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Published: October 30th 2016
When trying to arrange a bus from San Cristobal to Palenque we were faced with the news that there are protests blocking the road. We had 2 options - take a bus that went around, taking 8hrs instead of 5, or pay more and go on an organised tour to Palenque, and attempt getting through. After much discussion translated from Spanish to English and back again, we understood that this option would attempt the route, as there was no knowing until we got there if it would be closed that day, but if it were closed we'd be taken to different ruins then back to San Cristobal. We were unsure which option to take - as we need to travel to Palenque to continue on our route to the coast. After a bit of debate, as we were now a group of 4 trying to make the decision, with one person not present so deciding for her, we opted for the tour. This meant a 5am start, and no certainty of what the day had in store for us.
Luckily we set off on our way, and apart from windy bumpy roads and someone being sick all over the bus, we
made it to our first stop at Agua Azul with no hold ups (just 1 stop to clean the aisle of the bus).
I had heard of Agua Azul, and heard it was worth going to, but aside from that had done no further research so I didn't know what to expect, apart from the obvious waterfall. It is a very impressive multi layered waterfall, with convinient viewing platforms on most levels. We had an hour and a half here, so plenty of time to enjoy the view and sample the empanadas being cooked nearby.
The next stop was Misol-Ha, a 35m high waterfall. This was very impressive, covering us in a fine mist from the steps to view it. There is also the option to walk behind the falls, but you get soaked by the spray!
Our next stop was Palenque. When we arrived we tried to join another group with a guide speaking English but the guide was asking for another 200pesos each, despite being happy with what the couple were already paying him, as he'd started the tour, so instead we recruited an eager child to guide us around for 100pesos between 4 of us, which was
much more affordable!
Palenque is very impressive, and very much in the jungle. The main tourist area is cleared but there's still jungle very close all around. There are no entry signs, but for a fee we were offered a jungle tour - as around 90% of the temples are not yet cleared and restored. We didn't opt for this, as we didn't want to be arrested and fined.
We were able to go in to one of the temples which contains a crypt for one of the most important queens, with smaller crypts either side for the two slave sacrifices that were made with her passing, and the two 12yr old children.
Next we were able to climb the temple of the sun, on top of which we saw howler monkeys who had popped by for a visit. The temple of the sun gave a great view over the other temples in Palenque, and provided a good place to sit and soak it all in.
At the base of the steps we were greeted by the English speaking guide who wanted too much money from us, and he wanted to impart some of his knowledge on to us. He
is a historian who has helped work on the site and others around the world, and was showing us evidence in a book of his of Egyptian and Hindu edifices within the temples. He was trying to tell us that everything every other guide tells us about the mayans is rubbish, and that the mayans didn't exist like we think they did. Whilst he had some valid points I personally think the temples have been adapted and decorated by visitors through history rather than being built by Egyptians and Hindus. I guess that's the wonder of history though, no body can be sure, and there are a lot of theories.
We then wandered around the rest of the site, climbing more temples in the afternoon heat. It was very hot though, so I was trying to seek shaded stairs when I could.
After Palenque closed for the evening we headed off to El Panchan 3km down the road. Here there are 3 restaurants and a few jungle lodges to stay in. We got a room which had mostly mosquito net for walls, providing a great view of the jungle from bed. We could hear the howler monkeys shortly after dawn,
and we spotted a hummingbird amongst the flowers from bed. It was a great place to stay.
The next morning we headed out on a 4hr jungle trek. Soon after entering the jungle we could hear the howler monkeys again, and they sounded fairly close. Our guide took us off in the direction of the calls, crossing paths and trekking through the jungle until we found the monkeys. We could see that there were two groups of monkeys, and there were two males fighting over a female, leading to much whooping and calling, and a great sight for us to stop and watch.
After around 20mins watching the monkeys we continued on our trek, being taken to an unrestored temple. It was interesting to see how the temple has stood so strong against the encroaching jungle. We then walked through an old aqueduct that mayans made, which feeds in to and out of a pool, used for baptisms. This is very efficient engineering, and amazing to think 2000 years later it's still working effectively.
After the aqueduct we walked through a number of waterfalls which were beautiful (sorry no pictures - I didn't take my phone in to the jungle). We ended our walk at a bigger waterfall which had a good sized plunge pool for swimming in, although it was rather chilly!
The next day we returned to the waterfall after breakfast for more swimming before our night bus. The waterfall is at the start of the jungle path, so not too far to get back to from the road. We also took the opportunity as we were walking past to try swinging on a vine like Tarzan, although not quite so glamorously! It was good fun to try though.
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