My 90 day tourist visa for Central America, or more specifically for Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador was about to expire. So, I had a choice to make. Get all the proper paperwork put together and go to Guatemala City to apply for an extension or hop on a shuttle to Mexico. 12 hours later I was back in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico. I wasn’t excited to go back but once I got there I felt energized by the beauty of the city and the cool weather.
Last time I was here I had strongly considered an organized tour to Canon Del Sumidero. I don’t recall why I didn’t go last time. So I plopped down 250 Pesos (about $21 USD) and headed out to see the breathtaking scenery. It took about an hour by shuttle from the city out to the canyon. I had been warned that it was very hot at the canyon by a friend and I was glad I had heeded the advice. While it wasn’t exactly sweltering I happily found a seat in the speedboat for my gringo-shorted self. I then swigged some bottled water and applied a plentiful amount of sunscreen for the ride. I grabbed my camera out of my backpack and started snapping photos…
After years of backpacking and hostel after hostel all of the places I’ve stayed in tend to become a blur. Not many places I’ve stayed in are memorable or they are memorable for the wrong reasons. The Jungle Palace in El Panchan near the Mayan ruins of Palenque would be a glaring exception to that rule. You really are IN THE JUNGLE. You live with the plants, bugs, and animals. In fact when you first arrive you begin to wonder if you live with monsters too, as in the mysterious “monster” from LOST. You hear this horrific noise in the distance that surely has to be otherworldly or from another time. If you watched the video clip above you can hear what I am talking about for yourself. As it turns out the noise is actually from the howler monkeys that are your neighbors here in El Panchan.
I stayed in El Panchan for 3 nights and if you can live without wi-fi I recommend that you do so as well. I didn’t stay in Palenque town, but I imagine if I did I would have already forgotten what it was like. If you really are suffering withdrawals from the Internet you can take a 10 minute ride into town if you need to connect back to the outside world. Or better yet, this may be your only vacation from the “internets” in a long time. Although you do not have Internet, the Jungle Palace does have electricity and clean bathrooms with hot water showers. The beds in my room were comfortable and hanging around in my room listening to the sounds of the jungle was relaxing, at least when the howler monkeys were not around. Another important feature is the free use of metal lockers for valuables as many of the rooms feature screen windows that could be easily broken into. The Jungle Palace can also arrange your transportation or tours to nearby places and attractions. In fact I booked my 8 hour trip to Flores, Guatemala with the receptionist.
Another fun thing to do at the Jungle Palace is to strap on some thermal vision glasses borrowed from Arnold and pretend you are in “Predator“. Make sure you turn up the volume to eleven. Check it out-
Palenque is a Mayan city state dating from 100 BC to 800 AD. The peak of its power and grandeur was achieved in the 7th Century. It was abandoned around 800 AD and gradually absorbed into the jungle. Today about 1 square mile of the site has been excavated and restored. This area is estimated to cover less than 10% of the total area that the city once covered. It is believed that there are still thousands of structures yet to be excavated and restored. Much of the ruins that we now see are largely attributed to K’inich Janaab’ Pakal or Pacal The Great. Pacal The Great ruled Palenque from 615 to 683 AD. He is best known for the Temple Of The Inscriptions which contain his tomb.
My first night in San Cristobal de Las Casas I stayed in a basic dorm room. The next day I lugged my bag over to B & B Le Gite Del Sol. I highly recommend this B & B/ Hostel. The hostel is spotless, the beds are comfortable and the staff and owners are nice and friendly. They also included a tasty breakfast, free wi-fi and the use of a computer and kitchen facilities. The hostel is conveniently located, a 5 minute walk from the main tourist street. There are actually two locations within one block of each other. The friendly owners can help you with bus tickets and reliable bus information. It can get cold during the night in San Cristobal so it is important to have thick blankets and this hostel passes that test as well. While the basic rooms are somewhat spartan, I still feel the hostel is a good value, especially if you are splitting the costs of a room.
In San Cristobal de Las Casas the international influence is undeniable. There is an interesting mix of artistic, indigenous, progressive, and cosmopolitan influences balanced throughout the city. Despite the dominance of tourism on the local landscape the resulting ambience of the place is not tacky or lacking culture. Much of the pleasure of wandering around the tourist center of town is provided by walking the long pedestrian-only portions of the streets. Another feature of the city is the wide array of international cuisine on offer: Thai, Italian, Argentinian, Lebanese, Japanese, and more. In addition, cafes and restaurants feature live music throughout the city, especially Thursday through Saturday night. With several museums around and a few day trips just outside the city it is an easy place to find yourself extending your stay. Unfortunately I stayed longer than planned because of a bout with Montezuma’s Revenge, but even that calamity didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for San Cristobal. Continue reading →