RCL Exclusive

Blaze Ancient Mayan Trails Like You’re Member of the Explorers Club

Get unfettered access to active archaeological digs via partnership with Kensington Tours.

Travel Will Levith for RealClearLife

What do President Theodore Roosevelt, Prince Philip, Sir Edmund Hillary, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, Chuck Yeager, Walter Cronkite, and Titanic director James Cameron have in common?

They’re all lifetime members of a private, members-only international society, the Explorers Club.

Founded in New York City in the early 1900s, the club remains a second home to some of the world’s best-known scientists, adventurers, researchers, and thinkers; a place where they can meet to discuss their experiences—as well as upcoming adventures. The club also promotes groundbreaking explorations such as the one Cameron accomplished in 2012, when the Titanic director piloted a personal submersible to the deepest point in the ocean, taking along one of the club’s flags with him.

Explorers Club, Kensington Tours Partner for Exclusive 'Collection' Tours
Director James Cameron attends the 109th Explorers Club Annual Dinner Q & A at Explorers Club on March 16, 2013 in New York City. (Brad Barket/Getty Images)

The Explorers Club doesn’t open its doors to just anyone.

But now, through an exclusive partnership with Kensington Tours, amateur adventurers with a little disposable income can blaze trails just like an Explorers Club member in a series of multi-day, privately guided tours around the world.

Kensington has provided RealClearLife with an exclusive first look at the newly created “Explorers Club Collection.”

It doesn’t hurt that Kensington’s founder, Jeff Willner, is an active member of the Explorers Club. And as Alison Hickey, president of Kensington Tours, tells RealClearLife, “We host the Canadian (Explorers Club) chapter’s monthly gathering at our Toronto headquarters, so the club’s members are a semi-constant sight in our halls.” In short, it was a match made in explorer heaven.

Explorers Club, Kensington Tours Launch Explorers Club Collection Packages
The entrance to Holmul, one of the adventures slated for Kensington’s Mexico/Guatemala package (Courtesy of Kensington Tours)

Launching first with eight featured tours—Sri Lanka, Central Africa, South India, Cambodia & Laos, Namibia, England, Iceland, and Mexico/Guatemala—Hickey says, “(Kensington Tours is) working closely with the Explorers Club to expand the collection to new destinations and to incorporate the club’s members into the itineraries themselves as on-trip guides and experts.”

Here’s a sneak-peek at the collection’s priciest gem: A 12-day trek through Mexico and Guatemala, exploring Mayan culture. Aside from the finest accommodations and cuisine money can buy, prospective adventurers will get unfettered access to active archaeological sites, ancient ruins, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and historic cities. The “Mayan Trails of Mexico & Guatemala” package deal runs $22,440 per person.

For the Mayan adventure, we’d suggest bringing along your trustiest Indiana Jones fedora and whip, because novices need not apply. The 12-day affair gives adventurers six full days in Mexico, and six in Guatemala, each portion of the trip providing them with a uniquely immersive, experiential journey into Mayan history and beyond.

That doesn’t entirely mean roughing it. For the duration of the trip, Kensington has booked its guests into four- and five-star hotels only, including stunners like the St. Regis in Mexico City and El Convento Boutique Hotel in Guatemala. You’ll also get a mix of the highest-class cuisine in both countries, with dinner reservations at hot-spots like Quintonil, voted one of the top restaurants in Latin America (Mexico/Day 2); and the highly rated Welten Restaurant (Guatemala/Day 11).

Below is a highlight reel of what to expect from the trip:

Mexico

Explorers Club, Kensington Tours Partner for Exclusive 'Collection' Tours
Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption (De Agostini Picture Library/De Agostini/Getty Images)

Day 1-2
Originating in Mexico City, guests will be paired with a private guide, and get a half-day tour of the historic center (once the nexus of Aztec culture, Tenochtitlan). There’s a second half-day tour, to the National Anthropology Museum. Some of the other sites you’ll visit include Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption (see above), the National Palace, and the Palace of Fine Arts.

Explorers Club, Kensington Tours Partner for Exclusive 'Collection' Tours
Sumidero Canyon (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Day 3
After hopping a flight from Mexico City to Tuxtla Gutiérrez, in southern Mexico, a private guide will take you into the Central Highlands of Chiapas via boat. The destination is Sumidero Canyon National Park, for a nearly two-hour jaunt, whizzing past crocodiles, exotic birds, and monkeys—with ample opportunities for photographs and videos. Guests will eventually be shuttled to the highland town of San Cristóbal de las Casas and the four-star Hotel Bo.

Explorers Club, Kensington Tours Partner for Exclusive 'Collection' Tours
San Juan Chamula (Insights/UIG via Getty Images)

Day 4
Get a crash course in the Tzotzil Maya, or the ancestral inhabitants of the region, as you pass through indigenous and traditional towns. In the small indigenous village of San Juan Chamula (see above), for example, there’s a guided tour of Chamula Church, where the faithful pray on the stone floors and offer up live chicken sacrifices.

Explorers Club, Kensington Tours Partner for Exclusive 'Collection' Tours
Temple of the Inscriptions, ca 675, Palenque (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1987), Chiapas, Mexico. Mayan civilization, 7th century. (DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Day 5-6
Take a sunset, off-hours tour of the “lost city” of Palenque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and active archaeological site (this requires a permit, and if one is unavailable, guests will be brought instead to Misol Há waterfalls). Also trek deep into the Lacandon jungle and visit two Mayan archaeological sites, Bonampak (site of the Temple of Murals) and Yaxchilan (an important center of Mayan trade along the Usumacinta River).

Guatemala

Explorers Club, Kensington Tours Partner for New Collection of Trips
Dr. Francisco Estrada-Belli on-site at Holmul (Courtesy of Kensington Tours)

Days 7-12
Although the six days spent in Mexico could probably stand on their own as the greatest adventure you’ve ever been on, what lies across the border in Guatemala is without question the pièce de résistance.

Here, you’ll break breadwith Guatemalan archaeologist Dr. Francisco Estrada-Belli (he’s also a research assistant professor at Tulane University) at the four-star boutique hotel, Las Lagunas. He’ll then whisk you away via helicopter for a private tour of Holmul, the archaeological dig site that he rediscovered in 2000, for a behind-the-scenes look at the work he and his team have been doing.

Explorers Club, Kensington Tours Partner for Exclusive 'Collection' Tours
The archaeological site of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in Tikal National Park,Guatemala. The park is UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. (Kobby Dagan/VW Pics/UIG via Getty Images)


Later, Dr. Estrada-Belli will give you a personal tour of the pyramids and tombs of ancient Tikal, as well as another active dig site, and you’ll spend a full-day touring the surrounding Tikal National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Lastly, you’ll be taken to Antigua Guatemala, a small colonial town and UNESCO World Heritage Site, for a private walking tour. Be sure to visit the San Francisco Church, where 1935 film classic The New Adventures of Tarzan was filmed.

Watch a teaser video on the Explorers Club Collection below.