If you read PART 1 http://onemoreday.blog/?p=681 you already know how much Ek Balam and Uxmal can be unforgettable. In this article you’ll find out about a major Mayan city in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. But that’s not all… together with one of the most famous sites, you’ll discover two smaller sites which are very unpopular and a lot cheaper than the mainstream ones.
Deep in the jungle of Chiapas, a few km outside Palenque you can visit the ancient city of Palenque. The city itself doesn’t offer much to visitors and I didn’t particularly enjoyed it. But if you have time and you want to explore, I’d recommend stopping at Greentime (2a Avenida Sur Pte 39, only two blocks from the main square), a homely place where food is tasty and affordable and vegan options can be easily found.
If you want to fully immerse in the atmosphere you can stay at El Panchan, which is right inside the park and is filled with backpackers and cabañas. Bug repellent will be your best friend and watch out for scorpions! But it may be worth it to just wake up and see monkeys around you 🙂
Entering Palenque is only 70 MXN, which includes the ticket for the nearby museum. I’d recommend visiting it, the collection of objects in there is stunning and you can really see it upclose after a pleasant walk through the jungle and saw spider monkeys, a little waterfall and bat caves. The prices for guides are quite high and scams are ordinary. Some people opt for paying a local kid who will take you around for 200 MXN.
As soon as you enter you’ll find a pyramid on the right, home to the tomb of one of the city’s major rulers (NO flash photography!). Start your journey to the past and imagine those corridors and grounds full of people. Palenque is the only Mayan city where the original paintings still retain their colours. This was a truly impressive experience for me, thinking that those reds and blues have been painted 2000 years ago with such precision. The palace also includes the very first models of toilets, ancient bedrooms, a system to collect water and the highest roofs Mayans have ever built. The incredible skills of this ancient civilisation can be appreciated everywhere, with original walls and roofs still proudly standing.
There are several buildings you can climb and enjoy the view from above won’t be disappointing. However, this is a largely visited city and the amount of people and vendors can be frustrating.
Despite having forgotten my camera battery (how could I???) and being quite ill that day, I really enjoyed Palenque and I believe it is one of the most beautiful cities you can visit. Also, can you believe most of it is still buried in the jungle?
[To read about the history of Palenque visit https://www.ancient.eu/Palenque/]
For a much more relaxed visit, I’d recommend Dzibilchaltun, just outside Mérida. The entrance is just over 200 MXN (€10/$11) and it includes the museum (closed on Mondays!) and the cenote. This was probably the highlight of the whole site. A small, open cenote with crystal clear water in a quiet space.
To get there you can catch a colectivo taxi from Calle 58 between 59 and 57 in the center of Mérida. From the last stop in Chablekal you can take a mototaxi or walk to the entrance (just over 2 km). You can also catch a local bus, they all depart from the very centre and you can ask around to make sure you get on the right one. It’s best to avoid Sundays as the entrance is free for Mexicans and it will be busier.
I arrived early in the morning and there were only two people on the central part of the ruins. After 11 am more visitors arrived and it bothered me to see how the water started changing. It’s not easy to avoid sunscreen or bug repellent on you while in Mexico. But please, be conscious of your impact on the environment. If you know you will go swimming, perhaps avoid covering your skin in harmful chemicals just before. Use a towel to cover your shoulders so you won’t get a sunburn and just wait until you’re out of the water. Alternatively, you can use eco-friendly sprays. They are not easy to find in shops in Central America, but if you’re visiting you cold stock up before you go or rely on natural products. Mosquito repellents based on coconut oil, lemon, citronella and eucalyptus are easy to find there.
Now, back to history! Dzibilchaltun is one of very few sites were the Mayans used buildings as astronomical tools which attract visitors each solstice. You may already know about the spectacular descend of the snake from the top of El Castillo in Chichén Itzá (spoiler alert https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymRgLITylz0). During the equinox the sun rises perfectly through the opening of the Temple of the Seven Dolls in Dzibilchaltun. The site opens early for visitors to enjoy a powerful sunrise (see https://xyuandbeyond.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/solstice.jpg). Many believe that visiting Mayan cities such as this on a special date can energise and have a healing effect. Worth a try, right?
Last, but not least… the unpopular city of Mayapan (Banner of the Mayans). Just 40 km south-east of Mérida, this 4 km2 site was the best kept I’ve seen during my time in Mexico. To add to it, it is also the cheapest! Only 50 MXN to get in and enjoy beautiful pyramids and buildings, perfectly cut grass and trees all around. During the post-classic period Mayapan was the most important centre of Mayan civilisation. This visit was totally worth it and definitely off the beaten path. Although smaller than others, the pyramid stands up proudly in the centre of the city and offers beautiful views of the surrounding area. An observatory can also be found here, resembling El Caracol of Chichén. Just like in any other Mayan city, the central plaza hosted administrative and religious buildings, as well as high class residences.
If you have your own vehicle you should visit Mayapan on your way to Loltun caves as they are both difficult (impossible?) to reach by public transport and are both worth seeing! You will soon read about Loltun in another blog post.
Going to every single Mayan city in Mexico is impossible, but you can make wise choices and bypass the overcrowded and expensive Chichén Itzá to visit Uxmal instead. I do believe Palenque is worth seeing anyway, as it’s the only site where you can appreciate original paintings up close and its location really makes it gorgeous. For smaller hikes and tranquil sightseeing, Dzibilchaltun and Mayapan are ideal. I would have not known about these if I hadn’t talked to the locals. So do that wherever you go and it is guaranteed you’ll have a much better experience than the average traveller.
What’s your experience? Have you visited any of these places? If not, which one sounds best to you after reading PART 1 and PART 2? Let me know in the comments or drop me an email if you need more advice 🙂 I’d be happy to help!