Planning our trip to the south of Mexico we didn't plan to stop in Palenque for long. It was just for the pyramids that we included Palenque into our travel itinerary and we had no idea what else it is good for. However, Palenque turned out to be a real highlight of this trip and we stayed there way longer than expected. There is so much to see and to do here - plan at least 3 days!
Awesome Things to Do:
Ecoparque Aluxes Walking down the main road that connects the town and the ruins we stumbled upon Ecoparque Aluxes. We researched a little on the internet and found out that they are not just some kind of zoo that keeps animals for the visitors' entertainment. The animals found here are rescued, apparently, only those animals who could not be released into the wild are kept in the Ecoparque. On these terms, we could do animal watching without a bad consciousness. There are a lot of animals to see: jaguars, ocelots, macaws, monkeys, crocodiles, giant parrots, flamingos and many others.
There are a lot of animals to see there: jaguars, ocelots, macaws, monkeys, crocodiles, giant parrots, flamingos... and many others
Walking in the park may take you around 1,5 - 2 hours but the place is so nice - if we hadn't been there rather late, we would have stayed even longer on the river bank overlooking an island with spider monkeys.
Pyramids Unexpectedly, the ruins of the Mayan city of Palenque turned out to be one of our favourites: even though the place is quite famous it is still not packed with visitors. In the evening hours, one has the pyramids mostly to oneself. The ruins are surrounded by a dense jungle, you may see the roots of giant trees embracing the rest of what used to be a temple or a house - just the way I imagined Angkor Wat in Cambodia before going there. In reality, Angkor Wat was a bit frustrating - we felt like there were more people than trees there. Or maybe even more people than at the Time Square in NYC at rush hour. In Palenque, you may also take a walk in the jungle before entering the archaeological area. At the entrance to the archaeological area, the guides offer you magic mushrooms "to enjoy the colours and sounds of the jungle".
Magic mushrooms It was one of the aspects of the Mayan culture that I was really interested in. Before leaving for Chiapas, I read plenty of articles about the meaning of the mushrooms for the Mayas, the way it is produced. What I liked the most, was the theory claiming that eating magic mushrooms made apes into humans. Taking into account that those shrooms grow especially around cow dung, I find this theory even more interesting: you never know where you lose it and where you find it. Anyway, since these mushrooms grow on pastures, you may collect them yourself after a light rain. But as the guides at the archaeological zone had some to sell and there hadn't been any rain, I immediately opted for supporting local producers.
It was, however, our last day in Palenque, at night we were supposed to take a night bus. I was worried I may not feel well if I take mushrooms on the very same day, so I bought the 'take away' dry mushrooms. Our next destination was Merida with a big flamingo sanctuary nearby. I imagined it might be fun to be inside of a moving mass of pink flamingos while being on mushrooms.
Dry mushrooms have less of an effect and so the trip was a light and gentle one. A friend of mine who spent some time in Palenque said you have to take double or even triple the portion to get really high. That might be true, but I liked the effect of the five dried mushroom portion that I had. I suppose the trip might be different depending on the person.
In my case, everything turned into a source of enjoyment: objects, movements, sensations, thoughts etc. I could see beauty in simply everything. After admiring a thing, a sensation or a thought for a while I usually got bored and switched to something else. For a moment I had the fear that I would get bored because the number of things around is limited. But I found out that it was not. There always was a new detail I noticed or I enjoyed a new position of my body or a new thought.
The trip lasted around 4 hours with 2 hours being more intense and the other 2 not so much. Afterwards, I didn't feel bad neither mentally not physically - and my stomach is normally very sensitive. I was full of energy and had a good disposition until the evening.
To stop the effect of the mushrooms it is a good idea to consume some orange juice and to prolong the effect you may eat some honey. Apparently, mushrooms dissolve in honey - maybe that is why Mexico is the worlds third largest honey exporter :)
Waterfalls Waterfalls are certainly also a great place to take mushrooms. There are three big waterfalls close to Palenque - Agua Azul, Misol-Ha and Roberto Barrios. If you are short on time, we would advise you not to do 'waterfall hopping' but to choose 'the best one' and spend a day there. And that would be Roberto Barrios. Our criteria for choosing the best one are the following: the waterfall should be not crowded and should be breathtakingly beautiful. The first two ones are usually busy, even the tour companies from San Cristobal bring people there. Roberto Barrios is less popular with the tour sellers, but it overwhelmed our expectations and most daring dreams.
Getting there may be a piece of cake and a bit tricky at the same time. A lot of travel companies offer organised tours to Roberto Barrios - leaving at 12 pm. The trip lasts 5 hours (40 min driving one way) and costs 160 pesos. But we are not looking for easy ways. With our general dislike of organized tours (tours may be very useful sometimes, no doubt) we decided to get to Roberto Barrios on our own. To do this we had to take a bus to town, walk to the main market and take another bus to ejido Roberto Barrios. Buses leave the town market every 30 minutes. The total cost of taking the bus plus entrance fee to get to the waterfalls actually exceeded the cost of an organized trip and we obviously had more stress getting there. But it was absolutely worth it. We arrived before everybody else did and for the first two hours had the waterfall almost to our own.
The waterfall consists of a number of smaller ones so even when all the buses came and the day visitors occupied the principal waterfalls, it was still possible to find a smaller one and enjoy some solitude. Swimming is possible and allowed so don't forget your bathing suit. There are some caves under the biggest waterfall - you may want to explore them. Ask the local villagers to show you around - you will give them a chance to earn a bit. But nobody follows you against your will so that you have to buy back your freedom - meaning to pay the locals to leave you alone - like it happened to us in Kenya.
Off the Beaten Path: Horseback Riding in the Jungle and the Best Coffee at La Chiapaneca.
Trail riding is 350 pesos for an hour. And they serve the best coffee in this world - with skimmed milk and cinnamon. Go there have a cup of coffee and if you do not like it send me the bill! Speaking of food: The best tamales on this planet were sold in front of Walmart close to the ADO bus station
Where to Stay in Palenque?
Palenque town is nothing really special - on the contrary, the hotels and hostels in the jungle outside of the town have a unique character. Depending on your budget you may choose between the famous and affordable El Panchan near the pyramids or a number of luxurious hotels around. For El Panchan your need no reservation - just drop in and take a look at all the options that they have. Our favourites were the huts in the "Jungle Palace" (170 pesos in 2017) and the rooms at "Margarita and Ed's" (350 pesos). The latter definitely offers more comfort (but the air in the room was rather stale), while the "Jungle Palace" huts have a great backpacker's vibe. Hanging around in the common area between the huts you are likely to meet like-minded travellers all over the globe en route from Canada to Tierra del Fuego.
What concerns the upper-end hotels in the area, we fell in love with Hotel Boutique Quinta Chanabnal. Set on the way beteen Palenque town and Ruinas in the dense jungle, the place feels like a hidden paradise far away from both the city hectic and backpackers loud parties..
Getting to El Panchan is quite easy - buses heading to the "Ruinas" pass the ADO bus station, a bus ride costs 20 pesos. A taxi ride should cost 60-70 pesos. There are no buses after 6 pm. You may want to do a bit of grocery shopping in the town before leaving for Palenque - neither street food vendors nor corner shops can be found there. Eating at Don Mucho Restaurant is almost the only option available.
Be peppered to have no internet - Don Mucho is supposed to have wifi, but on the days we stayed there it didn´t work. In any case, we recommend buying a Mexican sim card for the length of your stay in Mexico. With Telcel, you have free calls, SMS, social media apps and 200 MB internet for something like a 150 pesos, an additional 1GB would cost you 200 pesos.
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