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Treasures of Central America: Heritage of the Aztec and Mayan Empires

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Travel from the pre-Aztec ruins of cities and temples around multi-layered Mexico City –where you will appreciate the Spanish colonial legacy in all its glory – to the temples and fortresses in the mountains around Oaxaca. Go on to explore the evocative ancient monuments, testimony to bygone Mayan empires, which lay hidden and silent for centuries amid the deep valleys and jungles of the Yucatán Peninsula.

Mexico is one of Latin America’s most vibrant and culturally rich destinations, with a huge diversity of historical, cultural and natural attractions. Its archaeological richness is second to none. Most of the sites are easily accessible, but many still have a feeling of remoteness; evoking the atmosphere of bygone times.

Cross the border into the jungles of northern Guatemala to explore Tikal: this vast Mayan site is one of the most impressive of its type on the continent; and on to Copán in Honduran, with its superlative intricate stonework.

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Mexico City. Transfer to central hotel.

Day 2

Guided tour of Tula and Tepotzotlán.

Day 3

Guided city tour and excursion to Teotihuacan pyramids.

Day 4

By road to Puebla via Cholula and Tlaxcala.

Day 5

Drive to Oaxaca; guided excursion to the ruins of Monte Albán.

Day 6

Visit Mitla and El Tule.

Day 7

Fly to Mérida, Yucatán.

Day 8

Guided visit to the ruined Mayan city Chichén Itzá.

Day 9

Guided excursion to Mayan ruins of Uxmal and Kabah.

Day 10

Fly to Villahermosa, by road to Palenque.

Day 11

Guided excursion to Palenque archaeological site.

Day 12

Visit Bonampak and Yaxchilán; continue to Flores in Guatemala.

Day 13

Guided tour of Tikal, Mayan ruined city.

Day 14

By land over the border to Copán, Honduras.

Day 15

Guided excursion to Copán, Mayan city.

Day 16

By road to Antigua, Guatemala.

Day 17

At leisure in Antigua.

Day 18

Transfer to Guatemala City airport for international flight home.

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What our experts say

This one is perfect for those looking for culture, history and outstanding architecture. This trip is full to the brim with visits to fascinating Mayan ruins and vast archaeological sites – and everything else in between. Ask us about the option to stay overnight in nearby accommodation at Chichén Itza – by staying overnight in Chichén Itza you’ll have the opportunity to explore the magnificent site at sunset, or sunrise before the crowds arrive. You’ll also visit sites, such as Uxmal, which give you a different experience to others; the stonework is shrouded in dense vegetation, making for a mystical atmosphere.

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Ben Line

Travel Consultants

Places visited on this holiday

Treasures of Central America: Heritage of the Aztec and Mayan Empires

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Mexico City
Mexico City Street

It’s mind-bogglingly huge. Seen from the air, Mexico City, embracing over 20 million people, is a drained lake full of urban sprawl, located at 2,250m. But at ground level it exposes all the different aspects of its centuries of history dating back to the Aztecs: wander the secretive lanes around the city’s heart, the vast zócalo, dominated by its monumental cathedral; turn off a 4-lane highway into the arty colonial quarter of Coyoacán; or take a bus past silvery sky-scrapers down the noble Paseo Reforma – inspired by the Champs Elysées - to shady Chapultepec Park, to appreciate the contrasts. A metropolis with a burgeoning economy, it’s a city that demands attention, and admiration.

When to go
It’s a year-round destination. Most rain falls between Jun and Sep.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Mexican peso. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs using a UK credit or debit card. You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, and amounts are limited to about £100.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.  

Combines with

A visit to almost anywhere else in Mexico: the domestic flight network is comprehensive and roads are good. Close to the city you might visit the silverwork town of Taxco (170 kms); a bit further afield but accessible by car is a necklet of divine colonial towns, including the artists’ Mecca San Miguel de Allende (234 kms).

Getting there

There are direct flights from London taking around 12 hours.

Key events
Independence Day, 16 Sept, celebrations throughout the city
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), 12 Dec: Not a public holiday, but it is Mexico's biggest religious festival of the year. The day is celebrated with a mass ceremony and a traditional fair in her honour. The day is packed with free concerts on the plaza of Basilica de Guadalupe, in a suburb of the city. 
Day of the Dead, Nov 1st - 2nd, celebrated throughout the country.

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Colonial and silver towns
Silver town

Northwest of Mexico City lie ranges of gnarled, humpy but starkly beautiful hills. Here, and in the bountiful valleys of the Bajío, Spanish colonists built fortunes from the mining of precious metals, especially silver. Prosperous towns sprang up which share a heritage of baroque churches, leafy squares and pastel-washed houses. Each has its own character: the university town Guanajuato, 2,000m, built in a narrow gorge, is a centre for music, theatre and dance, while the homely yet international little town of San Miguel de Allende, 1,900m, is a magnet for artists. Morelia, 1,920m, shows off some of the grandest monumental colonial architecture, and Querétaro, 1,820m, is renowned for its impressive colonial aqueduct.

Just an hour's drive south of Mexico City is Puebla, 2,135m, a large city with an imposing colonial core reflecting its importance as a trading post during the era of the Spanish Empire. It's a great base for visits to the indigenous towns of Cholula and Tlaxcala.    

When to go

The highland colonial silver towns have a pleasant sunny climate year round; most rain falls from Jun-Sep.

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency
Mexican peso. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs using a UK credit or debit card. You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, and amounts may be lower than permitted in the UK.
Time difference

There are flights to León-Guanajuato from the UK via various cities in the USA including Houston and Los Angeles. Flights to León-Guanajuato operate from Mexico City. You can travel to the colonial towns by public coach or self-drive hire car on a good network of roads.

Combines with

The resorts and hotels of the Pacific coast; Guadalajara, one of Mexico’s most important cities (flights from León); Oaxaca, Mexico’s artistic centre and preserver of the country’s indigenous heritage, fly from León via Mexico City, 3.5hrs.

Key events
Independence Day, 16 Sept. Celebrations throughout the country, fireworks and parades in San Miguel.
Festival Internacional Cervantes, Guanajuato, 2 weeks in Oct annually (dates vary). Huge cultural festival with many activities and presentations across the whole range of performing arts.
Day of the Dead, 1-2 Nov. Celebrated throughout the country.
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), 12 Dec.  Not a public holiday, but it is Mexico's biggest religious festival of the year. In Querétaro it coincides with a two week fair with rides and many other events.

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Oaxaca

Oaxaca is a charming city with a long and eventful history. Separated from Mexico City to the north by rugged mountains and dotted with small weaving and craft villages, the isolated region has ploughed its own furrow, forging its own distinctive identity. Known as Mexico’s artistic centre, Oaxaca embodies both indigenous and colonial features, the markets, artisan workshops, rituals and multiple fiestas reflecting the native culture while the baroque architecture, plazas and museums bear witness to the Spanish influence. The Zapotec and Mixtec people’s ancient sites at Monte Albán, Yagul and Mitla are as impressive as the Mayan ruins in the south and east.

When to go

The highland town has a pleasant climate with temperatures ranging from the low to the high 20s Celsius throughout the year. Maximum sunshine hours Jan-Mar. Most rain falls Jun-Sept.  

Language

Spanish

Getting local currency

Mexican peso. Notes can be withdrawn from several ATMs using a UK credit or debit card. You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, and amounts are lower than permitted in the UK. Money exchanges (casas de cambio) exchange dollars cash; rates for Euros and sterling are low.

Time difference

GMT -6 hrs.  

Combines with

The beach resorts and hotels at Huatulco (by the dramatic, literally breath-taking drive on Highway 175, 3.5hrs or 35mins by air) and Puerto Escondido, both on the Pacific coast (38mins by air).

Getting there

Fly from Mexico City, 1.5 hrs. There is an excellent highway now connecting the two cities, it takes 5hrs to cover the 500km.

Key events
Guelaguetza! Two Mondays in Jul. Extravagant Oaxacan folk dance fiesta taking place in the amphitheatre. Accompanied with processions and fireworks.
Virgen de Carmen, 16 Jul. Processions and fireworks
Day of the Dead,  1-2 Nov. Celebrated throughout the country. Music and dance ceremonies at the cemetery; sand sculptures at the cathedral.
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), 12 Dec. Not a public holiday, but it is Mexico's biggest religious festival of the year.
Christmas events: 16-25 Dec. Nightly nativity plays, processions, fireworks, traditional dancing.

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Yucatan Peninsula
El Castillo, Chichen Itza

The states of Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo form the huge wedge of low-lying, forest-covered territory of Mexico’s south-east. It is here that vestiges of the Mayan civilisation loom out of the undergrowth at every turn. Sites replete with temples and pyramids festooned with sacred carvings were, once abandoned, swallowed up by a rapacious jungle but are now gradually being revealed. The best known sites, Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Tulum are easily accessible and have been spruced up for visitors. There are lesser-known sites rising from an untouched natural setting including Edzná, a huge ceremonial centre featuring the 30m high Temple of the Five Storeys, and Calakmul, the biggest archaeological area in Mesoamerica with 7,000 buildings in the central zone. 

There are some pretty Spanish colonial towns too, the arched colonnades of Izamal and Mérida, a  bustling  place where colonial churches and mansions cram the grid of streets;  plazas host markets and impromptu musical and  theatrical performances. 

The Riviera Maya spans the peninsula’s soft-sand Caribbean coast with its resort hotels and fishing villages, while the coastal mangrove-draped marshes at Sian Ka’an host a biosphere reserve heaving with wildlife.


When to go

It’s hot and fairly humid all year round, with a risk of tropical storms and hurricanes Aug-Nov.

Language

Spanish

Currency

Mexican peso. Notes can be withdrawn from the ATMs in major towns throughout the peninsula using a UK credit or debit card. You may have to authorise with your bank before you leave homefirst, and withdrawals are limited to about £100. There are also banks and money exchanges (casas de cambio) here.

Time difference

GMT -6 hrs.

Combines with

A visit to almost anywhere else in Mexico: the domestic flight network is comprehensive and roads are good.  Mexico City is less than 2 hrs’ flying time away. Havana, Cuba, is also just 2 hrs away from Cancún

Key events

Carnival, many places on the peninsula, Feb-Mar annually, preceding Ash Wednesday and Lent. In Cozumel and Cancún the holiday has a festive atmosphere, with processions, street parties and parades.
International Gay festival, Cancún, May. A 5-day celebration with eating, drinking, mariachi music and beach parties.
Festival de las Aves de Yucatán, Mérida, Nov, annually. Bird-watching sessions, workshops, and exhibits. 
Riviera Maya Jazz Festival: Mamitas beach, Playa del Carmen, late Nov annually.

Getting there

There are direct flights from London to Cancún (10.5 hrs) and routes to Cancún and Mérida via hubs in Europe and the USA.

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Chiapas, San Cristobal and Palenque
Chiapas, San Cristobal de las Casas & Palenque

In the southern state of Chiapas, San Cristóbal de las Casas, 2,100m, along with its surrounding villages - traditionally a focal point of political rebellion - is now a stronghold of indigenous lifestyle. The landscapes are savage, with jungle, rivers, canyons and lakes a backdrop to traditional settlements and some fine pre-Columbian ruined temples. The kilometre-deep Sumidero Canyon has vertical limestone cliffs plunging into trapped green waters of the river below; the rim road is punctuated with viewpoints. Further east is the religious centre at Mayan Palenque, once throttled by the surrounding jungle but now revealed in all the glory of its intricate masonry - vaults, pyramids, pillars and sculptures, all constructed on a series of terraces. 


When to go
The highland city has a pleasant temperate climate with temperatures in the low 20°C throughout the year. Maximum sunshine hours in Jan - Feb. Most rain falls Jun - Sep.  

Palenque is in the tropical lowlands, with temperatures in the low 30°C throughout the year. The heaviest rainfall occurs in May - Oct. 

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Mexican peso. Notes can be withdrawn from several ATMs in San Cristóbal using a UK credit or debit card You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, and amounts are lower than permitted in the UK. Banks, casas de cambio and travel agencies exchange dollars cash.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Getting there

Fly  to San Cristóbal  or Tuxtla Gutiérrez (1.5 hours by road from San Cristóbal) from Mexico City, 1 hour.

Key events
Carnival: Feb/Mar. Especially festive at San Juan Chamula.
Day of the Dead, Nov 1st - 2nd, celebrated throughout the region. 
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), 12 Dec. Not a public holiday, but it is Mexico's biggest religious festivals of the year and celebrated throughout Chiapas.

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Tikal

The Petén of northern Gualtemala is a vast lowland blanketed in dense tropical rainforest. Nowadays it’s sparsely inhabited but this was not the case in the past: the Mayan city of Tikal, which began its development before 250AD, grew to be a vast cultural, religious and commercial centre. Following its collapse (c. 900AD) its jungle remoteness kept it isolated until roads and airstrips brought it within reach in the late 20th century. With its surviving temple pyramids piercing the canopy, vast plazas, its wealth of carvings and inscriptions and its location in the midst of a wild-life rich national park it is now one of the continent’s most impressive cultural monuments.

When to go

Mar - Apr are the hottest but also the driest months, while in Dec - Feb it can be chilly at the beginning and end of the day. Most rain falls between May - Oct when there are plenty of mosquitoes and other insects.

Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency
Quetzal. Dollars can be exchanged in banks, hotels and travel agencies in Flores, and there are a couple of ATMs where notes may be withdrawn using a UK credit or debit card. (Best not to rely on these and use this method in a larger town before travelling to the Petén). You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK and each transaction is limited to about £100.  
Time difference

GMT -6 hours.  

Combines with

Belize: Belize City is a 4-5 hours drive east from Flores (220 km) crossing the land border into western Belize.

Getting there

There are daily flights from Guatemala City (1 hour) to Flores. From here it’s a 1 hour 15mins drive to Tikal.

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Copan
Copán is one of the most impressive Mayan ruins in Mesoamerica and lies at the eastern limit of the empire.  It is not as immense as the sites of Tikal (Guatemala) or Chichén Itzá (Mexico) but here, beneath the tentacles of greedy jungle vegetation, the craftsmanship has survived the vagaries of time - most impressively the intricate carvings of 21 stone columns, or stelae. distributed among the temples and ball courts. The renowned hieroglyphic stairway has 1,250 blocks carved with glyphs - the longest inscribed text in the New World.  Copán fell into decline soon after its apogée in the 8th century.
When to go
The low rolling hills where Copán is set have a hot tropical climate all year round with temperatures ranging from 25-30oC. The rainiest months are Jun - Sep. Sep - Nov is the principal period when hurricanes are possible.
Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency
Lempira. You are advised to acquire local currency (in small denominations if possible) in advance of a visit to Copán. Poor rates of exchange are offered at the frontier with Guatemala. You can change US dollar cash or travellers cheques in Honduran banks and may be able to obtain cash advances via the few ATMs in larger towns and cities. You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK, and amounts may be limited. However these ATMs do not always accept foreign cards, which are also not usable in many smaller hotels and commerce.
Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with

The Mayan city of Tikal, Guatemala, easily accessed by land via the site at Quiriguá (2 hours: a further 3-4 hours to Flores for Tikal); a beach wind down at Tela (276 km), diving and snorkelling from the island of Roatán, 156 km.

Getting there

It’s a 3 hour drive from San Pedro Sula. Copán Ruinas is 12 km (30mins) from the border with Guatemala.

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Antigua and the highlands
Antigua

Antigua was once one of Spanish America’s greatest cities, its prosperity and importance interrupted by earthquakes. Nowadays it is a peaceful, multi-national place retaining the best aspects of its Guatemalan heritage. Lovely to look at, it hosts lanes and shady plazas where flowering plants spill over crumbly walls, and pastel-painted colonial façades are punctuated with heavy wooden doors.

Boutiques, galleries, arty cafés and restaurants thrive here. The city is encircled by three volcanic peaks, along the fertile skirts of which flourish orchards and kitchen gardens. Beyond in the western highlands are traditional villages with flourishing markets. Chichicastenango, 1,965m, is the best known but others such as Zunil are also a riot of colour.

When to go
The best weather conditions in the upland areas are during the dry season Dec - May. It can be cold in the highlands in winter. Culture lovers may opt to spend Easter in Antigua. The busiest time for tourists is Dec - Mar. 
Language

Spanish.

Getting local currency

Notes can be withdrawn using a UK credit or debit card from ATMs in Antigua and Chichicastenango. You may have ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK and each transaction is limited to about £100.

Time difference

GMT -6 hours.

Combines with

Lake Atitlán, 52 km from Antigua by road; Flores, for a visit to Tikal ruins, 1hr by air from Guatemala City (1 hour by road from Antigua).

Getting there

There are flights to Guatemala City via US and European hubs, the journey from London to Guatemala City takes around taking around 13 hours. It’s an hour’s drive from the airport to Antigua.

Key events
Semana Santa, Easter. Celebrations throughout the country; especially impressive in Antigua – justifiably considered the best in Latin America.
Santo Tomás, Chichicastenango, 13 -22 Dec. Processions, traditional dancing, marimba music.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

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