Bienvenidos! Welcome to Mexico. Your adventure begins with a Welcome Meeting at 6pm on Day 1. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel 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. On arrival in Mexico it is possible you will feel lethargic and lose some appetite. This is nothing to be concerned about and is just your body acclimatising to the heat and humidity. Be sure to drink plenty of water and try not to do too much in any one day, you'll soon adjust.
Today we will hop on a local bus at about 8am, heading towards the ruins of Chichen Itza (approx. 3 hours) This bus is rather fun because you cruise through little villages seeing the Mexican life outside the city of Cancun. For snacks you can try the vendors that come into the buses selling sweets, sandwiches, tacos and all that good stuff. We have about 2-3 hours to spend at Chichen Itza before we travel onwards. One of the most impressive Mayan sites, Chichen Itza contains both Toltec and Mayan ruins lying alongside each other. The famous El Castillo pyramid dominates the ruins and the site also has the largest ball court where games used to be held. The games are depicted in carvings on the walls. Nearby, excavations of the Well of Sacrifice offered up treasures of jade, copper and gold as well as many human and animal bones. After a tour with a local guide we travel on to Merida (approx. 2 hours) where we will spend the night. Your tour leader will take you to the centre of town and show you some of the main sites of this beautiful city.
Founded in 1542, Merida still retains much of its old-world charm with a well-preserved Old Town, wonderful museums and city streets alive with art and culture. Hang out in the green and shady Plaza Grande, with the twin-towered 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 and you can stock up on hammocks and Maya replicas. It's a great place to try out the local food specialities, like cochinita pibil or the head-blowingly spicy El Yucateco hot sauce. Merida is also the gateway to the Maya ruins of Uxmal and there is an opportunity to visit these impressive ruins. Little is known about the site's origins but it is thought the city was founded around AD500. Much of the site is decorated with masks of the rain god Chac. This is no great surprise as the area has a lack of natural water supplies and the city relied on rain water.
Today we have an early start and we jump on one of the very comfortable first or second class buses in Mexico. These buses are equipped with TVs and bathrooms, just what you need for a long bus ride to Palenque. You will leave the Yucatan and travel into the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico (approx. 10 hours). Along the way the bus will stop a few times to give us time to stretch our legs and buy some food and drinks. Once we arrive in Palenque it is a short walk to the hotel.
Today we will hit the ruins with a local guide in Palenque to give you all the information that you need on these mystical ruins. Palenque is situated on a hilltop in an area of hot jungle and is home to possibly the most impressive series of Mayan ruins, which date back at AD600. Whilst walking amongst the ruins it is often possible to hear the eerie calls of howler monkeys echoing from the jungle, giving an added dimension to this magnificent site. The temples are superb relics of Mayan culture and there are many ruins here still un-excavated and hidden in the surrounding forest.
After breakfast we take another bus to the city of San Cristobal de las Casas (approx. 5 hours). 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 Palenque to San Cristobal to avoid this activity - more so to bypass long traffic delays than any real danger.
With winding cobblestone streets and colonial Spanish architecture, San Cristobal de las Casas maintains a lovely old-world feel mixed with strong indigenous roots. The surrounding villages are populated with Tzotzil and Tzeltal Indians who maintain their tribal origins through their varied traditional costumes and customs. There is time here to explore the villages, perhaps 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 sometimes chickens. There are also markets with colourful handicrafts for sale. Take the opportunity to go for an optional day trip to Sumidero Canyon. Back in town, go for a stroll and try to spot the cafe with the most locals in it for a taste of the traditional 'elote', a corn cob which makes a common snack in the highlands of Chiapas.
From San Cristobal we head down to Guatemala by van. It takes about 4 hours to get to the Guatemalan border and another 5 hours to get to our final destination, Totonicapan. The border crossing is fairly easy, just make sure you have your passport ready and the tour leader will give you detailed instructions on what to do once at the border. Once in Totonicapan we will be introduced to our host family and the group may be split in twos or threes depending on the group size. Locals in Totonicapan are both very friendly and very shy. In order to make the most of this experience, it may take a bit of effort from your side to break the ice first. Learn as many Spanish words as you can and get ready for some serious sign language action. Houses are very basic. Your room may only consist of a couple of beds with clean bedding; the bathroom will most likely be outside your room and be shared with the rest of the family. The mother of the family will cook dinner and breakfast for you. Meals can be very basic but filling, consisting of corn, rice and beans. You may want to stock up on some snacks beforehand.
Today we continue driving south to Panajachel (approximately 2 hours). Panajachel is located on beautiful Lake Atitlan and it has a thriving market, good eateries and many water-based activities to enjoy. Go for a swim, hike or kayak on the lake. The surrounding area is dotted with villages which can be reached on foot or by boat. Watch women weaving at Santa Catarina Palopo or explore the colourful markets of Santiago Atitlan, In each village the local life has changed little over the last few hundred years. Each village has its own typical dress and make all the textiles themselves in designs passed down through generations.
Today is a free day in Pana for you to continue exploring this fascinating region of Guatemala.
Today we head towards Antigua (approx. 4 hrs) - our final stop in the Guatemalan Highlands. The old colonial capital of Guatemala, Antigua remains the cultural centre of the country. Its cobbled streets, local markets, colonial buildings, and indigenous marimba music emanating from the many bars and restaurants create a fantastic atmosphere. If you're into salsa dancing or you'd like to learn some moves, Antigua is the place to be. Many dancing schools offer hourly lessons that give you the preparation to hit the discos at night and show your moves.
There are no activities planned for the final day. If you have time, on the last day perhaps consider taking an optional day trip to Chichicastenango to see the famous market. The town of Chichicastenango lies about 2,200 metres above sea level and features the best of handicrafts from all over Guatemala. This market is a big magnet for national and international travellers. Make sure you also go to visit the local fruit and vegetable market. Unfortunately, more than half the population of this beautiful Guatemala you have come to know so well lives under the poverty line, which may explain why Guatemala has also the lowest literacy rate in Central America. With this in mind, the Intrepid Foundation is proud supporter of CasaSito, an outstanding not for profit organization dedicated to assist youth to reach their academic, personal and professional potential. If you have 2’ to spare (2’41’’ to be exact!) take a look at this short video about CasaSito – it’s inspiring: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3KBiGdEcV4w If you want to help CasaSito and Guatemalan’s youth, you can donate through the Intrepid Foundation, which means that your donation will be match dollar for dollar by Intrepid too. No donation is too small. $5, $10, $50 it all goes a long way to help this fantastic organization. Simply visit our website: www.theintrepidfoundation.org/projects/casasito/