More Than Just Ruins by Steve Long

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Destinations, mexico, The States, travels

Magnificent Waterfalls of Palenque, Mexico

I arrived in Palenque by bus from San Cristobal de las Casas. The city of Palenque itself is quaint, but it cannot compare in charm to other heritage towns like San Cristobal de las Casas. There are no colorful houses, magnificent citadels, or charming Zacolo square with marimba musicians. But, the city vibe was not why I came to the town. After the comfy ADO bus dropped me off at the terminal, I shouted for a taxi to get me to my jungle bungalow.

In Palenque, most of the hotels are located outside the town on the road to the Mayan ruins. So was mine: I had chosen Kin Balam Cabanas next to the gate to the national park territory. The location was perfect for my purpose, and to top it off, just on the other side of the road was the most popular local party and evening hangout spot – Don Muchos.

After checking in, I immediately got to work. My plan was to find an early ride for the next morning that could take me to explore the waterfalls. Walking around the hostel, I decided to ask a minibus – also known as a colectivo – driver if he knew anyone who would be willing to take me, and to my surprise, he offered to do it himself. Sure, using a colectivo would be pricier than using public transport, but the comfort and convenience won out for me this time. As luck would have it, later that night after I mentioned my plan to several newly met travelers in my hostel,  they decided to tag along and share the ride. All in all, the colectivo cost us 800 pesos, or 42 USD. Next morning, the excited alarm woke me up shortly before 6 am. And by 7 am we met up with our driver.

Misol-Ha

There are several stunning waterfalls around Palenque to visit and we started with the closest one, Misol-Ha, that is only 20km away. Arriving after a short 30-minute ride, we parked the van in the empty parking spot. The strategy of leaving as early as possible paid off: we were the first ones there! The entrance fee was 30 pesos, plus 10 pesos (2USD total) for visiting the bat cave.

“Wow” – was the sound that came collectively out of us simultaneously after spotting the 35m waterfall.

waterfall1

Appearing like a magical amphitheater, the jungle clearing where Misol-Ha is located felt a little like a fantasy world. The fall itself – gushing, powerful and loud – provided an amazing juxtaposition to the stillness that surrounds it.

After what felt like 30 minutes admiring the fall (in reality I’m sure it was just 10 minutes), we spotted a path on the left and kept walking on it to behind the water curtain. At the end of this path was the bat cave, and it did not look welcoming: a pitch black hole that seemed to swallow everything around it. Flashlights in hand, we braved the darkness and followed the wet stone path to the mouth of the cave.

Soon, our flashlights land on one bat. Then another, then several more, and soon we saw hundreds of sleeping bats: the cave roof was covered full with them. From the far end of the cave we heard the sounds of another waterfall. One of us proposed that we explore the cave, but saner heads prevailed and the idea was quickly shot down as the water was simply too deep and dark for us to walk in.

After spending some lazy time at the waterfall that has gained world fame after appearing in the movie “Predator”, we were ready to go to see the next and the most famous cascades in Chiapas state.

Agua Azul

The drive was gorgeous if uneventful: for one hour we were on a serpentine jungle road. The parking lot of the waterfall was already full of cars by the time we got there, and soon little kids surrounded us to sell bananas and other fruits. After paying the entrance fee of 50 pesos (2.75USD), we went inside.

Distant noises of water crashing into stones filled an area with restaurants and a little “beach” where you could swim in. Tables and huts with all kinds of souvenirs lined the stone pathway that led us to the source of the sound. Eager to see the waterfall, we skipped it all and went straight for the fall.

And there it was, the largest of the Agua Azul cascades. White water rushing down the rockfall into the turquoise river, looking straight out of a painting.

There are dozens of falls here – all different sizes and shapes. As we followed the path to higher grounds, the view became ever more spectacular. Seeing everything from above, I suddenly understood the meaning of Agua Azul – Blue Water.

We dipped into the water for a nice jungle freshening up and had a small lunch in a nearby restaurant. I had fish dish with a cold jamaica drink whose name I could not pronounce.

With food in my belly, I felt my body recharging and was thoroughly enjoying my surroundings. I did not want to leave, but I also knew that if we wanted to visit one more waterfall as I had planned, we had better hurry up and get to the car.

Welib-Ha

Next on our list was a waterfall called Welib-Ha. This is the waterfall that tourists rarely visit, even though it’s beautiful, big and hidden.

When we entered the area, we were the only car in the parking lot and we actually woke up the guard from his siesta to get the ticket. He looked quite surprised by actual visitors.

There is a few -hundred-meter walk from the entrance to the fall, and on this journey we were accompanied by some very curious monkeys who tried to communicate with us by throwing sticks and berries at us. We tried to call them closer, they alas they suddenly became shy and disappeared into the treetops.

We approach the fall from the top first. There, we had the option to zipline down the fall to the other side. This was a no brainer as we all hopped on the opportunity to get some adrenaline going. This was the first and only time I’ve done it over a body of water; it was short but worth every second of it!

Face to face with the fall, we all became quiet. By this time of the day, we were all pretty exhausted. But it was also because we were all enjoying a moment of silence staring at this magnificent waterfall with no one else around. Against the thick tropical jungle that surrounds it, the fall appeared extra lively, as if daring anyone to surpass its energy. Sure the water is not turquoise blue, but the vibe of the spot was wonderful and cozy. I loved it.

Within minutes, we all got into the pool for a swim. We waded ourselves around in the surprisingly cold and refreshing water, all the while enjoying the spectacular view in front of us. Some of us lazily chilled on the shore that was granted to us alone.

There is another waterfall close to Welib-Ha called Cascadas Roberto Barrios. It’s a turquoise blue waterfall that looks a little like Agua Azul. We decided to skip it, however, since I have been there already some time ago.

waterfall2

Final thoughts

The state of Chiapas has so much to offer visitors besides the towns and the ancient ruins. Its pristine natural wonders rival the best I’ve seen anywhere else in the world. However, it keeps all its treasurers hidden and not easily accessible with long distances between the various points of interest and curvy jungle road, and it rewards intrepid travelers who brave these obstacles to see them. Worth the effort!


Text and Photos by Steve, who wrote, “I’m a Toronto-based travel writer and blogger. I started to travel in earnest in 2011, and have since been to 45 countries in all five continents. My website is https://www.thetravelbrief.com


 

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Sarah Leamy, MFA, is an award-winning author of both travel books and novels as well as a photographer, presenter, and a bit of a wanderer. She has lived in England, Germany, Spain, Guatemala and the Southwest of the US. She is the founder and editor of Wanderlust, a travel journal publishing international travel writing, photos and trip reports. Find out more at www.sarahleamy.com

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