Palenque in Chiapas, a region in the south of Mexico on the Guatemala border, is one of the country’s many Mayan Ruins and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. What makes it stand out is a combination of the jungle settings, quality of intact buildings, and the ability to explore without massive crowds.
Getting to Palenque is not the easiest task; I arrived in the early hours of the morning after undertaking the long 10 hour overnight bus journey from Tulum. The town itself is relatively easy to navigate from the ADO station – heading out of the centre in a south western direction takes you directly to the ‘Zona Arqueológica’ – the area housing the ruins.
Alternatively, if you’re dropping your bags in town first, head east to the centre where most of the guesthouses are located. I stayed at the Hotel Chablis Palenque – a good value hotel with impeccable service and cleand and comfortable rooms. Usually I would be happy with a hostel, however Palenque is severely lacking in these, especially if you wish to reserve online first.
When you arrive at the Archaeological Park there are two fees to pay; the first to the ecological fund at the main gate of MX$15, and the second to enter the ruins of MX$45. Keeping in mind MX$ 60 total is currently the equivalent of £2.70, a bargain price for a busy and amazing day of exploring.
Not too soon after I had arrived and scaled the Grand Palace structure a massive downpour started. I was stranded at the top of steep slippery steps and had to hide within the nooks and corridors. The benefit of this is that I could look out across the site and admire the landscape with few interruptions. At this height the clouds started to merge into the ruins and the surrounding hilltops, creating a atmospheric ambience filled with mist and haze.
Sitting behind the Grand Palace,alleviated on the hills, is the Cross Group of structures.
This group of buildings include the Temple of the Cross and the Temple of the Sun, both in excellent condition and featuring carved panels. If you spend some time sitting at the top of the Temple of the Cross you can breathe in the pure air and listen out for the Endangered Howler Monkey, a distinctive noise you’re sure to notice.
Set apart from the main plaza and Cross group of buildings is the North Group, a cluster of ajoining buildings with beautiful rows of staircases. There’s also plenty of room to sit comfortably under a tree at the base, or walk around the top level for even more enjoyable views.
Away from the main section of the park there is still more to see; following a winding woodland path over streams and down steps leads to another section of very different buildings. These really remind me of Hobbit houses!
There is plenty of moisture here from the nearby river, and you can hear the beautiful fall of the waterfall that breaks up the stream. You can admire the waterfall from a wooden viewing dock before venturing further to a wooden rope bridge to cross.
Walking further down the path unfortunately brings you to the end of the park. You can decide to explore the nearby museum (I passed due to the humidity), or head back into town by grabbing a taxi or one of the frequent minivans.
Following on from my previous post about Isla Mujeres, I wanted to go into more detail about the afternoon I spent at Capitan Dulche. This is a unique beach club which mixes relaxation with culture, as it also has a sculpture garden and hosts the only museum on the island.
Like all other attractions from the island, Capitan Dulche can easily be reached by fixed rate taxi or by renting a golf cart for the day. If you order food and drink at the bar the entrance fee is waved and you are welcome to spend all day on the private beach which includes loungers and a volleyball net.
By far my favourite thing about Capitan Dulche is the extremely unique boat bar – you can see the ship’s mast rising up from the surrounding landscape. The style evokes imagery of pirates sailing the Caribbean and the barrels of rum they’d consume.
The beach has a small dock that expands out into the bay, providing a scenic walkway or place to sit and watch the local wildlife.
The grounds of Capitan Dulche also act as a sculpture garden, with maritime pieces and musical figurines dotted on the dock, grass and hillside.
The main building hosts a formal dining veranda that can be rented for events and weddings, while the downstairs is the island’s Maritime Museum. The museum collection includes model ships and items from throughout the local naval history, including details about Mexico’s most famous diver and oceanographer, Ramon Bravo, along with his even more famous contemporary, Jacques Cousteau.
I found Capitan Dulche to be a real treat while on Isla Mujeres as it managed to mix the two things I love most while travelling; beautiful beaches and cultural history.
Isla Mujeres is a small island situated closely off the coast from Cancun. While it’s only 6.8k away in distance, in terms of atmosphere it’s a world away. While I was only on the island for around 24 hours I was able to see many of the sights and get a great feel for the atmosphere.
Isla Mujeres is a short ferry ride from Puerto Juárez, just north of Cancun. The port is easy to reach either by bus or taxi from Downtown Cancun or Zona Hotelera, and a return ticket should be $146.00M.N. (as of December 2014).
The best beach on the island is Playa Norte (North Beach), which curves round the tip of the island by the town centre.
You can walk along Rueda Medina from the port with the white sands of the beach to you left or enjoy the local restaurants and shops on the right side of the road.
Playa Norte is the best place to watch the sunset on the island, as you can see it dip below the skyline of Cancun across the water. Walking along the tip of the island towards the easts gives you the best area to see the golden hour of dusk and how the beach sand turns into soft honey hues. This area is where most of the hotels are, but access to the sand is free and easy, with much smaller crowds than on the mainland.
The town centre is the best place to stay and has a personality all of it’s own. Most of the buildings are brightly painted, cantinas open up onto the sidewalk and cheap local food can be found everywhere. One thing I really loved about the island were the massive murals found on the sides of buildings adding even more character.
If you want to more than just enjoy the perfect sand and sun of the beach and atmosphere of the town, Isla Mujeres has plenty other things to offer. To get around either rent a golf cart for the day (Yes, a GOLF CART!) or use one of the many relaxed taxi drivers. Rates are fixed and can be found on the wall by the taxi bank by the port.The buggies are the funner option, but you still need a valid driver’s licence in order to rent one.
Isla Mujeres is an adorable island I hope to spend more time on in the future, hopefully as part of a long term trip through Central America. However, it’s also a great option for those looking for a beach holiday with a bit of character, away from the crowds of Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
Hierve el Agua (“The Water Boils”) is a serious of natural rock formations 45 miles outside of Oaxaca in Mexico. The area visitors can reach is a smaller cliff called Cascada Chica contains natural and artificial pools for swimming.From here the larger cliffs can be seen along the scenic moutainous landscape.
These unusual formations are caused by fresh water springs containing calcium carbonate cascading over the cliffs and into the valleys, creating structures that look like solid waterfalls, similar to how stalactites are formed.
Swimming to the edge in these beautiful infinity pools was one of the highlights of my trip to Mexico, and gave me a welcome break from hectic city to city travelling.
To reach Hierve el Agua it’s easiest to join a day trip that visits Mitla and other nearby attractions. Most hostels and hotels in Oaxaca will be able to arrange this for you as last minute as the night before. Expect to pay around 150-200 MX Pesos for a full day tour, excluding entrance fees.
For my second post about my bucket list for my upcoming trip to Mexico, my thoughts are still with the turquoise waters of the Yucatan.
The Cenotes found along the Riviera Maya are sinkholes formed in limestone bedrock, creating cavernous pools from a few meters to a few hundred metres deep. While some are a scuba diver’s dream, others are suitable for paddlers like myself to try out for a splash. The Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza is the most famous and accessible, previously being a central site within the Mayan community and now one of the main tourist spots. Once I’m in Mexico I’ll ask the locals which Cenotes they recommend and how to avoid the crowds, hoping to float in the cool waters serenely.
Photograph by Catherine Karnow via National Geographic
Photograph by John Stanmeyer via National Geographic
The Playa Del Amor hidden beach is part of the Marieta Islands, just off the coast of Puerto Vallarta. These uninhabited islands were used by the Mexican Government in the early 20th Century for military testing. The results were damages to the local coral and fauna, but also this one of a kind beach joined to the Pacific Ocean by an eighty foot tunnel. Visitors have to swim through to access the shore, but with plenty of headroom there’s no need for scuba gear. I can’t wait to see it for myself next month.
For more Mexico inspiration read my first post about Cancun’s Underwater Museum