I have included a little need-to-know section towards the end of this post in case you are thinking of making a similar trip!
I had arrived in Palenque at 6am on the overnight bus from Mérida, and luckily had been able to check straight into my hotel and go to sleep in an actual bed! After my two hour nap I woke up feeling fully refreshed and as if it was a whole new day since the bus had arrived in Palenque.
I opened my curtains and immediately the sun flooded in as I looked out on jungle and beautiful red flowers attracting huge butterflies to my balcony.
I set out to explore my hotel, Casa Lakyum, involuntarily grinning as I looked down upon a beautiful swimming pool with green jungle rising to the horizon in the background. It was stunning – and all for just the equivalent of $30 dollars a night. I was really happy and all my travelling doubts quickly disappeared.
Although my original plan had been to do nothing and recover, enjoying the hotel and the local surroundings, I had spotted that there was a tour to two local waterfalls that left at 12pm – and after my nap I was now filled with energy.
I don’t usually like doing tours as often they are over-priced, never go to plan, and then the driver rudely expects a tip afterwards. However, in this case I really wanted to go to the Agua Azul waterfalls, as they had been recommended to me by a friend of James’ who is from Mexico, but had read several slightly scary reviews on TripAdvisor, including one that said “I went here. I got robbed and shot….. If you go you will get robbed and shot too“. So I thought it was perhaps safer to go with other people to minimise any chance of getting shot and robbed!! In addition, the taxi driver who took me from the bus station had quoted me 1500 pesos for him to drive me to the Palenque ruins, wait, and then take me to both waterfalls. Although the tour wasn’t going to take me to Palenque (I decided that would be slightly too hectic a day), it was only 300 pesos (£12) which actually seemed to me the cheapest way of doing it.
There are numerous tour companies in Palenque – I went with Transporte Chambalú because this was the one I could book at my hotel (they picked me up from the hotel and dropped me off there) but I imagine they are all much the same – if you are staying in the town then just have a wander round and you will soon see signs for various tours.
As I’ve mentioned, tours never seem to go quite plan. With Transporte Chambalú the usual was true. The driver turned up ten minutes early at my hotel, picked me up because I happened to be there, drove to another hotel, waited there for a bit without picking anyone up, drove back to my hotel to get some other people, and then back to the second hotel again. It was all quite confusing and wasted quite a lot of time at the beginning – although I didn’t really mind as I had no other plans for the day anyway!
We eventually got to Misol-ha shortly after 1pm. This is one huge waterfall, torrents of water cascading down from metres high, and all the tours that go here seem to stop for half an hour just so you can walk round and take pictures. There were also a few people swimming so if you can ask your taxi driver / tour driver to wait you might enjoy having a swim there.
It was really, really beautiful, despite being quite busy. The path takes you all the way behind the back of the waterfall from where the power of the water is just incredible. You can walk all the way out the other side but I didn’t do that as it seemed as if people were just walking up to another viewpoint and then walking back on the same path. Half an hour was the perfect time to walk to the waterfall, underneath it, and then back again to the colectivo.
Next up was quite a long journey that must have taken around an hour and a half all the way to Las Aguas Azul – the blue waters. The scenery on the way was stunningly beautiful… green, green, as far as the eye could see, hills rising to the sky and mist still lying in the valleys. As we drew closer we did have one incident that I had heard about through TripAdvisor – the kids put pieces of string across the road and then empty water bottles so they can try and get you to stop so they can guilt-trip you into buying things from them. The good thing about going in a tour is that it was obviously a relatively usual occurrence for our driver so we didn’t have to worry at all.
Then we arrived at the waterfalls and they really were stunningly beautiful. A beautiful colour of light blue, the water cascading down in several layers of white froth, filtered over rocks and through tree roots and ending in a quiet river that wound away into the distance.
I wandered right to the top, up a stone path with the waterfalls to my right and a series of stalls selling food and tourist tat to my left. At the very top, I left my clothes by the side of the water, packing my valuables into a waterproof bag, and went for a little swim before sunning myself on the rocks as the sun began to dip behind the trees.
One of the reasons I had been unsure of visiting after reading the TripAdvisor reviews was due to criticisms of it being horribly busy. I really hate crowds and am much happier when it is calm and peaceful.
However, I visited at 3pm during the week after NYE, once everyone has gone back to work, and it was lovely and peaceful. There were enough people and kids playing so that you didn’t feel completely alone, but at the same time, plenty of space to sit and enjoy the views and the sound of the waterfall.
Also, yes the path was lined with shops(another criticism on trip advisor) but for the most part the stallholders were relatively unobtrusive. And there were kids coming up to you to sell bunches of baby bananas towards the entrance, but they didn’t seem to climb up to the top and were easily ignored with a shake of the head.
Actually, that is something that made me quite sad in Chiapas – the number of kids I saw out trying to sell things to tourists instead of being in school. A little aside – Chiapas is a state in southern Mexico, near the border with Guatemala, with one of the largest indigenous populations in Mexico. It is quite a poor state, as is visible from the small communities you see driving through the countryside back from Agua Azul. Even the church was just made up of thin wood with a tin roof, people walking back home as it was getting dark, a little girl in brightly coloured clothes carrying a huge bowl on her head as she walked down the main road at sunset. It is in fact one of the poorest states in Mexico, where almost 30% do not have running water to their homes. 16.5% (according to Wikipedia!) of children receive no education at all and 18% of all those over 15 are illiterate (compared to 7% nationally). The economy is mainly focused on agriculture, primarly growing coffee. However, another important source of income for the region is tourism and so I would encourage you to visit!
I would really recommend not being put off by TripAdvisor and going to visit both waterfalls. Its a great thing to do during an afternoon in Palenque, easy if you go with a tour, and is really not expensive!
Need to know: Palenque is primarily famous for its Mayan ruins – more on them in my next blog post! I stayed at Casa Lakyum, in between the ruins and the town, and would really recommend it for large, comfortable rooms (with fans and air con), beautiful views, a swimming pool, and a nice restaurant – the cochinita pibil especially was delicious. It was easy to book tours from the hotel but there are numerous places in town from where you can book. I think going with a tour to the waterfalls is the safest and easiest way – that is how I would recommend doing it! Once you get to Agua Azul, there are plenty of places to buy food and snacks, and also to find a quiet spot to chill out. Enjoy!