Traveling to Chiapas, is like entering another world. From the crystal clear air and light of San Cristobal in the Highlands, to the dense tropical rainforest of the Lowlands, a mystical air shrouds the landscape. This region of Mesoamerica was the center of the Classic Maya empires, Palenque, Bonampak, Yaxchilan and Tonina. Today, it is home to numerous and diverse Maya populations with unique languages and traditions, including the Tzotzil and Tzeltal.
Visting the ancient ruins of Palenque to learn about Pakal and the discovery of his tomb.
Traveling by boat on the Usumacinta River to explore the ancient site of Yaxchilan.
Seeing the Murlas of Bonampak, painted over 2,500 years ago.
Exploring the cobblestone streets of San Cristobal de Las Casas & learning about Bishop Bartolome de Las Casas.
Visiting the Highland Maya communities of Chamula & Zinacantan to learn of the enduring Maya cosmovision and to see exquisite textiles woven on backstrap looms.
The Land Beyond
This introductory trip to Chiapas takes us to the amazing geological fissure of the Sumidero Canyon, and to the Highland colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas and surrounding Highland Maya villages of Zinacantan, Chamula and Amatenango. Later, we descend to the tropical lowlands to Journey to the land of the Classic Maya empires of Tonina, Palenque and Bonampak. Our trip ends with a visit deep in the Lacandon forest to swim in natural waterfalls and to meet the Lacandon people who call this region home.
The Language of Maya Textiles
The weavings of the Highland Maya women tell a story. This story is about the cycles of nature, the cosmos, and man’s (women’s!) place in it. We will learn where these symbols are derived from historically, and how they have evolved over time, to have meaning and provide identity for Maya women today. This is a study trip, to be lead by an expert in Maya textile iconography. An unforgetable experience awaits.
The Early Maya Civilizations
Study the debate about who came first: The Mightly Olmecs, or the Intellectual Maya. We will visit early Maya sites, such as Palenque, Bonampak and other sprawling sites that are accessed only by river. Leading Maya experts will accompany this trip that will take us back in time; about 2,000 years!
Learn of the Ancient and Present Day Maya in the Tabasco & Chiapas Lowlands and Highlands. Arriving in Villahermosa, we have the opportunity to marvel at the Olmec culture and their monumental sculpture. Also in Tabasco, Comalcalco is a rarely visited Maya site of the Classic Era, rich in stucco sculpture and made of brick! By visiting a Cacao Plantation, we learn about and experience cacao in its pre-hispanic preparation and ritual. Cacao in ancient Maya times was used both as a form of currency and was consumed as an important element of ancient ceremony & ritual. From here, we explore the high phase of Maya civilization at the former empire of Palenque; we examine the murals of Bonampak and travel down the Usumacinta River to the sprawling riverside site of Yaxchilan; strategically located to dominate this important river trade. Traveling to the Highlands, we explore the hilltop fortress Tonina. Finally in San Cristobal de Las Casas we visit present day Tzotzil and Tzeltal Maya communities to learn about their textile traditions.
Day 1: Arrive, Villahermosa Pick up at airport, transfer to Hotel Cencali
Day 2: Our morning begins with a visit to one of the region’s greatest cultural collections: Museo Parque La Venta, where over 30 colossal basalt heads and other sculptures were moved from the original Olmec city in the late 1950’s, when oil exploration was growing. A writer and poet by the name of Carlos Pellicer Camara recommended these Olmec treasures be moved and safeguarded in a location away from the oil drilling. His advice was heeded, and thus the cultural treasure, Museo Parque La Venta was born. The Olmec flourished from about 900 – 400 BC, and are known as the “mother culture” of all Mesoamerica. It is believed, the Olmecs descended from Eurasia, traversing the Bearing Straits and migrating South. In the afternoon, we travel to Comalcalco, the heart of cacao growing in Mexico. By visiting the ancient Maya site at Comalcalco, the only pyramid built with bricks, combined with a visit to the adjacent cacao plantation, we will learn of the importance and use of cacao in early Maya ceremony, and enjoy a traditional home cooked meal. Following this visit, we transfer to Palenque, where we will learn of this great Pre-Classic and Classic empire. Dinner on own at hotel. (B,L)
Day 3: Today, is dedicated to our on-site visit of Palenque to learn how life and society was organized during the Pre-Classic Classic Period of Maya civilization. Palenque is one of the largest and most distinct Maya sites with a proliferation of sculptures and glyph inscriptions. Historians and anthropologists continue to decipher and document their findings at this site. We begin by visiting the world class, on-site museum where we learn about Maya glyph writing, and we see the spectacular incense burners and a replica of Pakal’s tomb. From the museum, we venture out onto the site, visiting the Temple of the Inscriptions, The Cross Group and the Palace, all on a karst limestone escarpment. We enjoy a lively dinner at Don Muchos, a local favorite. (B,D)
Day 4: Our day begins with a guided visit to see the famous murals at Bonampak, depicting Classic era court life of the Maya. Our expert guide will lead us through the spectacular representations of the dress, civil, religious and military life of the Classic Maya, as seen in the famous murals at this site. We continue our exploration by visiting the sprawling Maya site, Yaxchilan. This river front early Mesoamerican center, is known for the fine examples of Mayan carvings and inscriptions on the lintels. We enjoy our lunch as we travel in our “lanchas” on the Usumacinta River. (B,L)
Day 5: Today, we say good-by to the Lowlands and begin our drive towards the Chiapas Highlands, known for its light air and brilliant sun, at almost 7,000 feet. En route, we stop in Ocosingo, to visit the hill-top Maya ruins of Tonina. Given its location, Tonina is less known, but is in fact one of the most spectacular Mayan sites, given its hilltop setting and distinctive monumental style. We continue on our journey towards San Cristobal, where we check into our centrally located hotel and begin to get our first impressions of this colonial city named after Bartolome de las Casas, the first Bishop of Chiapas, who was known as the “conscience of the conquest”, given his tireless campaigns to put an end to the conquest methods used by the Spanish. He spent his life helping indigenous communities and to being a voice of conscience to the Spanish monarchy to put an end to their non civil, civilization of the New World. Evening is at leisure in San Cristobal (B,L)
Day 6: We venture into the villages, of Zinacantan and Chamula, highland communities of Tzotzil speaking Maya. In Zinacantan, flowers are seen everywhere; from the cultivation of geraniums, carnations and mums, to the bright embroidered flowers on the blue huipil (a type of cape) worn by the women and the red one, worn by the men. Daily life in this cheerful village centers on weaving and textile traditions for the women, and tending to religious and civic affairs, for the men. Not far in distance, but very different in mood and feel, we travel to the highland village of Chamula to learn more of this Tzotzil speaking Maya community. Entering the church, we leave the world we know and enter into a surreal, mystical place where eggs, coca cola and posh (sugar cane based firewater) co-mingle in a religious ceremony dedicated to healing the infirm and driving out evil spirits. We leave this place changed, as we recognize that not far from us live people who have a very different cosmology and world view than our own. Returning to San Cristobal, we enjoy lunch at Na Bolom, followed by a guided tour of the museum, the former home and study center of Frans and Gertrude Blom, a Dane and a Swiss, who met on an expedition to the Lacandon jungle. Together, they dedicated their lives to the study and preservation of the Lacandon forest, people and culture. (B,L)
Day 7: Today we travel to the Highland Community of Tenejapa. Thursdays are market day in Tenejapa, so we have a special treat in store, as we witness and this weekly showcase of foodstuffs, cloth and other items that are bought and sold. In addition, we will focus on the weaving traditions by visiting a special coop that produces extraordinary examples of their intricate designs. Upon return to San Cristobal, we have a free evening to explore in San Cristobal or sit in a local cafe. (B)
Day 8: Today we explore the amazing communities of San Andres Larrainzar and Magdalenas. Here, we will learn of the Ceremonial huipil from Magdalenas and the layers of text and meaning of the woven designs and the form of the huipil, itself. Omnipresent in the Maya iconography are themes of underworld, material world and celestial world (3 planes), the elements (earth, wind, fire and water), and the cardinal points. Also, humankind’s relationship to the outer world is always present. In both communities we will meet special weavers and dyers. Returning to San Cristobal, we visit the spectacular collection of Maya daily and ceremonial dress, belonging to Sergio Castro, a saintly, renaissance man who has spent much of his life dedicated to improving agrigultural and health conditions in highland Maya communities (he is a renown burn doctor).Tonight we enjoy a fun but sad farewell dinner in San Cristobal de Las Casas. (B,D)
Day 9: Depart for airport, Tuxtla Gutierrez (B)
Day 10: Optional Extension: In Chiapa del Corzo, we take a boat journey to get our first breathtaking view of the massive Sumidero Canyon gorge, a dramatic rift caused by a seismic fault in the earth’s surface. The Grijalva river runs between the massive walls that are over 3,000 feet high and as we travel through the canyon walls we are engulfed in this dramatic geological phenomenon. Returning to town, we relax and swim in our hotel pool, then set out for a lovely guided tour of the small but architecturally rich town.