Are you as tired or hearing about covid as we are? Take a break from the doom and gloom of the headlines for a minute with me as we visit Palenque in the country of our Central American neighbors, Mexico! In some ways Palenque feels so much like Thailand, while at the same time being completely different. Palenque is home to howler monkeys, waterfalls, jungles, hidden ancient ruins, and so much more! If you find yourself in Mexico visiting Palenque is a must. And if someone told you that you only need two nights there, as someone told me, they’re lying!
Palenque is most famous for the Palenque ruins, an ancient Mayan civilization that dates back to around 220 BC to around 800 AD. During the 7th century it was slowly abandoned and taken over by the jungle. Today only a small part of these ruins have been discovered and excavated and we can catch a glimpse of how this ancient Mayan civilization lived.
The ruins, although you cant climb them, seem more forgotten and genuine than the high profile ruins of Mexico such as Chichen Itza (and a LOT cheaper as well!). I went to the ruins with a friend and for a small fee we hired a guide and learned a lot about the history of Palenque and I was definitely glad we did it! You can wander the grounds for an hour or so before seeing it all, and if you want you can take the jungle path about 30 minutes walk nonstop back to the museum entrance where you bought your tickets.
Of course if you are like us you will want to stop often on the path and it will take significantly longer. Take it slow and take in the beauty of the jungle, creeks nd rivers, and, if you are lucky, the howler monkeys! We first heard them up in the trees when we were swimming in the river, and after watching them for a few minutes – we were spotted. Slowly some monkeys made their way down the trees to check us out. By the end of about 40 minutes we had been face to face with five monkeys as they swung on the vines and got a closer look at us. It was such a unique and organic experience, Palenque really does feel like a magical place.
Yaxchilan and Bonampak Ruins
You can, as we did, take a day tour to Yaxchilan and Bonampak ruins. If I thought Panenque Ruins felt remote, this was next level. After driving for about four hours or more we reached the Usumacinta River. This river, similar to the Mekong, acts as a border between two countries. We piled into a longtail boat similar to those in Thailand, and off we went on a forty minute journey along the river. Coasting along this large, muddy river with Guatemala on the right and Mexico on the left made me feel like I was back in Buengkan! Once we finally reached the ruins we had the place almost entirely to ourselves. On the way back to Palenque we stopped at Bonampak ruins, much smaller but some great views!
Misol Ha is a beautiful waterfall that is easily acccessible and cheap to visit! The water seemed a bit rough and you could only swim if you pay more for a lifejacket, but it is beautiful enough to just sit and enjoy the views. You can even walk behind the waterfalls for a different perspective (and a free shower)!
Agua Azul is a nice place with places for lunch and refreshments. The falls themselves aren’t nearly as big as Misol Ha, and when we were there the water was definitely brown due to rain. However if you go when there hasn’t been any recent rain the water is meant to be a beautiful blue. You can take a day tour from Palenque to see both Musol Ha and Agua Azul, and I would recommend it as you don’t need too much time at either and it is a bit difficult to get to both the same day on your own without a car.
Roberto Barrios is like a natural water park, you CANNOT miss this one if you are in Palenque! This place is a series of waterfalls that you can explore by walking along the various trails. It’s one of the cheapest waterfalls to visit, you can swim wherever you want, and it is so much fun. If you are up for an adventure you can start at the top and jump or slide your way down the series of cascades. Easy to get to by collectivo, cheap, restaurant on site, and the freedom to swim and do what you want. Definitely do this one on your own and plan to be there for a while, we went intending to stay about and hour and ended up staying for nearly four.
Palenque has so much natural beauty to offer! This small city in Chiapas, Mexico is the perfect covid escape with opportunities to spend alone time connecting with nature and tuning out from the daily news.