The Toltecs are the most mysterious and controversial group from ancient Mesoamerica and the interpretation of their importance to the greater cultural traditions of this region have ranged from seeing them as the “mother culture”, from which all others sprang, to a group that didn’t even exist historically, and were nothing but a figment of the Aztec imagination.
Far Horizons proudly presents a very special trip that includes explorations of archaeological sites, visits to colonial buildings, works of art created by Mexico’s most renowned muralists, and, as an added treat, luscious regional cuisine in several of the country’s most outstanding restaurants. Our itinerary includes not only Tula, the legendary capital of the Toltecs, but also the great cities that preceded it, such as Cacaxtla, Xochicalco and, especially, Teotihuacán. Visit the great sites of the Aztecs who wrapped themselves in the cultural mantle of the Toltecs as they formed their own empire in Central Mexico. Join only 13 others on a fascinating trip exploring the archaeology and history of one of the most important cultural regions in the Americas!
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The Toltec civilization originated in northern Mexico sometime around 800 AD and scholars believe that they may have filled a gap left by the collapse of Teotihuacan. From the Toltec capital of Tula, they used both long distance trade and conquest to enlarge their domain. But by 1100 AD their empire had collapsed. Ultimately their land was taken over by the Aztecs who saw them as their intellectual and cultural predecessors as shown in Aztec oral and pictorial histories.
Arrive into Mexico City and drive to Teotihuacán. According to the Aztecs, this was the birthplace of the gods, and the site where the Fifth Sun first emerged from fire and rose to the sky. Our afternoon excursion to this UNESCO World Heritage Site takes us to two museums within Teotihuacán. The site museum displays artifacts found during excavations along with a massive model of the Teotihuacán complex. The “Beatriz de la Fuente” Museum of the Teotihuacan Murals displays the frescos recovered over the course of more than a century of archaeological excavations. Dinner and overnight in the Villas Arqueologicas. (L/D)
Begin a morning filled with all of the main features of this enormous ceremonial center, including the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon, the Ciudadela, the Pyramid of Queztalcoatl, and the Avenue of the Dead, and several of the small sites on the periphery that contain mythological murals preserved for 1,300 years. After lunch, drive on to Puebla and overnight for two nights in the Palacio San Leonardo Hotel. Our welcome dinner will be in one of Puebla’s fine restaurants. (B/L/D)
Today is devoted to an exploration of two splendid trip highlights. Cacaxtla is one of Mexico’s most exciting post-war discoveries. In 1974, tomb robbers came upon a series of brilliant paintings decorating the walls of this fortified ceremonial and palace complex. Wonderfully preserved for more than a millennium, these images display unmistakable Maya traits and depict life-size scenes of battle and sacrifice, all still infused with dazzling hues of indigo, ochre, red, and black. The frescos in the lower level chamber appear to be associated with the planet Venus. The room itself is the real ‘star chamber,’ the place where sacrifices were performed on behalf of Venus. Continue on to Cholula, where settlements date back thousands of years. In Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, Cholula’s strategic location made it a key point along trade routes. Upon returning to Puebla, walk through the city’s historic center, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dinner is on our own to enjoy one of Puebla’s excellent restaurants. (B/L)
Travel to Xochicalco, an ancient city on a steep hillside signifying a need for defense, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Influenced by Teotihuacán architectural designs, one of the main temple platforms is adorned with commanding reliefs of the Feathered Serpent, or Quetzalcoatl. The same temple has calendrical glyphs and symbols that appear to represent an eclipse, and a subterranean chamber at the site receives sunlight on the two days of the year when the sun crosses the zenith. In the afternoon, visit Teopanzolco, constructed in the 12th century over earlier cultural remains dating back to as early as 900 BC. It is today surrounded by the city of Cuernavaca. The Great Platform here is a perfect example of Post-Classic twin-stair temple design. On top are two temples, one dedicated to Tlaloc, the deity of water, fertility, and rain, and the other to Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec sun and war god. Surviving examples of the double pyramid are seldom found as they were systematically pulled to pieces as part of the Christianization of the Mesoamerican people by Spanish conquerors. Overnight for two nights in the Hotel Marriott in Ixtapan de la Sal. (B/L/D)
Our day includes two outstanding ancient sites. During Aztec times, Malinalco was an imperial center and capital of one of the branches of the Triple Alliance of Tenochtitlán, Texcoco, and Tlacopan that was formed in 1428. With temples carved from the rock face, Malinalco is a remarkable shrine, best known for its dramatically decorated Temple of the Eagle and Jaguar Knights. The Temple of the Eagle is a circular shrine, accessed by a staircase with 13 steps, which leads to a rectangular platform and the main entrance of the shrine. Statues of jaguars flank the staircase and the interior is decorated with sculptures of eagle and jaguars. Located on top of a hill overlooking the valley of Toluca, Teotenango was a vast fortified city that existed for at least 1,000 years but reached its zenith during the last phase of Teotihuacán. A rock carving here appears to depict an eclipse as a jaguar devouring the sun. NOTE: A steep climb is necessary to reach both these sites. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)
Calixtlahuaca was the main center of power in the 15th century of the Matlatzinca, one of four ethnic groups in the Valley of Toluca. One of its prominent structures is round and is thought to have been dedicated to Quetzalcoatl in his wind god identity. It was built in a circular form so that it would not hinder the wind god’s entrance. However, that shape also could be of a coiled snake and the temple could have been originally dedicated to the ancient serpentine creator god, and later dedicated to the god of wind by the Aztecs. A statue of Coatlicue, the Aztec earth-mother goddess who gave birth to the moon and stars and wore a skirt of snakes, was found here and is now at the Mexico City Museum of Anthropology. Drive to Mexico City for lunch in the legendary San Angel Inn, housed in an 18th-century hacienda. In the afternoon, visit the Palacio de Correos, Mexico City’s central post office, housed in an early 20th-century palace designed by the Palacio de Bellas Artes’ original architect, Adamo Boari. An exquisite example of Renaissance Revival architecture, the ornate exterior has intricately carved stone around the windows and along the roofline, and the interior is dominated by an impressive monumental staircase made of bronze. Overnight for five nights in the Histórico Central Hotel, housed in a beautifully restored 18th century colonial building located in the historic center. (B/L/D)
We begin with a drive to the outskirts of the city at the Dolores Olmedo Museum, housed in a 16th-century stone building, formerly known as the Hacienda La Noria and containing works by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Then it is on to Xochimilco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the only remains of the Pre-Hispanic agricultural system of chinampas, floating islands of mud from the bottom of the lake and decaying vegetation. We will board a boat to float through the area where plants are still grown in the traditional manner. The afternoon will be spent in the magnificent Templo Mayor, one of the primary temples of the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlán, now Mexico City. At the summit of this immense stone edifice were found the twin pyramids of the two important gods of Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc, both frequently nourished by the Aztecs with the blood of human sacrifices. Within the spectacular Templo Mayor Museum are artifacts that have been found in the excavations. Here, see the monumental carved disk that portrays the death of Coyolxauhqui, the moon goddess. Dinner will be in Los Girasoles, overlooking a lovely old square in a restored three-story colonial home. It was one of the first places to serve nueva cocina Mexicana. (B/L/D)
Today, explore Mexico City. In 1921, after the end of the military phase of the Revolution, most of the Mexican population was illiterate and the government needed a way to promote the ideals of the Mexican Revolution. A government-backed painting program, similar to mural use in the pre-Hispanic period, was established and renowned painters were invited to decorate the walls of colonial buildings. To view some of these exciting works, we begin in the zócalo, the main square of Mexico City and a living museum added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1987. Our walk takes us to the National Palace, a two-block long building. Rebuilt after damage done in the 1692 Native rebellion with material of the palace of the Aztec king, Montezuma, it flanks the entire east side of the Zócalo. In the central patio are splendid frescoes painted by Diego Rivera in 1931 – a dramatic, panoramic history of Mexico from the pre-conquest era to the social upheaval of the 1930’s. Then it is on to Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, a former Jesuit college built in the 16th century. Murals by Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Siqueiros and others are displayed on the building walls. We then move to the Museo de la Antropología, not only the finest museum in the country, but also ranks amongst the greatest in the world. After time for lunch on our own at the museum café, spend the rest of the afternoon viewing the museum’s great collections, with special emphasis on the Maya and Aztec civilizations along with other cultures in central Mexico. Tonight’s dinner will be in Rosetta, listed as one of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. (B/D)
Driving to the northern outskirts of Mexico City, we will visit two sites that were originally located on the shores of the great Lake Texcoco. Tenayuca was the fortified capital of the Chichimecs for almost three hundred years. The pyramid dominating the site center had many building phases over a period of three hundred years. Covering the sides of the temple is a wall of serpents, called a coatepantli, and greenish blue paint is still visible on some of the snakes’ bodies. Nearby is a statue of a fire serpent, a xiuhcoatl, which was probably related to the sun cult that was celebrated by the Aztecs every 52 years in a fire ceremony. Nearby Santa Cecilia Acatitlan, now in the town of the same name, was associated with Tenayuca. Only one temple still stands but it contains a well-preserved interior. Return to Mexico City and its historic Cathedral, the monumental structure dominating the zócalo, for a quick view of the Capilla de Los Reyes copied from a Churriguerresque chapel in the cathedral in Seville, Spain. Inside the church, hunt for the mark on the crypt floor below the cupola; it partly covers the site of the Tzompantli, a holy Aztec rack on which skulls of sacrificed victims were exposed. Gather this evening for our final dinner party on La Casa de la Sirena’s outdoor balcony with wonderful views over the zócalo, Cathedral, and Templo Mayor. (B/L)
Our drive north takes us to Tula, thought to be Tollan the fabled capital of the Toltec Empire founded about 750 AD as the Teotihuacan Empire was collapsing. The city covered at least 3 square miles and may have had a population in the tens of thousands. A large central plaza is enclosed on one side by a five-stepped temple pyramid, which was probably dedicated to the god Quetzalcóatl. Surviving architectural sculpture on the impressive structure is stunning. The roof would have been held up by still-standing columns of warriors dressed for battle with ornate headdresses and carrying an atlatl, or spear-thrower. Friezes on the walls show scenes of war and sacrifice, including images of eagles with hearts in their mouths. Return to Mexico City for our farewell dinner. (B/L/D)
Early this morning, transfer to the airport and return home. (B)
Price is based on double occupancy and includes:
Trip prices are based on a minimum number of participants. If this minimum number is not met, trip prices are subject to change. Should the prices need to change, Far Horizons will reach out to registered guests to discuss directly.
Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement must be charged.
As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural sites and projects which we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant donate to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.
Prices are based on currency exchange rates keeping below a projected level. While it is unlikely, if the exchange rates should change substantially, Far Horizons reserves the right to charge an additional amount to the trip cost.
A deposit of $1000 per person is required along with your registration & health forms, which will be linked in the email confirmation you receive once you pay your deposit on our booking platform. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Prior to departure, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $500 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Links to recommended insurance policies will be included in the email you receive confirming receipt of your deposit.
International round trip flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Far Horizons expects all participants to be physically active and able to walk and climb independently throughout the full touring days. This includes walking over uneven terrain (uphill and downhill) for 2 miles or more at each site. You should expect to be on your feet for much of each day, averaging as much as 5 miles of walking per day. As such, each participant should be able to walk unaided at a pace of 3 miles per hour for at least an hour at a time, and to stand unsupported for at least 60 minutes. Bearing this in mind, we suggest that, if you have not already done so, you begin walking several miles every day, ideally including stairs and hills. If you have questions about your ability to keep up with the group or the strenuous nature of this trip, please contact the Far Horizons staff.
This tour is designed for flexible, energetic people who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. We have designed this trip to be as comfortable as possible, while also aiming to visit some remote or unique sites that other companies do not attempt to include in their itineraries. There may be days where we have very long drives and the conditions of the roads may vary. Hotels and transportation in some remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available; please pack with the understanding that you need to be able to handle your own luggage at times. At times we may be walking over uneven trails for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. Not every meal will not be haute cuisine and several lunches may be picnics or box lunches. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.
Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. While we are committed to keeping as close to the published details as possible, sometimes it is simply not possible. Weather events, government affairs, or other factors out of our control sometimes come into play. A good book to read as well as patience, flexible attitude, and a sense of humor are essential.