’s mainly produced in Oaxaca. It's generally enjoyed straight-up, so it's not for the faint-hearted!
Day 7: Oaxaca / Overnight bus
Spend your final day in Oaxaca shopping in the artisan stores around town, otherwise why not whip up something delicious at a cooking class. In the evening, take a first-class overnight bus to San Cristobal del las Casas (approx 13 hours in total). First-class buses in Mexico are quite comfortable. They are equipped with toilets and reclining seats with plenty of legroom. They are always air-conditioned, so make sure you take a warm layer with you, as it may get cold on board. While the bus is very comfortable, the road from Oaxaca to San Cristobal has some very winding sections. If you suffer from motion sickness, this will be a good time to have your medication ready.
Day 8: San Cristobal de las Casas
Say ‘hola’ to San Cristobal, your pastel-hued highland home for the next two days. Arrive early in the morning – check-in at the hotel isn't usually until midday, so leave your luggage and start exploring the city. Today and tomorrow are at your leisure. As always, your group leader will help you arrange any optional activities. With its winding cobblestone streets and colonial architecture, San Cristobal de las Casas has an old-world feel mixed with strong pre-hispanic roots. Wander to a local cafe and try an ‘elote’, a traditional highland corn snack, or check out the local museums.
Day 9: San Cristobal de las Casas
Head out of town this morning and take a tour of the nearby San Juan Chamula, a traditional Maya village that serves as a centre for the indigenous folk around here. The villages are home to Tzotzil and Tzeltal groups, who maintain their tribal origins through their traditional costumes and customs. Your leader will take you to a church where 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 chickens. Please be aware of a strict ban on cameras as the local people maintain their traditional customs. Afterwards, there's an option to take a day trip to Sumidero Canyon, where you can take a boat down the mighty Rio Grijalva. Or you might like to get things pumping with further exploration of the villages by mountain bike. For something more adventurous, try a canyoning trip to ‘El Chorreadero’. This 6-hour excursion will see you venture a kilometre inside a (dry) cave and return following the river through a number of cascades, pools and rappels. A truly memorable experience, but probably not recommended for the claustrophobic and those with fear of heights!
Day 10: Palenque
Today travel along a windy road by private vehicle to Palenque (approx 6 hours). You will stop at Agua Azul (Blue water) waterfall on the way, where you'll have an option to swim in the cascading pools. Once you've arrived, the afternoon is free for you to relax or explore. Situated in hot jungle, Palenque is the jumping off point to the nearby Mayan ruins of the same name. You'll have tomorrow to check them out.
Day 11: Merida
Today you'll visit the ruins of Palenque. Sitting on a hilltop surrounded by thick trees, the ruins date back to 600 AD and are some of the most impressive Mayan relics in Mexico. As you walk among the temples, listen out for the eerie calls of howler monkeys and screeching parrots echoing from the jungle. There are many ruins that are still un-excavated and remain concealed in the forest. You can opt to take a guided tour of the ruins or through the surrounding jungle to a hidden waterfall. The area gives you a great idea of what the Spanish invaders must have seen when they first arrived. This feels like real Tomb Raider stuff. This afternoon, travel by private bus to Merida (approx 7-8 hours in total).
Day 12: Merida
Founded in 1542, Merida still has much of its old-world charm. Wander through the Old Town, check out some museums and stroll the city streets, which are alive with art and culture. Hang out in the green and shady Plaza Grande, with the 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, where you can stock up on hammocks and Maya replicas. This is also a great place to sample local food specialities, such as cochinita pibil or the extremely spicy El Yucateco hot sauce. Nearly every Mexican dish is made using corn tortillas (like tacos, tostadas, flautas, chilaquiles and enchiladas), and there's a bicycle cart on almost every corner in Merida selling elotes (corn on the cob) doused in salt, chilli, cheese, lemon juice or mayonaise. So yeah, they like corn.
Day 13: Merida
Merida is the gateway to the Maya ruins of Uxmal. A tour of the ruins includes transport and a local guide. Little is known about the site’s origins but it’s thought the city was founded around 500 AD. Much of the site is decorated with masks of the rain god Chac. You can also visit a nearby bird sanctuary or a variety of other ruins, or hunt down one of the hidden cenotes (stunning natural sinkholes filled with water) and take a dip in the crystal clear fresh water. Merida's locals love dancing. Every Sunday the town's streets are transformed into an open-air dance floor, with salsa and merengue bands providing the music.
Day 14: Chichen Itza / Playa del Carmen
Chichen Itza is your first stop today (approx 2 hours). This is possibly the most famous Mayan site in Mexico. Recently named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza has both Toltec and Mayan ruins lying alongside each other. The famous El Castillo (Temple of Kukulkan) pyramid dominates the site. Not far from the temple is the ‘ball court’, where many disputes are were settled by way of a ball game that employed only the elbows, hips and wrists. Stone carvings depicting violence suggest it was not some casual sport. Nearby, excavations of the Well of Sacrifice offered up treasures of jade, copper and gold as well as many human and animal bones. Following a guided tour of the site, continue to the Caribbean coast and the resort town of Playa del Carmen by private vehicle (approx 3 hours). Blessed with azure waters, powdery beaches and a European feel, Playa del Carmen is a resort city close to Cancun but with less of a party atmosphere. Here you can spend your time snorkelling among the mangroves, diving in underground caverns, tanning, or strolling along white sands. It's possible to take a ferry from here across to Cozumel, an island famous for its reef diving. In the evenings, feast on seafood, kick back, and watch the waves with a margarita or two.
Day 15: Playa del Carmen
Your adventure comes to an end this morning. There are no activities planned for the final day.
- Hotel (13 nights)
- Overnight bus (1 night)
- Puebla - Cooking class
- Merida - Uxmal Ruins tour (inc. shared transport and guide)
- Dos Ojos Cenote - Fresh water rock pool (Entrance fee with snorkelling gear included)
- Puebla - Museum of Art
- Sumidero Canyon - Boat Excursion (Entrance & Transport)
- Monte Alban - Archaeological site (Entrance fee)
- Mexico City - Palace of Fine Arts (Palacio de Bellas Artes) (Closed Mondays)
- Oaxaca - Santo Domingo Cultural Centre
- Mexico City - National Palace and Diego Rivera murals - Free
- Oaxaca - Cooking class
- Playa del Carmen - Ferry to Cozumel (Round-trip)
- Playa del Carmen - Half-day tour of Tulum Archaeological site (Entrance fee, Guide & Transport)
- Puebla - Santo Domingo Church and Rosary Chapel - Free
- San Cristobal de las Casas - Jade Museum
- Mexico City - National Museum of Anthropology (Closed Mondays)
- Teotihuacan - Archaeological site (Entrance fee, Guide & Transport)
- Puebla - Lucha Libre show (ticket price depends on seating area)
- Merida - Guided city tour
- Mexico City - Frida Kahlo Museum (Cheaper for students, pensioners & on weekdays. Closed Mondays)
- San Cristobal de las Casas - Mountain bike tour
- Mexico City - Boat ride through Floating Gardens of Xochimilco (Approx. per boat per hour)
- Oaxaca - Full-day tour inc. Mitla Ruins, Hierve el Agua and mezcal distillery
- Merida - Celestun Bird Sanctuary (Entrance and Transport)
- Playa del Carmen
- Oaxaca / Overnight bus
- San Cristobal de las Casas
- Chichen Itza / Playa del Carmen
- Mexico City
Intrepid Travel is the world's largest small group adventure travel company. Intrepid trips are of the grassroots type and include travel via public transport, local food, and locally-owned accommodation Intrepid Travel has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1989. A company that began with two bearded backpackers, a typewriter and a kitchen table now leads 100,000 travellers across the globe each year. And although we’re a bit larger these days – with 1,000 local staff based around the world and over 800 different trips across every continent (not to mention multiple kitchen tables) – our mission remains the same. We still get a kick out of responsible travel, small groups and very (very) big adventures.