Classic Mexico & Cuba

Mexico | Cuba

Culture

Discover the highlights of two Latin gems

15 days £2,995 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Dates & Prices

Intro

Get a flavour of two icons of the Latin world. Discover Mexico's ancient cultures, learning about Aztecs at Chichén Itzá, marvelling at the mysterious origins of the pre-Columbian Teotihuacán and pondering its colonial legacy at Campeche. Sample Mexican gastronomy, traverse impressive landscapes and experience Mexicans' warm hospitality and charm. In Cuba discover the easy charms of Havana's old town, learn about the thrilling history of the Bay of Pigs, soak up the colonial charm of Cienfuego's white streets and experience the best live music in Trinidad. Finally learn about the exploits of Ché Guevara and visit his masoleum in Santa Clara. Disfrútala!

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Be awe-struck by the pre-Columbian, Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacán
  • Take in Mexico's history in Colonial Campeche
  • Explore the Aztec ruins of Chichén Itzá
  • The archaeological site of Ek Balam
  • Rest and Relaxation in Cancun
  • Colonial charm of Old Havana
  • Eclectic architecture in Cienfuegos
  • Visit museum commemorating the Bay of Pigs invasion
  • Cobbled colonial streets of Trinidad
  • Visit Che Guevara's mausoleum in Santa Clara

Places Visited

Mexico City - Teotihuacán - Villahermosa - Palenque - Campeche - Uxmal - Merida - Chichén Itzá - Ek Balam - Havana - Cienfuegos - Bay of Pigs - Trinidad - Santa Clara

What's Included

Airport transfers
Domestic flight in Mexico
Ground transport
Accommodation
Sightseeing
Entrance fees to sites & parks
Some meals (as per itinerary)
Drivers and guides
Itinerary
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Day 1 : Arrival

Arrive in Mexico City, where you will be met at the airport by a Travel The Unknown representative and transferred to your hotel. Rest of the day free. Overnight in Mexico City.

Meal plan: n/a

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Day 2 : Mexico City

Spend the day exploring Mexico City. Visit Xochimilco and the Museo Nacional de Antropología before discovering the sights of central Mexico City, including the Presidential Palace, the Cathedral and the Templo Mayor. Overnight in Mexico City.

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

When humans arrived in the Mexico valley in 30,000 BC, the valley floor was a chain of lakes. The water has been receding ever since and agriculture became an important way of life. The Aztecs arrived from northwest Mexico and settled in the Chapultepec region. The tribe were forced to flee however and in 1325 arrived on an island on the western shore and built their city there - Tenochtitlán. This was to rule over most of Mexico in the 15th and early 16th centuries before the Spanish conquest in 1519. Tenochtitlán was almost completely destroyed before being rebuilt on Spanish orders as the capital of Nueva España (New Spain), later becoming Mexico City. Today it is the third largest city in the World and the country’s main hub for the Arts. Since the Mesoamerican classical period, the inhabitants of the settlements around Lake Texcoco have been creating complex works of art. In the 20th Century, many artists immigrated to Mexico City from other regions of the country, resulting in the city becoming the home of the avant-garde movement of muralism.

Xochimilco is best known for its canals, which are left from what was an extensive lake and canal system which connected most of the settlements of the Valley of Mexico. These canals, along with artificial islands called chinampas attract tourists and other city residents to ride on colorful gondola like boats called “trajineras” around the 170 km of canals. This canal and chinampa system, as a vestige of the area’s pre-Hispanic past, has made Xochimilco a World Heritage Site; however, environmental degradation of both the canals and the chinampas is severe and ongoing, putting that status in question for the future. 

The Museo Nacional de Antropología has 12 exhibition halls, each of which is dedicated to a different pre-Columbian civilisation of Mexico. Among others, discover the cultures of the Toltecs, Aztecs and Maya. 

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Day 3 : Teotihuacan

Explore more of Mexico City, stopping for a visit at the Museo del Templo Mayor, before departing for Teotihuacan. Overnight in Mexico City.

Meal plan: Breakfast

The Museo del Templo Mayor opened in 1987. It owes its existence to the find, in 1978, of the 8-tonne stone disk with the image of the moon goddess Coyolxauhqui. The museum focuses on the cult of human sacrifices in Tenochtitlán, the cultivation of cereals and corn in the floating gardens, and the history of the old Aztec temple district. 

The huge pyramid complex of Teotihuacán was the first city in the "New World". Built between 250 BC and 700 AD, at the peak of its civilisation the area boasted a population of some 125,000-250,000 people spread over 2,300 apartment complexes. Only walking the mighty "Avenue of the Dead" will you understand the dimensions of the site.  This fabulous archaeological zone of Teotihuacan lies in a mountain-ringed offshoot of the Valle de México. For centuries Teotihuacán was the capital of largest pre-Hispanic empire in Mexico. However, unable to sustain its burgeoning population, it fell in the 8th century. The earliest Mexican murals are found at Teotihuacán and depict what awaited those who were killed by Tláloc, the water god. The Teotihuacán buildings were simple but grand in scale. Teotihuacán is known for its two pyramids – the sun and moon pyramids. The Sun Pyramid was completed by 150 AD and the rest of the city between 250 and 600 AD. The Sun Pyramid (Pirámide del Sol) is the world’s third-largest pyramid whose base is 222m on each side and is 70m in height. The Moon Pyramid (Pirámide de la Luna), completed in 300 AD, is smaller but built on slightly higher ground. 

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Day 4 : Mexico City - Palenque

Transfer to airport for flight to Villahermosa. Travel on to Palenque, where you will spend the rest of the day exploring its famous ruins. Overnight in Palenque.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Close to the village of Palenque are the most beautiful ruins in all of Mexico. Founded around 300 BC, Palenque flourished in the 7th and 8th centuries AD. All buildings that are still visible date from this period. Among them are the "Temple of Inscriptions", with more than 620 hieroglyphs depicting King Pacal’s history, the Grand Palace, the Temple of the Sun, and the North Temple with its stucco remains and military scenes. 

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Day 5 : Campeche

Drive to Campeche. The rest of the day will be spent exploring the city, which will include a visit to the Centro Cultural Casa. Overnight in Campeche.

Meal plan: Breakfast

The city of Campeche is surrounded by a wall originally constructed to defend this prosperous city against pirates. The narrow streets of this major port city are lined with restored colonial buildings, of which the Zócalo and the Cathedral of La Concepción date to the time of the Spanish conquistadores. 

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Day 6 : Campeche - Uxmal - Merida

Depart Campeche and travel to Merida, stopping en route to visit Uxmal. Overnight in Merida.

Meal plan: Breakfast

The name Uxmal means "built three times," being re-modeled and added to between the years of 600-950 AD and thus showcasing an extraordinary variety of architectural styles as well as testifying to the glory of the Classical Maya Period. The buildings are a myriad of decorated façades, vast terraces, squares, columns, and archways. 

Mérida, the "city of 5 hills", is one of the oldest towns in Yucatán state. Once the religious centre of the peninsular Mayan population, the city boasts the pyramid temple of Kinich Kakmó, the god of the Sun, while the monastic church San Antonio de Padua in the town centre has one of the largest church forecourts in all of Mexico.

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Day 7 : Merida - Chichen Itza - Cancun

Spend the morning visiting the world famous site at Chichen Itza. Later, take a tour of Ek Balam, before travelling to Cancun. Overnight in Cancun.

Meal plan: Breakfast

To date, only about 30 of the many buildings of Chichén Itzá buried and overgrown by the jungle have been uncovered and restored. "El Castillo," the most impressive building (30m high), reaches towards the sky, while "El Caracol" resembles a snail shell. The observatory was used by the Maya to observe Venus and her orbit. 

Ek Balam is an archeological site in the northern Maya lowlands. Excavations of these ruins began in 1997, which exposed the ancient settlement - including its defensive walls, Oval Palace and chapel. Ths site is renowned for the preservation of the tomb of Ukit Kan Lek Tok, a king who is buried in the largest pyramid. During excavations, luxurious relics and pieces of jade and bone were found, suggesting that Ek Balam was a wealthy and influential Mayan town. 

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Day 8 : Cancun

Enjoy a free day to spend the day at your leisure in Cancun. Overnight in Cancun.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Located in the south-east of Mexico, Cancun has 12km of white sand beaches along the Caribbean coast. There are some small Mayan vestiges of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in Cancun. El Rey is located in the Hotel Zone. El Meco is a more substantial site, found on the mainland just outside the city limits on the road north to Punta Sam.

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Day 9 : Cancun - Havana

Transfer to Cancun airport for flight to Havana. On arrival in Havana airport where you will be greeted by a Travel The Unknown representative and be transferred by classic car to your casa. Overnight in Havana.

Meal plan: n/a

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Day 10 : Havana

In the morning, take a walking tour of the Old Havana district, known for its pastel-coloured colonial buildings and its elegantly crumbling facades. Visit the some its enchanting plazas, including the beautiful neoclassical buildings in the Plaza de Armas and the baroque cathedral in the Plaza de la Catedral. After lunch, the rest of the day is free to explore Havana at your leisure. Stroll through its cobbled streets, shop for revolutionary literature or stop off for a cocktail in a local bar. Overnight in Havana.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Founded in the 16th century by the Spanish, Cuba’s capital Havana became the springboard for the Spanish conquest of the Americas because of its strategic location. It is often seen as being three cities in one with Old Havana, Vedado and modern suburban districts. Old Havana boasts a variety of different Western architectural styles such as Baroque and Neo-Classical and different features such as palaces, fortresses and squares. Its buildings and fortress walls were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 and sit comfortably next to art deco and more modern styles.

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Day 11 : Bay of Pigs - Cienfuegos

In the morning, leave for Cienfuegos, driving through many citrus fruit and sugar plantations on the Zapata Peninsula. On the way, stop at Cueva de los Peces, a large sinkhole containing hundreds of multi-coloured fish. Continue on to Playa Giron and visit a museum dedicated to Cuba's victory at the infamous Bay of Pigs Invasion. Drive on to Cienfuegos and check into a casa close to the Punto Gorda. Evening is free to spend as you wish. Overnight in Cienfuegos.

Meal plan: Breakfast

The Bay of Pigs Invasion was a botched attempt to overthrow the Cuban Communist government. Since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Castro became increasingly antagonistic towards the US who saw his close relationship with the Soviet Union as a threat to their interests. After many failed attempts to usurp Castro, on 17th April 1961, CIA trained Cuban exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs armed with American weapons. It was hoped that the exiled force would act as a rallying point for Cuban Citizenry. However, the plan quickly fell apart as the exile force was met with an unexpected Cuban counter-attack and the small Cuban air force sank their supply ships. As a result, 100 soldiers were killed, over 1,100 captured and the uprising never happened. This failure cost the US dearly as Castro used the attack to solidify his power and requested Soviet aid which eventually sparked the Cuban Missile Crisis. It also affected US relations with other countries in Latin America as Castro was now considered a hero for standing up to US interference and imperialism.

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Day 12 : Cienfuegos - Sierra del Escrambray - Trinidad

Morning sightseeing tour of Cienfuegos. The focus of this tour is the city's main square Parque Marti, recently declared a UNESCO heritage site, which is surrounded by the impressive Palacio del Ayuntamiento, the elegant Italian style Teatro Tomas Terry and the neo-classical cathedral. Stroll through the bustling Paseo del Prado, which is lined with colonial buildings and shops. You may also hear music from Benny Moré, Cienfuegos' most famous musician, being played on the public speakers. 

Leave for the tropical mountains of Sierra del Escambray, just 30 mins from Cienfuegos. Have lunch there and then take a soft trek (2-3 hours) around El Nicho, which has waterfalls and natural lagoons. Pack your bathing costumes and towel should you decide to take a dip in one of the lagoons (note, water is cold). Look out for endemic birds and enjoy panoramic views of the lush green mountains. Late afternoon leave for Trinidad. Evening free to stroll around the cobbled plaza in Trinidad. Overnight in Trinidad.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Cuba's ‘Perla del Sur’ (Pearl of the South), Cienfuegos was officially founded in 1819 by Frenchman Don Louis de Clouet and the influence the European settlers had on the city is still clearly evident to this day. The historic old town, cited as an outstanding example of 19th century urban planning, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Day 13 : Trinidad

Morning walking tour around Trinidad, a justifiable UNESCO heritage site, with a charming colonial central plaza, cathedral, pastel-coloured buildings that line the cobbled street. Afternoon, visit the Valle de los Ingenios. Climb the watch tower for panoramic views of the stunning landscape. Stop off at other vantage points and at the local pottery making workshop where you can buy handicrafts. Return to the centre of Trinidad. Evening free. Overnight in Trinidad.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Founded in 1514, Trinidad prospered from the sugar trade in the 19th Century. Set between the Escambray Mountains and the beautiful Caribbean coastline, the city was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. Its architecture is a mix of 18th Century Moorish and Andalusian influences and 19th Century European neoclassical forms. The irregular pattern of the city’s squares and cobbled streets make it a great city to explore. It is a perfectly preserved example of a Spanish colonial settlement with its illustrious colonial style mansions full of Italian frescoes, wedgewood china and French chandeliers which hark back to the city’s heyday.

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Day 14 : Trinidad - Santa Clara - Havana

After breakfast leave for Santa Clara (2.5 hours), home to Ché Guevara’'s Mausoleum, where the Latin American hero was re-buried. Learn about his influence on Cuba and why he is so revered. After lunch, continue the drive on to Havana (3.5 hours). Evening free. Overnight in Havana.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Located in the heart of Cuba, Santa Clara was founded in 1689 by citizens of the coastal city of Remedios, who wanted to escape regular pirate attacks. One of the city's famous former inhabitants was the philanthropist, Marta Abreu de Estévez, also known as the Benefactress of the city. Wishing to improve the lives of Santa Clara's citizens, Marta Abreu donated large sums of money to the city, and her influence can still be seen throughout Santa Clara today; an asylum, several schools and a theatre still stand. The city is most well-known as the final resting place of Ché Guevara, who captured Santa Clara during the final battle of the Cuban Revolution in 1958, toppling Batista's regime.

Ernesto 'Ché' Guevara was a revered and controversial historical figure. Born in Argentina, he became radicalised when, as a medical student, he witnessed the terrible poverty, hunger and disease during his travels around South America. This fused with his interest in Marxism and he realised that the only way to solve South and Central America's problems was through armed revolution. In 1954, he travelled to Mexico, met Fidel Castro and joined his 26th July Movement. He played a key role in the guerrilla war against the Cuban dictator Batista, capturing Santa Clara in the final battle of the revolution and toppling the dictator's regime. He guided the country towards a friendship with the Soviet Union which, thanks to US sanctions, damaged Cuba's economy and, along with some unsuccessful reforms, caused him to fall out with Cuba's leaders. He left the country in 1965 to spread revolution to parts of the developing world. After an unsuccessful guerrilla campaign in the Congo, Guevara travelled to Bolivia to lead forces fighting against the government. He was captured with the help of the CIA and executed on 9th October 1967. His remains were exhumed in 1997 and reburied in Santa Clara. During his life, Ché Guevara was a prolific writer and wrote a manual on guerrilla warfare as well as a memoir of his time travelling as a student. Today, he is still a hero in Cuba and has become a worldwide symbol of anti-imperialism and revolution. His image has become a commodity over the years and is found on an endless array of items that contribute to the consumer culture that he hated.

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Day 15 : Departure

Transfer at appropriate time to airport for return flight.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Extensions

Archaeology of Mexico (19 days)

Trace Olmec, Aztec, Zapotec & Mayan roots

Mayan Lives - Then & Now (17 days)

Trace the path of Mayan history - from antiquity to today

Classic Mexico & Cuba (15 days)

Discover the highlights of two Latin gems

Classic Mexico (14 days)

Aztec ruins,Oaxacan flavours & colonial towns

The Day of the Dead (10 days)

Discover Mexico's most colourful festival

Treasures of Oaxaca (10 days)

The last bastion of indigenous Mexico

Flavours of Mexico (9 days)

A culinary tour of Mexico's gastronomy capital

Zapotecan Village Trek (8 days)

Indigenous village trek in a world of biodiversity

Mexico City & Teotihuacan (5 days)

Ancient history meets modern metropolis

Reviews

Having travelled to Mexico on various trips over the years I was surprised to find Oaxaca was so different. Many traditions that have died out elsewhere are still alive and kicking in Oaxaca. And the food is sublime.

Bill Dodd , Flavours of Mexico, Mexico

It is not surprising that UNESCO has added Mexican cuisine to its list of cultural treasures worth preserving. The variety and quality of Oaxacan food is awe inspiring and ranges from street food to creative chefs in top class restaurants. All aspiring young chefs should visit the Sunday market in Tlacolula, a real feast for the eyes and the palette. We have learnt a huge amount on this tour about life in Mexico and the problems of Mexico`s indigenous people.

Jeannie Saville , Flavours of Mexico, Mexico

The hiking was amazing with spectacular scenery and knowledgeable guides. The luxurious but rustic wooden cabins were really welcoming after a long days hiking.

Caroline , Zapotecan Village Trek, Mexico
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