This Mayan adventure from the beaches of Mexico to the Andean mountain towns of Guatemala includes nine nights hotel accommodation with breakfast. Travel by minibus through spectacular landscapes and stunning towns, getting to know the local cultures – both ancient and modern – along the way, including an optional day trip into the Chiapas highlands. This tour operates with a maximum of 12 people, ensuring you’ll enjoy a small-group experience with your guide.
Day 1: Cancun
A tour representative will greet you upon arrival at the Cancun airport and transfer you to your hotel. You can arrive at any time of day as there are no activities planned until a welcome orientation in the evening. Ask hotel reception for a note from your guide with the location and time of this important meeting. Afterward, you can opt to join your guide and small group for dinner (own expense).
If you arrive early in Cancun, take time to acclimatize to the heat and humidity, drinking plenty of bottled water and taking it easy. Hang out on a white-sand beach, frolic in the surf or explore the ruins of Zona Arqueologica El Rey. Or, discover the many bars, restaurants, resorts and nightclubs that line the streets of this former fishing village.
Overnight: Hotel El Rey del Caribe or similar in Cancun
Day 2: Cancun – Chichen Itza – Merida (B)
After breakfast, board your comfortable minivan for a five-hour drive to Merida, stopping en route to explore the extensively restored pyramids of Chichen Itza with your guide. Founded by the Maya in 432 AD and merged with the Toltecs in the 10th century, the city of Chichen Itza went into decline in the 13th century.
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the ancient city offers some of the best examples of Mayan architecture. Visit El Castillo (The Castle), a 91-stepped pyramid carved with amazing snakes, which appear to ascend or descend the staircase when hit by the sun during the spring and fall equinoxes.
Follow your guide to the impressive ball court, the largest of its kind. Learn about the pre-Columbian Mayan civilization that played a ball game in order to settle disputes. See the sinkhole, just a short walk from the main plaza, where it is thought that ceremonies of sacrifice and offerings to the Mayan rain god were made.
After discovering the magnificent the ruins of Chichen Itza, continue to Merida, the Yucatan state capital and the area's cultural center. Founded in 1542, the busy city retains much of its old-world charm with well-preserved colonial buildings and small parks in Old Town. Watch the city streets come alive with art and culture, where you’ll find plenty of great bars and restaurants specializing in local cuisine.
Overnight: Hotel Maris Jose or similar in Merida
Days 3-4: Merida – Palenque (B)
Enjoy breakfast with your small group before embarking on a full day of travel, driving for approximately nine hours to Palenque.
During your second day in Palenque, your guide will take your small group to explore the Palenque ruins, which rise above the encroaching jungle trying to reclaim them. Walk around some of the 200 buildings that make up the Mayan city and admire the temple walls sculpted with images of gods, rulers and ceremonies – some of the finest examples of Mayan architecture.
Climb to the top of one of the towers for endless views of the tropical jungle and the Yucatan plain beyond. Learn how the amazing ruins of Palenque, established between the 3rd and the 5th centuries, were abandoned and almost swallowed by the jungle until their excavation by the archaeologist Alberto Ruz, who unearthed Pakal's tomb in 1952. Imagine discovering the Mayan ruler’s sarcophagus, decorated with the most jade ever seen in the Maya world!
Cool off in the nearby Agua Azul and Misol-Ha waterfalls and dive into the clear pools beneath them before retuning to your accommodation to relax for the evening.
Overnight: Hotel Xibalba or similar in Palenque
Days 5-6: Palenque – San Cristobal de las Casas (B)
Crossing into Mexico's highlands after breakfast, your guide will take your small group to the colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas, an approximate five-hour drive. With winding cobblestone streets and Spanish colonial architecture, San Cristobal – site of the Zapatista revolution – maintains a lovely old-world feel mixed with strong indigenous roots.
Take an optional day trip into the Chiapas highlands, where you’ll meet local villagers who mix Catholicism with indigenous religious beliefs. Visit the unique church in San Juan Chamula, where pine needles carpet the floor and the air is heavy with incense. Learn about the shamans who carry out cleansings using firewater, ancient prayer and sometimes chickens. Visit colorful markets with handicrafts for sale, go horseback riding in the mountains or take a guided tour to Sumidero Canyon.
Overnight: Hotel Parador Margarita or similar in San Cristobal de las Casas
Days 7-8: San Cristobal de las Casas – Panajachel (B)
Get ready for a lengthy travel day after breakfast, crossing into Guatemala with a 10-hour drive to Panajachel, located on beautiful Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlan). Used as a base to explore the region, with views of distant volcanoes looming in the background, Panajachel is a relatively modern town with paved streets and shops. Wander back streets dotted with churches and soak up the town’s old-world charm as you explore on foot.
The following day, venture by taxi-boat onto Lake Atitlan and see villages resting on its shores. Visit San Juan La Laguna women's cooperative, a grassroots organization dedicated to community development and economic support while preserving traditional skills. You’ll meet the women who spin natural cotton thread, and learn how they and their families benefit by selling their creations directly to the public.
Take in spectacular vistas of the blue-gray mountains and the volcanoes that ring picturesque Lake Atitlan. With plenty of free time to appreciate Guatemala’s great outdoors, you can rent a bike or kayak, go on a hike or take a boat to visit neighboring communities. Enjoy Panajachel’s thriving market and plenty of good eateries as well!
Overnight: Hotel Posada Los Volcanes or similar in Panajachel
Day 9: Panajachel – Chichicastenango – Antigua (B)
En route to Antigua, stop in Chichicastenango. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its well-preserved buildings, Chichicastenango is a vibrant Guatemalan town known for its Thursday and Sunday market. Your guide will accompany your small group to the bustling morning market, which overflows with colorful handicrafts and intricate weavings.
After approximately four hours of travel, arrive in Antigua – once Central America’s most important city – where many colonial buildings have been carefully restored with heavy carved-wood entrances. Follow your guide on a walking tour along quiet cobblestone streets of Antigua, sheltered between three volcanoes.
Spend a free afternoon at leisure, exploring the many fascinating markets and museums, or simply enjoying the bewitching atmosphere as you gaze at mountain peaks and feast on delightful food. For a more active adventure, rent a mountain bike and head into the countryside, with views of the surrounding valleys covered in lush vegetation.
Overnight: Hotel Posada San Pedro or similar in Antigua
Day 10: Antigua (B)
Since there are no activities planned for the final day of your tour, feel free to depart from your hotel at any time. Check with hotel reception for checkout times and luggage storage possibilities if you wish to prolong your stay in Antigua. Ask your guide about optional activities available, such as a tour to a coffee and macadamia nut plantation, a volcanoes climb, a bicycle tour or a salsa lesson.