Sunny Mexico: Mayan Yucatan and Coast (8D/7N)
This holiday of just over a week takes you to the relatively flat, tropical Yucatán Peninsula in the sunny south east coast of the country. Inland, among the jungles, scrub and farmland, sitting alongside charming Spanish colonial towns and villages, is Chichén Itzá, the greatest archaeological achievement of the Mayan Empire.
You’ll explore the ruins on a guided tour. You’ll also discover Mérida, the Yucatán’s colonial capital infused with Mayan culture, and visit historic haciendas (country estates) before heading to the beach for a couple of days relaxing or indulging in water sports or the lively nightlife at family-friendly Playa del Carmen, where there’s a huge range of excursions on offer from visits to other Mayan sites to scuba-diving
Day 1 Arrive in Cancún, Mexico, transfer to hotel at the resort.
Cancún straddles a lagoon on the north-eastern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula. It's a purpose-built resort. Beautiful beaches, good diving and water sports are the main attractions, alongside the facilities that come with five-star hotels, high-class shopping and both fashionable nightclubs and boozy bars.
Day 2 Transfer to Chichén Itzá, ruined Mayan city.
Chichén Itzá is the best known and most meticulously restored of the Yucatán's vast array of Mayan archaeological sites. It overwhelms the visitor with the vast scale of its temples and pyramids, intricate carvings and evocative ball courts. You'll come across multiple images of the Mayan rain god, and Quetzalcóatl, the plumed serpent. Your guided tour will help make sense of it all.
As a bonus, hidden in the woodland, you’ll come across the bright green waters of the steeple-sided cenotes, or limestone sink-holes. You spend the night at a resort close to the ruins.
Day 3 Re-visit Chichén Itzá, move on to Mérida.
On your second day at Chichén Itzá you may visit the ruins again independently (you'll need pay get in this time). However, if you go early enough, you'll have a chance to see this most impressive and imperial of sites before the crowds arrive, and when the light is best.
Later it’s back on the road to Mérida, founded by the Mayan Indians but, once conquered by the Spanish conquistadores, it became immensely wealthy from the production of sisal, cactus fibres used to make rope. The city was culturally and geographically isolated from the rest of the country until transport infrastructure reached it in the 1950s.
Today, Mérida has a lovely colonial centre with a mix of opulent and crumbly buildings, but it is a modern, bustling, thriving city with some excellent places to eat and good shops and markets. The inhabitants love a good fiesta, and you may well find one going on, with live music and street stalls, while you are there. Stroll around the sunny streets, shop for local lace or one of the region's famous hammocks.
Day 4 Day trip to visit historic Yucatán haciendas and swim in cenotes.
Head out of town for a guided tour of Hacienda Yaxcopoil which dates back to the 17th century. On this lovely estate you will find the vestiges of three periods of Mexican history; pre- Columbian, Spanish colonial and the booming sisal fibre trade of the 19th and early 20th century.
Continue to Peba to peer down into (or take a dip in) a cenote, surrounded by a wide variety of flora still used in traditional Mayan medicine. The shallow and transparent water of this limestone sink-hole entices you in for a lovely swim.
Later, visit another hacienda, Ochil. In the 18th century the boom in the production of sisal fibre created great fortunes in the region; the lucky proprietors showed off their wealth in the building of luxurious residences, many of which have now been restored. The main house displays interesting photographs and drawings from that period, there's museum and a restaurant serving regional dishes.
Day 5 Guided tour of Mérida.
Your guided excursion takes in the highlights of Mérida. Many of these are within the historical area around the Plaza Mayor such as its baroque cathedral, the oldest in Latin America, and the Municipal and Government Palaces.
Other attractions include the attractive Peon Conteras theatre, Hidalgo Park with its open-air cafes, and the university. Centenario Park, a few blocks away, has a small zoo, and further north, the beautiful Palacio Cantón houses the Museum of Anthropology and History with many Mayan artefacts on show.
Day 6 Transfer to Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera.
Take a public coach ride back to the Caribbean coast. Public buses in Mexico are very comfortable. Most have air conditioning on very high and occasionally a film will be shown which you may or may not want to watch (some can be a bit lurid).
Despite becoming an increasingly popular holiday resort, Playa del Carmen, or 'Playa', still retains much of its ramshackle beach town atmosphere. Crystal-clear turquoise waters make for good swimming, snorkelling and diving. Laid out in a grid system, this hip city has plenty of good restaurants and bars to chose from, with most tourist and nightlife activity taking place on Avenida 5, parallel to the beach.
Day 7 At leisure on the Caribbean coast.
Aside from its lovely beach Playa has many excursions and activities on offer which you can book locally. Head off to the cliff-top Mayan ruins at Tulum, or inland to the pyramids of jungle-stifled Cobá. Alternatively turn seaward with kayaking, sailing, snorkelling and diving options.
Day 8 Transfer to Cancún airport for your international flight.