Spectacular waterfalls, impressive pyramids lost deep into the jungle, wild animals, beautiful colonial cities: you are embarking on a tour of Chiapas, on the footsteps of the Ancient Mayas! Whether you are a nature lover or an Ancient History enthusiast, Chiapas will leave you speechless!
Welcome to Chiapas !
Chiapas is a beautiful Mexican state, located in the South of Mexico, where the legacy of the Spanish conquistadors lives side by side with the Mayans’ herritage, all this within extraordinary natural sceneries!
Chiapas is a virgin state. A trip to Chiapas is like a trip back in time, to the time of explorers. As you climb pyramids up and down in the jungle, you might feel like a modern Indiana Jones, on a treasure quest. You will hear many stories of pyramids that are still “undiscovered” and hidden in the jungle. You will hear that if you venture to the deepest heart of the jungle, you might encounter jaguars. You will learn about the great Mayan rulers like Pakal the great or Bird Jaguar. You will explore virgin sceneries that will take you back to the Mayan times in a second. In a word, you will feel a thousands miles away from your everyday life!
Our itinerary for this trip
We drove from Mexico City to Chiapas over a Christmas break, a great season to visit Chiapas. The rain season was over. It was nice and warm. Unfortenately we could only spend one week there, which is really not enough to see all there is to see, so we had to make choices.
Here is the itinerary we followed:
- The archeological site of Palenque
- The archeological site of Yaxchilan
- The waterfalls of Misol Ha
- The waterfalls of Agua Azul
- The colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas
The places we visited
We first stayed a few days in a hostal in the little town of Palenque, a central place to stay at to explore the region.
From there, the first thing we did of course was to visit the archeological site of Palenque, one of the most impressive and well preserved Ancient Mayan cities. We were amazed by the monumental and mysterious buildings hidden into the jungle!
The Mayans settled there around 100 B.C but Palenque reached its peak between 600 and 800 AD when it became the regional capital. After a brutal decline at the beginning of the 10th century, it was abandoned and, little by little, “absorbed” by the jungle.
The first monument we saw was the Temple of the Inscriptions, one of the most imposing constructions of this archeologocal site.
This temple houses the tomb of the great Pakal who reigned 68 years over Palenque, from 615 to 683. The tomb was onlydiscovered in 1952, when archeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier found a hidden passageway in the temple leading through a long stairway down to Pakal’s tumb. The temple also houses “inscriptions” or glyphic texts, some of which have not yet been deciphered. Thus the name of the temple.
The Palace is another major construction in Palenque.
Its most unique and recognizable element is its four-story tower, which was probably used as an observatory. The palace is made up of different buildings and courtyards and was built by different generations of Mayan rulers. Within the palace, you will admire many sculptures that have been well preserved.
Behind the Palace, a beaten path will lead you up to a group of three pyramids, known as the Temple of the Cross, Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Foliated Cross.
The view from the top of the pyramids is breathtaking.
Another path next to the Temple of the Sun will lead to up again to another pyramid: The Temple of the Jaguar.
It was named after a bas-relief carving depicting a king seated on a throne in the form of a jaguar. The ground around this temple has not been cleared up and the pyramid remains hidden by the jungle. It gives a good idea of what the site looked like at the end of the 18th century before it was excavated.
We woke up early the next morning to embark on an amazing aventure and explore the mysterious ancient Maya city that most impressed me during this trip in: Yaxchilan.
The site is located in the South of Chiapas, on the bank of the Usumacinta River, Mexico’s natural border with Guatemala. This city was built between 350 and 800 AD and reached its peak during the 7th century, under a ruler called Bird Jaguar.
Going to Yaxchilan is an adventure in itself. You will have to drive to the little town of Frontera Corozal (about 160 km from Palenque) and from there take a boat for about half an hour. You might see a few crocodiles in the river. Don’t panic, the locals will tell you “no pasa nada”. You should always trust the locals 😉
Make sure you eat something in Frontera Corozal: once you are in Yaxchilan, you will be taken back to the Mayan times. There will be nothing but pyramids, trees (lots of trees), monkeys and iguanas. Make sure you bring enough water with you.
Are you ready to start this adventure? So first, we will embark one of these little boats.
After a few minutes, we had to stop on the river bank as the motor of our boat was not working properly. We waited about ten minutes for another boat to come pick us up. It is a good thing we had not seen the crocodiles yet… Ah…. Here is one…
You will feel totally disconnected from your everyday life while traveling on this river taking you to an ancient time.
Once you reach Yaxchilan, you will literally be “plunged” into the jungle. You will go up and down, and then up and down the pyramids, in the shade of the giant seiba trees and surrounded by the cries of the howling monkeys (mono aullador). The cry of these monkeys is said to be very similar to the cry of jaguars. Enjoy!
You will explore this site and each time you reach another pyramid, you will be equally fascinated.
So we got there, and to continue exploring the site, we had to go through a little door. Needless to say that it was pitch dark inside and that there were bats flying around… So we go, and at the end of the tunnel we reach another part of the site with these pyramids:
What are they looking at?
So we keep going up and up, deeper and deeper into the jungle. And we reach more pyramids.
After a whole day climbing the pyramids, we were all very tired and asked our “boat driver” if he could stop on the other side of the river, inGuatemala, so that we could have a beer. So we did step a few minutes on the Guatemalan floor.
3. Misol Ha
The next day we left Palenque, heading to the beautiful town of San Cristobal de las Casas. On our way, we stopped at two beautiful natural sites: the waterfalls of Misol Ha and Agua Azul.
We quickly reached the spectacular Misol Ha waterfalls as they are located in Salto de Agua, only 20 kilometers away from Palenque.
These waterfalls consist of a single cascade, falling 35 meters down into a wide natural pool, in a beautiful luxuriant setting!
I was fascinated! I had never seen such a beautiful waterfall. It was early in the morning, the sun was rising. It was still a bit cold and a thin layer of haze was covering the site. It was gorgeous! We stayed there a few minutes, staring at this beautiful natureal show in front of our eyes, listenning to the noise of splashing water. When we started exploring the site, we realized that we could actually walk “behind” the waterfall!
4. Agua Azul
After spending about an hour at Misol Ha, we hopped back into the car and went to Agua Azul.
Agua Azul is an impressive site made up of about 500 waterfalls, from 3 to 30 meters of height. The color of the water is spectacular! A high concentration in minerals gives the water a unique turquoise color!
This site was very very different from Misol Ha and it was another incredibly beautiful natural show that we were invited to. We were fascinated by the beautiful colors of the water. Unfortunately, the sun did not come out that day. It probably would have been even more spectacular under the sun.
We started exploring this site, and we went up, following the different cataracts. The higher we went, the more beautiful it was. When we reached the highest point, we discovered an incredible turquoise river…
5. San Cristobal de las Casas
We finished our tour of Chiapas with the visit of a beautiful and colorful colonial city: San Cristobal de las Casas. San Cristobal was founded in 1528 by the Spanish conquistadors and the colonial atmosphere is still palpable.
A few tips of you are going to Chiapas
- When is the best time to visit Chiapas?
Try to avoid the rain season. The best months to visit Chiapas are from November to May.
- Don’t forget to pack:
Make sure to bring sun block, water, a hat… as you will spend each day going up and down the pyramids under the strong Mexican sun.
Even though it is going to be hot, I recommend wearing jeans and long-sleeves tshirts to avoid mosquito bites.
A good repelant would also be good to have handy. We were not attacked by mosquitos too much at Christmas time but it is better to come prepared.
Good shoes to climb the pyramids. You don’t want to twist your ankle!
A warm sweater if you plan on going to San Cristobal de las Casas.