VRMX Mexico 2015

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TOUR HIGHLIGHTS:

A comprehensive exploration of the best of Mexico: Colonial charm; Traditional cooking class; Ancient and modern history; Archaeological wonders; Tropical Yucatan

Full Itinerary


Day 1 Arrive in Mexico City
Arrival in Mexico City.

Welcome to the capital of Mexico and seat of the federal powers of the Mexican Union. This is the country's largest city as well as its most important political, cultural, educational and financial center, and a logical place to begin our exploration of this fascinating country.

Overnight in Mexico City.
Meal plan: dinner

Day 2 Mexico City Touring
We depart the hotel on foot for a comprehensive city tour. The flagpole in the Zocalo (central plaza) is our start point; we proceed to the Cathedral for a brief visit. The Catedral Metropolitana, dating from 1562, took over 250 years to complete and reflects the most popular architectural styles from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Inside the church you will see several chapels fashioned in the churrigueresque style -- an ornamental baroque style. We continue to the archeological site nearby, the Templo Mayor, or Great Temple. Unearthed in 1978, the temple was once the holiest shrine of the gods.

Our walk continues to the Palacio Nacional, originally built as headquarters for Cortes from the rubble left from the destruction of Montezuma's palace. The palace was used by Emperor Maximilian and all of the presidents of the modern state. We view the Diego Rivera Murals that decorate the stairwell and central courtyard. These famous masterpieces of modern art depict the native cultures of Mexico which existed before the arrival of the Spanish. They also show the Spanish conquest and the history of Mexico from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries. As well as being works of art, Rivera's murals provide an illuminating introduction to the complex cultures and history of this
ancient land.

We walk back to our hotel and, after a brief break, depart by bus for a guided tour of the Anthropological Museum at Chapultepec Park. The Museum is considered one of the world's great museums, not only for its rich collection, but for the originality and practicality of its design.

After lunch we continue by bus to along the Avenida Reforma to Alameda to visit the Palacio Bella Artes, one of Mexico City's more visually impressive art nouveau and art deco monuments housing a museum of art showcasing many well-known Mexican artists. We will linger here to admire the murals and striking decor and architecture.

Overnight in Mexico City.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 3 Mexico City: Xochimilco & Casa Azul
Until just over a century ago, Mexico City was surrounded by lakes that were all connected by canals. Produce grown in the south was taken by this system to the north of the city and vice versa. Starting in the late nineteenth century, various drainage schemes were introduced, and today only the Xochimilco system in still intact. Xochimilco lies 28 km south of Mexico City. With its network of canals and artificial islands, it testifies to the efforts of the Aztec people to build a habitat in the midst of an unfavourable environment. Its characteristic urban and rural structures, built since the 16th century and during the colonial period; have been preserved in an exceptional manner. These floating gardens are such a tranquil space away from the bustle of Mexico City. Few float along the river in a colourful boat called a Trajinera, sipping on a drink and eating food prepared on one of the "restaurant" boats, whilst listening to mariachis. A unique experience!

We also visit Casa Azul. A must-see attraction, Frida Kahlo's house is beautiful as well as fascinating. A visit here gives you an insight into the life of this iconic painter and her famous husband Diego Rivera. The garden, with its Mesoamerican pyramid, is also a sight to behold.

Overnight in Mexico City.
Meal plan:

Day 4 Mexico City - Puebla
A morning departure from Mexico City takes us to the southeast toward Puebla. We depart the city limits and travel through scenery of pine forests, rivers, waterfalls and magnificent mountains. En route we will pass the Popocatepetl volcano, said to be dormant, but occasionally belching forth a puff of steam! Estimated at 2.5 million years in age, this "Smoking Mountain" soars to 5452 m / 17,882 feet. We will arrive in Puebla in the early afternoon in time for lunch.

After a break, we will embark on a walking our of Puebla, an important regional capital in the colonial era, and today one of Mexico's most charming cities. We will see some of the city's many ornate churches including the gold-leafed Capilla del Rosario. Also included this afternoon is the Museo de Santa Monica. This "secret convent" reflects the period when nuns and priests were forced underground -- literally -- in 1857. This convent was discovered in 1935 and later turned into a museum. The convent's entrance was through the homes of the religiously faithful through cupboards in the dining hall; today the entrance to the convent-cum-museum is still through a private home.

During free time we recommend a visit to the Ceramics Market, located very close to the Holiday Inn. There is also a lively flea market at Los Sapos Plazuela open till about 18:00.

Overnight in Puebla.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 5 Puebla - Cholula - Cacaxtla - Puebla
Our morning departure takes us first to the church of San Francisco de Acatepec for a brief look at its impressive facade. We then continue to the village of Tonatzintla to visit the Church of Santa Maria with its extranordinary baroque interior (sorry, no video/flash).

We drive on to Cholula, arriving first at the Great Pyramid of Cholula, the largest in Mexico, though it is almost all hidden inside a hill. We pay a visit to the small museum, then walk over to the pyramid tunnel entrance. About 10 minutes of walking through this very narrow and interesting tunnel takes us deep inside the pyramid. The pyramid is solid, but archeologists made many tunnels, most of them closed to the public, in order to see what lay beneath the massive pyramid's exterior. We continue outside the pyramid walking clockwise around the pyramidal mound, looking down on the far side at a fairly extensive site. Those with the energy might walk up to the church at the top of the pyramid hill.

After lunch we depart Cholula for Cacaxtla, located in what historians have named the "trade corridor". On arrival we walk approximately 800 metres to the great mound of the main pyramid. This site is particularly interesting for the colourful frescoes that date from the middle of the 7th and 8th centuries. Each of the murals relates important facts about the culture of the ancient people; one unexpected discovery is the presence of the Maya who hailed from the Yucatan some 1300 km (800 miles) away! Of particular importance is the "Battle Mural."

We return to Puebla.

Overnight in Puebla.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 6 Puebla - Oaxaca
We have morning departure from Puebla for a scenic journey of about 5 hours, with stops along the way.

The various species of cactus you are seeing on the hillsides in this arid area are the Pitahaya (organpipe) cactus. It looks like what its name suggests: many shoots, and very large. The small, single-stemmed cacti, which cover the hillsides for miles around, are the Saguaro. We will make stops to view / photograph these curious plants, as well as the expansive mountain and valley views afforded by this high pass.

We arrive in Oaxaca early afternoon. As we enter town, there is a statue of Benito Juarez, who was a Zapotec lawyer from a nearby village, and Oaxaca's most famous son. Oaxaca is the capital of the state of the same name. Surrounded by green, densely forested hills, modern Oaxaca has been the site of a town since at least the time of Christ. Later, in the 15th century, it became an important Aztec town until it was captured by the Spaniards. The modern city has a
baroque flavour left over from the colonial period, and is a center of native culture and art. In the city center we will visit colonial monuments, gardens, palaces, plazas, temples, and monasteries.

After our hotel check-in, we walk to the Zocalo for free time for lunch. We then embark upon a walking tour of Oaxaca including the Governor's Palace, an attractive building housing several outstanding murals by Arturo Garcia Bustos. We proceed to the market, a very lively and colourful place. We also visit a small Chocolate Factory before leaving the market area.

We stop in at the ex-Convento de Santo Domingo (Regional Museum or Museo se las Cultruas de Oaxaca), one of the best museums we will visit on the tour. This museum contains, among other things, the Mixtec treasures from Tomb 7 at Monte Alban (NOTE: variable museum opening hours may require our return at another time).

Overnight in Oaxaca.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 7 Oaxaca - Mitla - Monte Alban - Oaxaca
Early this morning we travel 45 km to the fascinating site of Mitla. En route we stop at the Tule Tree, or "Taxodium Mucrunatum". In Spanish, it is called "Sabino". This extraordinary tree is supposed to be over 2000 years old with a circumference of almost 60 metres!

We continue to Mitla, a beautiful site distinguished by the finely-carved and inlaid stones that form unique geometric patterns. Another feature of the site is one that ties the pre-Columbian world with that of the Spanish Conquest: a small colonial church on the site of the ruins, typical of those that the Spanish frequently built as a symbol of the new religion they were bringing to this new the land.

We depart on the road back to Oaxaca. We make a stop at a Mezcal maker en route. Mezcal is a liquor made from the Maguey Agave, as opposed to Tequila, which has the Blue Agave as its primary ingredient. We will have an interesting look at Mezcal production, which is done on a small scale when compared to Tequila (produced in Jalisco State, not far from Guadalajara).

We pass through Oaxaca on our way to directly to Monte Alban. We visit the site museum before walking out onto the site itself for our visit. Situated on a flattened mountaintop, the site affords commanding views of the Valley of Oaxaca, a stunning vista of endless mountain peaks. Monte Alban was an important religious site and today is one of the most impressive places anywhere; we stop at the ball court, the plaza, the Gallery of the Dancers, and the Observatory, considered to be the oldest in Mesoamerica.

We return to Oaxaca.

Overnight in Oaxaca.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 8 Oaxaca: Cooking Class
Today in Oaxaca, we have the chance to know more about the wonderful unique food from this region in a half-day cooking class. Our class offers you the opportunity to learn, hands-on, the complex cuisine of Oaxaca. We will learn about the ingredients, enjoy hand-made meal preparation, mezcal tasting and, of course, enjoy the meal we prepared at the end of the class.

Balance of the day at leisure to enjoy Oaxaca. (Dinner on your own this evening).

Overnight in Oaxaca.
Meal plan: breakfast,lunch

Day 9 Oaxaca - Veracruz
An early departure today takes us from the high plateau of Central Mexico to the lush green Caribbean coast, a total 1600 m / 5,280 foot descent.

We'll stop at a mountain viewpoint (weather permitting), just after the turnoff for the coast, to see Mount Orizaba, the highest in the country at over 5700 m / 18,810 feet. We will continue through the towns of Orizaba and Cordoba, important centres for sugarcane, tobacco, and coffee production.

After a lunch break en route, we continue to Veracruz. To early explorers, this was door to the New World. Set on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, Veracruz is rich in heritage and colonial architecture and has a distinctly Caribbean feel. It had a monopoly on foreign trade in the Atlantic basin during Mexico's Colonial period and, as such, was constantly menaced by pirates!

Before checking in to our hotel, we will stop at the 16th century Fortress of San Juan de Ulua for a one hour tour. We drive on, seeing the Palacio Municipal, the cathedral, and the Malecon, a seafront boulevard, arriving at the hotel late afternoon.

This evening you can visit the Zocalo, with lots of live music in the evening. There are Mariachi groups, but the most common instrument here is the Marimba, a Xylophone that originally came with African slaves to the Caribbean. For 50 pesos they'll play you a song.

Overnight in Veracruz.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 10 Veracruz - Zempoala - El Tajin - Papantla
Today we travel along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico through a balmy tropical region producing rice, coffee, sugar, tobacco, oil, cattle, and a large assortment of fruit.

We stop at Zempoala, a lovely and quiet Totonac site. It was here that Cortes arranged to travel into the highlands on his expedition of conquest. We can visit the site museum before continuing to El Tajin (lunch en route), one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Mexico.

El Tajin's name comes from a Totonac legend about twelve old men called "The Tajin". They supposedly lived on the site and had the powers of gods of thunder. The site is set amid tobacco fields and banana plantations, apiaries and vanilla groves, and is situated on a terraced hillside on a tributary of the Rio Tecolutla. We will see the famous Pyramid of the Niches which is noted for its beautiful symmetry, carving and its 365 altar-niches.

After our tour we continue on to Papantla.

Overnight in Papantla
Meal plan:

Day 11 Papantla - Teotihuacan
We drive up from the coast back into the highlands of central Mexico. Our destination this afternoon is the massive archaeological site of Teotihuacan (500 BC-AD 700). The site was the first major urban area in the New World and was named "the City of the Gods". On the site we will see the Pyramid of the Sun, which the adventurous can climb.

This is the pyramid at which the cult of the famous god Quetzalcoatl began. Legend dictates that he allowed himself to be tested by bravely casting himself into a fire. He survived the fire but was transformed into a plumed serpent. Other structures on the site include the Pyramid of the Moon, the Avenue of the Dead, and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. We have a comprehensive tour of the site, including the excellent museum, before heading to the hotel.

Overnight near Teotihuacan.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 12 Teotihuacan - Tula - San Miguel de Allende
This morning we travel to San Miguel via Tula, capital of the Toltecs.

Tula achieved dominance between AD 950 and 1150. According to Aztec legends it was a magnificent place -- palaces were decorated with gold, turquoise and jade. These riches were earned as tributes from conquered territories, for the Toltecs were great warriors. The greatest monuments at Tula today are the huge Atlantean statues, standing 5 m (16 feet) high on top of the Piramide de Quetzalcuatl. Originally these stone figures would have supported the roof of a temple. The pyramid on which they stand (and also other carved columns behind the Atlantes) features reliefs of warriors, snakes and crocodiles -- some traces of the original bright paint remain.

We continue to San Miguel de Allende, one of Mexico's most beautiful towns. Most of its buildings date from the 1600's and the colonial period, and new construction must follow building standards so that it fits in stylistically. The town has a flourishing artistic community.

Overnight in San Miquel.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 13 San Miguel - Dolores Hidalgo - Guanajuato
This morning we will have a walking tour of San Miguel, starting at El Jardin, the main plaza, and on to the house of Ignacio Allende, an attractive example of an 18th century San Miguel house. After a pause at the museum we cross to La Paracchia, the main church with its bizarre Gothic towers added in the early part of the 20th century. We then walk over to the ex-convento of La Purissimo Concepcion to see the courtyard and the hall with a strange mural by Alfonso Siquero (who was implicated in an attempt on Leon Trotsky's life). We finish with a visit to the ex-convento of San Francisco.

We continue our journey through central Mexico to the town of Dolores Hidalgo, the cradle of Mexican independence. This is the town where the priest/intellectual Miguel Hidalgo made his famous cry, known as the "Grito de Dolores", inciting the Mexican people to revolution in 1810 which led, after many bloody episodes, eventually to full independence from Spain in 1821. We visit the parish church, where it all began, as well as the house where Hidalgo lived. Later we travel to Guanajuato, located in the bajio, a central lowland plateau.

Overnight in Guanajuato.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 14 Guanajuato: City Tour
This morning we enjoy a walking tour of the cobbled streets in this colonial city which became famous from silver mining. The city is alive with music everywhere; at the Jardin de la Union bands play year-round. We visit La Compania Church, University Campus, the Diego Rivera Museum, located in the house where he was born. There are several rooms of Rivera's art and some powerful photos of a bedridden Frida Kahlo.

Alhondiga is the fortified granary where, on September 28, 1810, 260 Spanish families were massacred inside where they had taken refuge from the ‘insurgentes.’ There is a very good museum inside with some rooms with pre-Conquest artifacts, as well as several rooms dealing with Colonial and Revolutionary history. We visit the Municiple Market designed by Gustav Eiffel and brought here from Europe. After a visit to the Teatro Juarez, we take the funicular to La Pepila for superb views over town. In 1989 the whole city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site to preserve its colonial character.

In the afternoon, we drive up to visit the church of San Cayetano near the Valenciana silver mine. You will have time in the afternoon to explore Guanajuato's many picturesque little plazas on your own. This is a great city for people watching.

Overnight in Guanajuato.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 15 Guanajuato - Morelia
Today we travel to Morelia.

Morelia has the atmosphere of a European cathedral town. Set at a bracing altitude of 1930 m (6,368 feet), it is the state capital of Michoacan and one of Mexico's most gracious cities. It rests on a gentle sloping hill overlooking the Valley of Guayangero and is another of Mexico's colonial gems -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- wonderfully restful and clean with wide boulevards, lovely squares, and shady parks. Architecturally, the city is of the 17th and 18th century Spanish colonial style, proudly displaying numerous masterfully restored mansions, churches, and civic buildings. Most are oft pink-coloured stone with lacy, delicate facades.

On arrival we will have a walking tour of Morelia, starting at the courtyard of the Collegio San Nicholas, where Miguel Hidalgo was rector in the early 19th century, and where Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon was a religious student. We walk through the Plaza de los Martires (the Zocalo) to the Cathedral, an extraordinary building that took over 100 years to build. We leave the Cathedral and walk a few blocks to the Casa de Morelos, a very fine example of a Morelia house from the late 18th century and good displays regarding Mexico's War of Independence.

We then walk a few blocks to the Casa de la Cultura with its excellent Museo de las Masqueras which exhibits masks from all over Mexcio. Our next point of interest is the Plaza Valladolid and the Casa de los Artensanias where you can see artisans working on weaving and carving and other crafts.

Overnight in Morelia.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 16 Morelia - Patzcuaro - Morelia
Today we have an excursion to Patzcuaro, located 30 minutes from Morelia. We stop en route to visit the archeological site at Tzintzuntzan, which was the Tarascan capital at the time of the conquest. The nearby village is reknowned for its woodcarvers and there are a number of studios where one can admire their work.

Patzcuaro's cobbled streets lie across a hillside, looking down toward a pristine lake dotted with islands. Patzcuaro is also of great interest to the history buff as it was central to the careers of two of Mexico's most diametrically opposed characters -- Nino de Guzman and Vasco de Quiroga. We will spend today enjoying this beautiful town on the edge of a mountain lake. We will visit the museum of Popular and Regional arts, a collection of local pre- and post-Spanish arts, crafts, and costumes housed in a beautiful colonial-era building. We will also see the Temple of the Compania de Jesus, formerly a cathedral, as well as the mid-16th century Basilica which was made a cathedral in 1907, replacing the Temple of the Compania de Jesus.

We later return to Morelia where we overnight.

Overnight in Morelia.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 17 Morelia - Guadalajara
Today we travel to Guadalajara, the capital city of the state of Jalisco and the second largest city in the country. It is considered a colonial city, though much of its architecture dates from the independence period. It has a far more relaxed feel than Mexico City and contains many nice areas for walking. Time permitting today, we may accomplish some of our on-foot sightseeing upon arrival.

Overnight in Guadalajara.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 18 Guadalajara & Teuchitlan
Guadalajara is one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico and Latin America. Endowed with an extraordinary climate is the land of Mariachi, Tequila, the Instituto Cultural Cabanas (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and home to a wide culture that ranges from fine art to the height of the popular arts.

The heart of City of Roses is the Centro Historico. This is where we will learn about the foundation of this city and explore the well-preserved 16th and 17thI century architectural masterpieces of Cross Square surrounding the Metropolitan Cathedral. Visit magnificent colonial buildings like the Governor Palace, Cathedral, City hall, Liberty Square, gallery of Illustrious Jaliscians, Degollado Theater, Tapatia Plaza, the Cabanas Cultural Institute, and Liberty Market.

This afternoon we travel to the site of Teuchitlan and Los Guachimontones (alternatively Huachimontones), a prehispanic archaeological site about an hour west of Guadalajara. It is the major site of the so-called Teuchitlan tradition, a complex society that existed from as early as 300 BCE until perhaps 900 CE. The dominant features at los Guachimontones are circular stepped pyramids in the middle of circular building complexes. A post hole was located at the very highest level, most likely for Volador ceremonies. The pyramids may also have supported small temples.

We return to Guadalajara.

Overnight in Guadalajara.
Meal plan: breakfast

Day 19 Guadalajara - Villahermosa - Palenque
Today we fly south to Villahermosa and continue by road to Palenque.

Palenque is famous for the ruins of a Mayan city dating from about 600 AD to 800 AD. Set amidst thick trees, Palenque still evokes some of the wonder that the early Spanish visitors must have felt when they first came across the ruins.

Overnight at Palenque.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 20 Palenque: Site Tour - Campeche
This morning we will visit the archaeological site of Palenque. The ruins now visible are the heavily restored remains of the ceremonial center of a more extensive settlement bordered by agricultural fields. Our visit ends with a stop at the museum which has on display some remarkable Olmec relics.

We then transfer to Campeche and have a walking tour upon arrival. San Francisco de Campeche is the capital city of the state of Campeche and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The name of Campeche comes from the Mayan word "Ah Kim Pech", which means "The Place of Boa Serpent". It was fairly unknown to the Western world until, on March 22, 1517, Spanish soldiers commanded by Francisco Hernandez de Cordova reached the village to replenish their water supply. The historic centre has kept its outer walls and system of fortifications, designed to defend this Caribbean port against attacks from the sea.

Overnight in Campeche.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 21 Campeche - Uxmal - Merida
This morning we will drive on to Merida. On the way we will visit the archaeological site of Uxmal.

Uxmal was one of the sites to which the Maya returned again and again in the course of their civilization. The name means 'thrice built'. The Palace of the Governor at Uxmal is considered by many to be the most beautiful of all the Maya structures in Central America. Here some 20,000 hand cut stones have been set into acres of geometric friezes. This truly is a step back into the years of Mayan glory (AD 7-10).

We arrive in Merida, probably the most beautiful town in the Yucatan Peninsula. We find that the most enjoyable way to sightsee is from a calesa, or horse drawn carriage. We include a half-day's sightseeing in this most elegant of fashions. During the nineteenth century, European traders flocked to the bustling city to exchange their luxuries for the area's much sought after sisal hemp. The state capital's many buildings and the Moorish and rococo-style mansions
of the Paseo Montejo reflect the strong Old World influences.

Overnight in Merida.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 22 Merida: At Leisure
Today is free to enjoy Merida.

Overnight in Merida.
Meal plan: breakfast

Day 23 Merida - Chichen Itza: Site Tour
Today we travel to Chichen Itza and have a tour of the site on arrival.

This is a wonderful archaeological site incorporating the ruins of two different cultures, the ancient Maya and the later arriving Toltecs. The substantial fusion of highland central Mexican and Puuc architecture make Chichen Itza unique. The El Castrillo, the temple of Panels and the Platform of Venus are superb architectural feats. The most impressive monuments here are the Temple of the Warriors, the group of a thousand columns, the Temple of Kukulcan, the Temple of Chac-Mool and the Ball Court. The Toltecs interest in astronomy and mathematics is evident with a visit to the Astronomical Observatory, perhaps one of the most impressive revelations
is the phenomenon occurring during equinoxes, when shadows cast across the ramp of the castle appear to form the shape of a slithering serpent.

Overnight at Chichen Itza.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 24 Chichen Itza - Coba: Site Tour - Chichen Itza
Today we have an excursion to the nearby site of Coba, one of the grandest Mayan city-states, and have a tour of this impressive site upon arrival. As a large trading center, Coba was connected to other Mayan cities by an elaborate network of roads known as "sacbes". The ancient temples are still surrounded by the thick Yucatan jungle which adds a lot of natural flavour to a rich cultural experience.

Return to Chichen Itza.

Overnight in Chichen Itza.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 25 Coba - Tulum - Cancun
In order to beat the crowds, we depart early today for Tulum, one of the most beautiful Maya sites, perched high on the cliffs above the Caribbean. Tulum means "wall" in Maya. The most impressive site at this area is the large pyramid on the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea. A wide staircase leads to a two-chamber temple on the top. Two serpent columns divide the entrance and above the middle entrance is a carved figure of the Diving God. The sight at the top of the pyramid is stunning with a breathtaking view of the ocean and surrounding jungle. You will have free time to explore this site on your own.

We continue to Cancun.

Overnight in Cancun.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 26 Departure
Departure from Cancun.

BUEN VIAJE!
Meal plan: breakfast


VRMX TRIP DETAILS

DURATION26 days

TOUR STARTMexico City

TOUR ENDCancun