Day 1 - Mexico City
Bienvenidos! Welcome to Mexico. Your adventure begins 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 please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.
Modern meets ancient in Mexico City - one of the world's largest urban centres. Although crowded and smoggy, D.F. (Distrito Federal) offers a great variety of museums, galleries and architecture, along with exciting nightlife and delicious street food. 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.
Day 2 - Mexico City
This morning your leader will take you on an orientation walk around the city, followed by a free afternoon. If you like art, the Frida Kahlo Museum is a must-see. Another fascinating activities is a boat tour 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. You'll also visit the religious landmark of the Virgen de Guadalupe.
Day 3 - Puebla
This morning and most of the afternoon are free to continue exploring Mexico City. 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.
Day 4 - Puebla
Today is free to discover Puebla at your leisure. Although a rapidly growing city, Puebla features many well-maintained colonial churches and buildings. Two good examples are the Santa Domingo Church and Rosary Chapel. 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. After a day 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.
Day 5 - Oaxaca
Today travel by local bus to Oaxaca (approx five 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. The markets are populated by descendents of the Zapotec and Mixtec Indians selling colourful woven blankets and shawls. Oaxaca is also known for its arts scene, including folk art, fine art and dance. Explore the narrow, cobbled streets or simply sit in the square drinking mezcal as the world goes by. Your hotel is within walking distance of Oaxaca's nightlife hot spots.
Day 6-7 - Oaxaca/Overnight Bus
Spend the next two days exploring Oaxaca. Perhaps visit 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. Alternatively, you could take a day tour out to the nearby Mitla Ruins, the mineral springs of Hierve el Agua and a mezcal distillery. Back in town, why not whip up something delicious at a cooking class?
On the evening of Day 7, 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 leg room. They are always air-conditioned, so make sure you take a light jumper 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 8-9 - San Cristobal de las Casas
Arrive into San Cristobal early in the morning. Check-in at the hotel isn't usually until midday, so if you can't check in on arrival, leave your luggage and start exploring San Cristobal. Today and tomorrow are at your leisure. As always, your group leader will help you arrange to take part in optional activities. With its winding cobblestone streets and colonial architecture, San Cristobal de las Casas maintains an old-world feel mixed with strong pre-hispanic roots. The surrounding villages are home to Tzotzil and Tzeltal groups who maintain their tribal origins through their traditional costumes and customs. You might like to explore the villages by mountain bike. 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 chickens. If you visit, please be aware of a strict ban on cameras as the local people maintain their traditional customs. There are also markets selling colourful handicrafts. Another option is a day trip to Sumidero Canyon. Back in town, wander to a local cafe and try an 'elote', a traditional highland corn snack.
Day 10 - Palenque
Today travel along a windy road by private minivan to Palenque (approx 6 hours). 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.
Notes: The local Zapatista movement in the region around Palenque has been quite active in recent months, occasionally holding protests or blocking roads. Our local operations team is constantly monitoring this situation to ensure the safety of our passengers and leaders. In some cases we might need to use an alternative route from San Cristobal to Palenque to avoid this activity - more so to bypass long traffic delays than any real danger.
Day 11 - Palenque/Overnight Bus
Today you have the chance to visit the ruins of Palenque. Situated on a hilltop, 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 echoing from the jungle. There are many ruins which are still un-excavated and remain hidden in the forest. You can opt to take a guided tour of the ruins or through the surrounding jungle. This evening, transfer to the bus station and board an overnight bus to Merida. The journey should take around eight to nine hours in total.
Day 12-13 - Merida
Early this morning arrive into the historic town of Merida. Founded in 1542, Merida still retains 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 Mayan replicas. This is also a great place to sample local food specialities, such as 'cochinita pibil' or the extremely spicy El Yucateco hot sauce. 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 is 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. 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 - Playa del Carmen
Today is a free day. Perhaps spend your time snorkelling among the mangroves, diving in underground caverns or strolling along the white sands. For an adventure further afield, take a ferry across to Cozumel, an island famous for its reef diving.
Day 15 - Playa del Carmen / Havana
Travel to Cuba. Although the flight is not included, a complimentary departure transfer to Cancun Airport and a complimentary arrival transfer in Havana are included with your trip.
If you arrive into Havana early in the morning, please note most activities in Cuba can only be booked through the tourist desk in the lobbies of the larger hotels or direct with the venue. Otherwise, there are plenty of good museums to check out, including the Museo de la Revolucion and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.
There will be a welcome meeting at approximately 6pm this evening. Please expect a letter in your room or a phone call on Day 1 from your leader to confirm the time and place of your meeting. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information again at this meeting, so ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. The briefing is generally followed by an optional group dinner.
Day 16 - Vinales
This morning your leader will take you on a walking tour of the Old Havana. This tour includes a visit to the cathedral, Plaza de Armas, San Francisco de Asis, Plaza Vieja, Central Park and other sites. The entry fee to the Camera Obscura lookout at Plaza Vieja is included. Next you will head west on a private bus to Vinales (approximately 3 hours). This is a small and charming rural village, and probably the easiest place in Cuba to mingle with locals, who are very sociable and love nothing better than to drink rum and dance the night away. With only three bars in town, it’s hard to get lost here. The scenery around Vinales is some of the most picturesque in Cuba.
Day 17 - Vinales
You will have an included informal Spanish lesson when the group decides. Then enjoy some free time today in Vinales, which you'll soon see is home to extraordinary scenery that's some of Cuba's best. Soak up the slow, old-world pace of rural Cuba, as oxen plod gracefully along the streets. There are many optional outdoor activities available. You might like to cruise around the area on a bicycle, hike through the tobacco fields or to explore one of the America’s largest cave complexes up in the mountains. Your leader will have further recommendations.
Day 18 - Bay of Pigs / Playa larga
Travel back to Havana before continuing east to Cienfuegos (approximately 8 hours). On the way you will visit the Giron Museum to learn about the Bay of Pigs Invasion – the battle between the US and the Cuban revolutionaries which resulted in the first defeat of a US-backed takeover in Latin America. You will also stop at the Bay of Pigs itself for a swim, and if there is time you can hire snorkel gear. Continue to Playa larga where you'll spend the night.
Day 19 - Cienfuegos / Trinidad
On the way to Trinidad, stop Cienfuegos, which some locals like to call 'The Pearl of the South'. You'll have time for an optional lunch or simply discover its beautiful colonial centre, with its wide Parisian-style boulevard and elegant colonnades. If there is time, pay a visit to the Palacio del Valle with the group. Once a modest home for a local trader, this palace is now Cienfuegos' architectural pride and joy. The entire edifice drips with ornate carvings in Venetian alabaster.
Trinidad is a standout destination for many visitors to Cuba, due in no small part to a friendly populace, old-fashioned feel and particularly well-preserved colonial buildings. The Santeria religion (a voodoo-like Afro-Cuban tradition) which is practiced here makes the town all the more intriguing. For an insight into the colourful post-revolutionary period, the Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra los Bandidos and the Casa de los Mártires de Trinidad are great to visit. Nearby is the sprawling Valle de los Ingenios, where sugar plantations stretch out as far as the eye can see.
Day 20 - Trinidad
Today is a free day in Trinidad. For some beachside fun and perhaps a little snorkelling, head down to Playa Ancon. Just be careful you don't stand on a sea urchin. Hiking and cycling are equally good options, and there are some excellent walking trails in the nearby Sierra del Escambray mountains. At some point while you're here, a great activity is to go to a folklore show at one of the town's numerous open-air venues. Cuba has a rich and varied music and dance tradition that draws roots from Spain, Africa and France, and this is your chance to experience it all first-hand, from the Mambo to the rumba.
Day 21 - Havana
On the way back to Havana you will pass by Santa Clara to visit the Che Guevara mausoleum and memorial. Che's remains were brought to rest here after they were found in a remote corner of Bolivia in 1997, where he was assassinated by the CIA-backed Bolivian army. There is an impressive bronze statue of Che bearing his rifle. Inside the museum, you can learn about his amazing life and see photos and exhibits such as his famous black beret. On reaching Havana you will return to your guesthouse, then enjoy some free time. Take the opportunity to hit the town for a final night of salsa.
Day 22 - Havana
Your trip comes to an end after breakfast this morning. Check-out time is 10am. You may be able to store your luggage at the guesthouse for an extra cost.
Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
Flights, Travel Insurance, Visa, Vaccinations or Personal Spending Money