Epic Mexico, Belize & Guatemala
|Resort:||Epic Mexico, Belize & Guatemala|
|Destination:||Caribbean and Central America|
Take a Central American history lesson, eat some delicious food and rock a killer tan on your 30-day epic adventure through Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Taste some tacos on a street food experience in Mexico City, pick up traditional handicrafts in Oaxaca, Chiapas and Merida, check out the yellow city of Izamal on a guided tour, delve into island life and the pristine underwater worlds in Belize, sleep on the shores of Guatemalas Lake Atitlan in a plush glamping tent and stroll the cobbled lanes of colonial Antigua. These three colourful countries are the right amount culture, beach and spice, with some surprising extras thrown in.
Day 1 Mexico City
Bienvenidos! Where better to start a Meh-i-co exploration than in Mexico City one of the world’s largest urban centres. Forget about the crowds and the smog, Mexico City has got museums, galleries and diverse architecture for you, along with pumping nightlife and delicious street food. Lets kick things off with a welcome meeting today at 6 pm. 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. Another great thing to do is to hop on one of the colourfully painted boats that cruise through the canal district of Xochimilco, or head to the National Palace for a look at the intricate murals painted by Diego Rivera. After the meeting tonight, youre definitely going to want to seek out some tacos for dinner, and with an informal lesson from your group leader, try to place your order in Spanish!
Day 2 Mexico City
Maybe grab some chilaquiles (a type of breakfast nachos) in the morning, then join your leader for an orientation walk around the historic centre of the city. Mexico City can feel overwhelming due to its sheer size and volume of people, however your group leader will know where to go. Walking makes you hungry, so its time to head on an included taco crawl, sample a couple of tacos from local street food vendors. Its nothing fancy, but they sure are delicious. The afternoon is free for you to enjoy 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. Dont forget to snack your way around the city too, munching on tostadas, tortas, and chicharrones all day long. 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.
Day 3 Oaxaca
Take a public bus to the smaller but no less beautiful city of Oaxaca (around 7 hours). Pronounced wuh-haa-ka, this colourful town in the south is full of colonial buildings, colourful arcades and busy markets. Your group leader will provide an orientation walk to get your bearings, before giving you the time to visit at your own pace. With two full days to come, youll have heaps of time to explore the narrow, cobbled streets in the city, as well as the culture and natural beauty of the surrounding area. Descendants of the Zapotec and Mixtec Indians selling colourful woven blankets and shawls populate the markets a great place to shop for textiles, as well as margarita flavours. Here youll also find some tasty regional food specialties, everything from cactus fruit, to spicy baked chilli and lime grasshoppers and the heavenly Oaxacan cheese. Make sure you pick up a tejate a maize and cinnamon flavoured chocolate drink served cold. On your walk, be sure to look out for any reference to Oaxacas renowned arts scene, including folk art, fine art and dance. Get lost admiring the spectrum of coloured buildings or sit in the main square listening to a street performer, sipping a mezcal and watching the world pass by.
Day 4 Oaxaca
The city (and state) of Oaxaca is yours to explore on this free day, full of optional experiences. Perhaps head to the spectacular mountain top temples of Monte Alban just outside the city. Monte Alban was inhabited for 1500 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. Youd 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. For something more relaxing on your way from Mitla, drop by the springs of Hierve el Agua a series of mineral pools and calcified waterfalls dotted on top of a mountain, providing sweeping panoramic views of the Mexican countryside. Perhaps on the way back to Oaxaca, you could stop into a mezcaleria (mezcal distillery) to learn about the lesser-known but more and more popular hermano (brother) of tequila. It is mainly produced in Oaxaca, but is not for the faint-hearted as its generally enjoyed straight-up. Bottoms up!
Day 5 Oaxaca / Overnight bus
Today is another full day in Oaxaca, but be prepared to board an overnight bus later to travel to the mountain-top village of San Cristobal de las Casas. Youve got today to bask in the colour and sights of Oaxaca, so why not test out your culinary skills at a delicious cooking class? Otherwise, check out the artisan stores in the markets and around town, and head to the historic Templo de Santo Domingo a grand stone church with a large forecourt. In the evening, hop on a first-class overnight bus to San Cristobal del las Casas (approximately 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 6 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 here. Your group leader will point the main things out on a leader-led city tour, and afterwards, will help you arrange any optional activities. With its winding cobblestone streets snuggled in the Chiapas highlands, San Cristobal de las Casas has an old-world feel mixed with strong pre-hispanic roots. Wander to a local cafe and check out their baked goods or try some pox a traditional corn-based liquor, often flavoured with other ingredients.
Day 7 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 dress 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 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 or those with fear of heights.
Day 8 Lacanja River
Today travel along a windy road by private vehicle to Lacanja River (approximately 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. There are a few optional activities on offer, including a rafting experience over Lacanja River waterfalls and backwaters and to the nearby archaeological site, then travelling back through the jungle and past the waterfalls of Moctuniha. There are also some awesome guided hikes available to book, so ask your group leader if you would like to organise this. Coming from the city today, youll have a much different experience staying right in the middle of the jungle in an eco-cabana.
Day 9 Palenque
This morning is free to explore the Lacanja jungle and surrounding lush trails and waterfalls, before travelling to Palenque in a private vehicle (approximately 2 hours). After arriving, head to the archaeological zone and visit the ruins of Palenque. Sitting on a hilltop surrounded by thick trees, the ruins date back to AD600 and are some of the most impressive Mayan relics in Mexico. As you take a self-guided 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 (at an extra fee). 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.
Day 10 Merida
Today, travel by public bus and head north up to the old-world charm of Merida (approximately 7-8 hours in total). Founded in 1542, this city has a large indigenous population, with approximately 60% of Merida residents of Maya background. Take use of an orientation walk on arrival and wander through the Old Town, checking 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 (slow-roasted barbeque pork) or the extremely spicy El Yucateco hot sauce. For a snack, 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 other toppings. If you havent noticed already: yeah, they like corn.
Day 11 Merida
Merida is the gateway to the Maya ruins of Uxmal. Perhaps today a tour of the ruins is on the cards, including a guide and shared transport. Little is known about the sites origins but its thought the city was founded around AD500. Much of the site is decorated with masks of the rain god Chac. Otherwise, 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. If you decide to stay in the city, know that 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 12 Merida
With a second full day in Merida, make sure that you havent missed any of the main sights in the city. Otherwise, there is an opportunity to visit the most well-known archaeological site in Mexico: Chichen Itza. Listed as one of the new seven wonders of the world, Chichen Itza is considered the most important example of a fusion of Maya and Toltec tradition and civilisation in Yucatan. See the Caracol (a circular stellar observatory), the Great Ball Court (the largest field in Mesoamerica) the main sight in El Castillo (a step pyramid dominating the centre of the site) and many more historic ruins. Your group leader can organise transport and entrance fees into the archaeological site, however we recommend getting there early in the morning, as this area gets very busy with tourists during the day.
Day 13 Izamal
Today, travel to Izamal by local bus (approximately 2 hours), which is known as the City of Yellow, because of the yellow ochre and white hues painted on many of the buildings, as the locals way to preserve its light and project it to the future. Enjoy a leader-led city tour with a visit the San Antonio de Padua Convent an imposing colonial structure at the centre of town adorned in the citys distinct colour. Enjoy some time to continue exploring the city at your own pace and be sure to get another Mexican fix at a local restaurant tonight.
Day 14 Playa del Carmen
Take a public bus to the resort hub of Playa del Carmen (approximately 2.5 hours). Blessed with azure waters, powdery beaches and a European feel, Playa del Carmen is relatively close to Cancun but with less of a young party atmosphere. Here you can spend your time snorkelling among the mangroves or in underground caverns, tanning, or strolling along the white sands of the playa (beach). Your group leader will provide an orientation walk to the city, with a visit to a Mexican ice-cream store for an included tasting (of course). Youll lean more about the flavours and the traditional methods of how it is made. With a free afternoon at your leisure, why not pull up a towel and bask in this tropical paradise? It is also possible to take a ferry from here across to Cozumel, an island famous for its reef. In the evening, feast on seafood, kick back with your group and watch the waves with a margarita in hand.
Day 15 Playa del Carmen
Today is a free day in Playa del Carmen. Maybe join some optional activities like snorkelling among mangroves and cycling, or just taking a stroll along the awesomely white beaches. Theres always the option to go find a nearby cenote or book yourself on a boat over to Cozumel for the day (if you havent already). Later in the afternoon, head back to your hotel for another group briefing at 6 pm, where youll meet some new travel pals joining you, plus maybe a new group leader too! Tonights again all about introductions, so how about finding a place that does tacos and cervezas, enjoying the vibe of this waterfront haven.
Day 16 Tulum
Today, hop on a local bus along the Caribbean coast to Tulum (approximately 1.5 hours), where it’s all about laidback life and the white sands of the Yucatan Peninsula. Once you’re settled and got your bearings with a leader-led orientation walk around Tulum, there’s the chance to visit one of the best-looking and located Maya sites around. Discover the impressive Temple of the Frescoes and see how this pre-Columbian walled ruin city clings to a cliff-top area overlooking the ocean. You can even go for a swim within the archaeological zone. In the evening, perhaps kick back and watch the waves roll in at a beachside bar with a margarita, of course.
Day 17 Tulum
With a free day to relax in Tulum, consider the optional activities on offer, and most importantly, relax into the laidback Mexican vibe. Two wheels are a good way to tackle the day, so rent a bike, cruise around the area and cover a lot of ground in a short time, as Tulum is relatively flat. The town is heaving with hip cafes and restaurants and many vegetarian and vegan options, as well as places to relax the mind and body with yoga and meditation. There’s also the option of exploring Dos Ojos (two eyes): one of the most famous cenotes (freshwater rock pools) in the area an underwater world full of stalagmites and stalactites.
Day 18 Caye Caulker
New day, new country. Adios Mexico, hello Belize. Much of today will be taken up with travel, driving by local bus to the border, then on to Belize City (approximately 8 hours in total). Let the wind and sea spray wash the travel away with a 1-hour speedboat ride to the palm-fringed island of Caye Caulker. If your idea of paradise is white sand, blue waters and palm trees then youre going to dig this place, and with a few days to explore, relax and get active, youre set for an idyllic stay.
Day 19 Caye Caulker
Your time in Caye Caulker is all about taking it easy. The pace of life is so incredibly slow it’s almost backwards. If being underwater is your thing then head out to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, home to Shark Ray Alley and the world’s second longest barrier reef. Snorkel among the colourful corals and see tropical fish, sharks and manta rays. You can also take day trips to other Cayes nearby – each island has its own particular character, but all of them have that unmistakable Caribbean pace and charm. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America, which will make chatting with locals much easier.
Day 20 Caye Caulker
Today is another free day to take up any other optional activities or to simply pull up a towel and relax along the beach with a book. If youve already been snorkelling, then maybe continue the marine exploration with a manatee tour. These huge, peaceful creatures are beautiful in their own way, and are quite curious to meet their visitors. Get more active with sea kayaks and stand-up paddle boards, or go the other way completely and just chill out. The island’s also great for food, famed for its lobster and super tasty meals cooked on the side of the road. How about some grilled shrimp and a rum and coke made with the local fire water?
Day 21 San Ignacio
Leave the island paradise behind and return to Belize City by boat (approximately 1 hour), before taking a local bus to San Ignacio via Belizes capital, Belmopan (approximately 3 hours). The local buses here are a little more basic than in Mexico but this is a great opportunity to mix with Belizeans and get a feel for local life. Get ready for stop and go on the journey, as there are very few official bus stops in Belize and the bus will keep stopping to pick up passengers. San Ignacio is a lively town surrounded by fast-flowing rivers, waterfalls and Maya ruins, making it the best base for exploring the region. After you arrive, the rest of the day is free, so perhaps choose to visit the Chaa Creek butterfly garden, and at night, try one of the barbeque street stalls for a char-grilled chicken leg.
Day 22 San Ignacio
There is a heap of optional activities to choose between in San Ignacio. The cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal is a living museum of Maya relics, and you can wade through its waters until you reach a whole bunch of 1400-year-old crystallised skeletons. You could take a day tour to the Mountain Pine Ridge area to visit waterfalls and swimming holes, or go down the Macal river in canoes or tubes. If you prefer a slower pace, take a trip out to Xunantunich, an impressive Maya ceremonial centre with panoramic views. Getting to the site is half the fun, as you’ll need to take a hand-cranked boat down the river. Belizeans are super friendly, so in the evening, walk down Burns Avenue and join the locals for a chat in one of the many restaurants, or at a street side stall.
Day 23 Tikal National Park
Time to go jungle Guatemala-style. Leave San Ignacio, cross the border, and get dropped at Tikal National Park by private vehicle (approximately 4 hours). You’ll set up camp on the grounds of a hotel near the national park entrance before exploring the super-huge and crazy-cool Maya ruins of Tikal its a bit like the set of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto movie, minus all the violence. Pass through the lush jungle vegetation, and if you’ve got the energy, climb Temple IV to take in the epic canopy views. While here, there’s also the option to check out more of the area with a guided tour, or to fly through the canopies like a toucan with a memorable zipline experience.
Day 24 Rio Dulce
From the jungle to the lake this morning, as youll head to the lakeside town of Flores (approximately 1 hour). Here there’s time to grab some lunch and have a quick explore around the town. Then it’s back on the private vehicle to Rio Dulce (approximately 5 hours). On arrival in Rio Dulce, transfer to the hotel by boat. The easiest way to get back into town is also by boat, which can be organised through the hotel, or you can take a short walk through the jungle. Take some time to absorb the atmosphere of this laidback Caribbean town, which feels quite different from the inland communities. A highlight for many guests is the ‘Casa Natural’ – an open-air accommodation with screened-in rooms, shared bathrooms and a lounge looking out to the surrounding jungle.
Day 25 Rio Dulce
There is a load of kick-ass activities to choose between today. Take a scenic boat trip down the river to Livingston, a laidback town on the Caribbean coast that offers a unique experience of local Garifuna culture. Go boating on the lake, relax in the thermal hot springs or explore the nearby San Felipe fort in Livingstone. You could hike through the dense forest of the surrounding Chocon-Machacas Natural reserve and go out to spot the protected manatees of the area. Remember, the best thing is that youre in laidback Guatemala, and with the flexibility of todays itinerary, you decide whats on the agenda.
Day 26 Antigua
Travel by private vehicle to the city of Antigua (approximately 8 hours). You’ll spend the night here, before heading to Lake Atitlan tomorrow. You won’t spend too much time in Antigua, but you’ll be coming back here in a few days time, so not to worry! Still, take some time for a stroll and tuck into some tasty tamales (a local dish served in a corn leaf) or a dish called Pepian: a spicy meaty stew of chicken, beef and pork in a dark sauce. You’ll find the best value food in the square next to the La Merced Church.
Day 27 Chichicastenango / Lake Atitlan
Today you’ll get a seriously special Guatemalan experience. Start the day by travelling by private vehicle to the famous market in Chichicastenango (approximately 2.5 hours). This is the most colourful market in the country, where on Thursdays and Sundays locals come from the surrounding villages to sell their wares, and the streets are lined with stalls where you can stock up on cool trinkets. After visiting Chichi, head towards San Jorge La Laguna: a small Maya village overlooking Lake Atitlan (approximately 1.5 hours). Here you’ll meet a Guatemalan family, and it’ll be time to bust out your best Spanish to break the ice with these super friendly but shy locals. The group may be split in twos or threes, depending on the group size. The mother of the family will cook you basic but filling dinner early in the evening and provide you with an insight into Guatemalan family and culture. Bid the family adios before spending the night multishare glamping on the shores of Lake Atitlan.
Day 28 Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan is all yours to explore today when you wake up on the banks of its shimmering blue waters. There will be time to enjoy the other sections of the lake, so hire a kayak, or book in for a volcano hike or a mountain bike tour for a different scenic experience. After a day of exploring, you deserve a relaxing family-style dinner, which is all included on your return. By now, you may have realised that the Spanish name of your glamping experience, Free Cerveza, means free beer. Enjoy 2 hours of unlimited cervezas with your set menu, including soup, a main dish and dessert. You definitely wont go hungry (or thirsty, for that matter). To sweat off the days activities (and food), be sure to enjoy the free sauna.
Day 29 Antigua
After an included breakfast, hit the road back to Antigua (approximately 3 hours). With three nearby volcanoes dominating the horizon, you won’t have been to many places quite like Antigua. Experience a leader-led walking tour to orientate yourself around the World Heritage-listed city full of cobblestones, leafy town squares and ornate churches. There are hushed museums and lively indigenous markets to explore, or countryside to be cycled with amazing views of mountain peaks and deep valleys. If you’re into salsa dancing, or if you’d just like to learn some moves, Antigua is the place to be. Many dancing schools offer hourly lessons, so you’ll be able to move your hips. This is also a city that knows how to party, so bring your best dance moves, shout a round of mojitos and get down with the locals.
Day 30 Antigua
While there are no activities planned for today, Antigua has so much to offer, from its vibrant colonial-style buildings and curved archways, all the way out to the puffing volcanoes of Pacaya, Agua and Jumaytepeque. The number one stop for any chocoholic should be the ChocoMuseo, where youll get a history lesson and, more excitingly, participate in a chocolate-making workshop. For those more interested in the other famous Central American bean, you can go on a coffee tour, visit the plantations, do some tasting and even buy some to take home. If you wish to spend more time in Antigua, we’ll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability).