Nestled 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.
Explore some of the most influential cities of the Maya world, including four UNESCO World Heritage sites: Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Palenque, and Tikal.
Witness the ongoing National Geographic-sponsored excavations of Bonampak’s wall murals, depicting vivid scenes of Maya warfare.
Enjoy a private sunrise tour of Chichén Itzá before it opens to the public, and gain expert insight on the ruins from National Geographic Explorer Guillermo de Anda, who joins us at the site.
During a special after-hours visit, get an in-depth look at Palenque’s illuminative hieroglyphs.
Itinerary - 11 Days
Day 1 — Guatemala City, Guatemala
Arrive in Guatemala City and transfer to our hotel. Westin Camino Real
Days 2 & 3 — Guatemala City/Flores/Tikal
Tour Guatemala City’s historic district, then fly to Flores and enjoy a welcome dinner at our hotel. Encounter Tikal, one of the largest cities in the Classic Maya world. Decipher carvings and hieroglyphs with our expert. Camino Real Tikal (B,L,D Daily)
Day 4 — Yaxchilán, Mexico/Frontera Corozal
Travel to Bethel, Mexico and cruise the Usumacinta River to Yaxchilán. Discover the site’s jungle-shrouded ruins, then continue by boat to our hotel in Frontera Corozal.
Hotel Escudo Jaguar (B,L,D)
Days 5 & 6 — Bonampak/Palenque
Journey to the remote ruins of Bonampak, home to stunning frescoes that were unearthed in the 1940s and featured in National Geographic magazine in February 1995. The next day, venture into the ancient city of Palenque, where archaeologists have found rare Maya texts. After a free afternoon, return to the ruins for a specially arranged after-hours visit.
Villa Mercedes Palenque (B,L,D)
Days 7 & 8 — Palenque/La Venta/Mérida/Uxmal
Visit the Palenque archaeological museum, and explore La Venta, known for colossal stone sculptures of Olmec heads. Then, fly to Mérida. Spend the following day at Uxmal, and examine the ornate carving on the Pyramid of the Magician. Afterward, cool off with a refreshing dip in a nearby cenote. Hacienda Temozon Sur (B,L,D Daily)
Days 9 & 10 — Izamal/Chichén Itzá
In the colonial town of Izamal, explore the impressive Franciscan monastery and Kinich-Kakmó pyramid. Rise early to visit Chichén Itzá before it opens to the public, and hear from National Geographic Emerging Explorer Guillermo de Anda about the ruins.
The Lodge at Chichén Itzá (B, L, D Daily)
Day 11 — Ek Balam/Cancún
Visit the ancient ruins of Ek Balam, then continue to the Cancún airport and catch your flight home. (B,L)
Boston University archaeologist William Saturno has received numerous National Geographic grants to support his excavation of ancient Maya murals and artifacts. His breakthrough discovery at San Bartolo of the oldest intact Maya murals yet found became the focus of the January 2006 National Geographic magazine article “The Dawn of Maya Gods and Kings," and the June 2012 issue described his recent unearthing of murals at Xultún. Bill has also served as Field Director of the Río Amarillo Archaeological Project in Western Honduras, where he examined the relationships of Maya cities around Copán.
Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $1,500, there is an additional holiday surcharge of $200 per person.
International airfare to and from Guatemala City and airfare within Mexico and Guatemala, are not included in the expedition cost. The group flights within Mexico and Guatemala range from $350 to $430, depending on the departure date (subject to change).
Please note: A US Department of State travel advisory for Cuba is currently in effect (travel.state.gov). We expect to operate this trip as planned, but will continue to closely monitor events in the region and will alter the itinerary if necessary.
Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives, or easy hikes, with options for more physical activities such as hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and biking.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.
What To Expect
This itinerary suits a range of interests and abilities, blending light and moderate activity options on several days. While we maintain a moderate pace, walking activities can last as long as three hours, including periodic stops, and will usually take place outdoors at archaeological sites (often in the full sun and up to three miles over the course of some days). Travelers should be able to walk up to three miles on uneven terrain. Pyramid climbs at various Maya temples are optional and usually involve steep stone steps without handrails. There are also less strenuous walking paths at the sites and nearby places to sit and rest in the shade.
For the one-night stay in remote Frontera Corozal, accommodations are basic, thatched-roof cabins with simple en suite bathrooms and ceiling fans, but no air conditioning. Transportation includes travel by small motorized boat on Day 7, and several two- to four-hour drives on partially unpaved roads.