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.
Tonina is an archaeological site located 8 miles east of the town of Ocosingo in the Mexican state of Chiapas. It is a Mayan site and gained significant power through the use of warfare. Tonina’s greatest rival was Palenque, some 40 miles to the north. It was Tonina that eventually toppled their great rival. The site is imposing, rising over 230 feet over a plaza and features several temple-pyramids over seven terraces.
model of Tonina
The cheapest way to get to Tonina from the town of Ocosingo is by catching a colectivo or combi from the market in town. It will cost you less than a dollar each way and drops you off right at the entrance to the site after about a 15-20 minute ride.
At the entrance of the site is the museum and you should definitely take a look inside. The museum contains several carvings from the site and a few models of what Tonina looked like at its peak.
Shortly after my visit to the Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban I visited what was the religious center of the Zapotecs, the archaelogical site of Mitla. While Monte Alban is placed in a dramatic setting, Mitla is comparatively understated. It was built more for the comfort of the residents than for grandeur. The site is on the valley floor. It was built as a gateway between the land of the living and the land of the dead. The Zapotec word for the site means “place of rest.”
What makes Mitla different from all other ruins in the area are the grecas or intricate mosaic fretworks. The grecas are made from thousands of cut and polished stones. The stones are held in place by the weight of the other stones. The precise placement of the stones result in the repeated geometric designs seen throughout the site. Continue reading →
panoramic view of Monte Alban ruins from North Platform
view from the North Platform
another view from the North Platform
Monte Alban is an archaelogical site founded by the Zapotecs around 500 B.C. The ruins are on an artificially leveled mountain ridge located just 6 miles outside of Oaxaca, Mexico. Although the ruins are impressive, the location of the site is also quite dramatic. Looking around it is easy to see why the site was chosen to build the city from just a military or defensive standpoint.
If you only had one day to spend in Mexico City then a great place to spend it would be in the Zocalo, or main plaza. The Zocalo is at the heart of Mexico City. It would be easy to spend an entire day with just the sights on offer here, but I would allow at least a half day at the minimum.
View of National Palace & the Zocalo from above
The three main sights to take in here are the National Palace, Metropolitan Cathedral and the Aztec ruins of Templo Mayor. Depending on your pace and inclination each of these sites can be visited in one half hour to 2.5 hours for the detail-oriented visit. I personally spent a half-hour at the Cathedral, one hour at the Palace and about 2 hours at the Aztec ruins. Continue reading →
As I’m traveling I often come across things that surprise me. My usual response to these instances can usually be summed up as “huh, I did not know that.” So in honor of these times when I actually do some learnin’, I present the first series here on WHDIGH, “I Did Not Know That“.
While I was in Mexico City basically almost everything that I experienced could fall under “I did not know that.” I was clueless as to most of what Mexico City was about or had to offer. In fact, I almost skipped the capital of the country until a price for a flight came along that was too good to pass up.
As I began researching the city before my departure I became increasingly excited about going. The amount of museums alone could occupy your time for weeks! As an American all I had heard about Mexico City previously was the amount of pollution and the massive population. So, all in all, I guess I wasn’t that hard to surprise.
I did not know that almost the entirety of the city was built on top of a lake. Mexico City started out as an island and was expanded by the Aztecs and all of the following rulers until nearly all of the lake was drained! There only remains a sliver of the lake that once filled up most of the valley.
The Aztec city of Tenochtitlan before further expansion and draining of the lake
the center of Tenochtitlan likely looked something like this
Walking through Teotihuacan is an impressive experience, but one can only imagine what it was like over a thousand years ago. The sheer magnitude of the pyramids is awesome, but the use of mathematics and astronomy in the planning is also quite fascinating. Many people associate the pyramids with the Aztecs, but they were actually built before the arrival of the Aztecs and abandoned by their creators. How could you leave something so magnificent? Then again, every empire eventually crumbles.