We left behind the colourful, colonial buildings and the flat terrain of the Yucatan area and ventured to the mountainous, rugged, southernmost state in all of Mexico, Chiapas. Although we were still backpacking Mexico, it felt like we were in a different country. With 12 federally recognized ethnicities, Chiapas State has one of the largest group of indigenous people in Mexico, as well as the highest poverty level in the country.
This part of our trip ended up being convoluted and we backtracked quite a bit…all in the name of safety. The easiest route would have been to take an overnight bus from Merida straight to San Cristobal de las Casas. However, there have been late night robberies and banditry on the portion of the highway between Palenque and San Cristobal.
In fact, the owner of Casa Hamaca Guesthouse, Denis, had a friend held at gunpoint and robbed on that highway. This didn’t appeal to us so we opted to take the bus part way, during daytime hours, breaking up the journey at the city of Palenque.
Our guidebook described the actual town of Palenque as “a sweaty, humdrum place without much appeal”, but as usual, we didn’t agree with the guidebook! The main road here is a bit dusty and boring, but we found an enjoyable tree-lined street full of shade, funky bars and restaurants. Oddly enough this was called the Canada area. The city was fine to spend a couple of days, but we were there to visit the famous ruins out in the nearby jungle.
We hopped on a shared minibus (10 pesos each) and made our way to the ruins, passing some beautiful scenery along the way. The Mayan Ruins of Palenque date back from 226 B.C. to 799 AD. After this city’s decline, the architecture here was swallowed up by the jungle. By 2005, the discovered area of this site was 2.5 km², however, it is estimated that there are still over 1000 buildings left undiscovered!
The first thing we noticed when we got off of the bus was the intense, thick humidity of the jungle. Instantly we were sweating with our clothes sticking to our bodies and our sunglasses slowly sliding down our noses. Wandering down the paths and into the dense jungle to see the abandoned ruins only made the experience more exciting. There were times when it was just the two of us sitting on a stone staircase listening to Howler Monkeys and other wildlife screeching from the treetops.
The temples and structures here are fascinating. Although there are similarities to other Mayan sites, there are many elements here that set this site apart from others in the area. The Temple of Inscriptions houses the second longest hieroglyphic text from the Mayan World, and in 1952, the tomb of the famous ruler Pacal The Great was discovered here. This was a great find for archeologists as it was the first time a Mayan building was seen as being versatile, with the usage as both a temple and as a funerary structure.
We slowly sauntered through the site, imagining what life must have been like thousands of years ago. After walking though the expansive area, we took a breather atop the Temple Of The Cross and enjoyed the fantastic views over the ancient city.
A few hours of sweating and exploring went by and we decided it was time to head back to Palenque town. Instead of leaving the same way we came in, we decided to follow another path that we hoped would take us back to the main road. We walked through the jungle for a few minutes and suddenly we were greeted by a lovely 2-tiered waterfall! As we continued on, we found yet another cascading fall. Such a great find and a perfect way to end our sight-seeing day.
When we were on our first trip through Southeast Asia and India in our younger days, we weren’t as interested in architecture and history as we are today. As our style of travel progresses, we’re finding we truly love learning about the past and exploring age-old sites like this one. This was the last Mayan Ruin site we would see on this trip through Mexico, making it lucky number 7! One day, we hope to visit some of the larger sites in Central America, which I’m sure are equally impressive.
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