It was time to hit the road again and our next stop was Palenque! The three amigos were sticking together for one more city! Mike was even already planning out our days before we left San Cristóbal. We were told by the ADO bus station that the bus ride to Palenque was 7 hours from San Cristóbal. Since the bus ride was only 7 hours, if we had taken an overnight bus we would arrived in Palenque at around 5 or 6am, meaning we’d have to wander the streets until check in time, which is normally around 12pm or 1pm. So we naturally opted for the morning bus in order to arrive at a decent hour.
Right next to the entrance to the Palenque ruins we heard there is a small community located in the jungle called El Panchan. Someone had recommended we stay at a place called Jungle Palace which is located in that same community. They have no phone and don’t respond to emails so we were just going to have to show up and hope they had room.
Tickets from San Cristóbal to Palenque were $300 MXN (about $15 USD). We loaded the bus at 10am and were informed it would actually take 9 hours to get there instead of 7 as we had originally been told. Palenque is only 140 miles away from San Cristóbal de Las Casas. You could take a van and do the trip in about 4 hours going through the mountains instead of around, but after my experience with the van ride from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido I wasn’t about to take another van trip from hell so we went with the bus. The ADO bus instead goes around the mountains and stops in another town, Villahermosa, first. This is why it takes so much longer.
We were frustrated that we could have made this an overnight trip and were wasting an entire day on the bus, especially after spending 13 hours getting to San Cristobal three days before and then another 8 hours on a bus the previous day for the lake tour. One of the downsides of ADO buses is instead of requiring headphones to listen to the TVs playing overhead they play the sound through the overhead bus speakers for everyone to hear. You’re forced to listen to terrible American movies dubbed in Spanish, this time for 9 hours.
We arrived in Palenque around 6pm and then took a taxi to El Panchan. El Panchan is a strange place- it’s a weird little plot of land in the jungle with two “hotels” and two restaurants. There are no roads or sidewalks, just dirt and mud. We arrived at Jungle Palace and were led to a concrete hut in the jungle with three beds. The windows were just screens with curtains that barley covered them. San Cristóbal wasn’t looking so bad right about now.
Not sure what to do with ourselves we headed to one of the restaurants in El Panchan called Don Muchos where we were told we could hear live music. There we ran into our friend José who we had met on the canyon tour in San Cristóbal. He was traveling with a guy from the Netherlands. We all grabbed a table together and sat down to listen to the band. The music was amazing and lifting my spirits already. The band was a traditional Bolivian folk music band complete with various types of flutes.
Things took a turn for the worse when during one of the songs a band member got off the stage and asked me to dance. I told him over and over again that I was a terrible dancer but he didn’t care. He led me to the stage in front of everyone and we started doing a very strange dance. I can only assume it was a traditional Bolivian dance. I had no idea what I was doing but I was doing it in front of about 100 people and turning bright red.
After the song I sat down completely embarrassed. José and his friend tried to reassure me how well I danced but I could tell they were just being nice.
The next day we were off to the ruins which were conveniently located right next to El Panchan. As we entered the park everyone told us it was too far to walk to the ruins and we’d need to take a cab. We decided to ignore them and do it anyways. We had basically been sitting on a bus for the past three days and wanted the exercise.
While we were walking to the ruins a man popped out of nowhere amongst the trees holding a mushroom. He asked us if we wanted mushrooms…the “MAGIC” kind. We all thought about it for 10 seconds then decided against it. As tempting as it sounded we weren’t going to buy mushrooms from the mystery man hiding in the jungle.
It only took us about 20 minutes to reach the entrance to the ruins, so yes you can walk it. Mexican parks or ruins or waterfalls always have a weird double entrance fee. You pay when you get to the entrance for the “road” then you pay again when you get to the actual entrance. The “road” fee was $27 MXN (about $1.50 USD) and the entrance to Palenque was $51 MXN (about $2.50 USD). I still don’t completely understand the double charge.
The ruins of Palenque were truly amazing. Set in the jungle surrounded by trees and howler monkeys, it was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen. I kept trying to imagine the Mayans living there thousands of years ago, walking around and going about their daily lives.
After the ruins we headed to Mexico’s version of Walmart called Chedraui! It just so happened to be Thanksgiving Thursday and I was the only American in our group but I desperately wanted to do something to celebrate the holiday. Excited to not eat corn for once, we got all the non-Mexican food we could think of. I purchased sliced turkey, cubes of guyere cheese and dried fruit. We then headed to waterfalls called Robertos Barrios to enjoy our picnic. A local in San Cristóbal had recommended the Robertos Barrios to us over some of the other, more touristy waterfalls in Palenque.
After haggling with a taxi driver on the price to take us there and back (I believe it ended up being $500 MXN (about $25 USD) for four people) we were off with our “Thanksgiving” picnic food.
The falls ended up being much farther away from the center of town than we had thought. After about 45 minutes we arrived to a small village. This village is not governed by Mexico, they govern themselves and are Zapatistas (a leftist political and militant group).
We got out of the taxi and began to walk down a dirt path lined with homes. There were two giant turkeys in someone’s yard and I thought it was so ironic being Thanksgiving and all, however, I was the only one.
Robertos Barrios is comprised of 6 different waterfalls. When we arrived at the first fall it was like something out of a movie. There were kids swimming and playing in the water and women washing clothing. We walked along the path as our taxicab driver accompanied us, giving us a tour of the falls. We chose the best spot we could find for our makeshift picnic and invited our taxi driver to join us. The view was beautiful and the falls were breathtaking.
Sad to not be home with my family for Thanksgiving I couldn’t think of a better way to have spent this holiday away from home. Good friends, good food, ancient Mayan ruins and waterfalls. It was truly a Thanksgiving I will not forget.