Here, at Andante, we have a selection of tours that have been with us for years. Each of our longest-running tours has different reasons that contribute to its longevity, so we decided it would be fun to take a look back over the past decade – especially now as we are in a brand new one – to see what makes a ‘core’ tour, how it has evolved over the last 10 years and why it’s still worth booking a place for. To do this, we caught up with a number of our expert guides, who had interesting things to say about the tours they know, love and lead year after year for us. The first tour we're looking at is Mexico | The Maya and we spoke to its leader, David Drew, about why it has enjoyed such longevity.
Top Tours of the Past 10 Years: Mexico
Mexico | The Maya
On this 16-day tour, you will follow in the footsteps of the Maya and visit an array of fascinating sites that range from the iconic Chichén Itzá to Yaxchilán with its remarkable architecture. Elsewhere, stand before Diego Rivera’s murals at the National Palace, travel in 4x4s to the famous site of Bonampak, and devote a morning to Uxmal with its so-called Pyramid of the Magician.
This is a full-on Mexican adventure, which will see expert guide lecturer David Drew reveal the secrets and stories of the Maya civilization through talks, immersive site visits and glimpses of ancient artifacts at regional museums.
Departs 2nd November, 2020 | From $5,935pp
How was your first experience leading this tour?
It’s hard to remember, since I have been doing tours to Peru, Bolivia, Mexico and to other parts of Central America for some time now, almost 20 years! It was around 2000 that Annabel Lawson, Andante’s founder, took me on and we seemed to get a good number of people on the earliest Andante tours. I think we began with trips in search of the ancient Maya – to Mexico, Guatemala and Belize.
The people on the trips were very understanding. They were often keen to get acquainted with New World archaeology, which, most of the time, they freely admitted to knowing very little about. That is not surprising, since the British (in the early days there were fewer Andante people from the USA) have always tended, as far as ‘foreign’ archaeology is concerned, to get to know about those parts of the world where we have had a Colonial connection – the Middle East, Africa and so on. The Americas represented a rare plunge into an unknown and very ‘New World’. Also, the first tours I did were to the Maya area and since I had finished writing a book about the Maya, I was pretty clued up and engaged with the subject matter, shall we say. That is not to suggest, for one moment, that I am not fully engaged still!
On a more practical level, I had done quite a lot of lecturing to a variety of audiences before doing the tours, so I was used to and enjoyed talking to people about the subject matter. And above all, perhaps, on the actual trips you were not just in some lecture hall somewhere with a load of slides (in those days), but out in the field next door to the actual monuments you were talking about. And in visiting many places, you still feel how very privileged you are to be there – that not many people have the chance to actually be in Machu Picchu, for example, however teeming with people it is now, or to visit the wonderful Maya site of Bonampak in Mexico, whose famous murals are seen in the flesh by very few people. There they are, on the walls, and you could touch them if it weren’t for one or two guardians asking you very politely not to. It is an extraordinarily rare thrill to be able to experience such sites in this intimate, ‘hands-on’ way.
How has the tour changed over the years?
I am lucky in that South and Central America are blessed with an enormous number of multi-period ancient cultures and archaeological sites. Many of these have begun to emerge only recently, often literally out of the jungle, and are looked after by the antiquities departments of countries in the area, who now recognize more fully the tourist potential of such places. Certainly, in Mexico for example, archaeologists and the Ministry of Tourism are constantly talking together about which sites should be promoted, where roads should be built to afford access to particular sites, and so on. But things have not changed so much that you feel somehow regimented – that everything is organised with tourism in mind. That is because there are simply so many archaeological sites. That is great for us, in that every year we can maybe go to visit a new site where work is going on and where, maybe, particular advances in understanding have been made. That is the other joy of the Maya area, that our understanding of these places and our knowledge of Maya culture as a whole is still increasing at a fair speed. This is often linked to advances that are made and our increased knowledge of the Maya system of hieroglyphic writing. It is only since the 1980s that serious advances have been made in 'cracking the Maya code', as the phrase goes. And so, every year we can mention a new gloss, further progress in understanding the nature of Maya society and how it functioned, given new understandings of what the Maya texts say. The impact of Maya hieroglyphic decipherment is something that we constantly stress on the tours themselves.
Have the conditions of any sites changed? If so, does this impact visits?
As I have said, in the Maya area of Mexico in particular there is an enormous amount of archaeological work going on, and a good deal of it still carried out by teams of both Mexicans and people from American universities. Since I started doing these trips – in around the year 2000 – so many more sites are being investigated. And what is very nice is being able to tell people about ongoing work, how, in many cases, this has only recently begun, and the impact it is having on our knowledge of the Maya, as we return each year.
What kind of guests does this tour attract?
Young and old, often with repeat guests who want to see other parts of Mexico, or to venture into Guatemala and Belize and visit the Maya sites there. The trips are not too demanding physically, and we regularly have fairly fit people in their 70s and early 80s doing them. And once curiosity about the Maya begins, then in the past we have had those who have seen the Mexican sites return to visit the ones in Guatemala and Belize.
What has changed about the trip over the past decade and why?
In the past we have very much modified the itinerary on our Maya trips according to where archaeological work is going on. This has not happened for the last couple of years, but I hope that this continues to be the case in the future. We have also had to change our itinerary a little in recent times because of the presence in certain areas of elements of the 'Zapatistas', the guerrilla organization that claims to speak for the Maya of Chiapas and adjacent parts of Mexico. But they are largely a spent force these days and we should not have to change our itinerary on their account again. In the future, I would hope that we are able to cover certain areas in the Maya highlands. This would mean traveling into parts of highland Guatemala, which is something that we have done in the past and we should certainly do again.
What do you think has given the tour such longevity?
We have been following a complex and colorful archaeological story that is very much alive and constantly changing, with people out there in the field working hard at coming to further, more sophisticated conclusions about the Maya. They were a native American people whose ancestors had originally crossed the Bering Straits from Asia and thereafter grew up totally independently of the Old World. Their history, and the work that is currently going on to unravel it, makes their story one of great novelty to Andante travelers.
Book yourself a place on this tour in 2020
Departing on November 2nd, this is your only chance of the year to experience this tour for yourself – and in the expert company of David Drew himself. To secure your place, simply click below and you'll be taken through to the tour page.