Calling Indiana Jones Types

Playing archaeologist in Mexico is an easy and eye-opening experience.

It might take a lifetime to explore all of Mexico’s ruins and prehistoric sites, but what a lifetime that would be. For every Chichen Itza or Tulum, there are many places that are relatively unknown, not quite as famous but just as intriguing—and more that will surely be uncovered as years go by. Underneath Mexico City alone there are finds being stumbled upon fairly often. But whether they’re surrounded by jungle or seconds away from a pretty beach, Mexico’s archaeological sites are some of this hemisphere’s most fascinating.

for studious travelers For clients who want the real scoop from a scholar, there is Far Horizons’ Mexico: World of the Ancient Olmecs, led by Olmec specialist Prof. F. Kent Reilly III, the director of the Center for the Study of Arts and Symbolism of Ancient America at Texas State University. Departing on March 12, 2011, this 8-day excursion allows clients to delve into the Olmec civilization, the first in Mesoamerica.

Clients fly to Villahermosa, home to the open-air Parque Museo La Venta. Here, they will find many Olmec artifacts, including giant heads emblematic of this civilization. The museum also puts on a sound-and-light show on most evenings and features a number of walking trails. Then it’s off to Tres Zapotes, where the carved heads were found in 1862. After a short visit to lively Veracruz and a stop by the new Xalapa Museum of Anthropology, clients will then spend two nights at the NH Hotel in Puebla, from which they’ll visit the archaeological site of Chalcatzingo, with Olmec bas-reliefs that are said to be the foundation for later Mesoamerican mythology. Then it’s off to Mexico City and its magnificent National Museum of Anthropology, considered one of the world’s best, with a stay at the Hampton Inn. Before they depart, they’ll also enjoy a tour of Teotihuacan, the Aztec’s “birthplace of the gods,” and visit the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, the Avenue of the Dead, and the site of the tomb of Aztec Emperor Ahuizotl, which is still being excavated.

Mexico: World of the Ancient Olmecs is priced at $4,795 pp dbl, including airfare, plus a donation of at least $100 pp that goes to the cultural and scientific museums and sites visited.

action-adventure The Maya are alive and well in Mexico, although it’s been hundreds of years since they developed their astronomical and mathematical systems, as well as other notable landmarks. The Mayan Traveler has a wide array of tour options spanning different sites in Mexico and Belize. We like The Wonders of Chiapas for its distinct flavor, allowing travelers to enjoy a part of the country that’s less explored than others in the Mayan world. Clients should be moderately fit, as they are expected to do light hiking for a few hours each day.

This program begins and ends in Villahermosa, letting travelers take in both notable Mayan sites and the gorgeous Chiapas rainforest. They will visit Palenque, home to verdant landscapes and assorted tropical birds that protect several Mayan ruins, staying at Hotel Villas Kin-Ha. Then it’s off to Tonina, a seldom-visited site famous for its relief of the Mayan god of death holding the severed head of a prisoner. They will stop by Agua Azul and Misol Ha and enjoy a swim in a few waterfalls before continuing on to Hotel Casa Mexicana in San Cristobal de las Casas, where an ethnic subgroup of the Maya called the Tzotzil come to sell their wares. Nearby are the communities of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan, which will also be explored. Travelers will also take a short boat ride from the town of Chiapa de Corzo through the Sumidero Canyon before heading back to Villahermosa and the Quality Inn Villahermosa Cincali Hotel.

This program starts at $2,253 pp dbl, though the price may decrease if more people sign up.

independent-minded Clients who would rather explore on their own and just have you arrange hotel and flights might want to consider a few of the 10 travel routes—complete with itineraries—recently unveiled by Sectur and the Mexico Tourism Board. One of them, The Mystery and Origin of the Maya Culture, recommends a jaunt along the states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo, while The Huastecas and Their Outstanding Beauty covers San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas and Veracruz for a peek at the pre-Columbian Huastecs.