Mexico / Itineraries

Mayan Odyssey

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We don’t really expect anyone to visit all the Mayan sites in this 14 night itinerary that starts in Cancun and ends in Tulum but hope that it shows just how many historic Mayan sites there are in the Yucatan Peninsula.

  • Day 1 — Cancun

    Flights from Europe arrive into Cancun from the late afternoon onwards so, having collected your car at the airport, it’s just a short hop to the suggested Marriott Courtyard for an initial overnight stay.

    Suggested Accommodation: Marriott Courtyard Cancun
    • — Cancun
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    • — Tacos & salsa
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  • Day 2 — Cancun to Chichen Itza

    Departing the hotel after breakfast, you will soon be on the main east – west toll road that runs from Cancun all the way to Merida.

    The initial stretch of this toll road takes around 2 hours to the Chichen Itza exit from where it is a short drive to the ruins and your accommodation for the next three nights, the Hacienda Chichen Itza.

    The original hacienda dates back to 1523, making it one of the oldest in the Yucatan. However, with the collapse of the sisal trade, and a growing interest in Mayan history, the hacienda was purchased by Edward Thompson, a US Vice Consul, who invited the Carnegie Institute to establish its first Maya Archaeological head-quarters there in 1923.

    Aside from the original main hacienda, and a series of other historic buildings such as the beautiful old chapel, one of the other great attractions of the Hacienda Chichen Itza are its beautiful gardens and Wildlife Sanctuary which spread out over 20 acres.

    As part of its commitment to the endemic flora of the area the property also boasts the wonderful Yaxkin Spa which makes use of medicinal plants grown in the garden as well as reflecting traditional Mayan customs.

    Rather than visit the ruins in the heat of the afternoon, we suggest that you take the time to explore your immediate surroundings and relax by the pool.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hacienda Chichen Itza Meals Included: Breakfast
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  • Day 3 — Chichen Itza

    In order to avoid both the heat of the day, and the worst of the bus tours that arrive from the coast, we suggest an early start to your exploration of Chichen Itza.

    The cottages that today provide guest accommodation at Hacienda Chichen Itza were originally built to house archaeologists. So, not only is it possible to walk from the hacienda to the ruins, the hotel even has its own entrance to the site.

    Possibly the most famous archaeological site in Mexico, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Chichen Itza is the most extensively excavated of all the Mayan sites and one could easily spend an entire day exploring its scattered ruins.

    Historically, Chichen Itza was something of a late starter, only reaching its peak well after the great Mayan cities of the south, such as Calakmul, Tikal & Palenque, had been largely abandoned. Although Mayanologists still disagree about exactly who founded the city, the variety of architectural styles point to an ethnic diversity that is hard to find elsewhere.

    At the centre of Chichen Itza is its most recognisable structure, the imposing Temple of Kukulkan, also known as El Castillo. This pyramid has precisely 365 steps – 91 steps on each of the 4 sides plus the top platform – all tied in with the Mayan’s incredible understanding of astronomy and most clearly demonstrated on the spring and autumn equinoxes.

    The afternoon is free for you to relax at the hacienda or, perhaps, take the car out to explore one of the numerous nearby cenotes.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hacienda Chichen Itza Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Chichen Itza, Kukulkan
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    • — Chichen Itza, ball court
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    • — Chichen Itza
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  • Day 4 — Chichen Itza (Day trip to Rio Lagartos & Ek Balam)

    Located on the Yucatan Peninsula’s north coast, Rio Lagartos is a somnolent little fishing village that doubles as a jumping off point for the Reserva de la Biosfera Ria Lagartos, home to the largest colony of flamingos in Mexico.

    It’s not just flamingos that make Rio Lagartos their home either. The Reserva estuary is home to a huge variety of birdlife (just under 400 species it is said) including Storks, Spoonbills, Snowy Egrets, Hummingbirds, Herons, Ibis and the rare Mexican Sheartails as well as the crocodiles from which the area derives its name.

    Boat trips generally depart from the village in the morning and normally last a couple of hours. Parking your car in Rio Lagartos isn’t a problem and, on returning from your boat trip, there are a selection of simple restaurants serving up fresh seafood.

    Rio Lagartos is approximately 2 hours drive from Chichen Itza and, on your return there is time to visit the Mayan ruins at Ek Balam which are famous for the quality of their carvings.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hacienda Chichen Itza Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Rio Lagartos
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    • — Rio Lagartos
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    • — Ek Balam
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  • Day 5 — Chichen Itza to Izamal

    Departing Chichen Itza in the morning, you’ll continue your journey west towards one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s most historic towns, Izamal.

    Although commonly referred to as a colonial town, the history of Izamal pre-dates the arrival of the Spanish by many hundred years; it is thought that Izamal was founded in the Late Formative Period (750-200 BC) and was then continuously inhabited until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.

    Even today, Izamal is sometimes referred to as the City of Hills, the ‘hills’ in question being the remains of ancient Mayan pyramids. Five of these ‘hills’ are still clearly visible town including the largest, what would have been the pyramid of Kinich Kak Mo, which you can climb for free.

    What most people first notice about Izamal however, is the colour of its buildings; the town is also known as the Yellow City as almost every building in the town centre is painted the same, delightful, warm yellow. There is no great historical significance to this, it was simply done to commemorate the Pope’s visit to the town in 1993.

    Aside from the old Mayan pyramids, the main attraction in Izamal is the Franciscan convent of San Antonio de Padua which, in keeping with the general practise of the Spanish, was built on top of the original Mayan Acropolis. The atrium to this Convent is only surpassed in size by that of St Peter’s in Vatican City.

    Izamal can easily be explore on foot and, after a relaxing stroll and a spot of lunch, it is then a short drive to your accommodation for the night, Hacienda Ticum, an early 19th century hacienda located in 10 acres of gardens.

    Just a short drivde from the hacienda there is also another, small Mayan site at Ake.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hacienda Ticum Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Izamal
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    • — Izamal
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    • — Aké
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  • Day 6 — Izamal to Uxmal

    Departing Hacienda Ticum and continuing west, you will skirt around the city of Merida before heading south towards Campeche.

    Midway to Campeche, and for the first time on your holiday, the road climbs slightly as you reach the Puuc hills, home to a number of Mayan sites including Labna, Sayil, Kabah, Xlapak and, the most famous of the lot, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Uxmal.

    Having checked in to the hotel of your choice and had a bite of lunch, we suggest you get back in your car and explore one or more of the smaller Puuc sites which, generally speaking, you will pretty much have to yourself.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hacienda Uxmal Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Kabah
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    • — Labna
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    • — Sayil
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  • Day 7 — Uxmal to Campeche

    Founded around 700 AD, Uxmal (pronounced Oosh mahl) reached the height of its power towards the end of the 9th century but, by 1200, the city lay largely abandoned, perhaps as a result of the rise of Chichen Itza to the east.

    Uxmal’s primary importance comes from the fact that, for most experts, it represents the high-point in Mayan architecture and art. Perhaps no single building better represents this than the magnificent Pyramid of the Magician which, unlike almost every other Mayan pyramid, has a much softer, more cylindrical design.

    Other important buildings within the site include the Quadrangle of the Nuns, the Governor’s Palace, the House of the Tortoises and the Ball Court. As with most Mayan sites, much of Uxmal still remains covered by dense vegetation, including the extensive Southern Complex.

    As with Chichen Itza, Uxmal can easily be explored on one’s own although it is normally possible to arrange a guide locally. After lunch at Uxmal, continue south until you reach the beautiful, colonial city of Campeche later that afternoon.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Castelmar Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Uxmal
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    • — Uxmal
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    • — Uxmal
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  • Day 8 — Campeche

    Capital of the state of the same name, the UNESCO World Heritage city of Campeche is located on the Gulf Coast of Mexico.

    As with elsewhere in the region, Campeche was founded by the Spanish at the site of an existing Mayan settlement, Can Pech, from which the new city took its name in 1540. Having overcome the local Mayans, the Spanish then found themselves fending off repeated attacks from British & Dutch pirates and buccaneers, including Sir Francis Drake.

    In order to defend the city, the Spanish inhabitants built a vast city wall and fortifications, parts of which survive to this day. Within these walls, the Spanish built a traditional colonial town with a central square, cathedral and numerous, grand civic buildings. With much of this inner city largely untouched over the years, in 1999 the city was granted UNESCO World Heritage status.

    Although Campeche lacks any outstanding monuments or museums, it’s a great place to stroll about on one’s own, taking in the many pastel-coloured buildings that dominate the old town.

    If you wish to carry on visiting as many Mayan sites as possible, the ruins of Edzna are less than 40 minutes’ drive out of town and, again, you will largely have them to yourselves.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hotel Castelmar Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Campeche
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    • — Campeche, old sea gate
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    • — Edzna
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  • Day 9 — Campeche to Calakmul

    This is something of a transition day, with a relatively long drive of 5 hours from Campeche to Chicanna and not a lot to see or do en-route.

    Our suggestion is to stay at stay at the Chicanna Eco Resort and, having checked in and perhaps had a late lunch, either relax by the pool on cross the road to explore the small but interesting Mayan ruins of Chicanna.

    Suggested Accommodation: Chicanna Eco Village Meals Included: Breakfast
    • Pool at Chicanna Eco Village
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    • — Chicanna
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  • Day 10 — Calakmul

    Located in the far south of the Yucatan Peninsula, Calakmul is one of the largest and most impressive of all Mayan sites but, due to its isolated location, it draws a fraction of the visitor numbers of, for example, Chichen Itza.

    Located around 25 miles from Guatemala, and in constant rivalry with Tikal across the border, Calakmul was at its peak during the Classic Period when it would have had a population of over 50,000. Today, there is barely a soul to be seen and the site is surrounded by thousands of acres of lush jungle.

    Undoubtedly the highlight of any visit to Calakmul is the ability to climb to the top of Pyramid 2, at 45 metres high one of the tallest such structures anywhere in the Mayan world, and take in the 360 degree views of nothing but a sea of green for as far as the eye can see.

    Due to its relative isolation, and low visitor numbers, restoration at Calakmul is far less developed than at other sites and the vast majority of the city remains buried beneath mounds of vegetation. For many, this only serves to enhance the site’s magical appeal as one meanders along jungle trails wondering what must have been there before.

    The site of the Calakmul ruins are located approximately an hour’s drive south of the main coast to coast highway (so add on another 30 minutes or so from Chicanna) within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, a huge national park given over to protecting not just the ruins but also the diverse flora and fauna of the area.

    Suggested Accommodation: Chicanna Eco Village Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Calakmul
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    • — Calakmul
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    • — Calakmul, stelae
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  • Day 11 — Calakmul to Laguna Bacalar via Kohunlich

    Although Calakmul was the largest Mayan city in this part of the Yucatan, it was by no means the only one. In addition to Calakmul and Chicanna, other, smaller but equally fascinating sites can be visited along the coast to coast highway at Becan, Rio Bec and Kohunlich amongst others.

    Our suggestion would be to depart Calakmul after breakfast, stop to explore the delightful Mayan ruins at Kohunlich, have lunch at the nearby Hotel Explorean Kohunlich and then head north to Laguna Bacalar where you will arrive late that afternoon.

    Suggested Accommodation: Rancho Encantado Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Kohunlich
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    • — Kohunlich
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  • Day 12 — Laguna Bacalar

    In a region famous for its beautiful, sandy white beaches, and scrub-like interior, the sight of Laguna Bacalar comes as a something of a shock.

    Located in the south eastern corner of the Yucatan Peninsula, this beautiful, fresh-water lake stretches for some 45kms although it is seldom more than 1km wide. Laguna Bacalar is often referred to as the Lake of the Seven Colours on account of the different hues of blue and green the lake gives off depending on the time of day and weather.

    The only urban centre of note is the small, very sleepy town of Bacalar which overlooks the lake. In the centre of town is a small Spanish fortress that was built in the 16th century to protect locals from pirate attacks. Not a lot goes on in Bacalar which, for most visitors, is half the appeal.

    The water in Laguna Bacalar is clean and suitable for swimming although the most popular activities take place on the water with a variety of boat trips as well as kayaking.

    Suggested Accommodation: Rancho Encantado Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Laguna Bacalar
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    • — Laguna Bacalar
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    • — Laguna Bacalar
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  • Day 13 — Laguna Bacalar to Tulum

    Continuing north along the Yucatan Peninsula’s fabled east coast, your final port of call is Tulum.

    Deciding on Tulum’s greatest draw is a somewhat personal choice; for some it will be its miles of picture postcard, palm fringed beaches while, for others, it will be one of the Yucatan’s most unique and picturesque Mayan sites.

    The Mayan site, from which the area gains its name, was a relatively small town and one which, it is thought, primarily acted as a port to the far larger inland city of Coba. However, what Tulum lacks in historical significance or architectural merit, it more than makes up for with its location, perched on a small rise overlooking the sparkling, turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

    Just a few miles south of these ruins, the stunning beaches of Tulum continue acting as the inspiration for magazine covers around the world, a combination of small, enclosed bays and long, broad stretches of perfect, sandy, white beaches. Along these beaches, and none protruding higher than the surrounding palm trees, are a collection of small, hip, eco-conscious hotels that are the darling of the less commercially minded beach-bum.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hip Hotel Tulum Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Tulum
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    • — Tulum
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  • Day 14 — Tulum & Coba

    Although it’s not a particularly big site, its stunning location on the coast means that Tulum gets more visitors than almost any other Mayan site bar Chichen Itza. We therefore recommend that you’re here as the doors open in order to enjoy the ruins at their quietest.

    From Tulum, it is then an approximate 40-minute drive inland to your final Mayan site, Coba.

    Coba was first inhabited in around 100 AD and, for the next 500 years, grew largely unchecked with its population peaking at almost 50,000. At this time, long before the now, far more famous Chichen Itza rose to prominence, Coba was the dominant Mayan city in the northern Yucatan Peninsula.

    Due to its relative isolation and the lack of roads, serious excavation and study of Coba didn’t really begin until the 1970s and the site wasn’t really opened to tourists until the start of the 1980s. Even now, the vast majority of Coba remains buried beneath the jungle with only a handful of structures having been excavated.

    Of the structures that have been excavated and restored, by far the most important is the vast Nohoch Mul (literally, ‘large hill’) pyramid which rises 42 metres above the jungle canopy affording wonderful 360-degree views. Fortunately, unlike Chichen Itza where the iconic Kukulcan pyramid is now closed to visitors, for now at least it is still possible to climb to the top of Nohoch Mul.

    Suggested Accommodation: Hip Hotel Tulum Meals Included: Breakfast
    • — Tulum
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    • — Tulum
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    • — Coba, near Tulum
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  • Day 15 — Tulum to Cancun & Home

    Most flights back to Europe depart in the late afternoon or early evening so you should have the morning free to relax before the 2 hour plus drive back to Cancun airport where you will return your hire car before your return flight home.

    Meals Included: Breakfast

Please Note

This itinerary is no more than a sample idea which can be tailor made to your exact requirements. Please note that some, additional car hire insurance costs can only be paid locally.

Although based on Fly Drive, the same or similar itinerary can also be arranged with a Car & Driver (although it will be significantly more expensive).

The 'From price' is for travel in September and is based on two adults sharing the same room throughout. Supplements apply for sole occupancy / transport.

Beach Extensions

Beach Extensions

For clients wishing to extend (or even start) their holiday with time at one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s numerous beach resorts there are numerous options. The vast majority of beach hotels are located along the east coast, within easy reach of Cancun airport. Please call or email for advice.

Suggested Accommodation

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