Ancient Civilizations of Mexico

tours / Adventure

Ancient Civilizations of Mexico information and booking

  • Duration
    12 days
  • Group size
  • Difficulty
    Adventure touring
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Schedule Details

  • 12 day trip
  • 11 nights hotel
Equipment Required
Specialist gear required include comfortable walking shoes and day pack (a comprehensive gear list is provided in the pre-departure information provided on booking).


  • Magnificent Chichen Itza - one of the Seven New Wonders
  • Sun and Moon pyramids at Teotihuacan
  • Explore the dramatic archaeological ruins of Palenque, Uxmal and Mitla
  • Boat trip in the breathtaking Sumidero Canyon
  • Experience Mayan Indian culture
  • Sightseeing in Mexico City, Puebla and Oaxaca
  • Visit Monte Alban, Agua Azul, San Cristobal de las Casas and the 'White City' of Merida
  • Traditional indian villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan

Tour description provided by World Expeditions

Our journey begins in the hustle bustle of Mexico City with a visit to the Museum of Anthropology, Frida Kahlo's blue adobe house and the Mayan Pyramids of Teotihuacan. We travel through the World Heritage site of Puebla and continue to Oaxaca, passing the snow-capped volcanoes of Popocatepeti and Iztaccihuatl. We'll visit Monte Alban, the ancient capital of the Zapotec people and visit the 'Tule Tree', of huge proportions and an approximate age of 2000 years. From Tuxtla Gutierrez, we'll take an exciting boat trip in the Sumidero Canyon and in San Juan Chamula we will learn of the traditions of the Tzotzil speaking inhabitants. Next we travel to one of the most impressive of all archaeological sites in Mexico, Palenque. This site is mysterious, solemn, well preserved and imposing in its jungle setting. The Spanish colonial town of Merida, is also known as 'The White City' because of its buildings is sure to captivate. Our great adventure draws to a close, but not before we visit perhaps the highlight of the itinerary, Chichen Itza, undoubtedly the best preserved Maya site on the peninsula.

What's included

  • 11 breakfasts
  • Expert bilingual guide
  • Arrival transfer on day one
  • Medical kit
  • Comfortable well located accommodation on a twin-share basis in 3 or 4 star hotels
  • Private air conditioned transportation
  • Sightseeing and site entrance fees as listed
  • Boat trip in sumidero canyon


Day 1 Arrive Mexico City
You will be met and transferred from the airport to the group hotel. Mexico City, with a population of over 22 million, sprawls across some 2000sqkm. It is a giant cosmopolitan city, encompassing everything from colonial palaces to slums, and quiet plazas and parks juxtapose the unending stream of traffic. The sheer size of Mexico City is most definitely worth experiencing, and it will certainly leave you with a lasting impression. In the evening our guide will brief us on the itinerary, its activities and provide information relevant to the sites and areas visited.
Day 2 Mexico City tour
Your guide will take you first to the Constitution Square, popularly known as the Zocalo, located in the city’s historic centre and declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the second largest public square in the world. Highlights include the national palace, where you will admire the mural by Diego Rivera, the metropolitan cathedral and the templo mayor. Then we drive through the beautiful Paseo de la Reforma boulevard to the Chapultepec park, to visit the museum of anthropology. Opened in 1964, it is considered the finest of its kind in the world. Here you will admire the famous Aztec calendar stone, models of Tenochtitlan, a fascinating market place diorama, giant stone Olmec heads from the jungles of Tabasco and Veracruz among many other interesting treasures. We continue to Coyoacan which was the first seat of the Spanish Government, established by Cortez in 1521. Finally we visit the blue adobe house, where Frida Kahlo was born and lived there with her husband Diego Rivera for 25 years. Inside are examples of artwork, as well as unique pieces of folk art and the folk dresses Frida Kahlo habitually wore.
Day 3 Pyramids of Teotihuacan, Shrine of Guadalupe
We drive north to Teotihuacan. Encounter the magic and mystery of the 2000 year old city of Teotihuacan. The huge Pyramids of the Sun and Moon are one of the great sites of the ancient world. The Pyramid of the Sun stands at 70m high along the Avenue of the Dead: lining the way, there are temples and palaces, ornately encrusted with exquisite frescoes, bas reliefs and statuary. The large Citadel complex, thought to have been home to the city’s supreme ruler, is full of small alcoves and maze-like corridors to explore. Walk past the temple of Quetzalcoatl with its unique stone sculptures of plumed serpents, the temple of the butterflies, and explore pre Hispanic structures and ruins. Teotihuacan was Mexico’s largest ancient city, with a population at its peak of 200,000. The giant Pyramid of the Sun was built around AD 150, with the remainder of the city (built on a grid pattern) constructed between AD 250 and 600. The city reached its peak in the 6th century, but it quickly declined and was virtually abandoned by the 7th century. On the way back you will stop at the shrine of Guadalupe - a monumental tribute to Mexico’s faith to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the richest and most visited catholic shrine in all the Americas. Return to Mexico City hotel.
Day 4 To Oaxaca via Puebla
After breakfast, we head west towards Puebla - Mexico’s fourth largest city, passing the photogenic, snow-capped, volcanoes of Popocatépetl (Smoking Mountain, 5464m) and Iztaccíhuatl (Sleeping Lady, 5230m). We arrive in Puebla, founded in 1531 and was the first settlement in Mexico to be laid out on a grid pattern by Spanish colonialists. Puebla is considered by UNESCO as the “historical Patrimony of Humanity” because of its beautiful architecture. Visit the Cathedral - a colonial baroque jewel, the main square full of brightly coloured balloons, and Santo Domingo church which houses the beautiful Rosary chapel. Afterwards we continue to Oaxaca. The scenery along the way, through winding mountain roads, is quite beautiful. The Spanish colonial town of Oaxaca is a relaxing retreat from the frenzy of Mexico City. The narrow streets all lead to a huge tree-filled zocalo, while the old stone buildings and open-air cafes and markets are wonderful for wandering and taking in the distinctive and colourful Indian culture. Many traditional Indian handicrafts and weavings can be found in the markets and on street corners, and the beautiful frescoes of Oaxaca’s traditional artists can be seen in the town’s museums.
Day 5 Monte Alban, Oaxaca city tour
This morning, we will visit Monte Alban, ancient capital of Zapotec people and spectacularly situated on a mountain 400 metres above the Oaxaca Valley, in a triumph of engineering, the mountaintop was levelled to allow for the creation of the ceremonial site. Visit includes the museum and at the Archeological Site, the Main Square, Ball Game, the Observatory, and the Dancers Building. Outside Oaxaca, Monte Alban (‘white mountain’) sits atop a dry, rocky landscape. These superb ruins – a jumble of tunnels and staircases just waiting to be explored – are divided into five stages, each reflecting the different periods of Monte Alban’s dominance. Temples and palaces made of huge stone blocks crowd around an enormous Grand Plaza; it is believed that they were painted red at one stage. Over one hundred and seventy tombs have been found here, many of them elaborately frescoed. This was the hilltop centre of the Zapotec people of Oaxaca – at its peak the population numbered some 10,000. Building began around 500 BC, and Monte Alban quickly became the centre of Zapotec power and culture. By AD 750, however, the settlement’s power declined and it was deserted. During its prominence between AD 300 and 700, Monte Alban was a priest-dominated society: the I-shaped ball court and the deeply inscribed edifices and walls reflect the complex religious practices of the Zapotecs. We will return to Oaxaca for a city tour, one of the best preserved and most charming of all Mexico’s colonial cities. Laid out in 1529 in an area once dominated by the Mixtec and Zapotec cultures, the Spanish settlement quickly became the most important town in the south. We will visit the Culture Museum, Santo Domingo de Guzman Church, the Cathedral, Zocalo and the Governor’s Palace, continuing to the typical market, and listen to the explanation about products such as chocolate, mole and cheese.
Day 6 Visit Tule Tree and Mitla; transfer to Tehuantepec
The unique and gigantic “Tule Tree” is one of the most extraordinary and amazing things in nature. It is 40 metres high, 52.58 metres in diameter, weighs 509 tonnes, and is around 2000 years old. Then we proceed to the archeological site of Mitla - its name means “Deads Site” and it was home to approximately 10,000 people at its height. The city was later occupied by the Mixtecs, whose many temples were destroyed by the Spanish, with the stonework being used to build the Iglesia de San Pablo - the Catholic church that dominates the site. Mitla is home to a number of palaces with pre-Hispanic stone mosaics. This was, perhaps, once the main Zapotec religious centre and the ruins still conjure up a feeling of a thriving priest-filled town. Human sacrifices took place here. Transfer to Tehuantepec - a lively town on the Isthmus of the same name. Zapotec culture is still strong here and it provides a good introduction to a mid-sized Mexican town.
Day 7 Boat trip in the Sumidero Canyon, transfer to San Cristobal de las Casas
Today we will depart for a full day journey to Tuxtla Gutierrez, for a breathtaking boat ride in the Sumidero Canyon. Legend has it that in the mid 16th Century, several hundred Indians chose to hurl themselves down its precipitous sides after a defiant last stand, rather than submit to the invading Spanish forces. Here you will be taken on a boat trip along the river, passing caves and waterfalls. The boat trip also provides an opportunity to see a variety of unusual plants, and many animals and birds including monkeys, crocodiles, iguanas, herons and kingfishers. We then drive up into the highlands, through cloud forests, to the rarefied climes of San Cristobal de Las Casas. A colonial town, surrounded by pine forests and mountain valleys, San Cristobal is home to an Indian population with strong Mayan roots. The women wear traditional elaborately-embroidered skirts and shirts, while many of the men still wear traditional pink tunics.
Day 8 Visit San Cristobal de las Casas and Indian villages
This morning, we will visit the nearly Indian villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan. Each village has its own costume providing an insight into the mix of Christian and pre-Columbian traditions of the Tzotzil-speaking inhabitants. In Zinacantan the men wear pink and white striped tunics and flat palm hats. These Indian towns, less than an hour from San Cristobal, allow us to observe the traditional everyday life of its inhabitants. Here the people still live subsistence lives, dressing traditionally and quietly tilling the earth. The women plait their hair and roll it in bizarre horns over their foreheads; pigs roam the village streets; and men sit around smoking in the shade. The atmosphere of its churches is particularly interesting as they illustrate the mix of Indian and Christian religious customs. The Templo de San Juan, Chamula’s main church, with its colourfully painted door arch and pine-needle carpeted floor makes a particularly powerful impression. This once-Catholic building is now bereft of pews, and the local Indians sit among rows of burning candles, clouds of incense and piles of pine needles, chanting as they prostrate themselves and croon. Bizarrely, the images of saints look on. Chamulans believe that Christ rose from the cross to become the sun. We will return to San Cristobal for a walking tour around the pleasant streets of this beautiful town. The town was formerly the state’s capital and used to be called Ciudad Real. The town combines its colonial heritage with a strong Indian culture. The rich and colourful costumes worn by local people are a characteristic of each ethnic group. You can see them in the busy market where regional products are sold including fruit, medicinal herbs, flowers, vegetables and crafts. San Cristobal’s imposing Templo de Santo Domingo is an ornately beautiful church whose pink facade is reminiscent of baroque Spanish churches. Outside, Chamulan women sit under trees selling their handicrafts and embroideries. The town’s small cobblestoned streets are lined with brightly coloured colonial buildings and they eventually open into a large main plaza. Artists, galleries, restaurants and markets abound.
Day 9 To Agua Azul and Palenque
This morning we will follow the Rio Tulija river northwards through the jungle to the spectacular waterfalls and rapids at Agua Azul, with over 500 cascades and a series of aquamarine-coloured rock pools. According to Mayan legend, Kaprakan, a character from the Popol Vuh (the sacred book of the Maya) built some steps in the mountain so he could climb it more easily. Chac (the rain god), mocking him for his arrogance, laid down a blue carpet which moved as soon as the giant stepped on it. Transfer to our hotel in Palenque. Teeming with Mayan architecture, Palenque is a relaxed and rambling town with some fantastic food.
Day 10 Palenque archaeological site, transfer to Campeche
This morning, we will visit what many consider to be the most impressive of all the archaeological sites in Mexico. The astounding beauty of the Mayan ruins at Palenque, deep in their jungle setting, is quite unforgettable. Palenque rose to prominence in the 7th century under the club-footed Mayan ruler, Pakal. It was his tomb - filled with treasures such as jewels, masks, jade ornaments and wall carvings - that was discovered under a jungle shroud in 1952. The Maya settled here as early as 100BC, and the city was at its zenith between AD 600 and 800 when it served as a regional capital. The gloriously encrypted Templo de las Inscriptions (containing one of the only crypts found inside a pyramid in Mexico), the Plaza del Sol, and the maze-like palace with its stairways and cavernous rooms all help to make Palenque one of the world’s greatest ancient sites. Jungle envelops the ruins that were once painted bright red, monkeys and mist surround the temples, and a waterfall rushes nearby. Palenque was a religious centre that spanned nearly 35 square kilometres, and the sheer grandeur of the site is humbling. Afterwards we head for the coastal town of Campeche, where the Spanish first set foot on Mexican soil. Campeche’s prosperity as a thriving port town made it a frequent target for attacks by English, French and Dutch pirates. Following the worst attack in 1663, substantial defensive walls were built around the town.
Day 11 Uxmal archaeological site, the 'White City' of Merida
Today we will visit the late-classic Maya site of Uxmal. The history of Uxmal is uncertain, but most of the buildings date from the 7th to 10th Centuries AD when Uxmal dominated the region. The real function of many of these structures is unknown. Unlike most Yucatán sites, Uxmal has no cenotes and water was collected in man-made cisterns. The scarcity of water may explain the number of depictions of the rain god Chaac on the buildings. Highlights include the Governors Palace - actually three buildings linked by Maya arches, built during the 9th and 10th Centuries AD; The Nunnery Quadrangle - so named because the Spanish thought that the 74 small rooms set around a central courtyard resembled the cells of a nunnery; and The Magician’s Pyramid - the tallest and most striking structure at Uxmal, begun in the 6th century AD. Then we visit Merida, also known as “The White City” because of its white houses and buildings, which was founded in 1542 and was an important city during Spanish colonial rule. It rose again to prominence at the turn of the 20th Century when it was said to have more millionaires per head of population than anywhere else in the world. This prosperity is reflected in the grand mansions, squares, parks and statues that are seen today. We will explore colonial Merida starting from the main square - the Plaza Grande. We will visit its magnificent buildings with their colonial style, such as the Cathedral located in the main square, Montejo’s House, Government Palace, as well as its main avenue - Paseo de Montejo.
Day 12 Chichen Itza Maya archaeological site, trip concludes in Cancun or Riviera Maya
For many, today’s excursion to Chichen Itza will be the highlight of the tour. Recently declared as one of the Seven New Wonders, Chichen Itza is undoubtedly the best-preserved Maya site on the peninsula. The date of the first settlement in the older, southern part of the site is uncertain, but the northern section was built during a renaissance in the 11th Century AD. In its heyday as a commercial, religious and military centre, which lasted until about the 13th Century, Chichen Itza supported over 35,000 people. The ruins were built with such knowledge of cosmology and mathematics that continues to astound scholars from around the world. Deadly games were held in the magnificent Ball Court to choose sacrificial victims for the altar-throne that was in the form of a red jaguar encrusted with jade, and their remains displayed in the gruesome Temple of Skulls. This ball court is the largest to be found in Mesoamerica. The trip concludes in Cancun or Riviera Maya with a drop off at the hotel of your choice (accommodation not included tonight, please ask our staff about recommended hotels).