Day 1: Arrive Atacama (Chile)
Upon arrival, transfer to your luxury retreat in the heart of the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world. The Atacama Desert lies along the base of the Andes mountain range at the borders of Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, presenting a geography that is almost like another planet. Your prestigious hotel is an opulent oasis, built in harmony with its harsh surroundings.
Day 2: Atacama
After breakfast, talk with your guides to determine how you’d like to explore this fascinating area. There’s nearby Chaxas Lagoon, inhabited by pink flamingos, as well as El Tatio, a geyser field with over 80 active geysers. If you prefer a leisurely morning, perhaps request a guided tour of the lodge’s traditional Altiplano landscaped gardens and receive a fascinating lesson in local desert flora. Alternatively, a range of half-day and full-day desert excursions are available, with options for every fitness level. Whether you go by car, foot, or bike, there are opportunities to explore nearby villages, valleys and gorges. Afterwards, you can relax with a glass of wine on your private terrace or in one of the spa’s six pools. If you’re into astronomy, the sky-friendly night lighting allows for unbelievable views of the southern skies. Located in the main building, the well-stocked restaurant offers cocktails, wine, and creative Chilean concoctions. It’s a perfect place to refuel.
Day 3: Atacama
Today is another day to discover the Atacama Desert the way you wish. Along with the included excursions, you can also make use of the world-class Puri Spa. Named one of the ten best spas in South America, it features a Finnish Sauna, Turkish bath and jacuzzi. If you’d like to cool down, the hotels six outdoor pools overlook the beautiful Catarpe Valley and its red mountains. The village of San Pedro is a short drive away and there’s a complimentary transfer service between the hotel and the village.
Day 4: Atacama, Santiago
Transfer to the airport for your included flight to the Chilean capital of Santiago.
Arrive in Chicago and explore the city at your leisure. There’s a welcome meeting at 18:00 this evening and an optional group dinner to get to know your group before starting the adventure. Your accommodation for the next two nights is the Holiday Inn Express Chicago Magnificent Mile.
2 Chicago and Fermilab
Today, you'll have an introduction to Chicago by coach, before leaving for your trip to Fermilab, the home of high energy physics in the US. You will have a two-hour private tour, followed by some time with one of the lab's scientists or astrophysicists. It's about a 90-minute drive each way from Chicago. On your return, there will be time to visit Chicago’s internationally recognised Planetarium: the Alder, and maybe some free time to weave your way along the Lake Front Trail and stop for a spot of shopping on Miracle Mile.
Today we depart Chicago for the college town of Madison. En route we visit the Yerkes Observatory the birthplace of astrophysics and the site of the world’s largest refracting telescope. The historic telescope has a 40" (1m) lens made by Alvan Clark and Sons. Your accommodation for the night is the HOJO Madison.
4 Drive to Sioux Falls
En route to Sioux Falls, we’ll explore the serene scenery of Falls Park and the historic ruins of Native American and European settlers. Relax this evening in one of the city’s cafes and restaurants or get an all American experience at a minor league baseball game. Your accommodation for the night is the Holiday Inn Sioux Falls.
5 Badlands National Park
Moving further west, we cross the Dakota prairies to Badlands National Park. Witness the lunar-like landscape of the Park and discover a wide array of intriguing creatures before continuing to Rapid City. Your accommodation for the next two nights is La Quinta Rapid City.
6 Mt Rushmore
This morning, depart for Mount Rushmore, home to one of the greatest artistic feats, the faces of four American presidents chiselled into the granite. Head back to Rapid City for an afternoon spent wandering around the many shops, galleries and restaurants.
7 Crazy Horse Memorial and Devils Tower
Today we visit Crazy Horse Memorial, a tribute to one of N.America’s iconic Native American leaders of the Lakota tribe. Continuing we reach Devil’s Tower National Monument, a landmark made famous by the film 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' is a huge rocky outcrop composed of basalt columns rising nearly 400m above the surrounding terrain. We’ll finish the day in Gillette, a small mining community. Your accommodation for the night is the Hampton Inn.
8 Bighorn National Forest
Explore Bighorn National Forest, a million acre expanse of untouched beauty. Relive some of the Wild West with a visit to the legendary Buffalo Bill Historical Center, perhaps take an optional tour of Old Trail Town or hang on tight at the Cody Nite Rodeo (optional). Your accommodation for the night is the Rodeway Cody.
9 Yellowstone National Park
A short drive this morning takes us to Yellowstone National Park, where grizzly bears, bison, eagles and elk are active. Explore the many erupting geysers such as Old Faithful and the impressive Grand Prismatic Spring. Your accommodation for the next two nights is the Gray Wolf Inn.
10 Yellowstone National Park
Today we make explore more of Yellowstone’s extraordinary geology, wildlife and scenery. Much of this astonishing national park is part contained within a huge volcanic caldera and intriguing landscapes and inspiring views seem to appear around every corner.
11 Grand Teton National Park
Today’s drive takes us to through the stunning Grand Teton National Park. Tonight we will have an evening briefing with Dr John Mason and prepare for the eclipse tomorrow morning. Your accommodation for the next two nights is the Lexington Inn, the Virginian or Super 8.
12 Eclipse day
Eclipse day. After an early breakfast we’ll depart by coach to our chosen site to view the eclipse. The precise location will be selected following an assessment of the prevailing weather conditions. This afternoon, join an optional hike to Grand Teton and then gather for a post eclipse lunch.
13 Drive to Salt Lake
Today we drive to Salt Lake City, the heart of the Mormon religion where there are many fascinating buildings around Temple Square. The tour comes to an end this evening. As we are driving back to Salt Lake City today, your flight will need to be at 16;)) or later.
1 Mexico City
On arrival at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport you will be transferred to a hotel in the heart of the downtown area. In the evening (usually around 6pm) you will meet your tour leader and the other members of your group for a pre-tour briefing. Please check the notice board at the hotel reception for confirmation of the exact time and place of the meeting. This meeting is generally followed by an optional group dinner at a nearby restaurant.
2 Mexico City
Mexico City is an exciting mix of modern cosmopolitan glamour with remnants from both its ancient and colonial history. Situated in the middle of a vast valley, this energetic metropolis, with a population exceeding 20 million, is one of the largest cities in the world. There is a saying that if it happens in Mexico, it happens in Mexico City! Following a city tour, you will have a free afternoon to discover the city's myriad of neighbourhoods and historic buildings.
3 Teotihuacan - Puebla
This morning you will travel by private minivan to Puebla, stopping at Teotihuacan along the way. Located 50 kilometres northeast of Mexico City are the 'must-see' archaeological ruins of Teotihuacan - the site of the massive Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon which dominate the skyline of the complex. This was once the country's biggest ancient cities, and capital of the Aztec people, who ruled over the largest empire in the pre-Hispanic era. Guarded by mountains, this magnificent city is thought to have been founded early in the 1st century AD and reached its peak around 500 AD, when its influence extended down to Guatemala and as far north as present-day Texas. With the help of a local guide, you will have time to stroll down ‘The Avenue of the Dead’, uncover its many wonders and imagine what life must have been like nearly 2000 years ago. Puebla has managed to maintain its colonial heritage despite rapid growth and development. There are a plethora of churches and colonial buildings that remain a testament to its proud history. You will spend time at the local markets, a great place to hunt down hand-painted tiles and other handicrafts, take colourful photos and try your hand at bargaining. To finish off a busy day, perhaps refuel with the local specialty, mole Poblano, a dish famous across Mexico. You may prefer to learn how to cook this famed dish for yourself at an optional cooking class.
This morning you will travel by minibus to the colonial city of Oaxaca. If you're interested in purchasing traditional Mexican handicrafts, this is the place! Oaxaca is famous for its colourful markets and unique shopping opportunities, as well as its relaxed, laid-back feel. It is also a great place to try out some regional delicacies, from ‘mole’ sauces and banana leaf-wrapped ‘tomales’ to the baked chilli and lime grasshoppers. These are sold by the little old ladies at the markets, with each of them declaring that their creation is best! If the frenzy of finding a bargain becomes too much, chill out in one of the many laid-back cafés and soak up the ambience by observing everyday life passing by.
5 Monte Alban - Oaxaca
Today you will drive the short distance up a nearby hill to the ancient Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban, which looks out across the three legs of the valley of Oaxaca. The Zapotec civilisation began construction of this city around 200 BC and it reached its peak during the period between 300 and 700 AD, when the population was estimated to be around 25,000. Monte Alban exercised political, economic and ideological control over the local communities and surrounding regions that include the peaks of three mountain ranges that converge in this valley. With the help of your local guide, you will have plenty of time to explore the remnants of plazas, tombs, palaces and temples that make up this fascinating site. We return to Oaxaca for the afternoon, which is free for you to explore at your leisure.
This morning we drive south towards the Pacific coast on our way to Tehuantepec. On the way we will stop to see the Tule Tree (an impressively large Montezuma cypress tree), a Mezcal factory, and the ruins at Mitla. Mitla is an important Zapotec archaeological site and was the main religious centre for the Zapotec people. It was originally built as a gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead and the name Mitla is derived from the Nahuatl word Mictlan, meaning ‘underworld’. We spend the night in the town of Tehuantepec.
7-8 San Cristobal de Las Casas
Today we continue driving east into the state of Chiapas. On the way we visit Sumidero Canyon, an 800-metre deep canyon carved out by the Sumidero River and dating from the same time as the Grand Canyon. We then continue on to San Cristobal de las Casas. San Cristobal de las Casas has a distinctive old-world feel, thanks to the Spanish colonial architecture and pretty, cobbled streets. It also maintains its indigenous routes. Villages like Chamula are tucked in to the highlands surrounding the San Cristobal, these essentially act as market places and places of religious ceremonial import for the local indigenous people who live in the neighbouring hills. The traditional way of life has been preserved for the local people here, and you will have the opportunity to see them in customary dress. In order to gain a better understanding of these largely Mayan communities, you will have the chance to explore the myriad of surrounding villages on a cultural tour.
You will depart San Cristobal de Las Casas and head for Palenque today. Due to increased activity by the Zapatista movement in the region around Palenque some changes to your itinerary may be necessary due to safety concerns. The Zapatistas have recently been targeting tourists in order to draw attention to their cause. As result some transport to and from Palenque may need to be rerouted which will mean longer travel times of up to 8-9 hours. Some activities, including the Misol-Ha and Agua Azul waterfalls, will be unavailable until this situation is resolved. Alternative activities will be organised as required and explained to you by your tour leader at the welcome meeting. At this time, there are no safety issues within the city of Palenque itself or at the nearby Mayan archaeological site. We’re constantly monitoring this situation to ensure the safety of our passengers and leaders. The following day we visit the ruins of Palenque. Situated on a hilltop in an area of hot jungle, lie some of the most incredible Mayan ruins in the region, dating back to AD600. The eerie calls of howler monkeys echo through the jungle as you wander among ancient ruins, further enhancing the majestic nature of this magnificent site. Some ruins remain unexcavated and hidden in the surrounding forest.
Pack your swimsuits today as we drive north towards the Gulf of Mexico, where we stop at the beach for a swim. We then drive on to Campeche where we spend the night. Campeche is a typical Spanish colonial harbour town, complete with walls and fortifications. A UNESCO World Heritage site, many of the town's buildings have been restored, and as a result it is one of the most picturesque towns in Mexico. We take an orientation tour of the city and also visit the San Miguel Fort and museum.
This morning we head into the ancient ruins of Uxmal to view the amazing Palace of the Governors, considered by many to be the finest example of classic Mayan architecture, and the mystical Pyramid of the Magician, which consists of 5 super-imposed temples. We then continue on to the city of Merida, and take a tour of the city. Known as the 'White City' due to its great use of limestone and white paint, Merida was a centre for Mayan culture long before the arrival of the conquistadors. Today Merida is a bustling city with much of its colonial influences intact. You will have plenty of time to explore the many sights and your guide will be able to recommend a number of sightseeing options, including the highly impressive Regional Anthropology Museum of the Yucatan.
14-15 Chichen Itza - Playa del Carmen
Chichen Itza is arguably the most famous Mayan site in Mexico. Its name came from the deep, natural well known as a ‘cenote’ (sinkhole containing groundwater) located near the centre of the site, which was used during the city's heyday as a place for human sacrifices to appease the Mayan rain god Chaac! The magnificent Temple of Kukulkan stands over the ruins and not far from the temple is the ‘Ball Court’, where it is believed many disputes were settled in a game with combatants hitting a ball by using only their elbows, hips and wrists. Stone carvings depict the violence of the play around the ball court walls, suggesting it was not such a casual sport. Following a guided tour of the site, you will continue to the resort town of Playa del Carmen. With azure waters, powdery beaches and a European feel, Playa del Carmen is a resort city close to Cancun but without the party atmosphere. Spend your time snorkelling among the mangroves, diving in underground caverns, or strolling along the white sands. In the evenings kick back and watch the waves with a margarita. For adventures further afield take a ferry across the turquoise seas to Cozumel, an island famous for its reef diving.
16-17 Tulum - Caye Caulker
You will travel by minibus to the cliff-top ruins of Tulum today. From the crumbling walls of the city ruins, you will enjoy breathtaking views across the coastline of the Caribbean below. Dating back to to the year 1200, these ruins are quite young by Mayan standards. The largest of the temples here is Castillo. Once coated in stucco, painted and decorated with masks, this temple has also served as a fortress. Temple of the Winds is perched over the water, and is reputed whistle when a hurricane approaches as a warning. From here you will get back on the minibus and cross the border into Belize. Continue to Belize City, where you'll catch a water taxi to Caye Caulker. Just a short boat ride from the coast are the Belize Cayes. You will be based at one of the more popular of the many islands here, Caye Caulker. From here you can arrange day trips to other cayes if you are in search of the best reefs for diving. You will notice that each of the islands has its own character, but there is an unmistakable Caribbean charm about all of them. You may also choose to take a local boat out to the reef of Caulker itself. There is a half-day of snorkelling on the reef included in your trip, where you will most likely see sharks, rays, fish and coral. You can upgrade this to a full-day snorkelling package at an additional cost if you wish - where you might also see turtles and manatees. Spend the afternoon sipping cocktails overlooking the water, swimming off the Split, or perhaps shopping for local souvenirs.
18 San Ignacio
Today you head to San Ignacio (approx. 3 hours). It is situated in the highlands, and is surrounded by forest, waterfalls, rivers, and Mayan ruins, a beautiful place in its own right, and a great base for uncovering the beauty and history of the area. This afternoon we will visit the impressive Mayan ceremonial centre, Xunantunich, where you can enjoy expansive views across the surrounding countryside. There is also a unique stucco frieze on the east side of the temple. Part of the joy of this tour is the hand-cranked ferry ride across the river.
You will continue by minibus to Tikal today. Home to some of the most magnificent Mayan ruins, the Tikal National Park is awash with wonder. The five granite temples of Tikal tower above the impressive jungle canopy, while a veritable feast of smaller structures remain hidden among the jungle growth. For those who are interested, climbing to the top of the ruins will provide you with unsurpassed views over the jungle, you may even glimpse of a toucan, macaw or other tropical bird. You will stay overnight in the park, before an early morning tour of the ruins. Our accommodation is in a jungle eco-lodge. While facilities at the lodge are a little more basic, it is a great experience staying in the jungle, and hearing jungle sounds as you fall asleep. Electricity at the lodge is limited and is turned off at around 9-10pm each day.
Following your early morning tour of the Tikal ruins, we have a short drive to Flores, where we spend the afternoon. Take time to stroll through the cobblestone streets past pastel-coloured buildings, buy local handicrafts or take a dip in Lake Peten Itza.
This morning, we drive to the nearby airport and fly to Guatemala City, from where we transfer to Antigua. A beautifully preserved UNESCO World Heritage site, Antigua is home to a plethora of Spanish Baroque architecture and ruined churches. Once the capital of Spanish Guatemala, today Antigua is a town of over 30,000 people nestled between three towering volcanoes. The capital was moved to Guatemala City after the earthquakes of 1773. It is a very popular stop for travellers because of its historical relics, as well as the pleasant ambiance and vibrancy of the local people. There are a number of interesting markets, restaurants and cafes; be sure to try the famous Guatemalan coffee! It is also a place renowned for its many Spanish language schools. There is no shortage of things to do and places to discover during your time here. You will visit a women's cooperative while you are in town. Founded in 1992, the cooperative is an independent, grassroots organisation designed to assist community development, health, education, clean water and income generation. Skills like cooking, weaving and textiles are employed by the women here to demonstrate traditional crafts. Your trip will come to an end on Day 9 after breakfast.
Welcome to Nepal On arrival in Kathmandu, you’ll be met at the airport by our representative and transferred to your hotel. After you settle in there will be a group briefing with your tour leader in the late afternoon. They’ll discuss the trip details and co-ordinate any last minute arrangements. The evening is free to explore the streets of Kathmandu, whose mixture of ancient architecture and modern development, and rich artistic and cultural heritage, means it remains the legendary destination it has been for decades. Crowded markets and bazaars are the centre of Nepali life and the narrow streets are home to holy men, monks, bicycles, incense, goats and sacred cows. Your leader will usually organise an optional dinner at one of Kathmandu’s fine Nepali restaurants.
In the early morning you will make an attempt at the Mount Everest scenic flight. This amazing experience will take you over Sagamartha National Park, through a crescendo of the highest peaks in the world, climaxing by getting up close to Mount Everest. Later in the morning you will explore Kathmandu on an organised sightseeing tour. You will visit Bodhnath Stupa, one of the biggest Buddhist shrines in the world, where you can observe Buddhist monks in prayer in the monasteries surrounding the stupa. You will also visit Pashupatinath, the most famous Hindu temple in the country, located on the banks of the holy Bagmati River. Here you will see Hindu holy men (sadhus) meditating, pilgrims bathing, and occasionally funeral pyres burning on the ghats. The rest of your afternoon in Kathmandu is free for further sightseeing and exploration. Perhaps head out into Durbar Square, in front of the old royal palace and home to numerous beautiful temples, and browse the stalls of merchant's wares.
Today you will have an early departure from the hotel for your transfer to the domestic terminal at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan Airport. From here you will fly to Pokhara, with a flight time of about 30 minutes. There are often spectacular views of the main Himalayan chain to the north on this flight. On arrival you will take a boat ride across the lake (Phewa Tal), which is the second largest in Nepal. Visit the Peace Pagoda, where spectacular views of the mountains await. You can see the Annapurnas from here, and the famous fishtail peak, Machhapuchhare, and back across to Pokhara. You will also visit the fascinating International Mountain Museum to learn some amazing tales of past climbing expeditions – some ending in triumph, some ending in tragedy.
Enjoy a free day for further exploration in the peaceful surroundings of Pokhara. Your leader can advise you of sightseeing opportunities. It is worth taking a boat for a row out on the lake, especially if the weather's fine. The lakeside area has great shopping opportunities and internet cafes. Pokhara has an interesting old area as well as an elaborate Hindu temple and a Buddhist monastery.
In the morning you will drive to beautiful Bandipur (approximately 2 hours). You will fully explore this incredible settlement and take the many opportunities to immerse yourself in the culture of Nepal as it once was. Enjoy the spectacular views, the incredibly maintained architecture and nice walking trails. This traditional Nepalese settlement is a natural treasure and one of the country's true hidden gems.
Enjoy a day of free time to further explore Bandipur. The surrounding hills are ideal for hiking along trails that will take you through tribal villages, verdant forests, 'power places', and hilltop shrines that once doubled as fortresses. As you explore the area you may feel as though you're stepping back in time; though development increases, the aura of this place has been beautifully preserved. As tourism in Nepal developed along the main roads and airports, for over 30 years there simply was no road linking Bandipur to the main infrastructure, leaving it almost untouched by touristic influence. The village is saddled on a high ridge above Dumre, 700 metres beyond the Marsyangdi River Valley, making for an exceptional view of the Himalayan panorama.
7 Chitwan National Park
After breakfast you will be picked up and driven to Chitwan National Park (approximately 4 hours). After arriving and settling in, you will be introduced to the camp staff and resident naturalists who will discuss the program. There is some flexibility, and activities may vary depending on the time of the year, and on wildlife movements. A late-afternoon safari will take you through forests and across grasslands to observe the varied and exciting wildlife in the park. In the early evening the local Tharu dance troupe may perform a cultural program. You will then enjoy dinner and afterwards you will be free to relax in the bar and discuss the day’s sightings or listen to the exotic sounds of the jungle at night.
8 Chitwan National Park
Embark on an early-morning excursion. This could include either another safari to different parts of the park (in search of the great Indian rhino, deer, and exotic bird life) or joining one of the other activities available in the park. Tiger sightings are rare these days, but these magnificent animals do inhabit the park. After breakfast you will leave the lodge and go on a dugout canoe adventure on the Rapti River. This is an exciting trip with chances to view marsh mugger crocodiles and various birds that inhabit the riverbanks. A program will be organised for the rest of the day, and may include further excursions by jeep or a visit to one of the nearby villages.
9 Chitwan National Park - Bhaktapur
If you are an avid wildlife lover, there is an optional early-morning birdwatching safari available today – a worthwhile addition to your trip. After breakfast you will drive on to Bhaktapur (approximately 4 hours), which was once the capital of Nepal and the Great Malla Kingdom during the 15th century. Its rich heritage, inspiring temples and artisanal history played a big part in Bhaktapur being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enjoy an evening of exploration on your own, soak up the lovely atmosphere in one of the local cafes, or simply relax in your hotel.
10 Bhaktapur - Kathmandu
Spend the day exploring Bhaktapur’s famous temples, starting at Durbar Square, which is reputed to be the most beautiful piece of art in Nepal. Durbar Square is home to the majestic Lion Gate and Golden Gate. You will also visit the Pashupati Temple, a replica of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu. This will be an enlightening morning of discovery and enrichment, as you delve into all Bhaktapur has to offer. In the afternoon, drive to Kathmandu (approximately 2 hours). The evening will then be free, however the group leader will usually organise an optional evening meal at another of Kathmandu’s great restaurants.
Enjoy a free day today in Kathmandu. Check out the great range of optional Urban Adventures or just wander through the buzzing streets of Thamel.
12 Paro - Thimphu
Get up early and fly to Bhutan. This morning board the short flight to Bhutan. Ask to sit on the left hand side of the plane for the best views of the Himalaya's. After arrival at Paro airport and sailing through immigration and custom formalities, you will be greeted by your guide and driver and warmly welcomed to the enchanting Land of the Thunder Dragon. Drive for two hours alongside mountains, rivers, and fields of red rice to Thimphu, Bhutan's capital city. After lunchl visit Nado, Bhutan’s famous traditional incense maker and the colorful Gagyel Lhendup weaving center. Later in the evening, you may wander and explore the fascinating streets of Thimphu, the world’s only capital city without a traffic light!
Today begins with a pleasant rural walk that meanders gently up the valley through paddy fields, pristine woodlands and a Tibetan village. We’ll walk along a trail to Pangri Zampa Gompa. Spot Bhutanese chortens on the riverside route and pass through the villages of Choku and Begana. Cross a cantilevered bridge, and climb uphill for around an hour uphill to the monastery. Cheri Dorji Dhen was built in 1620 by Shabdrung, the first ruler of Bhutan, who also established the first order of monks here. At the bottom of the hill, a picnic lunch will be waiting for us along the riverside. Drive back to Thimphu for an afternoon of sightseeing. There is much to see! We will visit the Memorial Chorten, a shrine built in the memory of the 3rd King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. Many Thimphu residents consider this to be the heart and soul of Thimphu and gather here every day to pray and walk clockwise around the chorten. Afterwards, visit Dubthob nunnery, and then the School of Arts and Crafts where students follow an eight-year program in traditional arts, such as drawing, painting, woodcarving, and sculpture. No tour of Thimphu is complete without a visit to the incredible Textile Museum. Some shopping time if you wish is available at the Thimphu Handicraft Emporium which offers high quality traditional goods, and a small family-run enterprise which manufactures paper and paper products using traditional methods.
Leave Thimpu this morning and drive to Punakha (approx. 4 hours) the ancient winter capital of Bhutan. En-route stop at Dochu-La pass (10,000ft/3,048m) for a breathtaking view the eastern Himalayas, including Bhutan's highest mountain, the majestic Gangkar Punsum (24,770ft/7,550m.) The road descends through varied and ever-changing forest, emerging into the highly cultivated Punakha valley. Take a short walk to visit Chimi Lhakhang, a fertility temple built in 1499 by lama Drukpa Kunley (charmingly known as “The Divine Madman.”) On this site, The Divine Madman subdued the Demoness of the Dochu-La using his “magic thunderbolt of wisdom,” (also known as “his phallus.”) A wooden effigy of the Lama’s “thunderbolt” is preserved in the Lhakhang. Traditionally, childless women have visited this temple to receive a wang (blessing) from the saint. Our trail leads across rice fields to the tiny settlement of Pana. There are few young monks at the temple, which is surrounded by a row of prayer wheels and some very beautiful slate carvings. In Punakha, we’ll visit the impressive Punakha Dzong. With its three towers, and wonderful location at the confluence of two rivers, it is considered by many to be the most beautiful of Bhutan’s 21 Dzongs.
After breakfast, Explore this small town with your leader on an orientation walk. Head down to the convergence of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu Rivers, two of the main rivers of Bhutan. There are lovely views of the majestic Punakha Dzong. This fine Dzong was constructed around 1639 and due to its location the Dzong has flooded several times in its history and also partially destroyed by fire in the 1980's. Be sure to keep an eye out for the cantilever brdige spanning the river. After lunch undertake an optional hike (approx. 1 hour) to visit the Khamsum Yulley Monastery. Its an uphill climb but the views from the top make it worthwhile. As with many monasteries in Bhutan, our leader will need to hunt around for the caretaker with the keys to have a look inside.
This morning head back over the Dochu-La and continue to Thimphu. (approx. 4 hrs) This is a good chance to relax and refresh. The roads in Bhutan are narrow and whilst the distances are not great, due to the nature of the roads and the many valleys they pass through travelling can take some time. After lunch in Thimpu, continue by vehicle into the Paro Valley. Its a long day of driving. This evening experience a local homestay in Paro with home cooked meals and a friendly local atmosphere.
17 Tiger's Nest Monastery - Paro
After an early breakfast we drive up to the starting point and prepare for our hike to the legendary Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) - a magnificent monastery, clinging on a rock cliff 900 meters above the valley floor. The legend dating back to 747 AD has it that the Great Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhawa) flew here from northeast Bhutan on the back of a tigress to subdue the demons of Paro Valley. The guru then meditated in the holy cave that is the site of the Pelphug Lhakhang today. According to Tantric Buddhist mythology, the vanquished local deities became the protectors of the dharma and one of them, Singey Samdrup, is recognised today as the guardian deity of Taktsang. Guru Rinpoche is also believed to have concealed among the rocks of Taktsang various forms of Dharma treasures known as Ters, which were destined to be discovered later by Tertons (treasure discoverers) for the propagation of Dharma. Taktsang was severely damaged by fire on Sunday 19th April 1998. The king commanded its immediate restoration soon after the fire. The royal command dictated that the original aura, authenticity and architectural splendor must be preserved at all costs. This project has been widely seen as an act of devotion involving all sections of Bhutanese society and as homage to the nation's cultural heritage. It also proved to be an opportunity for Bhutan's traditional artists and craftsmen to hone the skills inherited from their forefathers down the ages. In order to facilitate the restoration work, a road was built to the base of the mountain facing the temple. We drive to the end of this road and begin our hike up the mountain for a closer view of the temple. After approximately an hour walking uphill, we reach a small teahouse that has a wonderful panoramic view of the temple. Its the ideal place to enjoy lunch. For those interested, it is possible to get a closer view by hiking another 45 minutes to an hour (each direction) to reach the small chorten directly across from the temple. Anyone not interested in hiking any further can relax at the teahouse and enjoy the view. It total it will about 5 to 6 hours to get back to the car including all stops if you choose to walk the full way.
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at your hotel before a departure transfer to Paro airport for your flight out of Bhutan. Due to group visa requirements, all travellers are required to leave Bhutan on the same day.
1 Mexico City
Bienvenidos! Welcome to Mexico. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 11am on Day 1 (30 Oct). Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. After the meeting your leader will take you out for a walking tour of Mexico City’s historic centre including the famous Zocalo, Metropolitan Cathedral, Templo Mayor and Palacio de Bellas Artes. The tour will also include a stop at Mercado San Juan where you can enjoy some delicious local food for lunch (lunch not included). Modern meets ancient in Mexico City - one of the world's largest urban centres. Although crowded and smoggy, D.F. (Distrito Federal) offers a great variety of impressive museums, galleries and architecture, along with exciting night life and delicious street food. Head to the Zocalo, the city's huge central square, to see Aztec ruins and colonial architecture or relax in one of the many parks, plazas and gardens. This itinerary is designed to provide the best possible experience of the annual Day of the Dead festivities around Mexico City. As such, there is very limited free time to explore many of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, including the Museum of Anthropology, Teotihuacan and Chapultepec Park. We recommend you stay a few extra days before or after the tour to make the most of this vibrant metropolis. If you need help booking extra accommodation, our reservations team will be happy to assist. We will also be operating multiple departure of this tour in 2016 so it possible that more than one group will be at some locations or activities at the same time. However, each group will have a maximum of 12 passengers with its own dedicated tour leader.
2 Mexico City
This morning we visit both Museum Anahuacalli and the Frida Kahlo Museum in the leafy neighbourhood of Coyoacan. Built of black volcanic stone, Museum Anahuacalli was established by Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo's husband. During his life he collected nearly 60,000 pre-Hispanic pieces which represent almost all of the indigenous civilisations in Mexico’s history. Both Diego and Frida were obsessed with death which can be seen throughout their art. As such, the museum organises different activities and workshops during the Day of the Dead celebrations. The Frida Kahlo Museum is located in the house where the iconic artist lived throughout her life. It contains a collection of her artwork, as well as artefacts, photographs, and personal items. There will also be free time to explore the Coyoacan market. The actual order of these activities will be decided by your leader on the day. Later, head out with the group for an optional evening of dinner and drinks in one of Mexico City's hippiest neighbourhoods.
3 Mexico City
First thing this morning we’ll head to UNAM (University of Mexico) to see its spectacular display of traditional Day of the Dead altars. This is a very popular activity for locals so hopefully we’ll avoid the long queues by arriving early. This afternoon you may like to take an optional trip to Xochimilco (approx 28 km away) to visit the Doll's Island. Doll's Island (or Isla de las Munecas) is an island dedicated to the lost soul of a poor girl who drowned in mysterious circumstances. This small island is home to hundreds of dolls - many of them with severed limbs, decapitated heads and black eyes - who are said to be possessed by the girl's spirit. Local legends says that the dolls move their heads and arms and have even been known to open their eyes! We will head back to Mexico City and in the evening we will join one of the many street parties that traditionally take place around the city.
4 Mexico City
This morning we leave early and travel by private transport to Tepoztlan (approximately 80km away) to explore this fascinating town and the nearby Aztec ruins with a local guide. Tepoztlan is considered the birthplace of the Mesoamerican god, Quetzalcoatl, and is therefore an important indigenous site. The town itself has a well-preserved historic centre and is surrounded by soaring cliffs, on the top of which is the Tepozteco pyramid. Many people still feel a kind of magic or energy about the town and it is a mecca for artists and mystics. The one hour walk up hill to the pyramid can be quite challenging. If you don't feel up to it, you can stay and spend more time exploring Tepoztlan. This afternoon we will go to see traditional altar building and/or lamp creating that forms part of the Day of the Dead ceremony. With luck, we'll be able to get our hands dirty helping to create these objects, and then participate in the ceremony that follows. As part of the Day of the Dead people organise ceremonies at the cemetery for those not physically with them any longer. This tradition is particularly colourful and festive in the town of Mixquic – where we will visit. The ceremony starts in the afternoon with families decorating the tombs and continues on well into the night with parties, music and tequila (of course).
5 Mexico City
As we will arrive back from the activities in Mixquic late on Day 4, your leader will arrange a final brunch on the morning of Day 5 so you can meet and say farewell to your new friends. Check out from the hotel is at 10am. You may like to extend your time here and allow yourself a day or two more to take in some of the many palaces, churches and temples, or to sit and watch life go by in the Alameda Central. If you need help booking extra accommodation, our reservations team will be able to assist.