Maya! Jungle Ruins and Day of the Dead

Oct. 30 - Nov. 7, 2019

Quick Details

  • Dates: Oct. 30 – Nov. 7, 2019
  • Duration: Nine days/eight nights
  • Where: Highland Chiapas

About the Maya Tour

Become fully immersed in the vital, vibrant, and dynamic Maya culture.

This trip is a full immersion into the vital, vibrant, and dynamic Maya culture, from the mist-clad uplands, where Maya villages and customs still thrive, to the lowland jungles that housed the greatest of the ancient Maya cities. This expedition transports you through 3,000 years of Maya history.

Our travel coincides with the Day of the Dead celebrations when the souls of the ancestors are believed to return from beyond. This grand festival happens throughout Mexico, but to experience it in the culturally rich Maya world is a truly special experience.

From a crag-top graveyard, brilliant with flower-covered tombs and the equally colorful and floral villagers, to a hill covered in blue crosses draped with orange marigolds, we see how the dead are remembered in ways somber and raucous. Spend a fascinating moment walking among the Maya, their culture, language, and ways, still alive and well. Floral blouses, wool cloaks, the scent of incense, and beribboned musicians transport us to another world.

Next, we’re off to the jungle! This is the land of one of Mexico’s greatest ancient stories, the stage of the dynasties and kingdoms of the Maya. From Palenque with its grand palaces and immense pyramids to the riverside ruins of Yaxchilan, hidden under a dense canopy and only accessible by boat, to the colorful murals of Bonampak, we visit the homes of the ancestors of the highland Maya.

We also visit markets and artisans, explore colonial San Cristobal, and get an intimate look at a way of living and being that few outsiders get to see. This is an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the life of the Maya, both ancient and contemporary, marvel at the ancient cities in the jungle, and realize that the people and cultures that created those places have not disappeared but continue to thrive in a far corner of an exotic land.


Highlights:

  • Day of the Dead celebrations among the Maya
  • The hill of twenty crosses
  • Red tile roofs, cobbled streets
  • Early morning visit to the ruins of Palenque
  • Olmec stone heads
  • The river highway to Yaxchilan
  • Jungle waterfalls

Important Travel Note:

This tour begins in San Cristobal de las Casas and ends in Villahermosa. The closest airport to San Cristobal is Tuxtla Gutierrez, about an hour away. Villahermosa has an airport in the city. We recommend people purchase round-trip airfare to Mexico City and purchase one-way flights from Mexico City to Tuxtla and from Villahermosa to Mexico City. Aeromexico, Interjet, Volaris, and Aeromar are all good Mexican airlines. As an alternative, some people have purchased roundtrip airfare from their home base to either Tuxtla or Villahermosa. These cities are connected by frequent bus service – about five hours/$25 on first-class buses. WWW.ADO.COM.MX

  • Chevron down What's Included
    • All lodging during trip based on double occupancy
    • Most meals (listed on itinerary)
    • Superb guide
    • Transport in private van
    • Entry fees
  • Chevron down Not Included
    • Airfare and transportation to and from the pick-up/drop-off locations
    • Lodging before and after the trip
    • Personal items purchased during the trip
    • Alcoholic beverages
    • Some meals are not included. On these trips, Traditions Mexico invites you to explore the local cuisine at your leisure.
    • Gratuities for your Traditional Mexico guides may be given at your discretion in response to their professionalism and leadership. The industry standard is for each individual guest to tip the guide team 5-10% of the trip price.
    • Room service
    • Travel Visa fees
  • Chevron down Itinerary
  • B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner included in trip cost

    Day 1, Oct. 30 – Welcome (D)

    Fly into Tuxtla Gutierrez and transfer to San Cristobal de las Casas, a highland town of red tile roofs, cobbled streets, and lively humanity. We meet at our hotel for conversation and dinner at 6 p.m.

    Evening in San Cristobal

    Day 2, Oct. 31 – Arriving at our First Destination (BL)

    We introduce ourselves to the place where we have landed, literally getting our feet on the ground, connecting to this spot of earth and humanity. We walk through the town of San Cristobal, absorbing the flavors of this cultural hub that draws people from the surrounding Maya village nations and from nations much farther away.

    Our footsteps take us through an artisan market under a canopy of trees and a produce market under a canopy of tarps and tin roofs. Peek into churches musty with 400 years of chilly humidity and innovative shops that tie the past and present. We also travel to a place called Chamula and to the heart of a Maya village nation. Here, Tzotzil (not Spanish) is the first language, and a walk inside the church is like a visit into another world. Welcome to the Maya highlands of Mexico’s far south!

    Evening in San Cristobal

    Day 3, Nov. 1 – Graveyard Festival (BLD)

    Twenty towering blue crosses adorned with pine boughs and marigolds top a low hill of cropped grass covered with simple graves. This graveyard is where the Chamula nation comes out in force and in style to remember and celebrate with their ancestors. It is a party for the dead that shouldn’t be missed in this lifetime!

    Maya people dressed to the T in beautifully woven clothing, be-ribboned musicians playing accordions and 12-stringed Maya guitars, pink cotton candy, red balloons, and orange flower petals make this the most colorful celebration you’ve ever seen. Become part of this very Mexican and uniquely Maya festival.

    When our senses have had their fill, we travel onward, finding lunch in Teopisca, famous for its fresh corn, sweet tamales, sausages, and pickled palm heart – a favorite Sunday brunch retreat for locals. Then we head to a quiet graveyard surrounded by corn on a hill overlooking the village of Amatenango and soak up the presence of this Maya valley, so very different from the boisterous fiesta on the cross-topped hill this morning.

    Evening in San Cristobal

    Day 4, Nov. 2 – Solemn Flowers (BL)

    Day of the Dead is a celebration adorned with blossoms. The Maya village of Zinacantan is famous for flowers, both the cultivated ones from their fields and the embroidered ones on their clothing. Imagine walking into their cemetery on a crag above the village to find every man, woman, and child dressed in their floral best and each tomb covered with grand bouquets. Today, you don’t have to imagine it. But unlike the party atmosphere of Chamula yesterday, Zinacantan is almost somber. On this wind-brushed mountaintop, you can almost hear the flowers whispering.

    From here we leave the deep Maya world and head into the graveyard of San Cristobal, a grand, almost fortress-like walled city in miniature, with little Gothic chapels and tiny modern houses for the deceased. From the celebrations and silences in three Maya villages and an urban graveyard, we get a sense of this singularly Mexican ceremony for the dead with a Maya cultural twist.

    Evening in San Cristobal

    Day 5, Nov. 3 – Into the Jungle (BLD)

    Our journey’s pace changes today as we leave the land of the living Maya nations and the cool highlands. We begin our migration to the jungle lowlands, to the land of the roots, the origins, the ancient and abandoned cities of the Maya where the celebration of a rich civilization has long gone silent.

    Befitting such a journey, our road is long and sinuous, winding through pine forests that slowly give way to the greenery of tropical exuberance and bouncing past small villages and large towns of farmers and ranchers. Near trail’s end, we pull off the highway and into the jungle, get out, stretch with a sigh, and breathe in the lush and humid air.

    Before us, pouring off a tall cliff is a wildly misting cascade of water. This is Misol Ha. We call it our gateway into the other world of the jungle and the ghost-memory of the spectacular kingdoms that once filled these valleys and plains. Early evening finds us arriving in the town of Palenque and a hotel with good air conditioning and even a swimming pool!

    Evening in Palenque

    Day 6, Nov. 4 – Palenque (BLD)

    The air in the lowlands is humid and delicious to taste at dawn. It’s a perfect time to venture into the forest and across the plazas of ancient Maya cities. We head out early to visit the breathtaking ruined Maya city of Palenque. We are guided through this elegant Maya city, exploring palaces, temples, and ruins down jungle trails. From the trees around us, we can hear the calls of exotic birds, the buzzing of jungle crickets, and perhaps even the roar of howler monkeys or the caw of a flying toucan.

    Next, we travel deeper, our road paralleling the Usumacinta river, which was a highway for the ancient Maya. We settle in a town called Frontera Corozal, on the banks of that wide river, which is to become a highway for us after sunrise tomorrow.

    Evening in Frontera

    Day 7, Nov. 5 – Yaxchilan (BL)

    On a great horseshoe bend of the Usumacinta river, where the trade and commerce of this jungle highway could be controlled, rose the dynasty of Yaxchilan. That same horseshoe curve in the broad river served as a flowing, moat-like protection for this city, leaving it exposed by land only at the narrow neck on one side – a good strategy for a kingdom in competition with those around, including Palenque.

    But we are welcomed there this morning, traveling down the river on long motor boats, then climbing up the banks, under the deep canopy of the forest, and among the stone walls of grand temples rescued from the roots of trees with their ornate facades and decoration. Jungle trails lead past huge tree trunks to semi-excavated temples, long stairways among the trees, and shady creeks. This is truly a city lost in time!

    In the afternoon, we return to the town of Palenque, stopping to visit the ruins of Bonampak, rediscovered by archaeologists in the jungle in the mid-1940s. Though small, these ruins are famous for the well-preserved murals that, with Maya elegance, depict warfare and bloodletting.

    Evening in Palenque

    Day 8, Nov. 6 – Out of the Jungle (BLD)

    The final leg of our journey takes us from Palenque out into the vast wetland plains of Tabasco, bathed in the warm, humid air coming off the Gulf of Mexico. We visit the jungle waterfalls of Agua Blanca before coming to the more urban jungle of Villahermosa, where we spend the night amid the bustle of this gulf coast business hub.

    While here, we visit a jungle preserve in the heart of the city, reluctant, perhaps, to leave the forests with their wild animals and stone ruins behind. La Venta park in Villahermosa is a fabulous open-air museum of Olmec stone relics, including the spectacular stone heads of the Olmecs. It’s a zoo as well, so animals abound in this urban wilderness.

    Evening in Villahermosa

    Day 9, Nov. 7 – ¡Buen Viaje! (B)

    After breakfast, we say our final adioses. There is a convenient international airport in Villahermosa.