Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is blanketed with lush jungles, studded with beguiling cenotes and towering Maya temples, and edged by sparkling Caribbean seas. Set out to explore these diverse wonders on an adventure from the Riviera Maya to inland colonial towns and Isla Mujeres, just off the coast. Discover the ancient ruins at Tulum, Cobá, and Chichén Itzá; dive into the mythical Maya underworld while snorkeling underwater caves; and get immersed in the culture of the modern-day Maya in colorful colonial towns. Along the way, venture into the Río Secreto and learn about National Geographic-funded research in this spectacular underwater cave system. Cap off your trip swimming with the largest fish in the sea—the majestic whale shark.
Land in Cancún and travel south along the Caribbean coast to our beachfront hotel in Tulum. Settle in and enjoy time at leisure, lounging on the beach or exploring the sandy streets of Tulum’s charming town. Gather for a welcome dinner this evening.
Set out on a guided tour of the Tulum ruins, a Maya seaport presiding dramatically over the coastline. Marvel at the towering Castillo and the murals in the Temple of the Frescoes, and take in views across turquoise waters. Then head to Río Secreto for an unforgettable adventure. Explore this underground river and cave system with paleoclimatologist and National Geographic grantee Fernanda Lases, and learn about her research at the site, whichexamines the effects of climate change on the ancient Maya civilization. Marvel at spectacular stalactites and stalagmites as you hike and swim through a dramatic subterranean realm, and gain deeper insight into Fernanda’s work while exploring this natural wonder. (2 hours walking, 2 hours swimming and cave exploration)
Begin the day at the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site of tropical forests, marshlands, and mangroves. Take a boat ride across a turquoise lagoon, and dive in for a float along a mangrove-fringed canal, spotting myriad tropical birds as you swim. Continue the Cobá archaeological site, a vast--though largely unexcavated--city from the Classical Maya period. Accompanied by our guide, we’ll tour the temples by bicycle or local taxi tricycle, and learn about the important role Cobá played for the ancient Maya. Continue to the colorful town of Valladolid for a walking tour of its colonial architecture, including a visit to the Convent de San Bernardino de Siena. Later, settle into our lodge, bordering the Chichén Itzá archaeological complex. (1.5 hours walking)
Today we’ll have the special opportunity to spend two hours exploring Chichén Itzá before the site opens to the public. Rise early for a private tour of these iconic ruins, a World Heritage site often called one of the new seven wonders of the world. See towering pyramids and temples surrounded by an ancient marketplace, sweat bath, and the largest Maya ball court ever excavated. Later, discover the ancient ruins of Ek Balam and take a refreshing swim in the Cenote Saalam. Return to our hotel and spend the rest of the day at leisure. (2 hours walking)
Spend the morning relaxing or exploring the hotel’s lush grounds on an optional bird-watching tour. Then travel to Puerto Juárez on the outskirts of Cancún and board a ferry bound for Isla Mujeres. Check in to our hotel and enjoy an evening stroll on this stunning stretch of sand or swim in crystalline Caribbean waters.
Board a boat this morning and set out in search of whale sharks—the largest identified fish in the world. On this flexible excursion, we seek out opportunities for an intimate snorkel with these magnificent creatures, extending our time on the water to avoid other boats if necessary. After lunch, enjoy free time to relax or take a stroll along the beach. (3 hours snorkeling)
Set out on another morning snorkeling excursion to swim with the area’s resident whale sharks. After lunch, return to Cancún and settle into our beachfront hotel, where we’ll enjoy our final night. (3 hours snorkeling)
After breakfast, transfer to the Cancún airport to catch your flight home.