The Path of the Jaguar – Immerse Yourself in Mayan History and Lore
An 8 Day Tour of Chiapas – Ancient Mayan Culture, History & Lore
The Path of the Jaguar: Highland Chiapas, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Palenque and Environs
This package tour includes guided visits to the Mayan villages and churches of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan, San Cristobal de las Casas, the Sergio Castro Museum, the Na Bolom Museum, the Museum of Amber and the ancient Mayan city of Palenque, with optional extension to Bonampak and Yaxchilan in the Lacandon rain forest.
The Maya and the peoples of ancient Mexico knew what they were made of, corn, and they knew how long it took to complete numerous cycles derived from the movements of the heavens, the life spans of plants and human gestation. The fore bearers of those shamans, kings and scribes who studied time and the cycles of the sun, moon and planets were those who gave birth to the Mesoamerican calendar and kept it alive so that we would know when it was time to germinate again and rise up as gods into the sky. The year 2012 is an important signpost along the way during that ascension. As we fall back into the earth now it has been what seems like only a short time since we had come full circle before and we are once again standing at the point of destruction in order to create…
The Path of the Jaguar winds its way upward into the highlands of Chiapas, where we’ll see variations in dress, unique agricultural adaptation, as well as ritual, faith and symbolism that has remained unchanged for more than 2000 years or been melded with European colonial and Christian imprints that sometimes mimic them. The cross and cardinal directions, reciprocal sacrifice, and the sacred geography of a living landscape become ever more important to us thematically as we begin our immersion into the art and iconography of the ancient Maya, now wearing the regalia of Christendom. After seeing manmade mountains and temples of stone that emulate the earth, heavens and underworld toppled and used again to construct the edifices of Spanish royalty and the conformity of catholic salvation, we admire the will of a people as strong as the Maya who survived it all and continue to grow like the World Tree, the sacred Ceiba, that holds their universe together.
The details that pick and peck at the minds of master scholars are but glimpses of a larger picture unfolding all around us as we walk through a sacred city of ancient savants. Winding down toward the Gulf coast flood plain of Tabasco to the tropical edge of highland Chiapas and the forested Usumacinta river basin at Palenque, Bonampak and Yaxchilan, we see the vestiges of gods, rulers and dynastic history interwoven with images of religious and cosmic ritual, war and sacrifice that still speak from ancient remains beneath a canopy of rainforest. At times, they remind us of who we are and of our ability to properly mark the passage of time. They offer us lessons in their silence about the fates of gods and societies.
The Path of the Jaguar Itinerary
Day 1 - Our journey begins after arrival in Tuxtla Gutierrez in the afternoon by air, having connected through Mexico City. Land transport to San Cristobal de Las Casas. Overnight San Cristobal de las Casas.
Day 2 - Wake up to a crisp San Cristobal morning amid the mystical mountains of central Chiapas. After breakfast, we head out for a guided tour of the city, its landmarks and monuments that speak from an indigenous past, cloaked now in Christianity. The local markets, the Na Bolom museum (former home of the late Danish archeaologist Frans Blom and his wife Gertrude and dedicated to the study and support of the Lacandon Maya), museums of jade and amber and of prehispanic/colonial history and Mayan culture; as well as an international array of restaurants give us plenty to do the rest of the day. Breakfast included, overnight San Cristobal.
Day 3 - Guided tours of the Tzotzil Maya villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan, just outside of town, are great first-hand introductions into a world that we as outsiders can only hope to better understand with time. The mystical manner with which these modern descendents of ancient shamans conduct their lives and rituals leave us spellbound and longing to learn more about things like alternative methods of healing (we get a closer look at the Museum of Mayan Medicine). With total respect for the sanctity of the community we visit, we are given unique and intimate presentations of culture and tradition, truly beautiful and sometimes shocking to behold. Free afternoon. Breakfast included, overnight in San Cristobal.
Day 4 - Option : A day trip down into the lush Grijalva river basin and historic first capital of the Spanish in the region, Chiapa de Corzo, with boat trips through the awe inspiring Sumidero canyon and the scenic eco-park located inside it. This place is where the earliest Maya long-count date was found, inscribed in jade.
A visit to the Sergio Castro Museum in the evening will be an inspiring lesson in the culture, daily life and variety of dress of the Maya that Sergio has become an expert on after over 50 years of charity work in Chiapas.
Those who do not choose the optional canyon trip will have the day free to enjoy and explore the traditional markets and museums of historic San Cristobal de Las Casas. Breakfast included, overnight in San Cristobal.
Day 5 - We begin the second leg of our journey this morning, gradually moving north, lower and lower through changing vegetation (and traditional clothing) and purely Mayan areas, toward Palenque. We stop at the cascades of Agua Azul, at about midway. As we descend further, we begin to see the dramatic difference between the tropical highlands we are leaving and the lush rainforest we are entering. Arriving to the town of Palenque in the afternoon, we have time to shake off the dust of the day’s road travel and settle into our hotel, tucked into the forest near the archaeological zone; perhaps receiving a visit from some of the local howler monkeys. Breakfast included, overnight in Palenque.
Day 6 - After a breakfast overlooking the rainforest canopy we ride or walk into the national park and archaeological zone of Lacamha, known today as Palenque. We see immediately why the city’s name meant “big or wide waters” and why Palenque’s record is so important scientifically and spiritually to the study of the Mayan people and the human race. We experience dynastic history and religion worked into mountains of stone and stucco, demonstrating faith in a wide range of gods and their aspects in nature; as displayed through cosmic ritual and sacrifice. In the site museum we gaze upon lifelike portraits in clay, stone and stucco as we come face to face with the ancient ruling lineage of Palenque. The natural setting of encroaching rainforest, sacred geometry, recent studies in ancient astronomy, 2012, the calendar and the decipherment of Maya glyphic code are all subjects to be addressed during our days and nights in Palenque. Breakfast included, presentation by Albert and The Maya Exploration Center, overnight in Palenque.
Day 7 - This day is free to roam the ruins, trails and museum of Palenque with guidance available by Albert and the associates of The Maya Exploration Center. In the afternoon and evening, talks with archaeologists, art historians or other experts in the field of Maya research with many years working at the ruins will further enhance our experience of ancient Mayan cosmological vision, history and thought. Dinner that evening gives us time to reflect a bit and enjoy the tropical atmosphere before departing the next morning for home or, for those who choose the extension, to the Lacandon rainforest, the stunningly preserved painted mural scenes of ancient Bonampak and the classic period power center of Yaxchilan on the Usumacinta river that forms the border with Guatemala (accessed by boat). Breakfast included, overnight in Palenque.
Day 8 - We depart after an early breakfast for the airport in Villahermosa, Tabasco, passing through the ancient homeland of the Olmec for midday/early afternoon flights home. Breakfast included.
Day 8 - Transport to Bonampak and guided tour of site and mural paintings with Albert and the associates of The Maya Exploration Center. After beholding some of the most vivid and well preserved mural paintings by classic period Maya scribes, where live the Lacandon Maya who still practice their ancient religion, we transfer to our accommodations for the night on the banks of the Usumacinta river in the rustic frontier town of Frontera Corazal. Breakfast, lunch included, overnight in Frontera Corazal.
Day 9 - We reach Yaxchilan by boat, awed by the beauty of the rain forest and the ancient history that it holds hidden beneath. After roaming the enchanted, forested ruins of this riverside capital whose ancient works of art still portray vividly the bloody rites, self sacrifice and warlike doctrine of the classic period Maya; we understand clearly why it was worth it to come so far. After that we head back to Palenque for our final night. Breakfast, lunch included, overnight in Palenque.
Day 10 - We depart after an early breakfast for the airport in Villahermosa, Tabasco, passing through the ancient homeland of the Olmec for midday/ early afternoon flights home. Breakfast included.