Mexico: Mayans, Aztecs & Conquistadors Day of the Dead Festival

Resort: Mexico: Mayans, Aztecs & Conquistadors Day of the Dead Festival
Operator: Exodus
Destination: Caribbean and Central America
Price From: £3399.00

Overview


Journey through Mexico’s pre-Columbian temples, colonial towns, higlands and
jungles.

Few countries can compete with Mexico when it comes to unleashing the inner
Indiana Jones in each of us. Jungle clad temples and abandoned ancient
civilisations make way to colonial era towns with cobbled streets and Spanish
architecture. This fusion of history has led to Mexicos unique culture
from the art of Frida Kahlo to Oaxacas succulent cuisine. Uncover the
countrys historical and cultural layers as we journey from the highlands
of Mexico City to the jungles and beaches of the Yucatan via the lands of
Aztecs, Zapotec, Mayas and Conquistadors.

This relates to the special Day of the Dead Festival departure which is one
day longer and spends the day celebrating the Day of the Dead festivities in
Oaxaca.

Highlights

* Day of the Dead Festival in Oaxaca
* Mexico’s intense culinary and artistic traditions
* From ancient temples and cities to colonial town
* Highlands, jungles and coastlines

Itinerary

Day 1
Fly to Mexico City

Those on the group flights normally arrive in Mexico City in the evening.
Land only passengers can arrive at any time.

*Hotel Regente or similar*

Day 2
Coyoacan Neighbourhood, Frida Kahlo and Xochimilco Canals

Today we head out for a day of exploring the bohemian side of Mexico City.

We start off by making our way to the south of the city and a particular
house hidden behind cobalt blue walls known as Casa Azul. This is where the
acclaimed artist Frida Kahlo was born, grew up and, eventually, lived with
her muralist husband, Diego Rivera until she died in 1954 at the age of 47.
Now a museum, the colonial house, set around a luxuriant garden, doesnt
only showcase the collections and personal effects of the two great artists
but is a window into the life of affluent Mexican bohemians in the first half
of the 20th Century.

Next, we visit the quaint neighbourhood of Coyoacan (meaning place of
coyotes) with its pebbled streets, colonial churches, bustling little markets
and quiet squares. This area was inhabited before the arrival of the Spanish
and it is said that the conquistador, Hernan Cortes, made this the first
capital of New Spain.

Finally, we enjoy a relaxing ride on a pre-Hispanic boat along the peaceful
waters of the Xochimilco Canals. These scenic waterways would have been used
by the Aztecs and today see us enjoying a relaxing journey past floating
gardens and little floating kitchens selling local food.

We finally return to our hotel in the late afternoon.

*Hotel Regente or similar*

Day 3
Teotihuacan and Mexico City’s Old Town

The ancient city of Teotihuacan reached its zenith around 1,000AD when it was
the 6th biggest city in the world with a population of about 125,000. Amongst
the avenues and structures are the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, the 3rd
and 4th largest in the world. We explore this impressive archaeological zone
with an expert local guide to unearth some of the sites secrets.

Returning to Mexico City, we visit the historic centre on a walking tour
based around the Zocalo (main square) and the Cathedral Metropolitana.Our
exploration will start in the capitals main square, known as the Zcalo,
but officially named the Plaza de la Constitucin. Considered one of the
biggest squares in the world, and just as it was an important gathering place
for the Aztecs, it remains so in modern day Mexico, often hosting book fairs
and concerts. On the North side of the Zcalo is the Metropolitan
Cathedral. The largest Cathedral in the Americas, it was constructed over the
Aztec temple, the Templo Mayor, as a sign that the Spanish were now in
power. We finish the tour outside of The “Palacio de Bellas Artes”.
Construction of this massive neoclassical building began in 1904, on the
remains of the Santa Isabel convent, under the Italian architect Boari. It
has an art nouveau style and its facade is made of marble from Carrara.

*Hotel Regente or similar*

Day 4
Museum of Anthropology and History and the Palacio Nacional; on to Puebla

Before leaving Mexico City behind we visit the Museum of Anthropology and
History with its impressive collection of artefacts from Mexicos many
civilisations. We then continue to The Palacio Nacional, which not only
contains the offices of the President, the Federal Treasury and the National
Archives but also murals depicting pre-Hispanic life and a large mural
filling the central stairway depicting the entire history of Mexico from the
conquest on.

Starting our journey south we head towards the city of Puebla (about 4.5hrs).
En route we visit Cholula, home to the largest pyramid base in Mesoamerica
with a 16th-century church built on top of it. On a clear day there are good
views of Popocatepetl Volcano.

In the late afternoon we arrive in Puebla de los Angeles, the City of Angels
so called because of a legend that claims angels came down from heaven to
place the cathedrals bells in the towers when builders were unable to do
so. The colonial city is known for its traditions, especially its
handicrafts, including blue-and-white pottery, and its cuisine that is some
of the best in Mexico.

*Hotel Colonial Puebla or similar*

Day 5
Puebla city tour and on to Oaxaca

We spend this morning discovering the city of Puebla which has been given
UNESCO World Heritage Site for its colonial architecture. We visit the Patio
de los Azulejos and the ex-Convent of Santa Rosa, both of which provide
classic examples of how talavera tiles were incorporated into
buildings, inside and out. Early settlers who came from Talavera de la Reina
in Spain introduced these tiles and associated ceramics. Today the glazed
pottery has become synonymous with Puebla.

After our city tour we continue our journey and drive towards another Mexican
World Heritage City, Oaxaca (about 4.5hrs). With a colonial centre of shaded
pedestrian streets, bright, clear light, indigenous traditions and a creative
atmosphere, Oaxaca has attracted and inspired many artists and artisans
alike.

The city boasts such sights as the beautiful zocalo (main square), the
Cathedral and the vast Convento de Santo Domingo, along with museums,
fascinating markets and charming inns.

**Hotel Oaxaca Real*or similar*

Day 6
Day of the Dead Traditions and Festival in rural Oaxaca

A long day full of new experiences that will take you closer to understand
the myth and history of the Day of Dead; the whole day is laid out to see the
Day of the Dead festivities and traditions!

Our day starts with a typical breakfast in the local market of Ocotlan de
Morelos. Here we get to learn about traditional Oaxaca dishes such as a
typical chocolate drink, stuffed chilies, enchiladas or stew with almonds, as
well as experiencing the market on this special day, complete with alters set
up for the Day of the Dead. From here its on to San Martin Tilcajete where
we discover the pre-Hispanic wood-carving tradition known as Alebrijes
in the work shop of the artisan Jacobo Angeles. Next we visit the black clay
work shop of Miguel Fabian in San Bartolo Coyotepec before moving on to the
archaeological site of Zaachila where we learn about pre-Hispanic tombs.

This afternoon embrace the Mexican celebration of their ancestors! We join a
local family in their home for lunch, where we get to have some traditional
Mole and other regional dishes. The family will also invite us to see their
Shrine for the Dead and introduce us to the language Zapoteco. We will
take part in the Day of the Dead parade in the local town before visiting the
local graveyard at night, listening to brass bands and watching the entire
town fill the cemetery to decorate the graves of their loves ones and sit by
their side all night.

**Hotel Oaxaca Real*or similar*

Day 7
Monte Alban and Oaxaca

Our next exploration of Mexican history takes us to the Zapotecan site of
Monte Alban. Whilst the name dates back to a Spanish landowner in the
16th-century, previous names come from the Mixtec word Sahandevul
meaning At the foot of the Sky or the Zapotecan Danibaan meaning
Sacred Mountain.

In 500 BC the Zapotecans moved into the Oaxaca region and began the
monumental task of levelling the top of a 1,600m high mountain that
intersects and divides three valleys. Here they built the city of Monte Alban
with a maze of subterranean passageways, rooms, drainage and water storage
systems.

We later return to Oaxaca and explore the cobbled streets and vibrant squares
and churches of the historical town. We also visit the Museum of cultures
Santo Domingo.

**Hotel Oaxaca Real*or similar*

Day 8
Learn how to create popular Mexican dishes

Oaxaca is possibly the most famed region in Mexico for its cuisine and we get
more acquainted with it as we head for a cooking class, learning dishes that
can easily be recreated at home. The exact menu can change but we generally
learn how to make two types of tortilla, three different salsas, guacamole,
mole, a starter, a soup, a desert and a drink. We visit a local market where
different ingredients are showcased and explained before returning to the
restaurant for our class and a succulent lunch.

The afternoon is free to wander around Oaxaca on your own.

**Hotel Oaxaca Real*or similar*

Day 9
Teotitlan del Valle, Mescal tasting and Mitla; on to Tehuantepec

A short distance from Oaxaca is the village of Teotitlan del Valle known for
its colourful, hand-woven rugs and our first stop today. From here we
continue to the Don Agave distillery to taste some mescal. Distilled from
agave plants, mescal is different to tequila and is most popular in the
Oaxaca region.

We next head to Mitla, another Zapotecan city which contains tombs of kings
and priests and which roughly dates from the 200-900AD.

After visiting the site we drive on to Tehuantepec where we spend the night
(total drive time is about 7hrs plus stops)

*Hotel Calli or similar*

Day 10
To San Cristobal

Drive to San Cristobal (about 6hrs plus stops).

One of Mexico’s most popular cities with visitors, San Cristobal de las Casas
is filled with cobbled stoned alleyways of whitewashed buildings with
red-tiled roofs that give onto plazas and picturesque arcades.

Arriving in San Cristobal in the afternoon, we have a short orientation tour
of the historic city before checking into our hotel.

*Hotel Casa Mexicana or similar*

Day 11
Free day in San Cristobal

Today is a free day to explore San Cristobal at your own pace. Wander the
colonial streets, take in the lively cafs, or buy handicrafts produced by
the local Tzotzil indigenous groups with their different colourful dress.
Its also possible to do an optional boat trip through the Sumidero Canyon
and/or visit one of the traditional Mayan communities who live in the
villages surrounding the city (see money section for prices).

*Hotel Casa Mexicana or similar*

Day 12
To Palenque via Agua Azul

The road we take towards Palenque is very windy but picturesque. En route we
visit the waterfalls of Agua Azul (after about 5hrs driving plus stops). Agua
Azul is a group of beautiful waterfalls that create wonderful natural pools
and has been a protected area since 1980.

Following a stop at the falls its a further 2.5hrs to the town of
Palenque, named after the nearby impressive ruins.

*Hotel La Aldea del Halach Huinic or similar
*

Day 13
Palenque Ruins, on to Campeche

Emerging from the jungles of the Chiapas low-lying hills is one of
Mexicos most impressive ruins: the Mayan site of Palenque. The temples,
sanctuaries and pyramids, with their sculptured walls and ceilings are some
of the best-preserved and finest examples of Mayan buildings despite the
city-state having peaked over 1,300 years ago in the 7th century.

We explore this magnificent site before continuing on the road towards the
Yucatan Peninsula and the Caribbean town of Campeche (about 5hrs plus stops).

Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the colonial towns best feature
are its impressive city walls built to protect it from the constant attacks
by English and Dutch buccaneers and pirates during the 16th and 17th
centuries.

*Hotel Lopez or similar*

Day 14
Uxmal, traditional lunch and Merida

About two hours drive from Campeche is our second Mayan site: Uxmal. Quite
open, it is in contrast to the jungle-ruins of Palenque we visited yesterday.
This site, which dates to the late classic era (500-800AD) and features the
Pyramid of the Magician; the Nunnery Quadrangle with long, elaborately carved
facades; and a ball court where a traditional ball game was played, sometimes
ending in human sacrifice.

Having worked up an appetite we have lunch at a local Mayan family
restaurant. Here we get to eat Pollo Pibil and Cochinita Pibil slowly
cooked pork and chicken. The meat is roasted for about 5hrs along with
achiote paste and wrapped in banana leaves. This is a typical Yucatan dish
and representative of the local cuisine.

After lunch its about 1.5hrs drive to Merida. A number of the citys
buildings, including the cathedral, were built using Mayan stones found on
this site and, along traditional colonial architecture, features 19th century
houses built in a French style.

Arriving mid-afternoon we have a walking tour of Merida, returning later to
enjoy the main square which is particularly delightful at night.

*Hotel Caribe or similar*

Day 15
Tixkokob craft village, Izamal magic town and on to Chichen Itza

Our first stop is at the traditional Mayan village of Tixkokob where local
families practice the age-old craft of hammock weaving.

After learning about how hammocks are made we continue to the magic
town of Izamal. Once a Mayan settlement, the name means Place of the
God of Medicine. The town is covered in buildings painted yellow and white
and is known for the 16th century Franciscan monastery built on top of the
base of a huge Mayan pyramid (which was probably once larger than the
Castillo in Chichen Itza).

From here we transfer to Chichen Itza, possibly the best known and most
impressive of all Mayan sites (total drive time of about 3.5hrs plus stops).

**Hotel Chichen Itza*or similar*

Day 16
Chichen Itza visit; on to Cancun; end Cancun

Our final day starts with a visit the most famous Mayan temple city: Chichen
Itza. Having spent the night near to the site means we can get in nice and
early before the hordes of day-trippers coming from the beach resorts.

Chichen Itza served as the political and economic centre of the Mayan
civilisation and thrived from around 600 to 1200AD. The pyramid of Kukulkan,
the Temple of Chac Mool, the Hall of the Thousand Pillars and the Playing
Field of the Prisoners can still be seen today and demonstrate the
extraordinary commitment to architecture, space and composition. The pyramid
itself was the last, and possibly the greatest, of Mayan pyramids.

This afternoon we drive about 2.5hrs to Cancun airport in time for the group
flight. This is where the tours land only portion ends. Those who have
decided to extend there stay by visiting the beach will get picked up here.

Day 17
Arrive London

Arrive London

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