Mexico Tour: In the Path of the Ancient Olmec
Olmec Tour: Travel to the remote sites of San Lorenzo, and Chalcatzingo plus the Xalapa and Mexico City Anthropology Museums.
with Dr. Karl Taube
Why Take This Tour?
- Led by renowned art historian Distinguished Professor Karl Taube
- Explore La Venta, San Lorenzo, Tres Zapotes, and Chalcatzingo
- The Historic Center of Puebla, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- The Historic Center of Mexico City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- View Olmec finds in the Xalapa Museum
- Mexico City’s Anthropology Museum
- Limited to 14 participants
(click to enlarge)
Day 1: Depart the USA
Day 2: Parque Museo La Venta. Carlos Pellicer Museum
Day 3: La Venta
Day 4: San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan. El Azuzul
Day 5: Tres Zapotes. Santiago Tuxtla
Day 6: Anthropology Museum of Xalapa
Day 7: Puebla city tour. Cholula
Day 8: Chalcatzingo
Day 9: Mexico City’s Anthropology Museum. Templo Mayor & Museum
Day 10: Fly back to the USA
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.
Tour Leader on this Mexico Archaeological Tour
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 The Major Gods of Ancient Yucatan, Aztec and Maya Myths, and Olmec Art at Dumbarton Oaks.
He has published extensively on the Olmec, including studies concerning the Olmec gods of rain and maize and the symbolism of jade as well as sourcing “Olmec blue” jadeite in Guatemala. 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 enjoyed 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 about the Olmec and of their influence on later cultures throughout Mesoamerica. Karl Taube’s contributions were monumental.’ – Randolph Sherman
Mexico Olmec Tour Itinerary
(B) breakfast, (L) lunch, (D) dinner
Day 1: Fly to Villahermosa
Fly to Villahermosa, Mexico and immediately transfer to the Holiday Inn for a light supper. Overnight for two nights. (D)
Day 2: Explore the Parque-Museo La Venta
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)
Day 4: Explore San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán
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)
Day 5: Tour Tres Zapotes and Santiago Tuxtla
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)
Day 6: Tour Xalapa
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)
Day 8: Explore Chalcatzingo and Travel to Mexico City
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)
Day 9: Mexico’s Museo Nacional de Antropología
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)
Day 10: Return to the USA
Return to the USA. (B)
Mexico Tour Cost
CALL (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: CALL. 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; necessary vaccines or tests; 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 per person 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 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. Insurance recommended by Far Horizons can be reviewed by clicking HERE.
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, especially at Chalcaltzingo. Some hotels in this off-the-beaten-tourist-trail area may not be up to western standards. 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 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. 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 Mexico is limited to 14 participants