If you are anywhere near Palenque then I highly recommend visiting this archeological site. You can easily spend a day here and with all the jungle and trees around, it’s easy to find shade and rest a while.
We were staying in San Cristobal De Las Casas for a month so we booked our tour from there. There was the option of catching a six hour bus from San Cristobal DLC to Palenque for around 390 pesos per person but we decided to go with the tour instead.
The tour was priced at 400 pesos when we asked in early December but we waited too late and ended up booking over the New Year period so the price was 450 pesos per person for any person three years old and over. Some people quoted 500 pesos.
The tour seemed to be the same all over town: leave at 4am from your hotel, stop for a break in Ocosingo break in Agua Azul, break in Cascades de Misol-Ha and then two hours at the ruins, ending the day with a five hour drive back to San Cristobal DLC.
It sounded exhausting but I was so keen to go to these ruins the we booked the tour anyway. So glad we did. Here’s how it went.
We were picked up at 4am from the outskirts of town which is where our hostel was. The driver loaded our luggage onto the roof of the van. He told us the van was going to be full so we needed squeeze in. My concern was that Lui would cry half the journey because he had been feverish and had a rash. Fortunately he kept sleeping until we reached Ocosingo.
Here’s our big mistake at Ocosingo. We were herded off the van and lined up with hundreds of other tourists all hoping to get a bite to eat at six in the morning or use the toilet. Here’s what we learnt.
To use the toilet was five pesos but if we bought food then we could ask for a banos coupon and jump to the front of the massive toilet line so that we could queue inside and use the toilets. You could also go inside and have a buffet breakfast for about 90 pesos per person but none of us were hungry enough so early in the morning.
However, if we had walked away from the queues on the other side of the carpark was a few food stalls and some toilets. We would’ve found food we could actually eat (instead of cake and coffee) as well as toilets that had no queues (but were still five pesos to use). We only found out about the other set of toilets after we had all been. It had been an uncomfortable wait in line because we had been in a car for two hours, and the van doesn’t stop unless in an emergency.
The driver told us to meet back in thirty minutes. We found, this was a rough estimate. The rest of our crew (all Mexicans) showed up about ten minutes later.
What was cool was the farm right next door to our pit stop that had cows. These cows still had their horns unlike the ones in NZ. Plus the hillside reminded me of those around Auckland because they had the steps carved into the sides just like our volcanos do.
The drive to Agua Azul was blessedly uneventful. I had packed snacks for Kenzo & Lui as well as juice to keep them going. When we arrived, the first sight of the cascades is underwhelming. It seemed to be a pretty set of small aquamarine cascades. It was the type of blue you would find in Lake Pukaki or the Blue Pools in the South Island. (Interestingly, the name translates to Blue Water).
However, as we started the walk down to the waters edge, we began to get an idea of how massive these cascades are and how high up they stretch. With each level of the cascades we climbed towards, the falls became more and more stunning. It was well worth the small trek to the top of the falls to see how beautifully the water fell down each level into different pools and eventually merging back into the same pool right at the bottom.
It was a very hot and sweaty walk and we had hoped to go for a swim. But we had taken our time walking up and admiring the falls so by the time we reached the top it was nearly time to leave. During that time, another kiwi family we had met, had taken a dip in the cool blue pools by the carpark. It looked so refreshing. But on to the next waterfall.
The drive to Misol-Ha was the only time where Lui was unsettled until he fell asleep while another kid in the van got motion sickness. Fortunately it was a much shorter drive. We stopped here only for 40 minutes. It was a very high waterfall and the water below was 25m deep. We could walk under the falls into a cave for 30 pesos but we decided not to go in since we were beginning to feel the tiredness of having woken up at 3am to pack our things and catch the tour bus.
Instead of going down to the waters edge we decided to sit up the top and admire the view. Within ten minutes we had to head back to the van for our final destination: Palenque!
By this point I was grateful that we were only about 40 minutes from the ruins and was glad to be able to get out of the van. Adrenaline came pumping through me once we had set foot in the park and I quickly led the fanau to our first point of interest. We managed to explore most of the temples and the palace. After a couple of hours of wandering around, we all grew tired and sat down in the shade to have some water. We had climbed up and down many of the steep steps of these pyramids/temples.
It was at this point that I was so glad we had booked two nights in Palenque. I forced everyone up early the next morning to return to Palenque as soon as it opened. It opens at 8am. We managed to reach there by 10am. But it was still quiet and only began getting busy at 12pm just as we were leaving. During this time we headed downstream towards the residential area. This meant a lot of stairs to climb back up to the main entrance.
The tour van dropped us to our hotel. I felt sorry for everyone left in the van who were about to endure a five hour journey back to San Cristobal DLC. And I was super glad to be able to go rest after such a long day. We immediately had dinner since it was 5pm and then headed straight to the pool to cool off and unwind.
We realised there was a jungle right next door to our hotel and we heard howler monkeys inside but unfortunately didn’t get to see any. They were very loud and the noise was intimidating. The kids enjoyed playing tennis, soccer and riding the bikes here as well as playing in the playground. It was a very very luxurious stop after sharing a family room in a hostel which had one toilet and shower for the ten occupants of the hostel for three nights.
We decided to head back to San Cristobal DLC the next day so we booked a night at a nicer hostel and our bus tickets on an ADO. We wanted to try out the luxurious ADO but they didn’t have any buses running for that day so we went for the next step down. It was 30NZD per person for the long journey back. The seats were spacious and comfy and the bus had wifi whenever there was phone reception in the area we were driving through. Plus there was a movie playing if we wanted to plugin headphones and watch it.
What we didn’t realise was that the bus was a nine hour journey instead of the usual six hour journey. Plus it had come from Cancun and hence was three hours late. We had arrived at the bus station at 5am and didn’t board the bus until 8am. It made for a very long day. Luckily the bus was so super comfy that we had a nice long sleep and were well rested when we arrived.
Because we had stayed in a hostel right next door to the ADO bus station in San Cristobal DLC, we knew exactly where to catch a taxi to head to our new airbnb.
– Booking your tour in person is cheaper than booking online. Expect 400-500 pesos
– Get breakfast and use the loo next door to where the minivan stops in Ocosingo
– The trip stops at two waterfalls: Agua Azul and Misol-Ha
– You’ll spend 2-3 hours at the Palenque Archeological Site with loads of other tourists in mid-day heat
– Book accomodation in Palenque for two nights so you can enjoy the ruins the next morning before the crowds hit at midday.
– Catch an ADO or OCC bus back to San Cristobal De Las Casas. Make sure its the six hour bus.