Venture into the secluded southern regions bordering Guatemala, where recent excavations have unveiled the remnants of pyramids and cities that were once nearly inaccessible. The discoveries made here, including transformative hieroglyphic texts, reshape our understanding of the Maya, revealing a history concealed for over a millennium. Dzibanché showcases fragments of vividly painted stucco and graffiti, hinting at the influential family glyphs of Kaan.
This location might have once been a powerful center, predating Calakmul. Meanwhile, Balamkú boasts striking stucco murals that retain their original polychrome paint.
This compelling Yucatán tour offers visits to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Explore Calakmul, now recognized as the capital of the Kaan (or Snake) Kingdom. This mighty realm once rivaled Tikal for dominance—Marvel at Uxmal’s intricately adorned structures and Chichén Itzá’s impressive Great Ballcourt, Mesoamerica’s largest. Lastly, step back in time to Campeche, a city established in 1540 and fortified against pirates in the 17th century.
Journey with Dr. Stanley Guenter, a renowned archaeologist, and Maya hieroglyph expert. Gain insights into the intense struggles for supremacy among the Maya rulers, as depicted on their monumental edifices. This is no ordinary Yucatán tour: it’s an immersive Mexico educational tour into the heart of the Maya civilization.
Read the itinerary below. If you have any questions, please get in touch. If you’re excited by the prospect of this tour adventure, you may be interested in our other Mexico tours, browse our Calendar of Tours.
Fly to Mérida, capital of Yucatán State, and overnight for one night in the boutique Rosas and Xocolate Hotel, near the historical colonial center of the city. (D)
Opened in 2012, Mérida’s new Mundo Maya Museum houses a plethora of fabulous artifacts inside an award-winning building created with three levels, representing the three worlds of the Maya, the sky, earth and underworld. Celebrating Maya culture, the museum is home to a collection of more than 1100 stunning artifacts of the civilization. We will spend the morning here before driving to the grandest of the colonial monasteries. Izamal, a place of pilgrimage prior to the arrival of the Spanish, looms spectacularly atop an enormous Maya temple platform. Steeped in history, the mission was built for Fray Diego de Landa, the controversial Bishop of Yucatán. Dedicated to the Virgin of Izamal, the beloved patron saint of the Yucatan, the rambling building sits atop one of the four principal temples in a ceremonial center sacred to Itzamná, Lord of the Sky and principal deity of the Itzá Maya. We will see the 16th-century Franciscan Monastery and its Atrio, the huge enclosed front courtyard that is the most remarkable feature of the mission, unique for its great height, its vast scale and its elaborate design. Continue on to Chichén Itzá, and the colonial style Mayaland Hotel, adjacent to the ruins. Overnight here for two nights. (B/L/D)
Drive to nearby Ek Balam which rose to power in the late 8th century AD. The central district of Ek Balam was encircled by three walls, most likely used for both defense and to limit access during ceremonies. The founder of the Ek Balam dynasty built most of the Acropolis, which also houses his tomb. The incised stucco façade of the building where he was buried is truly spectacular – covered with life-size warriors and sacred imagery. When found by archaeologists, this mural was in pristine condition as it had been carefully buried upon his death. Return to Chichén Itzá and enjoy the afternoon exploring the site. Although other Maya centers were being abandoned during the tumultuous 9th century, magnificent Chichén Itzá rose to become the most important city of its time. In its great ball court the lords of the city constructed an expression of the new age they intended to rule. Among the structures we will explore are the Castillo towering high above the plaza; the Caracol, a round temple constructed on a series of platforms probably used for tracing astronomical events; and the Temple of the Warriors, where sculptured columns form colonnades that once supported mammoth roofs. We will also walk to the cenote, known as the “Great Well of the Itzá,” where artifacts of gold and jade, along with copal incense, have been found. (B/L/D)
Heading south, our first stop is Tulum. Built in the compact style of the Postclassic period, this fortified settlement was still inhabited when the Spanish Conquistadores sailed past in the 16th century. Recent archaeological work indicates that the population of Tulum primarily consisted of foreigners to this area and likely came from the area of Champoton, off the southern coast of Campeche. Delicate multi-colored paintings decorate the interior walls of one of the flat-roofed temples, and a protective wall surrounds the city. Time permitting, we will stop by the Balam Na church. One hundred and fifty years ago this was the center of the town of Chan Santa Cruz, capital of the independent Maya who, in the 19th century caste wars, rebelled against their treatment on the haciendas. Overnight in the Hotel Laguna Bacalar, overlooking a lake of the same name. (B/L/D)
As we move west, our first stop is Dzibanché, a site once hidden in the forest and rarely visited. Hieroglyphic steps found here contain texts extolling the captures and victories of many Snake Kingdom lords, indicating that this was the capital of the kingdom during the 6th century. Large temples tower over important tombs, one temple contained a carved wooden lintel recording the accession of a kaloomte’ (a Maya imperial title) in 551 AD. A few miles north lies Kinichna with a huge pyramid dominating the landscape. Our final stop will be Kohunlich, discovered in 1971 just before looters could steal a series of spectacular stucco masks thought to portray the Sun God, K’inich Ajaw. Overnight for two nights in the charming, environmentally friendly, Chicanná EcoVillage Resort. (B/L/D)
Our explorations take us to four breathtaking sites. Encircled by a steep, dry moat built to ward off invaders, Becán once covered at least 60 acres, and stunningly-beautiful buildings stand as mute testimony of the city’s former importance. At Chicanná, massive doorways represent the earth monster’s mouth (and the entrance to the underworld) that swallows all those who step across its imposing teeth. Xpujil is noted for its false stairways that climb three steep towers to artificial temples on top. Each imposing edifice is decorated with breathtaking masks. Nearby Hormiguero is located deep in the forest and is rarely visited. The center contains many impressive structures, but the colossal Temple I is the most impressive. It is extravagantly decorated with two soaring, false-staircase towers on either side of a huge monster mouth portal. (B/L/D)
Begin the day at Balamkú, a lovely temple containing an exquisitely painted stucco façade. Standing two-stories tall, the frieze consists of four lords who are depicted being born out of the mouths of frogs seated atop sacred mountains. Then it’s on to Calakmul, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located deep within the heart of the forest near the border with Guatemala, this was one of the largest and most powerful Maya cities of the Late Classic period. During this time, the site served as capital of the Kaan Kingdom which competed with Tikal for domination of the Maya world. In antiquity, an interconnected series of canals and bajos (low swampy areas) encompassing more than 40 square miles, protected the city. Excavations have uncovered fascinating structures and tombs filled with precious grave goods including at least four jade mosaic masks. Over 100 carved monuments dating from 435 AD to after 900 AD impart stories of mighty rulers and the rituals they carried out to honor their gods. In the afternoon, depart the Rio Bec region and drive north to the historic fortified town of Campeche, founded in the 16th century by the Spanish, and since 1999, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Overnight one night in Campeche at the 4-star Hotel Plaza Campeche. (B/L/D)
Campeche’s port prospered with local timber, silver and gold being shipped to Europe. Due to its wealth, the area became a target for pirates and buccaneers. In 1686, for protection, the construction of huge bulwarks around the city began, each one over 10 feet thick. Of the original eight bastions, seven still stand and one of them, the Baluarte de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, houses the Museum of Maya Culture. Not far, the Museum of Maya Stelae exhibits an important collection of carved monuments and architectural fragments from nearby Maya cities. After visiting these museums, move on to Edzná where the monumental zone of the center covers more than two square miles. The remains include fragments of at least 32 stelae, and one of the buildings on the central plaza is decorated with intricate, impressively intact carvings of the sun god with remnants of red stucco still visible. Our last stop is Kabah to view the façade of the Codz-Pop temple. Decorated with masks of the long-nosed rain god, Chac, it is one of the most characteristic works in the Pu’uc style. We will watch as the setting sun casts a breathtaking light upon the repeating baroque pattern of the curling noses of Chac across the front of the building. Overnight in the charming Lodge at Uxmal. Enjoy the optional sound and light show this evening. (B/L/D)
Spend the morning exploring dazzling Uxmal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its splendid geometric friezes made up of thousands of hand-carved stones, Uxmal displays the peninsula’s finest example of Classic Puuc architecture. The impressive Pyramid of the Magician is 100 feet tall and dominates the city. The Governor’s Palace stands on three terraces overlooking the plain. In the afternoon, return to Mérida and the charming Rosas and Xocolate Hotel. Our final dinner party will be in one of Mérida’s fine restaurants. (B/L/D)
Twenty miles north of Mérida is Dzibilchaltun, the remains of a large city covering more than seven square miles and the oldest continually inhabited Maya site on the peninsula. Occupied for more than 2,000 years, it was the center of the salt trade for the entire Maya area. In the chronicles of Chilam Balam, the city is cited as the first location of Mérida, a place called Ichkantiho, “In the Sky at Five.” Architecture here echoes that of distant Tikal, the homeland of the Itzá. There has been much recent archaeological work here, and the artifacts that have been found are displayed in a museum onsite. After exploring the site, we will drive to the beach at Progresso. Here we will enjoy a delicious seafood lunch with a view of the ocean. Return to Mérida in the afternoon with time for last minute shopping for typical crafts and, perhaps, a handmade hammock to carry home. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)
Transfer early this morning to the airport in Mérida for flight 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.
This trip is for the hardy! Our vehicles are appropriate for this area but may not be new or well air-conditioned. Some accommodations will be simple; they are clean and frequently charming, but they are not five-star luxury hotels.