Luminous Mexico – Yucatan, Oaxaca, & The Last Mayans
Sina Falker has an extraordinary talent for showing Mexican culture through her photographic work.
— Darwin Carabeo, Director, HOLA TULUM magazine
Welcome to our Luminous Mexico photo tour workshop! Mexico is one of the most photogenic countries in the world, with diverse and colorful cultures to go with a stunningly beautiful variety of landscapes & wildlife.
This trip is designed & led by award winning German travel photographer Sina Falker, who calls Mexico her second home. She speaks fluent Spanish, English and German, and is deeply connected to the people here. Most especially to the last Mayans, whose 3,000 year old culture is quickly vanishing. Getting to know and document the last of them living traditionally in the jungle presents a rare and wonderful opportunity.
The Mayan sections of the journey include the awe inspiring pyramids of the Yucatan, where among other things you will have specially arranged night photography access at both Tulum and Chichén Itzá. Imagine the stars shining brilliantly under a long exposure, with a great pyramid in the foreground…awesome! Don’t worry if you are not familiar with this type of image making, as Sina will teach a workshop on how to best capture these images, including the editing process.
Things just get better as the trip goes on… In the Chiapas jungle, past the many striking turquoise pools and waterfalls, you will spend a full day of quality time with the Lacandon Mayans, including an ancient ceremony with the Last Shaman. The Lacandon, who remained hidden from the Spanish conquistadores and were not discovered until the 20th century, now number less than 1000.
Landscapes and wildlife feature some extraordinary subjects, such the Pink Lakes of Las Coloradas, the pink flamingos and other wildlife of coastal Río Lagartos (w/ William Cruz Canto), the “petrified waterfalls” of Hierve el Agua, and the sunbeam pools of azure in the sunken cave cenotes near Valladolid.
In addition to traditional Mayan life, other cultural and photographic highlights include the “Flying Men of Papantla”, the Ballet Folklórico of Mérida, and several shoots with lightmaster Fernando Cruz in the vibrant streets and interiors of Oaxaca. And of course, much more!
Sina and her logistics people will always have you in the right places at the right time for the best possible light. This Luminous Mexico photo tour takes place during the late Mexican winter, when temps are mild, the flora is lush, the colors vibrant, and the mountain landscapes tend to have excellent visibility. The variety and abundance of high quality photo ops over the two week period is something no travel photographer worth their salt will want to miss.
The tour is open to ALL photographers, beginning to advanced. For those interested in the instructional side, rest assured that Sina and her team are kind, fun and patient teachers whose #1 priority is YOU and your photography – not their own!
To get some personal insight into how Sina works in the field, please check out this great article on Photography Life.
Photo Tour Highlights
Tulum & Chichén Itzá Under the Stars
The Flying Men of Papantla
Private Model Shoot – Traditional Attire – in the Jungle Ruins of Muyil
Untouched Cenote Caves in Azure Blue Water
Workshop w/ Light-Master Fernando Cruz & Oaxacan Models
The Pink Lakes of Las Coloradas
Yucatán Ballet Folklórico – Private Shoot
Unique Mayan Pyramids of Uxmal
Turquoise Jungle Waterfalls of Chiapas
The Last Lacandon Mayans – Chiapas Jungle
Petrified Waterfalls of Hierve el Agua
Gorgeous Spanish Colonial Architecture, Valladolid and Oaxaca
Luminous Mexico Photo Tour Adventure
Day 1 – Cancún Arrival – Welcome to MÉXICO!
Group orientation and travel photography workshop will be conducted by Sina at our hotel near the beach starting at 4 pm. She will cover some key points on the itinerary that showcase the unique nature of Mexico and tips on how to best take advantage of its extraordinary photo opportunities. Sunset shoot and special Welcome Dinner follow.
Day 2 – Cancún – Tulum – Of Flying Men & Starry Ruins
Arrive in Mayan Tulum early afternoon to see the “Flying Men of Papantla” and photograph their breathtaking performance on a rotating tower. Afrer lunch we meet again with these “Voladores” and have a private photo shoot on cliffs above the sea. Tonight at Tulum we will be the only ones there to photograph the exquisite ancient temple scene at nightfall, utelizing slow shutter speeds.
Day 3 – Tulum – Muyil – Blissful Buddha & Temples Wild
Return to the ancient temple grounds to meet the sunrise and have another chance to capture grand mystic scenes from new angles under different skies. Then explore and photograph the ruins in golden morning light before going back to the hotel for a relaxing breakfast by the sea. Later we will venture to the jungle ruins of Muyil, where few tourists dare to tread! Pending special permit, we will be accompanied by locals wearing colorful “huipil”.
Day 4 – Tulum – Valladolid – Riviera Maya and a Cave of Light
Onto the turquoise sea this morning in a private boat to photograph the ruins from a new perspective. This includes two hidden Mayan temples that cannot be accessed by land. Later we continue toward the colonial town of Valladolid, where there is stunning cenote, or giant limestone sinkhole. Here we will experience and photograph a Mayan ceremony. Valladolid itself is historically rich and a great place to explore on foot this afternoon.
Day 5 – Valladolid – Chichén Itzá – Azure Blues & Traditional Life
Again we venture remote to a magical cenote rarely seen by travelers. You will be blown away being inside this massive, sunken cave w/ its azure blue water. Later enjoy a special traditional lunch prepared by Mayans, Mayan style. After lunch we visit a Mayan family at their home to learn about their culture and take photographs. Late afternoon arrive at Chichén Itzá for an optional workshop on Night Photography & Editing. Tonight we have special access to Chichén Itzá to photograph the ancient marvel under the bright slow shutter stars above.
Day 6 – Chichén Itzá – Río Lagartos – Bright Stars & Brighter Birds
For anyone who did not join the pyramid star shoot last night, there is another opportunity before sunrise this morning, with a late blooming sky. Enjoy a relaxing morning breakfast before heading off to coastal Río Lagartos and free time on the beach if you so choose. In the afternoon take a private boat trip with William Cruz Canto, the Mexican wildlife and landscape photographer. Here we will be keeping a lookout for resident flamingos and a magnificnet lagoon sunset.
Day 7 – Río Lagartos – San Felipe – Mérida – Pretty in Pink, Lakes & Wildlife
William Cruz Canto joins us again this early morning. We’llgo on another photo safari aiming for more fabulous pink flamingos, crocodiles and various other species, when they are at their most active. Later we photograph at the remarkable Pink Lakes of Las Coloradas, followed by an afternoon photo-walk and/or free shoot in the charming fishing village of San Felipe. After the shoot we say adios to William and drive on to colorful & festive Mérida.
Day 8 – Mérida – Uxmal – Yucatán Dance & Spanish Hacienda
Today we spoil you with a private performance of the Ballet Folklórico of Mérida, with unencumbered freedom to photograph! The performance takes place at a colonial era Hacienda and features various dances in very vibrant Yucatan costumes. If time allows afterward, we’ll take portraits of some of the performers in classic settings in the hacienda gardens. Next we travel to the unique & fascinating ruins of Uxmal. A relaxed evening with optional image review at our awesome hotel near the ruins.
Day 9 – Uxmal – Palenque – Unique Pyramids & the Road to Palenque
Uxmal was an inimitable Mayan Dynasty in many ways, including its beautiful & massive pyramid structures with their detailed stone carved facades. The grounds do not open until 8 am, but we will be the first to enter the UNESCO World Heritage site and take advantage of some awesome clean frames. After lunch we will say goodbye to the Mayan peninsula of Yucatán and head south to Palenque in the state of Chiapas, with photo stops along the way.
Day 10 – Palenque – Chiapas – Jungle Waterfalls & The Last Mayans
Jungle falls galore today! The river winds through the jungle for several miles with multiple waterfalls and turquoise pools until finally going over a cliff’s edge. It’s a brilliant opportunity to get stunning long exposure photographs. Then continue deeper into the Chiapas rainforest to the region of the last Lacandon Mayans, and our charming Eco Lodge. If conditions are good, this is another opportunity to shoot the stars over a nearby lagoon.
Day 11 – Chiapas Jungle - The Last Shaman of the Lacandon
An extraordinary opportunity to befriend and document the last of the Lacandon Mayans is yours today. The once Lost Mayans are now – due to assimilaiation into Mexican culture – the Last Mayans. This morning we will meet the Last Shaman, who will conduct an ancient ceremony dating back millennia, just for us. We have most of the day here, in their houses, in their jungle of giant tropical trees, and on their lagoon. After a dinner together we thank the Mayans for the wonderful day and drive back to Palenque.
Day 12 – Palenque – Oaxaca – Adios Chiapas, Hola Oaxaca!
This morning we are off for the legendary, culturally rich and dynamic state of Oaxaca! Mexico, being Mexico, means we have to drive to Villahermosa Airport and fly to Mexico City in order to connect to Oaxaca. The good news is that the stopover provides another opportunity for image review and/or a Photoshop workshop. Or a nice siesta!
Day 13 – Oaxaca City – Hierve el Agua - Petrified Landscapes & Portraits
The wholly unique “petrified waterfalls” of Hierve el Agua stretch though the mountain landscape in jaw dropping panoramas. We will beat any later arriving travelers and capture pristine images from various perspectives while the light is at its morning best. In the afternoon it’s back in Oaxaca, where we’ll spend time with another professional Mexican photographer, portraitist Fernando Cruz. Cruz will conduct a workshop on the use of lights, flash and softboxes for travel photography. You will be able to partake hands on if you choose, and/or shoot as you normally would. We will be working with models in the city center wearing a variety of traditional Oaxacan clothing, something rarely seen these days outside of a festival. Wow, what a day!
Day 14 – Oaxaca Steert Markets, Fernando 2.0, & Mezcal Magnifiico!
The last day of photography promises to be a great one, hitting the weekly street markets of Ocotlán de Morelos and Santo Tomás Jalieza, where everything locally produced is traded, including hand painted bottles of legendary Oaxacan Mezcal. We meet up again with Fernando early afternoon in a village outside the city. Here’s another chance in different settings to photograph Oaxacans in traditional attire, or just street shoot if you prefer. Tonight we’ll have a fantastic farewell dinner to celebrate new friendships forged over our exhilarating Mexico photo tour adventure. Oaxacan specialties will cover the table, along with one of those special, hand painted bottles…
Day 15 – Oaxaca – Cancún – Hasta Luego!
Don’t worry, there is time this morning to sleep off any Mezcal you may have been a little over exuberant with last night! We have an early afternoon flight back to Cancun with, naturally, a stop in Mexico City! But just a short one. You should be in Cancun by 6:30 pm so schedule your onward flight later in the night. Or do as many do, and spend a few well-earned days relaxing on the beach before going back to the grind. Hasta la vista, until your next Luminous Journeys photo tour workshop!
Note: Approximately 100 days prior to photo tour start date, you will receive a 30+ page Luminous Mexico photo tour pdf with full details, inc. visas, hotels, flights, equipment, etc. Also please note that small changes in the tour or sequencing of the photo shoots may occur. Discovering new, unplanned things in such a diverse country with its lively inhabitants is also part of the experience.
Workshops on Photoshop and Lightroom, as well as opportunities for image review, can all be flexibly integrated into a suitable timeframe as your Mexico photo tour unfolds.
What’s Included in the Price of Your Mexico Photo Tour?
Pick-up at the airport
Photo Tour Leader – Speaks fluent English, Spanish & German
Local English speaking guides
All tour accommodation
All meals (water included)
All tour ground transport
Two in-country flights
Local model & entrance fees
International flights to and from Mexico
Any kind of insurance (Trip cancellation, medical, etc.)
Other personal expenses
Tips for local guides and staff
Drinks at Meals other than water
Any OYO excursions
More Knowledge – Better Pictures
The Maya Lacandons
In the Selva Lacandona, a rainforest area in southern Mexico, the last Mayas were able to survive undiscovered for many centuries. Their escape from the Spanish conquerors in the 16th century enabled them to live out the traditions of their ancestors in peace. Only when they came into contact with our civilization about 100 years ago the time of change began.
The Lacandons call themselves Hach Winik, the “True Men”. For many decades, research interest from all over the world has been directed towards them, including by documentary photographers. But hardly anyone tried to make them aware of how important the preservation of this heritage is for the survival of their own culture. The Lacandons believe that all things in this world have a soul and are connected to each other. But the close connection to nature and its gods seems to disappear more and more.
The population of the Maya Lacandons nowadays counts a little less than 300 people, as more of them move to towns and cities and assimilate with Mexican culture. Their mother language is still the Yucatec Maya Lacandon. The children start learning their second language, Spanish, as soon as they get to school. It’s language that does not easily transalte into the traditional Maya way of thinking and interacting the world.
Fiesta de la Guelaguetza
Every year during the last two Mondays in July the most important and most famous fiesta of the state of Oaxaca is celebrated, the “Guelaguetza”, also known as “Fiestas de los Lunes del Cerro”. Guelaguetza means “give and take” in Zapotec and includes the mutual willingness to give.
From the entire region of Oaxaca, the indigenous peoples come to the Guelaguetza and offer an event that captivates by its diversity, its traditional folk dances and extraordinarily colorful costumes.
The festival was already celebrated in the Spanish colonial period, and in fact the roots go back to the pre-Columbian past. With colonization this tradition was influenced more and more by missionaries of the church. Meanwhile the Fiesta is considered as a Christian festival with native roots. The festival is also held in honor of the corn goddess Centéotl and in memory of the offerings to the gods, small gifts are distributed to spectators.