Mexico is like a litter box of Mayan ruins. Despite the best efforts of the Spanish to knock down and pave over some of the greatest cities and cultures in the world (not knocking ’em, I wouldn’t have a comfy room to stay in or nice roads to visit the ruins if they hadn’t done such a good job), there still seems to be “must see” ruins everywhere Sarah and I have gone.
Now, I love ruins as much as the next guy or girl, but the extreme tourism associated with most of these wondrous places definitely takes some of the magic from their crumbling historical significance. Waiting for a happy snapper to move his rotund (or svelt) behind from your own happy snap, only to have another enter the frame immediately, takes that potentially National Geographic worthy shot and relegates it to one of your aging and soon to die hard-drives, the place where 90% of my photography awaits its final electrical surge before being lain upon the digital waste dump.
Of course if it wasn’t for tourism, getting to, and staying in these places would probably take more effort and discomfort than I am willing to bear. I usually tread the thin line of this double edged sword by waking up really early, and getting there before the buses full of happy snappers “ala-mwah” arrive. It works, so wake up early!
We started with Chichen Itza, which although interesting, was not as mystical or wondrous as I had hoped, on the same day we hit the ruins in Coba, these were a bit more natural, and although rushed, climbing the pyramid made this one more fun and interesting. Then it was Tulum, Mayan ruins on the coast, very pretty, but the “been there seen that” bug was starting to hit.
So it is a bit surprising even to ourselves that we went to see yet another ancient site. I think the idea of ruins surrounded by jungle was what got me going, something more natural, less touristified. After Chichen Itza, my hopes were firmly in check, but I am glad to say that they were not only the best ruins I have seen here, but also completely worth the 5 hour bus ride to get there.
If you are going to see the ruins, here are some tips for you.
1. Don’t stay in the town of Palenque, it is just a town, and not a very interesting one.
2. Do stay in the little villagey type area called El Panchan, it is very close to the ruins, very chilled, has great food and is comfort in the jungle for most price ranges.
3. Stay at Margarita and Eds, we paid about $20 per night for a big en-suite room with fan, clean and comfortable with everything you need (and Margarita is lovely).
Outside of El Panchan you catch a collectivo for 10 pesos to the ruins (about 10 minutes away), you pay 25 pesos to enter the park, and another 50 to enter the ruins. It is so worth it.
You wander into the complex and are greeted by huge pyramids all around, structures surrounded by dense jungle as they were a thousand years ago, you can walk over and around most of the structures and can almost feel the way life might once have been here.
When you leave the main complex you follow a path down through jungle, following a waterfall as it works its way down the mountain, passing ruins scattered around the area. Another path will branch off and suddenly your the only people around, ancient walls pushed apart by trees retaking the jungle, and small rooms which you can only imagine at their use. And then a big mammal pig looking creature darts off into the jungle and you imagine yourself hunting it down, running through the flora barefoot, blowing poison darts and…
“Eeeeeeeaaaah” a giant spider clinging to the roof! let me out, let me out!
The museum at the exit of the ruins is also worth a look, it is included in the entry price and gives a bit of perspective on what kind of craziness went on in the crumbling ruins you have just exited.
Although there is a fair bit more to do around the area, we only stayed a few days and limited ourselves to the ruins, and a few waterfalls, the most interesting being Agua Azul (BLue Water). So named because, well, the water is very blue… It is made all the more unusual by the mineral deposits which create a smooth looking surface as opposed to the rock you usually see at waterfalls (which to be honest I am getting a little bit over after my ten thousandish one).
This was made more enjoyable by a guy (James) we had met in San Cristobal, and then again in Palenque. An english guy living in Barcelona on holiday in Mexico. He had a great sense of humour, which meant that although the waterfall was a little underwhelming (pretty like I said, but I have seen sooo many waterfalls), being able to have a laugh with a few people makes things a lot more interesting, and you often find is the best part of travelling. We had a swim in the freezing blue water (although most of the waterfall is now blocked off for swimmers ’cause of accidents), an ok meal, and then made our way back to El Panchan for some fantastic quesedillas, and to prepare for the journey back to San Cristobel.
All in all, the bus ride to Palenque, although long, has some nice scenery, and Palenque itself has a lot to offer. Chiapas is a beautiful part of the world, one which I am sure we will be back to explore.