So, hmm.. I am back! Back from a relaxing, interesting, inspiring, and adventurous vacation in Chiapas. But where to start? Maybe the beginning would make for a good…err…beginning. Right?
So on our first day, we drove all the way to Palenque which is about 500 kilometers or 300 miles southwest from Playa del Carmen. Our numerous travel guides informed us that the city itself wasn’t worth visiting, but I actually found it quite charming. Maybe I am just very easy to please. Or have a weird taste. Who knows? But a little Mexican city on a Saturday night is just buzzing with music and laughter and fun, it is impossible to not like it. But the deafening music and cheap beer were not the reason for our trip, we wanted to explore the ruins!
We arrived at the site as early as 8 o’clock in the morning which I would recommend to everybody. The minute you enter the parking lot, you are surrounded by helpful (money expecting) Mexicans. One will hold out his hand for finding you a parking spot, the next one for guarding your car while you are visiting the ruins, the next 10 or so want to be your guides, and then there are all the boys and girls who offer you little bracelets and good luck charms and whatnot. If there is one thing that you need when travelling this country, it is change. And hand sanitizer.
Once you enter the archaeological site, you leave the vendors behind (for now) and immerse yourself in tranquility. Early in the morning, the ruins are still covered in mist, there are not many people – it is a magical place!
Despite the fact that Palenque was discovered already in 1773, it was only in the 20th century, that the excavations got started. Everything was covered under a jungle canopy, and still there must be many buildings hidden in the jungle. Palenque is very well kept, you feel like walking in a beautiful, sunlit park. And the ruins are just stunning. First you get to see the temple of inscriptions where King Pakal’s crypt was found. Palenque was founded around 300 A.D. and became a flourishing Maya hub. However, after some military defeats, it was King Pakal who made the city regain its wealth in 700 A.D. That’s probably why you see his (not so attractive) face EVERYWHERE.
Next to the temple of inscriptions, there is temple 13 where they just recently discovered the remains of an apparently rich guy together with a female and a child. When you walk further, you get to the very impressive castle, the temple of the sun and the temple of the cross from which you have a wonderful view of the site. But make sure to bring some decent hiking shoes – I saw a lady on wedges, it wasn’t my favourite sight of the day, I can tell you.
Between the ruins, there are a lot of vendors setting up their little stalls. Well, maybe not stalls, they present their goods on blankets, and you can get some very pretty things there if you are in the mood. We weren’t, but they also were not chasing us around like we experienced it in other parts of the country…
Not far from Palenque, we visited the waterfalls Misol Ha and Agua Azul. I believe, that Agua Azul is the more famous one, at least that’s the one I had heard of before. However, I found Misol Ha so much more impressive! Again, there are not many people (unlike at Agua Azul), and you can walk all around the waterfall amidst the dense jungle. Due to the humidity, it is quite a sweaty activity, but when you walk right behind the waterfall, you get a refreshing spray of water all over you!
At night, we found a very unique little Italian restaurant (since we live here, we don’t feel the urge to always eat Mexican food…) hidden in the jungle. It is called Monte Verde and it feels very remote. When you feel like you have reached the end of the world already, keep driving. Of course, there are no lights on the way, so the ride gets a little bumpy, but the experience is worth it! We sat outside on the terrace and were the only guests after a most suspicious little group of people, consisting of one guy and three ladies whom he all kissed and caressed equally, had left. Uh, well, those Mexican machos, they seem to do something right with the ladies… But anyway, the food was really good and cheaper than cheap – a perfect end to a beautiful start of our vacation!
Sounds all lovely and cosy, doesn’t it? Well, it got all rougher and more adventurous afterwards, you’ll see!