Chasing Borders In Chiapas
I was sitting in Puerto Escondido, Mexico racking my brain trying to find a way to visit all the natural wonders of Chiapas without spending an arm and a leg. So I asked my pals Burger and Neils if they wanted to go chasing borders in Chiapas.
It was mid-January and a new year. I had just lost all of my camera gear off the coast of Oaxaca, and I needed to start 2017 on a better note. I figured a road trip around Chiapas armed with only my iPhone and my wits would be just the ticket.
The Route Through Chiapas
The plan was pretty simple. Six stops in four days, starting and ending in Tuxtla – Gutièrrez in the Mexican state of Chiapas. We were going to drive eighteen and a half hours along the Guatemalan border with probable delays due to construction included. Tuxtla to Cascada El Chiflón, Lagunas de Montebello to Yaxchilán, Palenque to Agua Azul, and Toniná back to Tuxtla.
Cascadas El Chiflón
A little over an hour away from the colonial city of Comitán in Chiapas lies one of the highest waterfalls in all of Mexico. Cascadas El Chiflón is a collection of five limestone waterfalls with a river of bright teal water connecting them. They lie on the border of two municipalities that fight over the rights to the cascades. Because of the disagreement, there are two separate entrances, one on the west side and the other on the east. It is like having two amusement parks sell the same ride.
Cascada Velo de Novia
We arrived at the cascades around four in the afternoon. The sun was hanging low in the sky lighting up the westward facing mountains. The weather was perfect as we made our way along the river, a slow-moving breeze at our backs. Local Mexicans on holiday bathed in the swimming holes created by small limestone cascades that gradually escalated their way down the river.
The path was very well designed. Easy while also fun to walk, with amazing trees and rocks left in place making it seem like a genuine nature trail.
Mother Nature With A Twist
I’m guessing the other trees didn’t mention that that way wasn’t up, but it did make for a pretty spectacular twist of nature (literally).
After a few hours of running around the cascades being tailed by the end of open hours police, we made our way down to the car and started looking for a place to sleep. There was a resort area along the river but that wasn’t the vibe we were looking for. After an hour of searching, we finally gave in and paid the $50 pesos to sleep in their parking lot. Niels threw his tent down and we hit the hay, anxious for our next day of adventure.
Lagunas de Montebello
Lagunas de Montebello is a national park along the Guatemalan border in Chiapas, Mexico that consists of fifty-nine lakes and two Mayan ruins covered in a blanket of pine trees.
In 1959 it became the first national park in Chiapas and is now designated as a bio-reserve by UNESCO.
Laguna de Montebello
We didn’t have enough time to visit all fifty-nine lakes and two ruins. So we narrowed it down and landed on three main landmarks. Laguna de Montebello, Laguna Tziscao, and Laguna Internacional.
The day we were given wasn’t the nicest, with on and off rain and dark clouds, but we made the most of it. My favorite of the lagoons had to be Laguna Internacional (international lagoon). It’s dark turquoise waters are split right down the middle by the Mexican and Guatemalan border. It was the first time that I had seen a body of water used as a border. It was pretty sweet.
Niels and I sat on a rickety stone bench and watched as Burger chatted with some of the local children from Guatemala, trying his best to translate for the very excited youngsters. The moment was something you dream about before you start a trip. I mean come on, talking to local kids on the border overlooking a lake with roosters and pigs all around, does it get any better?
After a few goofy faced pictures with the kids, we said goodbye and headed to our next destination. The one I was looking forward to the most. Yaxchilán
The Border Ruins Of Yaxchilán
We arrived in the small, unassuming town of Frontera Corozal around six p.m. There were only a few stores still open, and the one market in town looked picked clean after a full day of business. We didn’t waste any time in finding a place to set up camp for the night. It was a small park just off the side of the river full of tall trees and little white posts marking parking stalls.
We woke early the next morning to a very muggy car and a screeching sound which turned out to be howler monkeys. The ticket office opened at seven, and we wanted to be first in line. The tickets would end up being the cheapest part of our journey.
At 60 pesos they paled in comparison to the price of the boat we needed to hire to actually get to the site. I struggled to decide whether or not to do it because it was going to cost an extra 300 pesos per person, which isn’t that much, but with the money I was already spending on the car and gas, it was going to be tight.
Boat Ride On The Border
It would end up being the best decision I made all day. We hopped in and headed up the Usumacinta River. We were now on the eastern border of Mexico and Guatemala. It looked entirely different from the chilly, pine tree dense national park in Lagunas de Montebello along the southern border.
I fought to keep the swift chilly air from creeping into my fully zipped down jacket as water from the river and drops of rain from the sky hit my face. It took around thirty minutes from town to our destination in the middle of nowhere, and when we arrived, boy was it worth it.
Welcome To The Jungle
Welcome to the Mayan ruins of Yaxchilán. Once one of the most powerful Mayan states along the Usumacinta River and rival to Tikal and Palenque. Set in the middle of the jungle, Yaxchilán is my kind of ruin. We were the only ones there apart from a couple from Austria.
I think the reason I loved this site so much was that the jungle helped hide most of it from view. Unlike other sites I have been to when you stand at one end and look around you can only see a few structures, not the whole area.
The Stairway Of Death
Walking up these steps was a struggle, to say the least. Giving a reason for the name the stairway of death and this is not a fact, but I could imagine more than a few tribesman being thrown from the top to appease a god or two back in the day.
Atop the stairs sits structure 33. A prime example of what Yaxchilán is famous for. Its incredibly preserved hieroglyphics describing the dynastic past of the Mayans who once ruled this part of the world.
Once our predetermined time limit of two hours had passed, our boat arrived at the dock, and we set off for another chilly boat ride back to Frontera Corozal.
I would highly recommend going to Yaxchilán. If you only have time for one place out of all the locations that we visited, make it Yaxchilán. It might be the greatest adventure I’ve been on in Mexico so far. I loved every single second of it, and I think you will too.
The Mayan Ruins Of Palenque
Further up the Usumacinta River lies the grand Mayan ruins of Palenque. It is believed that only ten percent of the site has been discovered with the already discovered ruins covering one square mile.
Palenque is a very happening place with tons of tourism daily. It costs 32 pesos to get into the park surrounding the archaeological site. There are some cabanas, and restaurants aren’t too expensive. You will also have to pay 70 pesos to get into the ruins themselves. Luckily we found a dirt road outside of town to camp, so our expenses weren’t too high.
Temple Of The Inscriptions
I wish that I could tell you that I had a fantastic time at Palenque, but sometimes travel throws you a curveball and you just have to move on.
Before I say what I’m about to say. You should know that I have no problem with heavily touristic areas. I love it when people decide to get out there and see the world. I just usually tend to avoid such places so that I can keep as much adventure as possible in my travels which usually leads to more interesting stories as well.
As I strolled up to the base of “The Palace” ruin, I overheard and I quote “Wow, These Mexicans are really good at building stuff.” I don’t know why, but that comment zapped every bit of interest out of the place. It was no longer an adventure but an amusement park. It probably didn’t help that I had just come from Yaxchilán my new favorite place.
The Palace Courtyard
Misol-Há + Agua Azul / Marrón
A few minutes south of the city of Palenque lies the cascades of Misol-Há. We had not planned to visit, but it was recommended by a guy we met in San Cristobal de las Casas the week before. It cost 30 pesos to get in, and it was totally worth it.
Cascadas de Agua Azul is usually a beautiful set of small cascades with bright teal water just like at El Chiflón. However, when it rains, the runoff from the hills turns them murky brown, and you lose all the details. You can look up pictures online and see exactly how they are supposed to look. We just didn’t get lucky.
The cost is 40 pesos and I would recommend checking out the weather beforehand to see if you will get Agua Azul or agua marrón.
The Ruins Of Toniná
The land surrounding Toniná is absolutely breathtaking. Green rolling hills dotted with small villages and farms and mountains in the background. We arrived late in the afternoon just as the sun was starting to cast itself across the countryside. It was like driving through a painting.
Around eight miles east of the town of Ocosingo in Chiapas, Mexico lies the often forgotten ruins of Toniná or house of stone. Known for its distinctly-preserved stucco sculptures, Toniná lasted longer than almost any other Mayan civilization, probably due to its isolation from the other sites that were falling to ruin.
The Acropolis Of Toniná
There has been a ball court in almost every ruin I have been to in Mexico so far. The one at Toniná is by far the most preserved that I’ve seen. The sculptures were still attached to the walls as well as in amazing condition. Even the hieroglyphics were still recognizable after centuries of harsh, humid elements.
The Ball Court
Ancient Wall Art
We were yet again the only ones at an ancient Mayan ruin not far from the big crowds. The morning started out covered in clouds, but as we were making our way down the Acropolis, the sun peaked its head. We stopped in our tracks and just let the warm sunlight run over us.
High On The Hill
We hopped into the car for the last time and headed back towards Tuxtla. We sat in silence nearly the whole way home. The car stank with days old feet and bonfire smoke, but we didn’t care. We were too tired to care. We were too happy to care.
Total Trip Cost
Any trip like this one can very in price dramatically depending on how you like to travel. The prices for things like the car and gas are split three ways. The food and entry fees are paid for separately.
Europcar Car Rental – $56.08 USD
Gasoline – $21.78 USD
Food – $27.32 USD
Park Entrance Fees (includes boat) -$28.46 USD
Camping –$2.34 USD
Total per person – $135.98 USD
Total for a solo trip – $233.58 USD
*Prices are dependent on the current exchange rate, so please use this price guide only as a reference and check before you go.
Thanks For Reading!!
Does a road trip like this sound fun? If so rent a car and get out there!