Mexico & Cuba Highlights


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    An old Latin favourite and new Caribbean crush combine for this unforgettable journey through Mexico and Cuba.

    Mexico and Cuba may be geographical neighbours but they’re polar opposites when it comes to tourism, with Mexico a long-term traveller’s favourite and Cuba the hottest new ticket for spirited adventurers. Having explored Mexico City and the great ruins of Teotihuacan, we experience the colonial history of Puebla and Oaxaca before continuing south to San Cristobal. Discover the magnificent Palenque Maya ruins, the beautiful Yucatan Peninsula and world-famous Chichen Itza before flying to Havana, Cuba’s charming capital. In Cuba, we revel in Havana’s faded glory before moving to the Vinales region, known for its tobacco growing and cigar factories. On the south of the island is colonial Trinidad, where we can wander the cobblestone streets and listen to Cuban rhythms in the Case de La Trova, before visiting Santa Clara and the memorials dedicated to revolutionary hero, Che Guevara.

    Highlights

    • Your 2-night Feature stay at Hotel Geneve in Mexico City is a property with more than 100 years of history. This elegant ‘museum hotel’ is located in the Pink zone, close to restaurants and shops
    • Discover the culinary wonders of Oaxaca before heading southward to the town of San Cristobal, complete with its traditional Indian communities
    • Explore the magnificent Palenque Mayan ruins
    • Then take a flight to Havana and see all its faded glory, waiting to be explored. A guided walking tour of Havana helps you to understand the difference between country and city life in Cuba
    • Your 2-night Feature stay at Hotel Nacional in Havana which is considered a symbol of history, culture and Cuban identity
    • On the south of the island you’ll discover colonial Trinidad, where you can wander the cobblestone streets and listen to Cuban rhythms in the Casa de La Trova
    • Discover the history of the Cuban Revolution. In Santa Clara you will visit the memorials dedicated to revolutionary hero, Ernesto Che Guevara

    Itinerary

    Day 1: Mexico City
    Arrive at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport and enjoy a complimentary transfer to your hotel.  Meet your tour leader and other group members in the evening, with an optional group dinner at a nearby restaurant. Mexico City could easily keep you busy for a week, so you may want to consider arriving a day or two before the start of your trip. The Leon Trotsky and Frida Kahlo museums are two popular sights worth checking out that aren’t included in this trip. Trotsky, having come off second-best to Stalin in the Soviet era, was expelled and found refuge in Mexico City where he was eventually murdered, while Frida Kahlo is perhaps the most renowned Mexican artist in history.

    Day 2: Mexico City
    Today is a long but worthwhile day with a city tour starting at approximately 8.30 am. Visit the impressive National Museum of Anthropology before heading to the Zocalo (main square) for a trip to the Cathedral and National Palace. You’ll discover that Mexico City is an exciting mix of modern cosmopolitan glamour with remnants from both its ancient and colonial history. The tour will finish at approximately 3 pm, and in the evening your leader will take you on a taco crawl around town to try the locals’ favourite taquerias. (B, D)

    Day 3: Teotihuacan / Mexico City
    Travel by private vehicle to Teotihuacan, about 50 kilometres northeast of Mexico City. Here you’ll discover the extraordinary ruins known as the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, which dominate the skyline. This was once one of the country’s biggest ancient cities and the Aztec capital. With the help of a local guide, you’ll have time to stroll down The Avenue of the Dead to see fascinating clues as to what life here was like nearly 2000 years ago. (B)

    Day 4: Oaxaca
    Farewell Mexico City this morning and head south to Puebla. The drive takes about 3 hours, depending on local traffic, and your leader will take you on a walk around town on arrival. Puebla has retained its colonial heritage despite rapid growth and development, and you’ll visit Calle de los Dulces (Candy street) and El Parian (handicraft market), as well as the impressive Rosary Chapel and Town Hall Palace. Continue the journey south to Oaxaca, a city renowned for its cuisine, vibrant art scene and traditional Mexican handicrafts. (B)

    Day 5: Mitla / Oaxaca
    Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Oaxaca has much to offer to travellers and today you’ll take a full day tour of the city including lunch at a local family’s home. Your local guide will take you to the Mitla ruins, which were once the religious centre for the Zapotec peoples. After, sip on the famous, tequila-like local booze, mezcal, but not before checking out the Tule Tree, a 1500-year-old tree that’s over 11 metres in girth. Later, learn about a peculiar tradition not many have the opportunity to witness when visiting Oaxaca: beeswax candle making. You will visit a local shop that keeps this tradition alive to learn about the technique involved in making these delicate candles and maybe have a go yourself. The evening is free for you to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy Oaxaca’s nightlife. (B, L)

    Day 6: Sumidero Canyon / San Cristobal de las Casas
    Be ready to rise early to fly to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of the Chiapas state in southern Mexico. Travel by private vehicle to the Sumidero Canyon, an 800-metre deep canyon and World Heritage Site dating from the same time as the Grand Canyon. You’ll take a boat tour on the Sumidero River, the canyon’s architect, before continuing to San Cristobal de las Casas. With the evening free, take in the distinctive old-world feel courtesy of the Spanish colonial architecture and pretty, cobbled streets. (B)

    Day 7: San Cristobal de las Casas
    Embark on a half-day tour this morning to the Maya villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan. Nestled in the highlands, these villages serve as marketplaces and religious ceremonial centres for the indigenous people who live in the surrounding hills. The local people have retained their traditional way of life and are often seen dressed in their own distinctive colourful costumes. You’ll explore these villages with a guide and learn more about the culture and history of these mainly Maya communities. (B)

    Day 8: Palenque
    Prepare for a long travel day as you depart San Cristobal de Las Casas and travel north to Palenque. You’ll visit the Agua Azul waterfall on the way, so wear or pack your swimmers in your day pack. Cool off in the turquoise waters before continuing towards Palenque and expect to arrive around 6 pm. Situated in the jungle, Palenque is the jump-off point to the nearby Maya ruins of the same name which you’ll visit tomorrow. Tonight enjoy an included dinner together. (B, D)

    Day 9: Palenque Ruins / Campeche
    Today you’ll meet a local archaeologist for a memorable visit to the ruins of Palenque. Archaeologists have been hard at work uncovering the secrets of this ancient city, but around 90% of the site remains unexcavated and concealed in the forest. Sitting on a hilltop surrounded by thick trees, the ruins date back to AD600 and are some of the most impressive Maya relics in Mexico. The area gives you an idea of what the Spanish invaders must have seen when they first came across the hidden ruins, and try to listen out for the eerie calls of howler monkeys and the echoes of screeching parrots as you walk through the jungle. After lunch, you’ll continue driving six hours north to Campeche, the last long travel day on this itinerary. (B)

    Day 10: Campeche
    Campeche is a port city located on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and was once the most important seaport for the Spanish conquerors. Campeche’s history is well-preserved and it was awarded World Heritage status as an urbanisation model of a baroque colonial town and because of the defensive walls and fortification system, a result of ongoing pirate attacks throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Your leader will take you on a tour of the city in the morning, and the afternoon is yours to continue exploring or catch some rays and take a dip in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. (B)

    Day 11: Celestun Reserve / Merida
    Continue along the coast this morning to visit the Celestun Bird Sanctuary and Biosphere Reserve where you’ll take a guided boat tour. Here, near extensive beaches lined with coconut trees, you’ll see a variety of coastal birds. Depending on the season (usually Nov-Mar), you may be lucky enough to witness thousands of flamingos painting a pink streak across the landscape. Arrive at the historic town of Merida in the evening and take an orientation walk with your leader before finding some Yucatan cuisine for dinner. Merida, founded in 1542, is the Yucatan capital and retains much of its old-world charm. Take in the splendour of its many colonial buildings and learn more about the Maya heritage of the town. (B)

    Day 12: Merida
    Today is a free day to explore the many sights of Merida and your leader will be able to recommend some good options. (B)

    Day 13: Chichen Itza / Playa del Carmen
    Depart Merida at 6.30 am and arrive at Chichen Itza when the doors open at 8 am. Named as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza is considered the most important archaeological vestige of the Maya-Toltec civilization in Yucatan by UNESCO. You’ll take a two-hour guided tour of what is perhaps the most famous Maya site in Mexico, dominated by the Temple of Kukulkan, or El Castillo, a Mesoamerican step-pyramid. You’ll also visit Ik Kil, one of the most beautiful cenotes (Fresh water natural rock pool) in Mexico. After an option to swim, enjoy a buffet lunch. Continue approximately three hours to the Caribbean coast and Playa del Carmen. Blessed with azure waters, powdery beaches and an almost European feel, Playa del Carmen is a popular resort town famed for its coral reefs and excellent diving. (B, L)

    Day 14: Playa del Carmen
    Take today to enjoy Playa del Carmen as you see fit. (B)

    Day 15: Havana
    Say goodbye to your leader in Mexico and board a flight to Cuba! Arrive at Havana’s Jose Marti International airport, where you’ll be transferred to your hotel. There will be a welcome meeting this evening followed by an optional group dinner. (B)

    Day 16: Havana
    This morning you will be picked up from the infamous Hotel Nacional to see outer-Havana in a convoy of classic American vintage cars that cruises via points of interest such as the Malecon, Revolucion Square, Vedado and ending in Old Havana. Next, your leader will take you on a walking tour of the lovely Old Havana. Go to the cathedral, Plaza de Armas, San Francisco de Asis, Plaza Vieja and Central Park. Now that you are orientated in Old Havana you have the rest of the afternoon to lunch at leisure and explore further. (B)

    Day 17: Soroa / Vinales
    This morning drive west to Soroa to tour the beautiful orchid garden. A local expert will take you on a private tour of the gardens to identify the bird and plant species of this diverse area. You will easily see why the valley is known as the rainbow of Cuba. There will be time for lunch before continuing on to Vinales, where tobacco and sugarcane fields lie side by side and limestone outcrops dot the landscape. Use this bus time to take part in an informal Spanish lesson so you can converse with the friendly locals throughout the rest of your trip. Check in to the guesthouses, leaving enough time to undertake a quick orientation walk. Later, perhaps enjoy the porch rocking chair and soak up the slow, old-world pace of rural Cuba as oxen plod gracefully along the streets. (B, L)

    Day 18: Vinales
    The morning begins with a guided walk through the farmlands of Vinales, which you’ll soon see is home to some extraordinary scenery – some of Cuba’s best. Learn more about the tobacco industry and see a farmer whip a world class cigar in seconds. Take some time to find a local place for lunch, then regroup later this afternoon to embrace the rhythm and learn a few steps in a salsa dancing class. Next, head to the top of the valley for dinner at an eco-farm. Everything is grown organically on the farm itself so get ready for one of the freshest dinner experiences in Cuba! (B, D)

    Day 19: Bay of Pigs / Cienfuegos
    Prepare for a long travel day as you board the comfortable bus heading towards Cienfuegos. Drive back through Havana before stopping in the Bay of Pigs for lunch. After lunch, go for a dip in the crystal-clear water or simply sit back and try to imagine the battle played out in this monumental bay. Then it is just a short drive to Cienfuegos, one of Cuba’s prettiest coastal spots. On arrival, take a short orientation walk before visiting the Palacio del Valle, Cienfuegos’ architectural pride and joy. Its grandiose carvings in Venetian alabaster strike an impressive pose in this beautiful seaside city. (B, L)

    Day 20: Trinidad
    Enjoy a free morning to explore before the drive to Trindad. During a guided walk of the town, take in its eye-catching combination of cobblestone streets, colourful houses and old-fashioned locals. It’s a great town to explore on foot, and almost every scene offers superb photographic opportunities – from residents relaxing with huge cigars on their doorsteps to old Chevrolets cruising by. In the evening take a trip out of town to a local house for a homely and festive dinner. Be welcomed with the local drink Canchanchara made from ‘fire water’, local honey and lime juice. There will even be a musician or two serenading you and your fellow travellers as you dine. (B, D)

    Day 21: Trinidad
    Today is a free day in Trinidad. (B)

    Day 22: Santa Clara / Havana
    Head inland to Santa Clara to lunch then visit the Che Guevara mausoleum. Here you’ll see the statue of the iconic revolutionary leader looming. In the museum that accompanies the mausoleum, you’ll find an intriguing spread of photos and other ephemera related to Che – letters, medical devices, firearms. Return to the capital for your final night to enjoy Havana. (B, L)

    Day 23: Havana
    Your trip comes to an end after breakfast this morning as there are no activities planned for today. (B)

    Inclusions

    • Meals: 22 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 4 dinners
    • Transport: Private vehicle, Plane
    • Accommodation: Hotel Feature stay (5 nights), Comfortable hotel (12 nights), Premium Guesthouse (2 nights), Standard Guesthouse (2 nights)

    TPE-PSCMC

    Images courtesy of IntrepidGroup