Hidden Mexico: El Tajin to Cantona to Guanajuato
Tour Hidden Mexico from the Gulf Coast lowlands to Mexico’s Central Plateau, and along the way see nine UNESCO World Heritage sites
with Dr. Karl Taube
July 16-30, 2021
Why Take This Tour of Hidden Mexico?
- Led by renowned Mesoamerican specialist Distinguished Professor Karl Taube
- Tour nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Tlacotlalpan, El Tajin, Sanctuary of Atotonilco, the Padre Tembleque Aqueduct, El Camino Real Tierra Adentro, and the historic centers of Puebla, Querétaro, San Miguel de Allende, and Mexico City
- See remote Veracruz archaeological sites: Cempoala, Quiahuiztlan, and Castillo de Teayo
- View Cantona, one of the largest ancient centers ever discovered in Mesoamerica
- Explore central Mexico’s Bajía sites – El Cerrito, Plazuelas, Barajas – rarely seen by tourists
- Enjoy a tequila tasting at a beautiful old hacienda
- View murals curated by Diego Rivera in Mexico City’s Abelardo Rodriguez Market
- Mexico City’s Anthropology Museum
- Join only 11 other group members
(click to enlarge)
Day 1: Fly to Mexico City. Connect to flight to Veracruz and overnight for two nights
Day 2: Tlacotlalpan, San Juan de Ulúa, Baluarte de Santiago
Day 3: Cempoala, Xalapa Museum. Overnight Xalapa
Day 4: Quiahuiztlan, Overnight Poza Rica for two nights
Day 5: El Tajin, Castillo de Teayo
Day 6: Cantona. Overnight Puebla
Day 7: Puebla city tour. Padre Tembleque Aqueduct. Overnight Querétaro for two nights
Day 8: El Cerrito. Querétaro city tour
Day 9: San Miguel de Allende. Overnight Guanajuato for four nights
Day 10: Plazuelas, Peralta
Day 1l: Barajas
Day 12: Arroyo Seco Cave, El Camino Real Tierra Adentro
Day 13: Atotonilco, Tequila testing, Overnight Mexico City for two nights
Day 14: Anthropology Museum, Abelardo Rodriguez Market murals
Day 15: Return flight to the USA
Throughout Mexico are the stunning remains of former civilizations, but many are either unknown to the world of tourism or are so off the beaten trail that they are rarely visited. This intriguing 15-day itinerary will take you to these hidden places, including several of the country’s gorgeous colonial cities.
Led by renowned Mesoamerican scholar, Professor Karl Taube, journey from the Gulf Coast lowlands to Mexico’s Central Plateau, and along the way see nine UNESCO World Heritage sites – Veracruz’ colonial town of Tlacotlalpan; El Tajin with its eye-catching Pyramid of the Niches; the sacred Sanctuary of Atotonilco; the Padre Tembleque Aqueduct constructed in the 16th century; El Camino Real Tierra Adentro, the Royal Road that traversed 1,590 miles from Mexico City to New Mexico; and the historic colonial cities of Puebla, Querétaro, San Miguel de Allende, and Mexico City. But there’s more! Also included is Cantona, one of the largest urban centers ever discovered in Mesoamerica, and Arroyo Seco, a cave decorated with prehistoric multicolored paintings, only recently opened to the public. Added highlights are the rarely visited, only recently explored archaeological remains of the Bajía region – El Cerrito, Plazuelas, Peralta, and Barajas.
Won’t you join Far Horizons and only 11 others on this very special expedition to the hidden sites of Mexico?
Karl Taube received his PhD in Anthropology from Yale University and is currently a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside. He has done extensive archaeological and linguistic fieldwork in the Yucatán and has participated on archaeological projects in Chiapas, Mexico, coastal Ecuador, highland Peru, Copan, Honduras, and in the Motagua Valley of Guatemala. He is currently serving as the Project Iconographer for the San Bartolo Project in the Petén of Guatemala. Professor Taube has broad interests in the archaeology and ethnology of Mesoamerica and the American Southwest, including the development of agricultural symbolism in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica and the American Southwest, and the relation of Teotihuacan to the Classic Maya. Much of his recent research and publications center upon the writing and religious systems of ancient Mesoamerica. Among his publications are Aztec and Maya Myths, and An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya (cco-authored with Mary Ellen Miller). Professor Taube’s long-term love and knowledge of the ancient cultures of Mesoamerica is infectious and makes him an exceptional study leader.
‘I really liked Karl and his lectures and comments in the bus and at meals. He listened to us carefully to understand our questions and suggestions. I would like to travel with Karl again. I really enjoy his knowledge of Central America.’ – Anne Higgins
‘Professor Taube went out of his way to convey the tremendous depth of his knowledge. Karl Taube’s contributions were monumental.’ – Randolph Sherman
(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner
Day 1: Fly to Mexico City. Connect to flight to Veracruz, Mexico’s Gulf Coast port. Gather for Veracruzana típica cuisine at our welcome dinner. Overnight for two nights in the Gran Hotel Diligencias, within walking distance of the central plaza. (D)
Day 2: Ideally located along the banks of the Papaloapan River, Tlacotlalpan was originally founded by the Totonac peoples, invaded by the Toltecs in the 12th century, and conquered by the Aztecs in 1475. In the 16th century the Spanish subjugated the river port and established the colonial-era layout. After a series of catastrophic fires in the 19th century, the settlement was rebuilt and today neoclassic buildings dominate the center, all enveloped in dazzling intense hues. As we stroll through the picturesque streets of this UNESCO World Heritage town, we will learn how the fusion of colonial Mexican and Caribbean architecture characterizes Tlacotlalpan. In the afternoon, we return to Veracruz to visit two citadels. Constructed by Spanish Conquistadores, San Juan de Ulúa is a complex of fortresses on an island overlooking the port of Veracruz. Baluarte de Santiago is all that remains of the city’s original walled defense system completed in 1635. The evening is free to enjoy this eccentric city. Due to the port, Europeans, Arabs, Africans, and people from the Caribbean islands all have contributed to the iconic Veracruz culture. It is a very special, easy-going 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 spontaneous dance performances. Dinner is on our own. (B/L/ )
Day 3: Located only a few miles north of Veracruz is Cempoala (Zempoala), the capital of the Totonacs and the first New World city encountered by Hernán Cortés after he landed near Veracruz. The Totonacs were a pre-Columbian group that emigrated to the Gulf Coast of Mexico from the central Mexican highlands. In the mid-15th century the community was defeated by the armies of Moctezuma I, and under their subjugation paid heavy taxes. When the Spanish arrived on the Gulf Coast, the chief of the Totonacs decided to join forces to battle the Aztecs and the city was a significant staging post in the conquest of Mexico. After viewing the archaeological site, we drive into the mountains to Xalapa, the capital of the state of Veracruz. It is known as the “Athens of Veracruz” because of the strong cultural influence of its major university, Universidad Veracruzana. Our end point is the city’s Anthropology Museum, certainly one of the most beautiful in Mexico. The unique structure 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 one home to artifacts of different ancient Mexican civilizations. Spend a leisurely afternoon examining the splendid display of art, with a concentration of artifacts from the Olmec civilization, the mother culture of Mesoamerica. Overnight in the Fiesta Inn Xalapa. (B/L/D)
Day 4: This morning, we return to the Gulf Coast and the archaeological site of Quiahuiztlan, spectacularly located on the terraced slopes of a volcanic mountain, with breathtaking views over Villa Rica, where Hernán Cortés first landed, and the azure sea beyond. Once enclosed by defensive walls, Quiahuiztlan is thought to have been a cemetery for the nobility of Cempoala with at least 70 miniature ‘houses’ spread over several levels. After our explorations, continue to Poza Rica and overnight at the Fiesta Inn for two nights. Gather this evening to dine on Veracruz Gulf coast cuisine. (B/L/D)
Day 5: El Tajin, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was one of the largest and most important ceremonial centers during the Classic era of Mesoamerica. The impressive stone structures are glorious, many intricately adorned with decorative carved reliefs. There are two distinct areas of the city with the oldest constructed according to the cardinal compass points and dominated by the Pyramid of the Niches, a masterpiece of ancient architecture. Each of the pyramid’s four sides is covered with rows of small niches fashioned from blocks of stone. There are 365 total, suggesting it was used as an astronomical calendar to track the days of the year. El Tajin was a center of trade that produced a multitude of luxury items that were traded over a wide area throughout Mesoamerica. The delicate, alluring buildings still standing proclaim the former wealth of this lovely city. In the afternoon, we will drive to Papantla in order to see the Voladores, an ancient ritual where men climb a tall pole and then launch themselves tied with ropes to twirl upside down to the ground as one man remains on top of the pole, dancing and playing a flute and drum. Move on to Castillo de Teayo, originally an ancient Huastec city. The primary pyramid towers three levels cut in the middle with a central stairway. During excavations in the late ‘40s, archaeologists found carved monuments depicting gods and rulers. There is a small site museum containing artifacts found in the area. Some of the sculptures are phallic in shape, very popular in some ancient Mesoamerican cultures. (B/L/D)
Day 6: We depart the tropical lowlands and drive into Mexico’s central highlands to awe-inspiring Cantona, one of the largest urban centers ever discovered in Mesoamerica covering almost five square miles. At the height of its occupation, the city was enclosed by a fortified wall and within have been found at least 24 ballcourts! Located along an old trading trail between the Gulf Coast and the Central Highlands, Cantona was the source of rich obsidian deposits extracted from the nearby Sierra de las Navajas. After spending time onsite, we continue to Puebla where we spend the night in Casa Reyna, an elegant boutique hotel located in the heart of the historic center. Dinner will be at the hotel’s excellent restaurant serving regional cuisine. (B/L/D)
Day 7: Founded in 1531, Puebla’s stunning historic center is an 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 settlement. During our morning walking tour, we will see graceful colonial mansions, the 16th-century Puebla Cathedral on the central square, or Zócalo, and Biblioteca Palafoxiana, a library dating from 1646. On our drive to Querétaro, stop to see the Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of an extensive hydraulic system. Initiated by a Franciscan friar in the 16th century, it incorporates the highest single-level arcade ever built in an aqueduct. Continue to Querétaro and overnight for two nights at the Meson de Santa Rosa. (B/L/D)
Day 8: A massive pyramid known as El Cerrito stands almost ten stories high towering over the outskirts of Querétaro. Originally settled by people of the enigmatic Chupicuaro culture around 300BC, the ceremonial center had a long history as a sacred sanctuary, seemingly honoring a mysterious and curvaceous deity of fertility, the powerful mother goddess. According to Franciscan records, devotees were still worshiping at the temple in the 15th century. Like the Castillo at Chichén Itzá, the pyramid has stairways on all four sides, and is topped by the remains of an early colonial church much like the great pyramid at Cholula. After visiting El Cerrito, spend the afternoon touring the historic town of Santiago de Querétaro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is divided into two distinct sections where the indigenous and Spanish lived peacefully during the 17th and 18th centuries – one the grid pattern street plan of the Spanish conquerors and the other the twisting, winding lanes where the multi-ethnic population lived. Many elaborately decorated civil and religious Baroque monuments from this golden age still stand in the historic center. Dominating the city’s skyline is an aqueduct created in the 18th century to channel water from a spring six miles away. Dinner is on our own. (B/L/ )
Day 9: This morning, we drive to San Miguel de Allende, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city was first established in 1542 to protect the Royal Route inland. It played a significant role as a onetime epicenter of the silver trade, and the past is revealed in the wealth of ornate baroque Spanish architecture of the 17th century to the 19th century Neo-Gothic. Sitting in front of the Plaza Allende, or Jardin Principal, is the Parroquia de San Miguel Archangel with a grand neo-gothic façade of pink limestone crowned by soaring towers. As we wander the streets lined with colonial-era homes and churches, stop to see the Casa de Allende Museum. This was the home of Ignacio Allende who was a principal figure in the early part of the Mexican War of Independence. After lunch in one of the charming local restaurants, move on to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Guanajuato where we overnight for four nights. Dinner is on our own. (B/L/ )
Day 10: The Bajío region includes parts of the states of Aguascalientes, Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Querétaro. Over the centuries, Native people settled here due to the fertile soil, temperate climate, and the presence of surface water for agriculture. The remains of these ancient cultures are to be found scattered throughout the countryside. Ignored until recently, archaeological investigations within that past decade have found the Bajío, although still little known, to be an important part of the Mesoamerican universe. Our morning jaunt takes us to Plazuelas, a large center constructed on a high artificial platform protected by steep ravines on three sides. The central plaza is encircled by decorated structures, and three appear to have been intentionally aligned with three hills that can be seen in the distance. A massive ball court, in the shape of a capital I, has been uncovered that had stone serpent figures at each corner along with a marker in the center. Hundreds of petroglyphs are dotted throughout Plazuelas, and near the ball court, a rock engraving displays a diagram of the site. Finds of turquoise, copper bells, seashells, and jadeite indicate an extensive trade network spanning from Guatemala to the Caribbean to New Mexico. Artifacts from the excavations are displayed in the small site museum. In the afternoon we explore Peralta, another Bajío site and one of the largest in the region. Surrounded by a multitude of terraced agricultural fields, the huge city once covered more than 300 acres. The primary structure is unique in Mesoamerica, merging a massive stepped pyramid with sunken patios and a circular structure built on top. (B/L/D)
Day 11: Scattered over the northern side of Cerro Barajas is one of the largest and best-preserved architectural ensembles in the state of Guanajuato. During the Barajas phase (650-950 AD), hundreds of structures were built of andesite slabs, quarried nearby. Curiously, around 950-1000AD a massive planned abandonment occurred, but before leaving the inhabitants inexplicably bricked up the doors of the buildings. The Camino Real Tierra Adentro, or Royal Road, was a 1,590 mile long trade route established by the Spanish between Mexico City and San Juan Pueblo in New Mexico and used from the middle of the 16th century to the 20th century. In 2010, 55 sites and five existing UNESCO World Heritage Sites along the Mexican section of the route were collectively added to the World Heritage List, including historic cities, towns, bridges, haciendas and other monuments. As we traverse Mexico’s central plateau, we will search out remnants of this age-old road. Dinner is on our own. (B/L/ )
Day 12: We begin the day at Arroyo Seco, a cave decorated with many prehistoric polychrome paintings depicting scenes of hunting and dancing along with an assortment of beasts – foxes, coyotes, dogs, eagles, spiders, and more. The age of the pictographs is not definite but were most likely created by nomadic hunter-gathering people. Dinner is on our own. (B/L/ )
Day 13: Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Santuario de Atotonilco was begun in 1740 by Father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro, who, it has said, experienced a vision of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns and walking with his cross. The padre worked with a local artist, Miguel Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre, who covered the interior walls depicting scenes from the Bible. Today, Atotonilco is a venerated town with worshippers and penitents from all over Mexico visiting on pilgrimage. Lunch will be in a nearby hacienda where we will not only dine but will be able to taste the succulent tequila produced here. Then we continue to Mexico City where we spend two nights in the Hotel Historico Central, housed in a beautifully restored 18th-century colonial building located in the historic center. (B/L/ )
Day 14: The Museo de la Antropología is not only the finest museum in the country, but also ranks among the greatest in the world. We will spend this morning examining the museum’s great collections, with special emphasis on the cultures in central Mexico. After time for lunch on our own at the museum café, move on to the vibrant Abelardo Rodriguez Market, the most important Mexican urban renewal project of the 1930s. It was originally designed as a cultural and educational space, housing not only a market but also a daycare center, theater, pharmacy, dance hall, and library. Unknown by tourists, the interior is a jewel of classic murals painted by acolytes and students of Diego Rivera, including American sisters Marion and Grace Greenwood. Our farewell dinner will be at one of Mexico City’s renowned fine restaurants. (B/ /D)
Day 15: Return to the USA. (B)
$9,395.00 (6 – 9 participants) (per person, double occupancy)
$8,995.00 (10 – 14 participants) (per person, double occupancy) includes round trip international airfare from a Texas gateway city into Villahermosa and out of Mexico City; all hotels; ground transportation; meals as noted; entry fees; and gratuities to guides and drivers.
Single Supplement: $1,295.00. Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement will be charged.
Cost does not include: a separate $150.00 (per person) donation check; passport or visa fees; airport or departure taxes; beverages or food not included on regular menus; laundry; excess baggage charges; personal tips; gratuities to guides and drivers; email, telephone and fax charges; or other items of a personal nature.
Fuel Surcharges: Far Horizons must pass on price increases when additional fuel charges are levied.
Donation Checks: 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 projects and museums 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 write a check to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person.
A deposit of $750.00 is required along with your registration form. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Upon receipt of your deposit and completed registration form, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information. Prior to the trip, we will send links to various websites of pertinent interest. Click here to download our Registration Form.
Cancellations and Refunds
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $450.00 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. Registrants are strongly advised to buy travel insurance that includes trip cancellation.
If you do not fly on the group flight, you are responsible for all flight arrangements and transportation (including airport transfers) to join the group. 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. If you issue your own international flight, please send the complete schedule as soon as you have it.
Private Tours of Archaeological Sites
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.
Travel in this part of the world
This trip is designed for adventure loving travelers and may involve schedule changes, poor road conditions, and long walks to reach some areas, including walks over steep gradients and over poorly maintained paths. Hiking boots or strong walking shoes are recommended. Beginning on day 6, the itinerary will be in Mexico’s central plateau at altitudes of 6,000 to 8,500 feet. In the tropical lowlands, it will be hot and muggy, but in the highlands the climate will be mild with cool evening temperatures. All participants are expected to be physically active and able to walk independently throughout our very full touring days. Keeping up with the group is each participant’s responsibility; please do not expect assistance from the other group members or staff. By maintaining a flexible mindset you will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites you will see. An open mind, spirit of adventure and a sense of humor are essential. If you have questions about your ability to handle this sort of challenge, please call us.
This Archaeological Tour to Hidden Mexico is limited to 12 participants