The Olmec civilization dates back to the 2nd century BC when favorable environmental conditions allowed the society to thrive. This high productivity encouraged population growth from which an elite class developed and, accordingly, so did demand for objects of creative expression.
During this trip, we visit the birthplaces of this art, where the colossal heads and finely carved sculptures emblematic of the Olmec style were found.
This unusual expedition will take us into truly remote areas of Mexico to explore some of the more elusive Olmec sites. See La Venta, San Lorenzo, and Tres Zapotes, where the first of the Olmec colossal heads were found in 1862. For even more options, consider our broader range of Archaeological Tours in North and South America.
Climb the mighty cleft volcanic mountain to see the beautifully inscribed boulders at Chalcatzingo, way off the beaten tourist trail.
Visit museums housing major collections of Olmec art including the vast open-air museum of Parque-Museo La Venta, the Carlos Pellicer Museum in Villahermosa, the Xalapa Anthropology Museum, not only filled with exquisite works of art, but also presenting one of the loveliest edifices in Mexico, and view the Olmec objects on display at the National Museum of Anthropology, housed in an unrivaled award-winning structure in Mexico City.
Won’t you join Far Horizons and only 13 others on this very special 10-day journey to the world of the ancient Olmec? Keep reading to learn more, and please get in touch if you have any questions.
Fly to Villahermosa, Mexico and immediately transfer to the Holiday Inn for a light supper. Overnight for two nights. (D)
This morning, walk the pathways within the Parque-Museo La Venta, a vast open-air museum where many of the stone monuments from the site of La Venta have been relocated.
As we stroll along the trails, agouti and coatimundi can be seen scurrying through the underbrush and vibrant tropical birds fly through the jungle setting. This is where we see the first of the massive stone heads that are characteristic of the Olmec culture.
The afternoon will be spent in the Carlos Pellicer Museum, Tabasco’s main regional museum for archaeology and anthropology. Housed within a dazzling architectural masterpiece, the displays focus on Olmec and Maya art and artifacts. (B/L/D)
In a large area cut by the Coatzacoalcos River system, the Olmec heartland is home to many impressive sites, and the excavations at La Venta formed the foundation for the archaeology of this ancient civilization.
Although none of the signature colossal stone heads remain, the remains of the massive earthen mound that was the focus of the ceremonial complex can still be seen on an island rising above the surrounding swamp. One of the earliest known in Mesoamerica, the Great Pyramid is 110 feet high.
After our explorations, we continue to Lake Catemaco and overnight for two nights at the La Finca Hotel, beautifully located on the edge of the lake. (B/L/D)
By no later than 1200 BC, San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán had emerged as the most prominent Olmec center and largest city in Mesoamerica. Without city walls for protection, San Lorenzo may have been largely a ceremonial complex.
Archaeologists have uncovered numerous monuments here, including no less than ten of the huge basalt heads of rulers, the greatest of weighing 28 metric tons and standing almost 10 feet tall. After spending the morning at this site, return to Lake Catemaco with time for a relaxing boat ride on the lagoon. (B/L/D)
This morning takes us to Tres Zapotes where the first of the huge Olmec monuments was found in 1862. When the rest of the Olmec sites started to decrease in importance about 400 BC, Tres Zapotes continued to thrive and grow in importance, lasting into the Early Postclassic about 1200 AD.
In the nearby town of Santiago Tuxtla, we will examine several Olmec monuments standing in the central plaza. After lunch, drive on to Veracruz, Mexico’s Gulf Coast port. Veracruz is a very special laid-back town and its charm can be felt by simply spending an evening sitting in the sidewalk cafés sipping lechero while listening to the music of the festive danzón and watching the spontaneous dance performances.
With its crumbling historic architecture, we may be reminded of old Havana. Overnight in the Hotel Gran Deligencia, near the central plaza in the heart of the city. (B/L/D)
Xalapa, the capital of the state of Veracruz, is today’s destination. Here, we visit the Anthropology Museum, certainly one of the most spectacular in Mexico. The unique building was designed by the architect Edward Durrell Stone, an early proponent of modern architecture in the United States.
Huge, airy rooms pour down the side of a hill, each room home to artifacts of different ancient Mexican civilizations. Spend a leisurely morning examining the exciting display of art, with a concentration of artifacts from the Olmec civilization, the mother culture of Mesoamerica.
In the late afternoon, drive to Puebla. Overnight for two nights at the Hotel Palacio San Leonardo, housed in an elegant 19th-century former mansion located in the historic center of Puebla. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)
Founded in 1531, Puebla’s stunning historic center, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the first city in central Mexico founded by the Spanish that was not built upon the ruins of a conquered Native community.
During our morning walking tour, we will see graceful colonial mansions, the 16th-century Catedral de Puebla on the central square, or Zócalo, and Biblioteca Palafoxiana, a library dating from 1646.
In the afternoon, we will drive to Cholula, one of the most important ceremonial centers in the area after the fall of Teotihuacan around 600 AD. Begun in the 3rd century BC, the huge temple was built and rebuilt and is now 181 feet high.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is the largest pyramid as well as the largest monument ever constructed anywhere in the world. When the Spanish conquered the area in the 16th century, a church was constructed on the top of the mound. Return to Pueblo for the night. Dinner will be in one of the city’s excellent restaurants. (B/L/D)
This morning’s drive takes us to Chalcatzingo. Rising dramatically from the expansive plains of Morelos is the spectacular volcanic mountain upon which the site is situated. In ancient cosmology, the cleft mountain represents the emerging place, and Chalcatzingo was the earliest mountain of creation.
Its magnificent Olmec bas-reliefs carved on the talus slopes are the iconographic foundations for all later Mesoamerican mythology and we will hike up a massive outcrop to see them. Move on to Mexico City and overnight for two nights at the Hotel Zocalo Central, located in the colonial center of Mexico City, a UNESCO Heritage Site. Dinner is on our own this evening. (B/L)
The Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology, is not just the finest museum in the country, but among the greatest internationally. The world-renowned repository of some 600,000 artifacts, the museum is spread out over two immense floors.
The permanent exhibitions on the ground floor cover all pre-Columbian civilizations. We will spend the morning viewing the museum’s great collections, with special emphasis on the Olmec Civilization.
After time for an early lunch on our own within the museum café, drive back to the zocalo, the plaza in the center of the historic area where 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. Gather this evening for our farewell dinner party in one of the city’s exceptional restaurants, where the chef puts a hip spin on traditional Mexican cuisine. (B/ /D)
Transfer to the airport for our flights back 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.