Waterfalls and Pyramids in Mexico: A Day Trip to Agua Azul and Palenque
Does it get any more exotic than waterfalls and pyramids surrounded by jungle? The day trip to Agua Azul and Palenque (the archaeological site) in the Chiapas region of Mexico is pretty special — keep reading to find out what we saw and some details about the tour, which started in San Cristobal de las Casas.
The winding road to Agua Azul
We were the unlucky last passengers on board the minivan, which meant we were crammed into the back row of seats with another couple. The road was bumpy and constantly winding, which eventually took its toll on Gia’s stomach. If you suffer from motion sickness and want to avoid throwing up in a van full of strangers, bring pills! As is usually the case, winding roads = great scenery, and the green Chiapas hills definitely provided that (unfortunately I didn’t get any photos as I was attending to a sick girlfriend!).
This is surely one of Mexico’s best waterfalls — it’d be a shame to miss it if you take public transport from San Cristobal de las Casas to Palenque, which was our original plan (more on that later). Agua Azul consists of several levels of turquoise pools and waterfalls. We walked up the hill to see as many of them as we could. The crowds thinned out as we got higher, until we reached a viewing platform that looked out over the waterfalls and surrounding jungle. The jungle path is lined with lots of small restaurants where you can get a reasonably priced meal of tacos and a cold drink; make sure you go up the hill a bit and choose a restaurant with a view. You can swim at Agua Azul but most of it is roped off and the small swimming section didn’t look that appealing.
A bonus waterfall! The minivan stopped at Misol-Ha for about 45 minutes, allowing us enough time to relax by the small pool and also walk behind the thundering falls. At around 35 metres, Misol-Ha is a lot higher than Agua Azul. I’m glad we stopped there; it’s probably not somewhere we would have visited on our own.
The Maya Ruins of Palenque
This is what we really came to see. The jungle setting and scale of the main plaza makes Palenque one of the most popular archaeological sites in Mexico, and it deserves all the praise it gets. We spent a few hours wandering around in the afternoon heat, stopping for plenty of rests under the shade of trees which were towered over by pyramids. We climbed to the top of a couple of the pyramids — the higher you go the smaller the crowds (but it’s hot up there). The crowds were actually pretty manageable throughout the site; it’s definitely easy to find your own little corner of the ancient city. It’s also worth straying from the bigger structures to see some of the intricate carvings, and if you’re lucky you might see some animals. We saw howler monkeys high in the trees, but you might spot even more wildlife if you visit in the morning.
Further reading: Most of the structures at the Palenque archaeological site date back to around 600 AD, but some may be from as far back as 200 BC — check out this post for a more detailed look at the history of Palenque.
A day trip to Agua Azul and Palenque: The Details
We had originally planned to take a night bus between San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque but I read that this is a pretty dangerous route at night. There have been some bus hijackings in the recent past, so we decided to book a tour. It cost 450 pesos including all entrance tickets — we couldn’t have done it much cheaper by public transport. The minibus would have been OK but we were stuck in the back row, which is always a bit miserable. The tour can either take you back to San Cristobal de las Casas or drop you at the bus station in Palenque. We got off in Palenque, waited a few hours, and then took a night bus to Merida.
San Cristobal de las Casas
We started the day trip to Agua Azul and Palenque in San Cristobal de las Casas, one of Mexico’s nicest little colonial cities. It’s far more laid-back than the likes of Oaxaca, and is a popular place to stop for a while and learn some Spanish. We spent our time strolling the streets, checking out the churches and relaxing in small street-side cafes. It’s probably my favourite city in Mexico; make sure you check it out if you’re travelling overland towards the Yucatan Peninsula.
The day trip to Agua Azul and Palenque is one of Mexico’s highlights — you can’t go wrong with seeing some beautiful waterfalls and mysterious ancient pyramids!
What is your favourite archaeological site / waterfall in Mexico? Let me know in the comments below!