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Yucatan: Mayan Ruins & Colonial Cities (self-drive)


FCB12C
12 NIGHTS
FROM £1,998
International flights + car hire quoted separately
If you are sufficiently confident in Spanish to self-drive in Mexico, this fascinating holiday explores the key archaelogical sites of the Yucatan Peninsula - including Uxmal & Chichen Itza - and charming colonial cities such as Campeche & Merida. Complete your holiday relaxing on the beaches, swimming, snorkelling or diving in the warm turquoise waters of the Riviera Maya.
Self Drive Holiday Yucatan Peninsula Mexico Chichen Itza Photo
• 
Cancun
• 
Tulum
• 
Kohunlich
• 
Palenque
• 
Campeche
• 
Uxmal
• 
Merida
• 
Chichen Itza
• 
Riviera Maya beaches
• 
Snorkelling & Diving
• 
Cancun
• 
Tulum
• 
Kohunlich
• 
Palenque
• 
Campeche
• 
Uxmal
• 
Merida
• 
Chichen Itza
• 
Riviera Maya beaches
• 
Snorkelling & Diving
Day 1
Arrive at Cancun Airport, collect your hire car and drive to your hotel.
 
Situated on the northeast coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, this popular holiday city is the gateway to the Caribbean resorts of the Riviera Maya. Check in, settle in and relax in this tropical paradise.
 
On self-drive holidays in Mexico, you must pay your own entrance fees locally. Be aware that traffic lights are situated AFTER each crossing and road signage will be very poor (or non-existent). Be careful of unannounced speed bumps, and remain alert for pedestrians, cyclists and animals on the road. Do not drive at night and fill up your car every morning, to avoid running out of petrol on . Never leave anything visible in your vehicle when parked.
Day 2
Today drive 5-hours from Cancún to Chetumal, situated on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsua.
 
Your first stop will be Tulum situated on the magnificent Caribbean coast. In Tulum National Park you will find a famous 13th-century walled Mayan archaeological site that overlooks the Caribbean coast, with its white sandy beaches and warm turquoise waters. See the clifftop 'Castillo' (built as a watchtower) and the 'Templo de las Pinturas', with its partially restored mural.
 
Continue to the market town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, originally known as Chan Santa Cruz and the rebel headquarters during the Caste War of 1847, when the indigenous people rose against the white landowners. Here you will find 'The Speaking Cross', where the Mayan rebels heard a mysterious voice coming from the lake encouraging them to continue fighting with the promise of victory. For some years the Mayans resisted Mexican federal troops but by the end of the 19th century, weakened by epidemics and short of weapons, they were defeated.
 
As you drive to towards Chetumal, there is the opportunity to stop at the Cenote Azul ('Blue Cenote') for a swim. A cenote is a natural limestone sinkhole with exposed groundwater underneath. They are full of legend, as the Mayan people regarded them as the gateways to the world of the dead and used them for rain, life, death, rebirth and fertility rituals, as well as for sacrificial offerings.
 
You can also visit 18th century Fort of San Felipe, built to keep an eye on the English who were illegally felling precious wood at that time. This fort is now a regional museum, reviving the era of piracy in the Caribbean and the Caste War. Check into your hotel in Chetumal.
Day 3
Rise early today so that you can visit the Mayan Museum in Chetumal, before departing (by 9 am latest) for your 2-hour journey southwest to Chicanná, stopping along the way to visit three impressive Mayan archaelogical sites.
 
The massive Kohunlich Ruins are spread over 21 acres, with almost 200 mounds hidden in dense jungle - most of which remain unexcavated. Meaning 'Place of the Palm Oil Tree', this important city was the main centre for its production. Its most famous structure is the 'Pyramid of the Masks', whose central stairway is flanked by six huge humanised stucco masks. This represents the king of the stars, surrounded by the celestial serpent and the jaguar of the underworld.
 
Continue to the much less developed Becan Ruins, a small archaelogical site that was once a major ceremonial centre. Meaning 'Road of the Serpent', its has long single storey buildings with doors in the form of a serpent´s mouth. The facades are decorated with smaller masks, geometrical motifs and columns.
 
Finally visit the Chicanná Ruins, a very small but rewarding archeological site. The design on the famous 'House of the Serpent Mouth' inspired the Mayan name for this town. The façade is a magnificent representation of the cult of the serpent, a sacred animal that was the symbol of life and fertility. Stone-carvings and paintings embellish the structures and the door of the temple looks like the open mouth of  a serpent prepared to receive offerings. Then check into your hotel in Chicanna, where the majority of the citizens are of Mayan descent.
Day 4
Today leave Chicanna early (06.45 latest) and drive 6.5-hours to Palenque, the largest Mayan city ever discovered in Mexico, with some of the countries best Mayan temples.
 
Stop along the way to visit the amazing Calakmul Ruins. This 'Kingdom of the Snake' was one of the largest and most powerful ancient cities ever uncovered in the Mayan lowlands, situated deep in a protected jungle reserve. A staggering 6,750 structures have been found here, the largest of which is the Great Pyramid with its royal tomb - the highest and oldest pyramid in the central lowlands. A large number of funeral masks made of  jade and 115 steles have also been discovered at this site.
 
Afterwards continue to Palenque, situated deep in the dense jungle far from the outside world, giving it a wonderful atmosphere.
 
Note: A visit to Calakmul is suitable only if you have good mobility, as it involves a 4 km walk through the rainforest. Remember to wear long trousers and take insect repellent.
Day 5
This morning we suggest an early visit to the famous Palenque Temple Ruins, before driving 5-hours to the colonial city of Campeche.
 
Palenque is a relatively small archaelogical site dating from around 226 BC to 799 AD, but it contains some of the finest architecture, sculpture, roof comb and bas-relief carvings that the Mayans ever produced and much of their history has been reconstructed from reading the hieroglyphic inscriptions on these monuments. The most famous ruler of Palenque was Pacal the Great, whose tomb has been found and excavated in the Temple of the Inscriptions. Less than 10% of this ancient city has been excavated so far, leaving over a thousand structures still to be discovered.
 
Afterwards drive through the pretty fishing village of Sabancuy on the way to Campeche, with its captivating port filled with naval history, baroque Spanish architecture and aging beauty. After nearly a century of invasion by French, Dutch and English pirates, this city was fortified by the Spanish in 1686 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site with over 1,000 buildings of historical significance. It is one of the most photogenic cities in Mexico.
Day 6
This morning leave Campeche and drive 4-hours to Mérida, the cultural capital of the Yucatán Peninsula since the Spanish conquest.
 
Along the way we stop at Uxmal (meaning 'built in three stages'), an ancient Mayan city renowned for its palaces arranged around patios and courtyards. These homes are richly sculptured and decorated with thousands of small polished stones, set in geometric mosaics. The key buildings at this archaelogical site are the Fortune Teller’s Pyramid, the Governor’s Palace and the Quadrangle of the Nuns.
 
Continue to Mérida - known as the 'White City' - the cultural capital of the Yucatán Peninsula since the Spanish conquest. This is a town steeped in history with narrow streets, broad central plazas, thriving markets and the region’s best museums. It has colonial houses as well as houses that date back to the beginning of the last century in Arabic, French and Italian styles, thanks to wealth generated from the sisal trade. From Mérida’s Zócalo you can admire the city’s main monuments - the Cathedral, Government Palace, Municipal Palace and Francisco Montejo’s House.
 
Note: In Merida only use public car parks or leave your car at your, as the police are very strict.
Day 7
Today leave Merida and drive 2-hours to historic Chichen Itza in the lowlands.
 
Chichen Itza (meaning 'Entrance to the Witches Well') is home to the most famous Mayan ruins in Mexico. The focal point of the Northern Mayan lowlands empire from AD 600 until AD 1200, this city had the most diverse population in all the Mayan world. Therefore there are a wide variety of architectural styles at this site.
 
The most spectacular pyramid is El Castillo with its rich cosmological symbolism - all four sides have 365 steps (number of days in a solar year), 52 rectangles (years in a Mayan century) and 18 terraces (months of their religious calendar). Other structures include the enormous Ballcourt, the Observatory, Temple of a Thousand Columns, Kukulcán Temple, Warrior’s Temple, Convent of the Nuns, El Mercado (market place) and the Sacred Cenote (pool) where human sacrifices were carried out.
 
Note: At Chichen Itza entrance to the “Light and Sound” show (from 20h00 to 21h00), is included in your ticket, so keep the bracelet given on entry and you won’t have to pay again.
Day 8
Today drive 3-hours from Chichen Itza to your beach resort on the spectacular Riviera Maya. Along the way you can visit the ruins at Coba, where bicycles can be hired.
 
On arrival drop off your hire car and check into your hotel. Then relax on the shores of the Caribbean Sea with its warm turquoise waters, sandy beaches and wonderful snorkelling and diving.
Day 9
At leisure to relax at your tropical resort on the spectacular Riviera Maya, lapped by the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.
 
The Great Mayan Reef (Mesoamerican Barrier Reef) stretches from the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula to the islands off the coast of Honduras and is the largest coral reef in the northern hemisphere. Hundreds of species of fish and many endangered and protected marine animals are found here – including Loggerhead, Leatherback, Green, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley sea turtles, Whale sharks and West Indian manatees – making this a paradise for snorkelling and diving.
 
There are many optional activities in this holiday area, including snorkelling at Xel-Ha waterpark (the largest natural aquarium in the world); zip lining at Xplor adventure park; day visits to the famous archaeological sites at Chichen Itza or Tulum; the Mayan caves in Aktun Chen; Sian Ka'anor biosphere reserve and Xcaret cultural theme park.
 
Try a Mayan spa treatment or simply stroll along Fifth Avenue and absorb the holiday atmosphere of Playa del Carmen with its wide variety of bars, restaurants and shops.
Day 10
At leisure to relax at your tropical resort on the spectacular Riviera Maya, lapped by the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.
 
The Great Mayan Reef (Mesoamerican Barrier Reef) stretches from the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula to the islands off the coast of Honduras and is the largest coral reef in the northern hemisphere. Hundreds of species of fish and many endangered and protected marine animals are found here – including Loggerhead, Leatherback, Green, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley sea turtles, Whale sharks and West Indian manatees – making this a paradise for snorkelling and diving.
 
There are many optional activities in this holiday area, including snorkelling at Xel-Ha waterpark (the largest natural aquarium in the world); zip lining at Xplor adventure park; day visits to the famous archaeological sites at Chichen Itza or Tulum; the Mayan caves in Aktun Chen; Sian Ka'anor biosphere reserve and Xcaret cultural theme park.
 
Try a Mayan spa treatment or simply stroll along Fifth Avenue and absorb the holiday atmosphere of Playa del Carmen with its wide variety of bars, restaurants and shops.
Days 11 To 12
At leisure to relax at your tropical resort on the spectacular Riviera Maya, lapped by the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.
 
The Great Mayan Reef (Mesoamerican Barrier Reef) stretches from the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula to the islands off the coast of Honduras and is the largest coral reef in the northern hemisphere. Hundreds of species of fish and many endangered and protected marine animals are found here – including Loggerhead, Leatherback, Green, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley sea turtles, Whale sharks and West Indian manatees – making this a paradise for snorkelling and diving.
 
There are many optional activities in this holiday area, including snorkelling at Xel-Ha waterpark (the largest natural aquarium in the world); zip lining at Xplor adventure park; day visits to the famous archaeological sites at Chichen Itza or Tulum; the Mayan caves in Aktun Chen; Sian Ka'anor biosphere reserve and Xcaret cultural theme park.
 
Try a Mayan spa treatment or simply stroll along Fifth Avenue and absorb the holiday atmosphere of Playa del Carmen with its wide variety of bars, restaurants and shops.
Day 13
Transfer 1.5-hours to Cancun Airport for your flight home.

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