Mexico and Guatemala + Honduras

By Nili Olay
This item appears on page 29 of the March 2014 issue.
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My husband, Jerry, and I took a 7-week trip to Mexico and Guatemala, April 23-June 8, 2013, that focused on the Mayan world and also took in nine Spanish-colonial cities.

Starting in the Yucatán Peninsula in MEXICO, we decided to spend five days first on the Mayan Riviera at Esencia. This fabulous resort is a bit out of our usual price range, but we were glad that we splurged. It is a small resort, with personalized service and extremely comfortable beach cabanas on a quiet beach. I heartily recommend it.

Nili and Jerry at the Fountain of Neptune in Querétaro.

We stayed two nights each at the Lodge at Chichen Itza and the Lodge at Uxmal, each literally across the street from a very wonderful but overcrowded Mayan archaeological site. By staying so near to each site, we were able to start touring at 8 a.m., when Chichen Itza and Uxmal opened, and beat by two hours most of the tour buses coming from Cancún or Mérida. We practically had the sites to ourselves and toured during the cooler part of the day. 

Ek Balam and Kabah are smaller sites with fewer visitors. Again, we beat the crowds. By staying two nights at each location, we had down time between sites and could enjoy the hotels.

From Uxmal we headed north to Mérida, where we concentrated on the beautiful Spanish-colonial houses on Paseo de Montejo plus the cathedral and the main square. Our hotel, Hacienda Mérida, was just a couple of blocks from the main square. 

We had a great lunch at La Chaya Maya (Calle 59/62, Mérida), recommended by our guide. Our meal, including fresh tortillas cooked right in the dining room, cost about $6 per person. 

Our special experience in Mérida was the ballet performance in the opera house. Cuban ballet was the feature, but the magnificent opera house was just as delightful.

The city of Oaxaca combined colonial architecture with the nearby archaeological site of Mt. Albán. Our hotel, Casa Oaxaca, was a 5-minute walk from the main square and only a couple of minutes away from the Santo Domingo church complex. 

There is much to see in Oaxaca, including the cathedral, the convent, Santo Domingo and Soledad churches and the botanic gardens, but just sitting in the square and seeing the locals dance on Tuesday evening or watching kids play with balloons on Sunday was a treat. We were glad we had four nights there.

Mexico City (officially, México, DF), was a delightful surprise. Hotel la Casona in the Zona Rosa district was in a pleasant neighborhood with plenty of restaurants and easy transportation. 

We spent an entire day on our own in Chapultepec park, going to the castle, the zoo and the botanic gardens. It is a delightful place. Other highlights, in addition to the standard sights, were the Education Building’s three floors of Diego Rivera murals, plus the Kahlo and Rivera studios and Kahlo’s family home.

We also spent an afternoon in Xochimilco suburb, joining the locals on their Sunday afternoon boat jaunt. Don’t miss this one. The canals are wall-to-wall boats, with food being cooked to order and musicians strolling from boat to boat.

A short 25 miles from Mexico City is the Teotihuacan Aztec archaeological site, with the magnificent Sun and Moon pyramids and the Avenue of the Dead between them — well worth a day trip. 

We spent eight days in the colonial cities of San Miguel, Guanajuato and Morelia and went on a day tour to Querétaro. All four towns were charming and interesting. Villa Montana, Morelia, was incredibly beautiful, with a gorgeous view of the town from its hilltop site. However, it did require a taxi ride into town ($4).

Our four weeks in Mexico flew by, followed by three weeks traveling in GUATEMALA, with a side trip to Copán, HONDURAS, for the archaeological site. The trip from Guatemala City to Copán was very long, around seven hours, but beautiful. Copán is a magnificent site and worth the trip.

In Antigua, Guatemala, many of the houses and churches damaged in an earthquake long ago have been restored, but some, including the main cathedral, remain as the earthquake left them.

After five days in Antigua, we drove up to Chichicastenango. The drive into the high mountains was magnificent. We stayed at the beautiful Mayan Inn, which is just steps from a twice-a-week market. People walked there or piled into the backs of pickup trucks with fresh food, live chickens and textiles.

In Panajachel, beside Lake Ati­tlán, we spent five days in the well-located Posada de Don Rodrigo. Panajachel was a fun place to stay, with lots of restaurants plus the lake and volcano views. We were there in the rainy season, so the afternoons were chilly and wet.

We took a day trip to San Juan La Laguna and Santiago Atitlán. San Juan has a number of artists and textile cooperatives. The town does not allow street selling, which made it very pleasant to walk around. Santiago is a busy town but worth the visit for the church. 

Our last stop, Tikal, required a short flight from Guatemala City. We stayed near the airport at Hotel Villa Maya for two nights. The hotel grounds were lovely, with lots of trails. 

Tikal was an hour’s ride from the hotel. We spent all day at the site, which is located in the jungle. In addition to seeing the magnificent temples, we saw spider monkeys and heard howler monkeys. We were able to climb pyramid number four, which is one of the tallest in Mesoamerica. From the top, we could see other pyramids jutting out of the jungle.

Our trip was arranged by Fred del Pozzo of Scheyer Travel, Inc. (800/318-4216, ext. 2225, email fredd@tzell.com), using Journey Mexico and Guatemala Nature Tours by way of EcoAdventures

Our directive to Fred was to provide airport pickups, drivers between locations, guides where appropriate, and interesting hotels in central locations. We paid $17,490 for 28 days in Mexico plus $7,549 for 17 days in Guatemala. I was extremely pleased with the arrangements.

NILI OLAY

New York, NY

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

My husband, Jerry, and I took a 7-week trip to Mexico and Guatemala, April 23-June 8, 2013, that focused on the Mayan world and also took in nine Spanish-colonial cities.

Starting in the Yucatán Peninsula in MEXICO, we decided to spend five days first on the Mayan Riviera at Esencia. This fabulous resort is a bit out of our usual price range, but we were glad that we splurged. It is a small resort, with personalized service and extremely comfortable beach cabanas on a quiet beach. I heartily recommend it.

Nili and Jerry at the Fountain of Neptune in Querétaro.

We stayed two nights each at the Lodge at Chichen Itza and the Lodge at Uxmal, each literally across the street from a very wonderful but overcrowded Mayan archaeological site. By staying so near to each site, we were able to start touring at 8 a.m., when Chichen Itza and Uxmal opened, and beat by two hours most of the tour buses coming from Cancún or Mérida. We practically had the sites to ourselves and toured during the cooler part of the day. 

Ek Balam and Kabah are smaller sites with fewer visitors. Again, we beat the crowds. By staying two nights at each location, we had down time between sites and could enjoy the hotels.

From Uxmal we headed north to Mérida, where we concentrated on the beautiful Spanish-colonial houses on Paseo de Montejo plus the cathedral and the main square. Our hotel, Hacienda Mérida, was just a couple of blocks from the main square. 

We had a great lunch at La Chaya Maya (Calle 59/62, Mérida), recommended by our guide. Our meal, including fresh tortillas cooked right in the dining room, cost about $6 per person. 

Our special experience in Mérida was the ballet performance in the opera house. Cuban ballet was the feature, but the magnificent opera house was just as delightful.

The city of Oaxaca combined colonial architecture with the nearby archaeological site of Mt. Albán. Our hotel, Casa Oaxaca, was a 5-minute walk from the main square and only a couple of minutes away from the Santo Domingo church complex. 

There is much to see in Oaxaca, including the cathedral, the convent, Santo Domingo and Soledad churches and the botanic gardens, but just sitting in the square and seeing the locals dance on Tuesday evening or watching kids play with balloons on Sunday was a treat. We were glad we had four nights there.

Mexico City (officially, México, DF), was a delightful surprise. Hotel la Casona in the Zona Rosa district was in a pleasant neighborhood with plenty of restaurants and easy transportation. 

We spent an entire day on our own in Chapultepec park, going to the castle, the zoo and the botanic gardens. It is a delightful place. Other highlights, in addition to the standard sights, were the Education Building’s three floors of Diego Rivera murals, plus the Kahlo and Rivera studios and Kahlo’s family home.

We also spent an afternoon in Xochimilco suburb, joining the locals on their Sunday afternoon boat jaunt. Don’t miss this one. The canals are wall-to-wall boats, with food being cooked to order and musicians strolling from boat to boat.

A short 25 miles from Mexico City is the Teotihuacan Aztec archaeological site, with the magnificent Sun and Moon pyramids and the Avenue of the Dead between them — well worth a day trip. 

We spent eight days in the colonial cities of San Miguel, Guanajuato and Morelia and went on a day tour to Querétaro. All four towns were charming and interesting. Villa Montana, Morelia, was incredibly beautiful, with a gorgeous view of the town from its hilltop site. However, it did require a taxi ride into town ($4).

Our four weeks in Mexico flew by, followed by three weeks traveling in GUATEMALA, with a side trip to Copán, HONDURAS, for the archaeological site. The trip from Guatemala City to Copán was very long, around seven hours, but beautiful. Copán is a magnificent site and worth the trip.

In Antigua, Guatemala, many of the houses and churches damaged in an earthquake long ago have been restored, but some, including the main cathedral, remain as the earthquake left them.

After five days in Antigua, we drove up to Chichicastenango. The drive into the high mountains was magnificent. We stayed at the beautiful Mayan Inn, which is just steps from a twice-a-week market. People walked there or piled into the backs of pickup trucks with fresh food, live chickens and textiles.

In Panajachel, beside Lake Ati­tlán, we spent five days in the well-located Posada de Don Rodrigo. Panajachel was a fun place to stay, with lots of restaurants plus the lake and volcano views. We were there in the rainy season, so the afternoons were chilly and wet.

We took a day trip to San Juan La Laguna and Santiago Atitlán. San Juan has a number of artists and textile cooperatives. The town does not allow street selling, which made it very pleasant to walk around. Santiago is a busy town but worth the visit for the church. 

Our last stop, Tikal, required a short flight from Guatemala City. We stayed near the airport at Hotel Villa Maya for two nights. The hotel grounds were lovely, with lots of trails. 

Tikal was an hour’s ride from the hotel. We spent all day at the site, which is located in the jungle. In addition to seeing the magnificent temples, we saw spider monkeys and heard howler monkeys. We were able to climb pyramid number four, which is one of the tallest in Mesoamerica. From the top, we could see other pyramids jutting out of the jungle.

Our trip was arranged by Fred del Pozzo of Scheyer Travel, Inc. (800/318-4216, ext. 2225, email fredd@tzell.com), using Journey Mexico and Guatemala Nature Tours by way of EcoAdventures

Our directive to Fred was to provide airport pickups, drivers between locations, guides where appropriate, and interesting hotels in central locations. We paid $17,490 for 28 days in Mexico plus $7,549 for 17 days in Guatemala. I was extremely pleased with the arrangements.

NILI OLAY

New York, NY