Geography of Mayans

Mysteries of the Maya
February 12, 2016 – 10:42 am
Geography  Founded capital

William SaturnoNestled within the jungles of Mesoamerica, soaring pyramids, hieroglyphs, and long-hidden murals attest to the magnificence and mystery of the ancient Maya. Discover monuments of this fabled civilization showcased in once-grand cities like Tikal and concealed in the remote temples of Bonampak and Yaxchilán. Meet modern-day Maya and encounter traditions that have survived through the centuries.

Trip Highlights

  • Delve into the world of the Maya on an expedition inspired by the work of National Geographic scientists and archaeologists in the region.
  • Explore some of the most influential cities of the Maya world, including four UNESCO World Heritage sites: Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Palenque, and Tikal.
  • Examine illustrations of Maya warfare depicted in the vivid wall murals at Bonampak, and see Palenque’s illuminative hieroglyphs during a special after-hours tour.
  • Experience Maya culture today on visits to a traditional village and the colorful markets of Mérida.
Day 1 — Mérida, Mexico

Arrive in Mérida this afternoon and transfer to our hotel near the historic center. Gather for a welcome reception with a culinary twist: we’ll help a local chef make traditional dips, and savor them before sitting down to our welcome dinner.
Hotel Rosas & Xocolate (D)

Day 2 — Uxmal

Travel to the ruins of Uxmal for our first encounter with the magnificent vestiges of the ancient Maya. Built into the rolling Puuc landscape, Uxmal is one of the only Maya cities without a geometric layout. Explore the complex, examining the ornate carvings on the Pyramid of the Magician and the magnificent two-headed jaguar throne at the entrance to the Governor’s Palace. Afterwards, cool off with a refreshing dip in a nearby cenote and help make tortillas for a delicious lunch prepared on-site by local chefs. This afternoon, learn about the culture and customs of modern-day Maya people on a visit to a local village.
Hotel Rosas & Xocolate (B, L, D)

Day 3 — Chichén Itzá/Izamal

Spend the day exploring Chichén Itzá, often dubbed one of the new seven wonders of the world. Enter a world of fascinating mythology as you discover the southern complex, including the Observatory, the Tomb of the High Priest, and the Nunnery. In the large complex of North Chichén, see towering pyramids and temples surrounded by smaller sites, including the ancient marketplace, the sweat bath, and the largest Maya ball court ever found. On our return trip to Mérida, stop in the colonial town of Izamal to explore its impressive Franciscan monastery, which sits atop an indigenous Maya temple.
Hotel Rosas & Xocolate (B, L)

Day 4 — Mérida/Villahermosa/Palenque

Stroll through Mérida’s lively market where modern-day Maya sell colorful hammocks and embroidered huipils, or traditional blouses. A local chef will guide us through the food stalls to point out unique local ingredients and explain how they are used. This afternoon, fly to Villahermosa and transfer to our hotel in Palenque.
Chan-Kah Resort Village (B, L, D)

Day 5 — Palenque

Venture into the ancient city of Palenque and its Temple of Inscriptions, which holds one of the most comprehensive sources of Maya text known to exist—writings that have helped archaeologists piece together the only established timeline for rulers of an ancient Maya city. Examine these stone inscriptions and explore the complex before enjoying an afternoon at leisure. This evening, we’ll return to the ruins for a specially arranged after-hours visit.
Chan-Kah Resort Village (B, L, D)

Day 6 — Bonampak/Frontera Corozal

Journey to the remote ruins of Bonampak, a less-visited Maya site that’s home to a stunning series of rare polychromatic wall paintings. These frescoes were unearthed in the 1940s and are notable for their detailed depictions of Maya warfare. National Geographic magazine featured an article on the reconstruction of these murals, and the Society supports ongoing archaeological work at the site. Take some time to examine the battles and ceremonies depicted in vivid shades of blue, red, and yellow before we continue to our hotel in the small town of Frontera Corozal.
Ecotourism Escudo Jaguar (B, L, D)

Day 7 — Yaxchilán/Flores, Guatemala

Cruise along the Usumacinta River to remote Yaxchilán—said to be named for its green stone. The city’s position on the water gave it a central role in river commerce during the Classic period. Discover the site’s jungle-shrouded ruins, paying close attention to its ornate building facades and roof combs and keeping an eye out for the scarlet macaws and troops of howler monkeys that inhabit the surrounding treetops. Continue by boat to the border town of Bethel, and then transfer to our hotel on the shores of Lago Petén Itzá.
Camino Real Tikal Hotel (B, L, D)

Day 8 — Tikal

Rise early for an optional birding walk through the Cerro Cahuí nature reserve, seeking out toucans and parrots feeding in the trees. Then venture through the jungle to Tikal, one of the largest cities in the Classic Maya world. Here, ancient pyramids pierce the canopy, towering more than 200 feet over thousands of temples, shrines, and ceremonial platforms. Spend the day exploring the site, even climbing a pyramid for a panoramic view over the jungle. With our expert, decipher the stone carvings and hieroglyphs that reveal the dynastic history and spiritual significance of this ancient city. Tonight, we’ll celebrate our journey with a farewell dinner.

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