La Ruta Maya – Day of the Dead Festival Departure
Discover lively colonial towns, active volcanoes and the palm-fringed beaches
along with experiencing Day of the Dead festivities.
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Vacation Style Holiday Type
Activity Level Leisurely
Group Size Small Group
The Mayans forged a powerful and mysterious empire across southern Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. Following ‘La Ruta Maya’ we explore the hidden treasures of this region – magnificent cities, pyramids and temples. These incredible architectural feats have captivated historians since their discovery. The ancient Mayan civilisation is also apparent in the customs, language and dress of the Indian towns and villages we pass through. The Mexican Day of the Dead celebration is possibly the most vibrant and colourful tribute to human mortality there is. Citizens pay tribute to the dead, especially close relatives, visiting graves and congregating round the stones to lay edible offerings at the headstones alongside beautiful golden mounds of marigolds, the Flor de Muerto (flower of the dead). Spanning three countries, we discover lively colonial towns, active volcanoes and the palm-fringed Caye Caulker, a paradise for snorkelling and diving, along with experiencing Day of the Dead festivities.
* All accommodation (see below)
* All transport and listed activities
* Tour leader throughout. Groups of normally 6 to 15, plus leader. Min age 16 yrs.
* Airport transfers (at designated times)
- Single Accommodation (available on request, inquire for supplement)
- Day of the Dead Festival
- An in-depth exploration of the highlights of the Mayan world
- Guided visits to the Mayan sites of Palenque, Uxmal, Chichen Itza, Tulum, Tikal and Xunantunich
- Colourful colonial cities of Antigua, San Cristobal de las Casas, Campeche and Merida
- Traditional communities in the Mexican highlands
- Two nights at beautiful Lake Atitlan, surrounded by volcanoes
- Idyllic Caribbean waters in Mexico and Belize
- 15 nights in a mixture of standard and comfortable hotels, all with en suite facilities
- Travel by private minibus, boat and internal flight
- Several long drives
- Reverse itinerary departure available (AUXR)
- Non Festival departure available (AUR)
Fly to Guatemala City; to Antigua.
Those on group flights will be met at Guatemala City airport and taken to our start hotel in Antigua (approx. 1 hour drive). Those on land only arrangements should make their own way to the start hotel.*Comfortable Hotel*
City tour; to Panajachel.
Many travellers agree that Antigua is one of the most attractive cities in Latin America. Rightly declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the colourful, colonial city attracts visitors from all over for its unique history and renowned Spanish language schools. Above the tiled roofs of pastel houses there are impressive views of the Agua and Fuego volcanoes, standing in excess of 3700m above the city. Antigua was the capital of the Spanish empire in Central America from 1543 to 1773, a highly religious period that left the city with an abundance of convents and churches packed with religious art. Unfortunately many buildings are now in ruins from centuries of earthquake damage – our guided walking tour of the city will bring its fascinating history to life.In the afternoon we drive for approximately 2.5 hours into the highlands to the ancient market town of Chichicastenango, where centuries-old economic and cultural traditions of the Kaqchikel people continue to thrive. A further drive of 1.5 hours brings us to Panajachel, a small town on the shore of Lake Atitlan. Guatemala’s largest lake is dominated by three volcanoes and was formed following an ancient eruption. Many of the villages that exist around the lake are only accessible by boat.*Comfortable Hotel*
Boat trip on Lake Atitlan.
Today we will explore some of the area surrounding Lake Atitlan. A 60-minute scenic boat ride on the lake takes us to the village of San Juan La Laguna, where we will visit the home studios of local painters and a textile cooperative where women are engaged in hand weaving and natural dyeing processes. We continue by boat to Santiago Atitlan where we can learn about the Mayan traditions and beliefs from our local guides.*Comfortable Hotel*
To San Cristobal de las Casas.
Today we begin early and drive north, crossing the border into Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas. The road takes us through rugged mountain scenery before we come to the old capital of the region, San Cristobal de Las Casas. This is one of the most attractive colonial towns in Mexico, with many old churches and squares amongst a lively café scene. It is also a major centre for the Tzotzil Indians, each group having different, colourful costumes. The extensive market has some good handicrafts for sale and plenty of interesting foodstuffs on offer! San Cristobal has a very pleasant climate because of its altitude. Today is a full day drive of around 7 hours plus stops for lunch in a simple restaurant in a small town (not included) and the border crossing.*Comfortable Hotel*
Explore San Cristobal de las Casas and nearby villages.
We visit the nearby Indian villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan this morning. These small communities are very traditional and many of the villagers continue to follow ancient religious practices within the Catholic churches. In the main church of Chamula, where locals practice a blend of Catholicism and Mayan customs, people sit on the pine needle covered floor surrounded by dozens of candles, chanting prayers in an ancient dialect of Tzotzil. Our guide will explain some of the local traditions before we enter the church to see this practice for ourselves. Visitors should note that when visiting churches in the villages, photography of the worshippers and the church interiors is expressly forbidden. Your guide will explain the full reasons behind this, but please remember to exercise discretion when taking pictures, always seeking permission before using your camera. In the afternoon, there will be some free time to explore San Cristobal de las Casas at your leisure.*Comfortable Hotel*
Day of the Dead festivities.
The Mexican Day of the Dead celebration is possibly the most vibrant and colourful tribute to human mortality there is. Citizens pay tribute to the dead, especially close relatives, visiting graves and congregating round the stones to lay edible offerings at the headstones alongside beautiful golden mounds of marigolds, the Flor de Muerto (flower of the dead). Today we hope to visit some cemeteries around San Cristobal de las Casas to see the altars and tributes made for loved ones. We also hope to visit local markets and bakeries with ornaments and essentials for the Day of the Dead festivities, with the chance to sample specialties only on offer during this festival. We also plan to visit the Chamulan village Romerillo.*Comfortable Hotel*
Visit Agua Azul Waterfall; to Palenque.
Today we descend from the highlands to the humid forests of north-eastern Chiapas – expect some winding roads but plenty of spectacular scenery en route. We break our journey at the Agua Azul Falls, a glittering series of cataracts which often appear blue due to the high mineral content. In Spanish the name of the falls means ’Blue Water’. (Please note that on the rare occasions where we are unable to visit Agua Azul Falls, we will endeavour to visit the Misol Ha waterfalls instead) Our journey will continue to the small town of Palenque, where the Mayan site of the same name is located just on the outskirts. Enjoy an optional trip to El Panchán for dinner this evening, a nearby bohemian rainforest hangout (dinner not included). The total driving time today is approx. 8 hours.*Comfortable Hotel*
Tour of Palenque; to Campeche.
This morning we have a guided tour of the impressive Mayan site of Palenque. The jungle-covered complex is one of the most famous in Mexico and is located in the low hills of Chiapas. The pyramids, sanctuaries and temples, with their sculptured wall-panels and roofs are remarkably well preserved and are probably the finest surviving examples of Mayan buildings.In the afternoon, we drive for around 7 hours to the historic fortified city of Campeche, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which boats incredibly well preserved colonial architecture. Most impressive are the city walls, built to protect the city from the constant attacks of English and Dutch buccaneers and pirates during the 16th and 17th centuries. Arrive in the early evening and head out to sample some local cuisine overlooking the Bay of Campeche – seafood is a local specialty and widely available.*Comfortable Hotel*
To Merida via Uxmal ruins.
From Campeche we travel for around 2 hours to reach the fascinating Mayan ruins of Uxmal. Uxmal dates back to the late classic period, having been built by the Xiu tribe. The site is dominated by the Pyramid of the Magician and the Nunnery Quadrangle which consists of long buildings with elaborately carved façades. There are remnants of a ball court used in ritual games that sometimes ended in sacrifice, and the whole site is quite exposed, which is a real contrast to the ruins of Palenque. From Uxmal it is around a 1 hour and 30 minute drive to the bustling colonial city of Mérida. Many of its buildings were constructed using stones from the Mayan city which existed on the site and these are still visible in the walls of the imposing cathedral. The city flourished following the conquest and the 19th century homes designed in French style contribute to the attractive appearance of the historical centre. We arrive in the middle to late afternoon and will enjoy a walking tour of the city; the main square is particularly impressive when lit up at night.*Standard Hotel*
Visit Chichen Itza; to Tulum.
We will spend the morning exploring one of the largest Mayan ceremonial centres at Chichén Itza, located approximately 2 hours from Mérida. The impressive El Castillo Pyramid sits in the middle of the site and is surrounded by temples, palaces and ball courts. Nearby, we stop to visit the Cenote Sagrado (’Sacred Well’), dredged in the early 20th century and found to contain precious gold, silver and jade artifacts as well as the remains of sacrifice victims. After the tour we stop in Valladolid to further explore the mix of Mayan and colonial Spanish culture on the Yucatan before driving for around 3 hours to the fantastic beach community of Tulum, where we stay for the next 2 nights. Just outside the town lies one of the most photographed sites in the Yucatan; the ruins of an ancient Mayan city that overlook the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.*Standard Hotel*
Visit Tulum ruins; swim in a cenote; free afternoon.
This morning we have a short tour of the ancient Mayan fortress of Tulum followed by an optional visit to the sacred underground Mayan waters to cool off in a nearby cenote that is suitable for swimming. The most famous buildings in the complex are the ruins that overlook the lapping waves of the Caribbean, but there are also several temples, ritual platforms and houses to be explored. In common with many other Mayan cities, the whole site is surrounded by a huge defensive wall. This afternoon is free to relax on the beautiful Tulum beach.*Standard Hotel*
To Belize city; boat to Caye Caulker.
This morning we drive for around 3 hours to Chetumal and cross the border into Belize. We continue another 2.5 hours to Belize city, stopping for lunch en route, where we board the water taxi for the 60 minute transfer to Caye Caulker. This laid-back Caribbean Island is just west of the Belize Barrier Reef and offers fantastic snorkelling and diving opportunities. There will be some border formalities this morning, but this afternoon has been left free to relax into island life and understand the meaning of Belize’s motto: ’no shirt, no shoes, no problem!’ The tiny village of Caye Caulker has only three sandy main streets (Front, Middle and Back Street), but they are full of bars and restaurants, many of which serve excellent fresh seafood.*Standard Hotel*
Today is a free day for optional excursions and activities, or simply for relaxation. Diving, snorkeling, sea kayaking and fishing can all be arranged locally. As the island is small, it is very easy to complete a circuit on foot. As well as the marine activities there is also a forest reserve in the northern part of the island which offers great bird watching in the mangroves.*Standard Hotel*
Boat to Belize City; to El Remate via Xunantunich.
We leave Caye Caulker by boat bound for Belize City (approx. 1 hour) and then drive from the coast into the heavily forested and sparsely populated Maya Mountains, encountering some spectacular scenery en route. We will stop at the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich to explore its temples and palaces. Located on a ridge close to the border with Guatemala, the site has some fine stucco facades as well as several elaborately carved stelae and an impressive 40 metre high pyramid. After looking around the ruins, we cross the border and descend into the humid eastern lowlands of Guatemala. Our final destination is El Remate on Lake Peten Itza, where we have the opportunity to learn more about sacred plants in a traditional Mayan garden and enjoy a group dinner. Total drive time today is just under 3 hours (2 hours between Belize City and the border with an additional 45 minutes to El Remate).*Standard Hotel*
Visit Tikal; fly from Flores to Guatemala City.
We make an early start this morning to reach Tikal, the most famous and probably the most impressive of all Mayan sites (approx. 45 minute drive). Here, in the middle of the jungle are nearly 20 square miles of classic Mayan ruins, surrounded by the dense jungles of Petén. We take a tour of the city, visiting the Q complex, Main Plaza, North and Central Acropolis, Seven Temples and Mundo Perdido (Lost World). Tikal is a superb area for observing wildlife in the jungle environment and visitors regularly see Howler monkeys, Spider monkeys, toucan, Weaver birds, coatimundi and even tarantula (if you know where to look and wish to find one!). In the afternoon, we head to the town of Flores and take a short flight to Guatemala City, where we will spend our final night.*Comfortable Hotel*
End Guatemala City.
The trip ends after breakfast for land only passengers. Those on the group flights will be transferred to the airport for their flight back to London.
We will stay in a variety of colonial and modern properties, all with en suite facilities. Some of the accommodation highlights will include: a property 2km from Palenque surrounded by forest, a Spanish colonial residence in the heart of San Cristobal de las Casas and a hotel overlooking the beach in Tulum. Some of the hotels have pools and most have wifi/internet.
Single supplements are available on request.
All breakfasts, and 1 dinner included
Breakfast generally consist of fruits, cereals, beans and eggs. Meals vary from around US$9-12 for lunch and dinner in Guatemala and the Mexican highlands to around US$12 – 19 in the Yucatan area and Belize. A beer costs on average US$3-4.
This trip includes several long drives and you should be prepared for this. Border crossings can sometimes be delayed with significant queues and formalities. Being in the tropics, most of the region is hot and humid, particularly during the summer months and inland – drinking plenty of water and dressing in loose cotton clothing is advisable.