On this 3 week REGULAR-CHALLENGE difficulty tour we start in Mérida and finish in San Cristobal de las Casas in the Chiapas highlands. The odyssey is split up into four phases; the Yucatan, gulf coast, the cacao region, and the mountains. We will see an impressive cross-section of south-easern Mexico and explore a diverse array of culture and geography.
Day 1: Meet in Mérida
Yucatan cuisine, Colonial Architecture, Zocalo, Market
Mérida, the White City, was founded in 1542. Its architecture still shows an exquisite union of pre-Hispanic and European elements. During its Colonial era, this state capital was the most important city in the region, leaving such living monuments as the House of Montejo, Government Palace, and the main building of the University of Yucatan. Museums, theatres, handcrafts, nightclubs and beautiful parks have created a beautiful and vibrant city. Once you are settled into the hotel, we will meet and go out to experience Mérida's delicious culinary tradition at one of Mérida's numerous restaurants.
Day 2: Mérida to Tekit (80km)
small towns quiet roads, cenotes
We'll be passing through several small towns on very quiet backroads. There are interesting Mayan villages, small colonial towns and many cenotes. Tekit is a small Mayan-colonial town with a 16th century church, pleasant square and small market.
Day 3: Tekit to Sta. Elena (73km)
Important Mayapan post-classic Mayan ruins, more haciendas, quiet backroads, and cenotes, famous Uxmal
The adventure continues. We will stay on our quiet backroads and start the day with a visit to the very important Mayan site of Mayapan. Mayapan was the most important center of Mayan civilization leading up to the arrival of the Spanish. It was the capital of a Maya Confederation, which included Chichen Itza and Uxmal. After Mayapan, we continue on past more ex-haciendas and visiting more cenotes on our way to Ticul. Ticul is another charming little Mayan-colonial town with several old churches and an interesting market. Finally we make our way into the Puuc hills and down to little Santa Elena village. If time permits, you can visit the major Mayan ruins of Uxmal and be back in Santa Elena to enjoy the sunset from atop the huge fort-like church built on the hill of a ruined Mayan structure.
Day 4: Sta. Elena to Hopelchen (73km)
Mayan villages, cave
We will pass through several small colonial but predominantly Mayan villages. We may also explore Xtacumbilxunaan cave... but you have to be able to pronounce the name first! Hopelchen; the place of 5 wells (in Mayan), is a charming and friendly little town. The Mennonites that occupy much of the surrounding regions buy and sell their produce in the market here.
Day 5: Hopelchen to Campeche (via Edzná, China) (112km)
Edzna Mayan ruins, small villages, quiet roads, cArNaVaL!!!
This is the big carnaval weekend in Campeche! We will visit the Mayan ruins of Edzná and pass through more small towns along quiet roads on the way to Campeche. This ends the first phase of our odyssey as Campeche has a very different character from Yucatan state and we are now on the gulf coast.
Day 6: Campeche
More cArNaVaL!!! Explore the walled, fortified colonial city, excellent market, waterfront
Campeche was once a Mayan trading village called Ah Kim Pech (Lord Sun Sheep-Tick). After 25 years of fierce Mayan resistance, the Spanish founded colonial Campeche in 1531, but later abandoned it due to Mayan hostility. Finally in 1540 Fransisco de Montejo the Younger gained sufficient control and founded a settlement that survived. It became a major port exporting timber, chicle, dyewoods, gold and silver to Europe. For nearly two centuries pirates terrorized Campeche, until finally in 1668, 3.5 metre thick ramparts were built. After 18 years of construction, a 2.5km hexagon incorporating eight strategically placed baluartes surrounded the city. Parts of the wall and the baluartes as well as a couple of forts north and south of the city still exist and make for an interesting tour. Also make sure to take in the excellent market early while it is in full swing. Besides a plethora of exotic fruits and vegetables, there is the friendly fish area of the market and some unique sweet treats that should not be missed.
Day 7: Campeche to Sabancuy (113km)
More cArNaVaL!!! Deserted beaches, charming friendly town, longest day
Welcome to the gulf coast, the second phase of our odyssey. We'll enjoy many great views of the sea as the road meanders and rolls alongside it, with some wonderfully isolated sea and rainforst stretches. A shrimp omelete in Champoton might be considered a highlight of the day, though there are many other breakfast options too. Before arriving in Sabancuy we'll stop for a little beach time and a nice dip to cool off. In Sabancuy we'll yet again be overwhelmed by the local people's friendliness and hospitality. In the evening you may choose to wonder around town or take in a movie at the very unlikely 350 seat movie theatre - it's a little large for the size of the town.
Day 8: Sabancuy to Ciudad del Carmen (85km)
Last night of cArNaVaL!!! Gulf coast, isolated beaches, bustling exciting city
Today will be our last opportunity to swim in the sea, and we'll find a nice quiet beach to stop at - heck we'll be riding along the beach for most of the day! Ciudad del Carmen is a busy, bustling, exciting city used by Pemex, Mexico's national petrolium company, as a jumping off point to the many oil platforms in the gulf. To get to the city, we have to cross the long 3.2km bridge over a channel to the massive Laguna de Terminos and onto Isla del Carmen.
Day 9: Ciudad del Carmen to Frontera (93km)
small towns, villages, lagoons and wetlands and birds.
We start the morning by crossing an even longer, 4km bridge back to the mainland. Be on the look-out out for dolfins and manatees! Once again the landscape changes and now we are surrounded by wetlands as we pass through small quiet towns. We officially leave the Yucatan peninsula and cross over into the state of Tabasco for the last stretch of road to Frontera, an interesting lively town on a large river which is the confluence of three major rivers; the Grijalva, the Usumacinta and the San Pedro. Fishing is an industry here, and it's very much a port town. The market and the square will keep you entertained and very well fed.
Day 10: Frontera to Villahermosa (82km)
The wetlands of the state of Tabasco.
Crossing over the confluence of the Usumacinta (which forms much of the border with Guatemala) and the Grijalva rivers, we now head more inland only to once again meet up with the Grijalva in Villahermosa. This is a hot, crowded, untidy and exciting city.
Day 11: Villahermosa
Amazing market. La Venta park; Olmec archeological museum, Tabasco zoo. Exciting bustling city.
Villahermosa is an interesting if exhausting city to explore, for a break from the city you might want to head for Parque-Museo La Venta. The ancient (before 600 BC) Olmec city of La Venta was actually on an island in a river some 130km west of Villahermosa. Several enormous basalt Olmec heads (the largest weighs 24 tonnes and stands over 2m tall) and other artifacts were discovered between 1925 and 1940. When oil excavation threatened the site, the most significant finds were moved to thier current home in Villahermosa in Parque-Museo La Venta. There is also a zoo here with everything from crocodiles to jaguars to spider monkeys. It's truly worth a visit. Besides La Venta park, an often overlooked attraction is the incredible market. Well stocked with all varieties of cacao, pejelagarto (lizard fish), pozol (a corn and cacao drink), all manner of tamales, exotic produce and excellent eateries, you won't know where to turn first.
Day 12: Villahermosa to Comalcalco (67km)
Culinary route, turtle sanctuary, Comalcalco Mayan ruins
Today's your chance to try "pejelagarto" (lizard fish) as well as a host of other regional typical food if you haven't already. Today we ride along a designated gastronomic, cultural and artisan route. We'll visit a turtle sanctuary outside of Nacajuca and finish by visiting ancient Comalcalco just outside of the modern day city. This ancient Mayan site is unique for being constructed of clay bricks and seashell mortar. The small modern city of Comalcalco itself is a bustling center with many excellent eating options including great tacos.
Day 13: Comalcalco to Cardenas (45km)
Comalcalco market, cacao hacienda, cacao fermenter, cacao growing region
Did I mention cacao? What? You don't know the difference between cacao, cocoa and chocolate? Well today you'll learn all about it using all your senses. It is truly fascinating... and quite tasty too. Before leaving Comalcalco to embark on this chocolate adventure however, we will have some time to check out the market. It has a great diversity of the local goods and is full of things you'll have never seen before.
Day 14: Cardenas to Pichucalco (106km)
quiet backroads, entering the foothills
We cross into Chiapas state and Pichucalco is our first stop in the mountains, still at fairly low elevation. The mountains will be the final phase of our odyssey and today is a pleasant introduction.
Day 15: Pichucalco
Our last rest day before the final stretch. Pichucalco is known for the worlds ugliest church, or so says Discovery channel. Well, it is pretty ugly, but the town is otherwise very pretty, the architecture having transformed to suite the mountainous geography. There is an interesting market to visit and a little rest will help to prepare you for the final push into the mountains.
Day 16: Pichucalco to Tapilula (53km in the mountains)
mountains. Challenging climbing. Amazing views and scenery. Small villages and towns.
You'd better have a triple chainring on your bike for today and tomorrow. We're in for some very challenging steep climbs, with spectacular, rewarding views. Suddenly we find ourselves cycling in a canyon following the Puyacatengo river upstream. In Tapilula the children act as our ambassadors to this charming, friendly little colonial town. For a treat, try deepfried cheese stuffed in banana with cream on it! You deserve it.
Day 17: Tapilula to Jitotol (52km in the mountains)
Climbing higher into the mountains and yet more spectacular views. Small villages and towns.
Resume climbing. It always seems to be foggy here, but perhaps it'll clear up and we can see what we've climbed over the last day and a half when we reach the lookout at the highest point of the day, 1800m. If the fog causes us to forfeit our distant views then we can instead marvel at how the fog oozes over the mountain pass from one series of valleys into another - it's a magical sight. Descending from the pass we meander our way along the sides of mountains to Jitotol, another unassuming quiet little highland town.
Day 18: Jitotol to San Cristóbal (73km in the mountains)
Spectacular Mountain Scenery, Villages, the Historic Old Town
Even though the last ride of our tour is only 73km long, it is probably the most challenging and awe-inspiring stage of our journey. From sea level in Merida the tour ends today at 2100m altitude in San Cristóbal de la Casas. On the way today we'll follow the winding road up and down and around mountain passes and valleys, pine forests and indigenous villages. This is Tzotzil-Maya country.
Day 19: Around San Cristóbal (optional 30-60km in the mountains)
Colonial Town, Markets - explore San Cristóbal
You may explore San Cristóbal or ride to one or more nearby6 Maya villages and mountains. In San Cristóbal, the zocalo, or main square in the center of town, is a good starting point for exploring. From there you can visit the many churches and other historical buildings in the town's historic core. The mercado, San Cristóbal's daily food market is also well worth a visit. Around Santo Domingo church you will be able to buy authentic handcrafts at the artisan market. At night, cafes and restaurants host live music into the night. There is also cinema with foreign and spanish language films, and it's rare for a week to go by without some kind of fiesta taking place.
Day 20: San Cristóbal to Mérida
Leave in the afternoon for Mérida, or stay a little longer!
You will leave San Cristóbal on an overnight 1st class or deluxe bus for the trip back to Mérida. That is of course, unless you've fallen under the spell of this town like so many others and decide to stay a little longer.
Day 21: Mérida to home
Morning arrival in Mérida. Stay a little longer or fly home.
Arrive in Mérida in the morning and box your bike up for your flight home, or stay and enjoy the culture for a few more days.
Note: Price includes only the guiding fee. Accommodations (approx. $310) and meals (approx. $270) are not included.
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