This unfortunately will be my last trip to visit another city in Mexico this year. Although this may sound a little sad, it simply gives me more motivation to come back and explore the rest of the country. Nevertheless, I’m excited to see my travel buddy friends again from Mexico City, namely Kirsty, Matias, Silvio and Lena. This time, onwards to Chiapas!
This is also the first time that I chose Viva Aerobus to fly anywhere in Mexico. Viva Aerobus is a discounted airline, extremely cheap but very sketchy in my opinion. The interior of the plane looks like a 1970s plane to me. During my flight, I could hear cracks and noise in the plane. Also, there was no leg space at all between seats. Luckily, I made it to Chiapas safely after enduring for about 2 hours.
When I arrived at the Villahermosa airport in Chiapas, I could feel the sudden change of temperature and humidity level. My friends could also feel the same when they arrived. Humidity level must be close to at least 100%! It was hot and humid, and everything feels sticky. Also, because we were in a tropical area, mosquitos were flying everywhere. My friend, Majo, is from Chiapas and she warned me already to be aware of mosquitos because they can be very toxic.
At night, we took an ADO bus (long distance coach bus) that costs us 270 pesos each to Palenque. The drive was about 2 hours. The road was obviously bumpy but we managed.
We stayed in a hotel in the middle of a jungle. It wasn’t a bad place and most importantly, it had air conditioning. When you are in a tropical humid area, the importance of air conditioning increases exponentially.
Palenque: Gorgeous and massive ruin
The next morning, we were early birds and arrived at the Palenque ruins early. In fact, we arrived too early that the park wasn't open until 8 a.m. Admission is a reasonable 60 pesos per person. Our morning efforts were not wasted because when we were the first to enter the park, and we could take pictures free from the crowd. Accordingly, I was able to take a picture like this:
The park is huge! My friend from Germany, Isabella, told me that I would love this place if I am interested in ruins (or even if you are not interested at all). Isabella even said that Palenque can trump Chichen Itza in terms of grandeur. The structures in the park are jaw-dropping and this is definitely one of the few places that I would come back again. Interestingly, I also discovered that the park only covers 5% of Palenque’s ruin, as 95% of the ruins are scattered outside of the park and in the jungle. People told me that you could explore them on your own or sign up for a tour. Some have said that night tours are the most adventurous ones.
This ancient Mayan city dates back in 226 BC. Since the city is in the middle of a jungle, you could see wild animals such as lizards and monkeys. I wouldn’t be surprised to even find a snake here!
We spent about 3 hours at Palenque and I was already exhausted from the humidity and the baking of the sun. Lena noticed that I was sweating crazily, and she was perfectly fine as if nothing happened! I’m telling you, it’s the Russian genes.
Two waterfall landmarks: Mishol-ha & Agua Azul
After our exciting adventure, we went to see two other landmarks in the city – Mishol-ha and Agua Azul (both are waterfalls). Mishol-ha is a giant single cascade waterfall of about 35 metres in height. Nothing particularly special about this waterfall, however both Silvio and Matias decided to walk at the back of the waterfall. The result? Both were completely soaked.
The second waterfall, Agua Azul, was much more exciting though. It is a waterfall with multiple cataracts following one to another. It is similar to the Plitvice Lake waterfall in Croatia, except not as green. Ironically, the word “Agua Azul” literally means blue water, but the water was completely grey and white. Maybe we were not looking at the waterfall in the right season.
In normal days, people swim in designated areas where the currents are not as strong to push people away. However, after looking at the dirty and murky water, we completely lost our interests.
Did I also mention that our group is obsessed with fruits? In our trip, Silvio and Lena bought coconut, kakaw (cacao), rasberries, small bananas and lychee (lee chee). We were also surprised how cheap the small bananas were and how sweet they tasted. In the meantime, we were swarmed by many children selling their merchandises and bananas to us. To me, this is definitely the poorer side of Mexico. Silvio also observed that every merchandise stall has a mother breast-feeding her child.
Be careful with road from Palenque to San Cristobal de las Casas
We took another long distance bus to travel from Palenque to San Cristobal de las Casas. Mind you, traveling between these two cities is quite difficult. In Chiapas, a group of insurgents and militant group called the Zapatists are active near the two cities. On the highway (road 199), the group of Zapatists would block the road with machetes and wooden strains with nails. To pass through the road block, the driver would need to pay 50 pesos per person. At first, we were contemplating to rent a car and drive. After discovering this fact, we decided to leave this matter to the professionals and sign up for a tour bus instead.
The road was brutal and there were many bumps and potholes. If you get motion sickness easily like I do, then it is recommended to take a Gravol pill before you hop on to this bus. Also, the air condition inside the bus was blasting. It was so cold that Kirsty felt her nose was going to fall off and she was wearing many layers of clothes like a Michelin man. All in all, it was a terrible 5.5 hour experience but we made it to Palenque. As what my Mexican friend Aaron tells me, it is all part of the experience.
In the next morning, we were supposed to go to a jungle for canyon rappel. Unfortunately, as seen from the picture below, it was way too foggy. After discussing with the tour guide, we decided to be safe and opted out the activity. This is one of the examples where you can’t always try everything!
San Cirstol de las Casas: Beautiful colonial city
Instead, we explored the city San Cirstobal de las casas under the rain. The rain just wouldn’t stop! However, nothing would stop our adventurous spirit! Not even the rain! We walked around the city under the worst conditions, and of course, stupid enough we got two people sick that day.
This city sits nicely as the stopping point for tourists to venture inland to discover the hidden Mayan ruins and the Canyon del Sumidero (which I will explain later). We see European features in this nice little colonial city, such as the church and the building architecture nearby. I was surprised that people were dancing in the middle of zocalo even with the rain.
When the rain stopped, we went to a farmer’s market in hunt for some exotic food and fruit. Without a doubt, Silvio spotted some interesting looking fruit that has flame-looking hair on its surface. After Lena opened the fruit, we knew it was lychee. Surprisingly to me, this lychee looks completely different from the Chinese version lychee which looks like this:
This is the Mexican lychee.
We walked up to one of San Cristobal’s landmark – the Iglesia de San Cristobal. This church is on a hill and overlooks the town. Matias and I raced up the stairs to the church. Not surprisingly, my body was completely out of shape and my fitness was non-existent when I was on a 7,200 feet high city.
At the end of the night, Silvio, Kirsty and I went to a chocolate museum to gain a better understanding of kakaw (cacao). Kirsty and I ordered chocolate latte to try some freshly made chocolate from kakaw seed. The server gave us chocolate latte in a bowl with a shape of a kakaw shell.
Canyon del Sumidero: The most beautiful canyon
Next morning was one of the highlights of this trip, as we get to see one of the world’s most spectacular Canyon – Canyon del Sumidero. It is a narrow and deep canyon with a river (Grijalva River) that stretches 600 km from Guatemala to the state of Tobasco. The canyon itself is about 1,000 metres high. The canyon is a national park and it costs 200 pesos to go on a boat ride along the river. It was a spectacular and jaw-dropping ride because the scenery was beyond beautiful and astonishing. I had a Jurassic Park moment.
On our ride, we were able to see wildlife such as eagles, vultures and even crocodiles! At the end of the river, there was a dam. The dam was built to control the flow of the water because in the past, the river current was strong enough that it was not possible to steer a boat. With the astonishing view, it was sad to see some of the pollution and waste disposed on the river.
At the top of the Mirador (look-out point), we could see the river at the bottom.
However, we were so high up that clouds completely blocked the vision of the Canyon. All in all, Kirsty was still attempting to take pictures.
It was an amazing journey and I hope I was able to share all the must-sees and highlights with you. The highlight of this journey was definitely Palenque and Canyon del Sumidero. Remember, if you travel to Chiapas, dress lightly in the day and wear a jacket at night!