México Sur! Yaxchilan & Bonampak

This photo is probably in my top 10 photos of all time.
This photo is probably in my top 10 photos of all time.

**Southern Mexico Series
I am in love with Southern Mexico!  Most people think only of the Riviera Maya (Cozumel – Cancun – Playa del Carmen – Tulum) when they think Southern Mexico – indeed, a great place to spark a love affair with this region, but there is so much more!  Permit me to take you on a speed tour through Southern Mexico, to some of the places that have captured my heart!

Perhaps the best place in all of southern Mexico is the the one that is hardest to get to:  Yaxchilan.  If Palenque is magical then Yaxchilan is supernatural and otherworldly!  It’s hardly even still Mexico and in these remote parts of the country I doubt anyone cares much about the hand-drawn line of a border as they go about their daily lives.  Palenque is already somewhat difficult to get to and from there it’s several hours on a bumpy road in a crappy van to reach the town of Frontera Corozal.  Once in this nearly nothing town, you need to negotiate a boat to take you about 45 minute down(up?) the river to the entrance of the archaeological site.  Getting there is definitely part of the fun!

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Once you approach Yaxchilan you get a feel for how ‘out there’ you really are.  It’s Indiana Jones.  It’s Romancing the Stone.  It’s Jurassic Park.  Hell, it might even be The Goonies!

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It’s more than a workout to properly explore the entire grounds, and so, so much fun!

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And if you’re “in the area”, well then it just makes sense to pay a quick visit to the archaeological site of Bonampak.  It’s relatively close and you can’t go wrong in making the trek.

Hurry up and visit, before Mother Nature gobbles these ruins right back up!

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México Sur! Boca del Cielo

**Southern Mexico Series
I am in love with Southern Mexico!  Most people think only of the Riviera Maya (Cozumel – Cancun – Playa del Carmen – Tulum) when they think Southern Mexico – indeed, a great place to spark a love affair with this region, but there is so much more!  Permit me to take you on a speed tour through Southern Mexico, to some of the places that have captured my heart!

Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas may be known for many things….but the beaches aren’t one of them!  But I’d say it depends on what you are after.  Are there more beautiful beaches in Mexico?  Obviously!  But if what you are after is a bit of sunshine and to hear the waves crashing in a pretty chill place, inexpensive and with some seafood and cold beers, – well then Chiapas does have a few options.

Winter in San Cristobal can be a bit chilly. It’s a damp chill that sometimes is just hard to shake from the bones.  With no indoor heating a few weeks go by and all you want is to be warm.  With that in mind, the nearest beach is a 3.5 hour drive straight down the mountain to the Pacific.  Over the holidays we made the drive and chose to spend about 36 hours warming up in Boca del Cielo.

We didn’t really have high expectations given what everyone always says about the beaches in Chiapas – and were all the more thrilled to have a perfectly enjoyable day and night of beachtime.

Boca del Cielo is located on a narrow strip of land between a fresh water lake and the wild ocean, which is handy as you can swim peacefully on the lake side and walk the beach on the other side.  It’s generally a pretty rough ocean, we were told, which explained why there weren’t any swimmers….but you can dip your toes in the water, which is about all I ever do anyway.

Despite being the day after Christmas, it was not at all crowded and even paying the “high season” rates for the rustic cabins we choose, it was very affordable.  There were hammocks and shrimp was had for lunch, dinner and again the following morning and well, we weren’t really asking for more.

A few pics:

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México Sur! Chinkultic

**Southern Mexico Series
I am in love with Southern Mexico!  Most people think only of the Riviera Maya (Cozumel – Cancun – Playa del Carmen – Tulum) when they think Southern Mexico – indeed, a great place to spark a love affair with this region, but there is so much more!  Permit me to take you on a speed tour through Southern Mexico, to some of the places that have captured my heart!

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Chiapas is rich with history from its Mayan ancestors. Just miles from the southern border, about a 2 hour drive from San Cristobal, are the ruins named Chinkultic.  Back in August we had friends visiting and used that as an excuse to finally make the drive down and explore this archaeological site.  It is not a site that is visited by too many people, a shame really.  It’s a small site, beautifully maintained with quiet paths leading through the ruins of the ball courts and up into two different areas that are open for visit.

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A natural well sits at the bottom of the main pyramid, likely the reason this particular location was chosen. On a clear day from the top of the pyramid, you can see for miles, well into neighboring Guatemala.

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A few hours provides enough time to wander around Chinkultic at a leisurely pace. Right outside the entrance, stopping to chat with the women who make simple quesadillas and coffee right outside the entrance provides the fuel for the drive home.

I enjoyed our visit so much I included it in my “The Bee’s Knees of 2014!” for the best Tree Huggin’ Moment of the year!

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México Sur! Las Nubes

**Southern Mexico Series
I am in love with Southern Mexico!  Most people think only of the Riviera Maya (Cozumel – Cancun – Playa del Carmen – Tulum) when they think Southern Mexico – indeed, a great place to spark a love affair with this region, but there is so much more!  Permit me to take you on a speed tour through Southern Mexico, to some of the places that have captured my heart!

Continuing through Chiapas, to Las Nubes!  Somewhere in the Lacandon Jungle is a place that is hard to get to, but worth the effort.  It is a dream come true.  Turquoise blue waters, jungle paths with thick trees to explore and a beautiful panoramic shot!

 

 

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The trees are gnarly and fantastic:

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The peace is endless:

 

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The adventure is real:

 

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It’s a living daydream!

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From the lookout point up above, it was easy to see patches of land that had been completely shaved off, for lumber presumably.  Deforestation is a current issue that is haunting Chiapas and there are many programs designed to reforest and educate and curb damaging logging practices but for now, this little paradise remains intact.

 

México Sur! Palenque

**Southern Mexico Series
I am in love with Southern Mexico!  Most people think only of the Riviera Maya (Cozumel – Cancun – Playa del Carmen – Tulum) when they think Southern Mexico – indeed, a great place to spark a love affair with this region, but there is so much more!  Permit me to take you on a speed tour through Southern Mexico, to some of the places that have captured my heart!

Moving on to the state of Chiapas….

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I recently read Graham Greene’s The Lawless Roads, set in 1938 when he took a trip through Southern Mexico, ending in San Cristobal de las Casas, where we live.  His account of the journey does not paint a pretty picture of Southern Mexico, as he did not seem to enjoy much of his journey.  However, it was interesting to read his tale of traveling through what was then mostly uncharted territory.  When he arrives in Palenque, a Maya City that was at its peak in the 7th century, he talks of the ruins peaking out from between thick trees.  It was nearly untouched and magical.  That is how I have felt each time I’ve entered the archaeological zone of Palenque:  It’s Magical!

Nestled in the jungle, the site as a whole is not huge….although it is still being excavated and will be for a long time to come.   Howler monkeys have marked all of my visits, as well as heavy jungle rain showers.  The trees are magnificent, and a visit is something to never forget.

Most who come to Chiapas make an effort to visit Palenque.  When I first stumbled almost unknowingly into Chiapas in 2007, the ruins did not make my agenda.   When  I returned in June of 2008, I made my first visit:

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In March 2009, I had the pleasure of having some of my family join me for a repeat visit.  Even my brother, on crutches, enjoyed exploring the ruins!

 

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Recently with family down from Wyoming, I had the chance to explore the ruins again.  It never gets old:

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A trip to Palenque, in my book, isn’t complete without an evening stay in a jungle cabaña!  Even when we’re just transiting through Palenque without visiting the ruins, we try to overnight in our favorite cabins and eat at Don Muchos.  We have often stayed at the cabins at El Panchan, but recently discovered the cabins across the street, Kin Balam.

In transit through Palenque on Christmas Eve 2011....just enough time for a plate of jungle pasta at Don Muchos!
In transit through Palenque on Christmas Eve 2011….just enough time for a plate of jungle pasta at Don Muchos!

México Sur! Campeche

**Southern Mexico Series
I am in love with Southern Mexico!  Most people think only of the Riviera Maya (Cozumel – Cancun – Playa del Carmen – Tulum) when they think Southern Mexico – indeed, a great place to spark a love affair with this region, but there is so much more!  Permit me to take you on a speed tour through Southern Mexico, to some of the places that have captured my heart!

The city of Campeche can really feel like a close-knit town, despite being the state capitol.  I have really enjoyed both times I’ve passed through and love the beautifully preserved historic buildings, fortresses and old city walls.  Plus, it’s got the whole pirate thing going on….pretty fun!  The city became an important shipping port during the earlier years of the Spanish Conquest and was subject to many pirate attacks. At some point the city was fortified with thick walls and fortresses, making it an interesting city to explore today.

A remade pirate ship complete with a cheesy pirate reenactment - which I must say I enjoyed!

A remade pirate ship complete with a cheesy pirate reenactment – which I must say I enjoyed!

One of the baluartes (fortresses) on the outskirts of the city center.
One of the baluartes (fortresses) on the outskirts of the city center.
Exploring the fort
Exploring the fort
lovely color contrast, wouldn't you say?
lovely color contrast, wouldn’t you say?

The historic city center, inside the walls, is compact and a joy of a place to walk around and enjoy the laid back town.  Campeche as a city doesn’t have a ton to offer a tourist.  There are several important archaeological sites out within Campeche State, but in the city the sites can be seen in a few hours.  This is why I love coming here – it’s more a place where you just enjoy being.

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Campeche has a very well made and well kept boardwalk several miles long that makes for an enjoyable place to walk in the mornings and evenings when the temperature is more pleasant.  Plus, more amazing seafood!  Campeche – I dig it!

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México Sur! Celestun

**Southern Mexico Series
I am in love with Southern Mexico!  Most people think only of the Riviera Maya (Cozumel – Cancun – Playa del Carmen – Tulum) when they think Southern Mexico – indeed, a great place to spark a love affair with this region, but there is so much more!  Permit me to take you on a speed tour through Southern Mexico, to some of the places that have captured my heart!

Only an hour or so by public transport from Merida is the fishing town of Celestun.  It’s no longer Caribbean water around here, it’s definately Gulf of Mexico.  But it’s still the ocean and where there is seawater there is seafood!!  Celestun is a great place to eat piles of seafood for great prices and enjoy a stop where there are likely to be few other foreigners. A few might trickle in during the day to visit the wildlife reserve but not too many people spend the night.  We did and enjoyed the quiet evening doing what is to be done in a place like this, stroll the plaza and have a cold beer.

mountains of ceviche...mmmmm!
mountains of ceviche…mmmmm!

Just outside of Celestun is a wildlife reserve where flamingos spend part of there year.  For a fee, you can take a boat trip out into the waters and watching these beautiful birds do their one-legged thing and feel the air vibrate as their powerful wings flap furiously to take flight.  It’s impressive!

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Notes to self from a dedicated wanderess….Inspired? Join Me!

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