But step into one of the classic archaeological sites at Oaxaca – Monte Alban or Mitla for example – and the ‘Jade City’ will introduce you to a much older civilisation.
At Palenque there are ruins dating back to 100 BC and a cavern with a waterfall and subterranean swimming pool. At Campeche, Merida and Chichén Itza there are Mayan palaces, temples, bizarre statues and strange deities - whilst Tulum combines ancient history with modern luxury and a sublime beach.
London – Mexico City
Depart from London Heathrow just after midday, to arrive in Mexico City in the early evening. You’ll be driven to your luxury hotel, less than an hour away. You’ll be staying in the fashionable Polanco District, close to upmarket shops, restaurants, galleries and museums. A very civilised way to begin your tour.
Stay: Two nights in a deluxe room at Hotel Las Alcobas.
Today you take a short flight to Oaxaca – the ‘Jade City’ that was founded in 1522 and still features some world class archaeological sites; Monte Alban and Mitla being the most prominent amongst them. But actually you’ll be surrounded by living examples of the history that underlies Oaxaca, because the people here are direct descendants of the original Zapotecs and Mixtecs residents of the region. More evidence of the local traditions are to be found at the Saturday Indian Market where you’ll be able to bargain for superb examples of Mexican hand-embroidered clothing, jewellery and black clay pottery.
Stay: Three nights in Casa Oaxaca.
Fly from Oaxaca via Mexico City to Tuxtla Gutierrez and you’ll be met and taken to your hotel, pausing on the way for an enchanting river cruise through the Sumidero Canyon. You’ll be staying in the heart of San Cristobel – your hotel is actually next to the Amber Museum – so the next day you can explore the city before visiting the Indian villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacanta. The first is a fascinating Tzotzil-speaking community, whilst Zinacantan is famous for its flower growing, its history of trading salt for amber, cacao and quetzal feathers. It also offers vividly patterned woven textiles, usually created by women using the traditional waist looms.
Stay: Two nights in a deluxe suite at Hotel Bo.
Now you can experience a modern take on a Mayan palace complex. You’ll be driven to see the stunning Agua Azul Waterfalls, before journeying on to Palenque and a resort that features waterfalls that echo those of the ruins at Palenque, plus a pre-Hispanic design and superb contemporary amenities.
The real Palenque is close by. Your guide will show you the ruined Mayan city that dates back to around 100 BC and today still features well preserved buildings, carefully conserved by anthropologists as well as local people. You’ll visit the waterfall of Misol Ha and follow a trail to a cavern with a subterranean waterfall and natural swimming pool.
Stay: Two nights in a junior suite at Quinta Cha Nab Nal
A range of breath-taking landscapes await you as you take a five hour drive to Campeche and your hotel, which is actually a restored 17th century mansion. You’ll be able to relax beside the pool after your drive, whilst the following day will see you up and about early – the better time to tour the historic centre of Campeche including the highly photogenic Zocalo or main plaza with its busy market. You’ll also visit the Francisco de Paula Toro Theatre and Campeche’s outstanding cathedral, as well as the classic archaeological site of Edzna and the remarkable temple standing in a historic plaza.
Stay: Two nights in a superior room at Hacienda Puerta Campeche.
You pick up your hire car and set off for Merida. En route you’ll enjoy a guided tour of the Mayan archaeological site at Uxmal, famed for its elaborate stucco work and detailed facades. You’ll also see the Entwined Serpents in the Nun’s Courtyard and the eerie masks of the rain god Chac – not to mention the Temple of the Magician, the Governor’s Palace and the Temple of the Turtles. Driving on will bring you to the quaint town of Merida with its typical Colonial-period buildings, pretty streets and graceful plazas.
A tour of the historic town centre will immerse you in local markets, the museum of Canton Palace, the Monumento a la Patria and Paseo Montejo. At Dzibichaltun you’ll discover an extensive Mayan temple complex with a huge cenote that you can actually swim in.
Stay: Two nights in an executive room at Hotel Hacienda Merida
One of the world’s most noted Mayan cities awaits. Chichen Itza was originally a Mayan city until the 12 century AD when it became the capital of the Toltec Empire. A vast pyramid-like building, imposing reclining statues and strangely carved columns remain, making this one of the country’s most important sites. You’ll be staying close by, in the hotel once used by the leading archaeologists who excavated the nearby temples.
Stay: One night in a standard room at Hacienda Chichen.
Rise early and take another trip to the Chichen Itza ruins before the sun climbs high in the sky. Then drive off to Tulum and complete relaxation. You’ll be staying in a luxurious, beachside boutique hotel just a few minutes from the classic Mayan ruins at Tulum, but you’ll also be perfectly positioned to take wildlife tours of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, dive on a 200 mile coral reef, enjoy water sports like snorkelling and kayaking or simply relax and soak up some sun on a palm-fringed beach.
Stay: Thee nights in a garden view room at the Ana & Jose Charming Hotel.
Cancun – London
You drop off your hire car at the airport and fly out of Cancun in the afternoon. You’ll arrive at London Gatwick early the following morning.