If you’ve been reading along and paying attention you’ll know that Chiapas is so far my favourite region of Mexico, and that was even before I made it to Palenque in the eastern part of the state. Palenque is an ancient Mayan site, one of the most famous in Mexico and deservedly well-visited. It is also superbly located in an area bursting with stunning natural beauty.
Before arriving in Palenque I stopped off for a night in Ocosingo, which is half way between Palenque and San Cristobal, in an absolutely gorgeous part of the country. I had been warned that Ocosingo is the ugliest town in Chiapas, which was both true and unfortunate given the stunning location. It was however well worth the stop off, as it is the closet centre to the ruins of Toniná.
In contrast to the hordes of tourists at Palenque, Toniná is much quieter. I visited in the afternoon and I think I saw 5 other visitors. It was so peaceful in the late afternoon sunshine, and I could easily have spent much longer at the top of the pyramids just enjoying the view. The site closes at 5pm however, so I had to climb down before I was ready.
The ruins at Palenque are, however, the main event. The site has been beautifully restored, and takes a good couple of hours to walk around. Only 5% of the site has been excavated, which gives some idea of the scale of the city at its height.
As impressive as the site is, I can get over ruins, just as I can get over temples, churches and even cities in general. It appears however that I do not get over waterfalls.
I took a tour to Misol-Ha, but if I went again I would go on my own to have more time. They only gave us 55 minutes there, and I was a bit late getting back to the van. I thought hey, this is Mexico, nothing happens on time, but turns out that tourists are much more punctual and everyone was waiting for me. Woops!
The best part about Misol-Ha was an underground waterfall in a cave with the most beautiful clear water. You hire torches to walk through the water into the cave and I would have loved to swim in the dark but I didn’t have time.
Another waterfall close to Palenque is called Welib-Ja, and I only knew about it because some guy in Mazunte told me to go there. It is not part of the typical itinerary that most tourists follow while in the area, but I enjoyed it. It was easy to get to as well – about a half an hour minibus ride and then a 1km walk through beautiful farmland. Unfortunately I had a thong (the shoe version for those non-Australians out there) blow-out on the gravel road and had to hobble my way to the entrance.
Thankfully Mexicans are both helpful and resourceful – when I got to the entrance I enlisted the help of the guys there to repair my poor Havaiana, and they did a great job. Four men and a piece of wire later and I was good to go – that was over a month ago and its still doing the job!
Misol-Ha and Welib-Ja were lovely, but it’s the series of cascades at Agua Azul that are the jewel in the crown of natural attractions in the area.
There are about four different areas to swim in as you follow the river upstream. You can also pay to take a raft over to the other side of the river where apparently there are more falls and swimming spots, but I didn’t bother.
My visit to Agua Azul was on the same tour as the Misol-Ha visit, but this time we had three hours to explore the site, which was a good amount of time. You can visit the waterfalls independently but it is a little more complicated as the access road from the highway is quite long.
This is one part of the world that I would definitely revisit. What do you think? Can you get enough of waterfalls or are you like me?