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Mayan Culture
Roots and Celebration

The ruins of fallen Mayan empires, the thriving cultures of their living descendants and spectacular Lent festivals of the cultura Maya.



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Trip Features

Explore 4 important Mayan Ceremonial Centers

Wild pre-Easter ceremonies

4 Highland Mayan villages

Highland Mayan villages

Jungle pools

Unparelleled access to the Mayan world.

Visit Mayan markets

Five nights in colonial San Cristobal de Las Casas

Small group travel

From the lowland jungles that housed the greatest of the ancient Maya cities to the mist-clad uplands where Maya villages and customs still thrive, this expedition transports us through 3,000 years of Maya history.

Our travels begin in the land of of one of Mexico's greatest ancient empires, Palenque with its grand palaces and immense pyramids. Then we head into the jungle, down a grand river and to the lost Mayan city of Yaxchilan, hidden under a dense canopy. We'll visit the ruins of Bonampak as well, famous for their colorful murals. And we'll visit the little-visited but very impressive ruins of Tonina with its seven levels and the place to the underworld. These once grand cities have been silent for more than a thousand years and only the stones recall the life and color that once filled these kingdoms.

Yet the Maya have not disappeared. Far from it! Mayan culture continues to thrive, and as we travel through the limestone mountains into the pine-clad Chiapan highlands we'll find ourselves in the heartland of a deeply traditional and wildly vital world of Maya. Staying in the beautiful colonial town of San Cristobal de Las Casas, we will travel into the Mayan villages with Chip Morris, Maya expert and author of The Living Maya. Our visits will take us into the new Mayan "pyramids", the very unusual Maya churches and saint's houses where we can get a taste of how 16th century Catholicism and Classic period Maya rites have fused. We'll also immerse ourselves (there is no other way) in the festivals of Lent, the boisterous, colorful, noisy and absolutely spectacular parading of the saint's. God sends them out of the churches to have a look at how the Mayans are keeping the world. The people do their best to show that the world is a happy place with a good party and everyone well dresses in the best of traditional fashion. The saints report back to God that all is well and the world is in balance for another year.

We will also visit markets, artisans, explore colonial San Cristobal to our hearts content 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, an opportunity to 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.

cultura maya


From jungle and pine forests, lowland ruins, highland villages.

When Feb 28 - March 8, 2016
Duration 9 nights

6-12 pax $2,550 per person, 3-5 pax $2,850 per person

Single supplment $375


Tour Itinerary by Day:
(B, L, D) = breakfast, lunch, dinner included.

Day 1, (D). Our trip starts in Palenque, Chiapas. This evening we will meet at the hotel to get to know each other and have dinner. There are flights to the new airport in Palenque from Mexico City . Evening in Palenque

Day 2, (B,L). An early breakfast and then we head to the ruined Mayan city of Palenque, ancestral homeland to many of the Mayans living in this area today. We will be guided through this elegant Mayan city, exploring palaces, temples and ruins down jungle trails. In the trees we may see or hear Howler monkeys or see a flying toucan. In the afternoon we'll travel into the Lancandon region to the riverside town of Frontera Corrozal which will be our base camp for tomorrow's jungle journey. Frontera means border and on the other side of the big river is Guatemala. Evening in Frontera.

Day 3, (B,L). ). This morning we climb aboard a river boat and head down the Usumacinta river to ruins of Yaxchilan, perched strategically above a horseshoe bend of this great river. We will explore the grand temples 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. In the afternoon we'll visit the ruins of Bonampak, lost from the world in the deep jungle until the mid 1940s. We will explore the ruins which are especially famous for the colorful frescos inside the temples. Evening will find us in Palenque for the night.


Day 4, (B,L,) We leave the jungle low-lands and begin our migration to the cool highlands. Our travels will take us to Agua Azul, one of the most gorgeous jungle swimming holes imaginable. Bring your swim suit! Here, mineralized, gem-blue water has formed step-like waterfall after waterfall, beneath which are inviting swimming holes surrounded by cool, green jungle vegetation. Early evening will find us arriving in beautiful San Cristobal de las Casas with its tiled roofs, ornate churches, pedestrian walks, shops, indigenous markets, bakeries, cafes, restaurants, museums which will be our home for the next five nights. Evening in San Cristobal.

Day 5, (B,L,) Having come from the land of the roots, the ancient and abandoned cities of the Maya where the celebration of a rich civilization has long gone silent…today we dive into the midst of the celebration of a vibrant and vital Mayan civilization! We travel to Magdalenas and find ourselves in the thick of a Lenten cacophony as the saints of three villages are brought together and paraded round the town plaza. Be prepared for a visual feast like few you’ve ever had; people by the hundreds in rich traditional dress, fireworks, candles, smoke, music, the dramatic mountains beyond…The party is Catholic, the rites centuries old and un-changed, the people Mayan, dressed and celebrating as they likely would have done in Palenque or Tonina one thousand years ago. Evening in San Cristobal.


Day 6, (B,L). The celebration continues! We will walk through the gateway of Mayan heaven today, at least for Chamula Maya, by stepping into the interior of this breathtaking church. But it is not the architecture that takes your breath away, rather it is the human presence, the prayers over candles, chanting shamans, pine needles and deep faith. It is also market day in Chamula so the plaza will be full of life and action. And then to neighboring Zinacantan to witness the walking of the saints on this fourth Friday of Lent. In this spectacular procession the ground is swept and a bed of flowers pedals is laid that the saint’s journey may be pleasant. Evening in San Cristobal.

Day 7, (B,L,) Today we stay home and explore the city around us. We’ll visit the town food market, the beautiful Mayan textile museum, and enjoy a leisurely wander through the streets of San Cristobal. There will be time in the afternoon to explore on your own or put your feet up. Evening in San Cristobal.


Day 8, (B, L). It is Sunday and we return to Zinacantan. There is a unique market today in this ethnic chic, fashion conscious village of clothing by the people for the people. A whole market of floral embroidered skirts, blouses and shawls for sale to a whole crowd of women wearing the same. It is quite a site to see! We’ll also meet some of the people who do this work. And, being an auspicious day, it is quite possible that there will be weddings and baptisms taking place in the church, which alone is worth the trip. Returning to San Cristobal we’ll have some free time in the afternoon or the option of a guided museum visit. Evening in San Cristobal.

Day 9, (B,L,D). This morning, a behind the scenes peek at a very high quality little cooperative of Mayan weavers organized by a committed French designer. Working as a group for decades they’ve created an elegant fusion of tradition and contemporary. After our visit with the group we’ll do a bit of time travel, visiting the old house turned museum called Na Balom that was the home of Danish explorers from a romantic era long ago. Then a special treat of lunch at the house of Chip Morris. You’ll have the afternoon free for last minute shopping, packing or naps followed by a final dinner on the town together. Evening in San Cristobal.

Day 10, (B) Those traveling home today will want to transfer to Tuxtla Gutierrez, about 1.5 hours, where flights can be booked to Mexico City.

All itineraries are subject to change without notice.

Recommended Reading

Morris, Chip, Living Maya, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, 1986.

Fomento Cultural Banamex, The Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art, Fomento Cultural Banamex, A.C., Mexico City, 1998.

Stephens, John L. Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, Vol. 1

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