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…
Before I spent a month in Mexico my knowledge of the country was very limited. Like many college students before me I spent some nights getting drunk in Tijuana. I remember watching a lot of westerns that seemed to fill my mind with the idea that every corner in Mexico was occupied by a dusty cantina with mean hombres just waiting for a fight. I had also seen lucha libre Mexican wrestling on TV a few times. Besides that, Cancun had long been a party destination for Americans. Both my high school and my college mascots were the Aztecs but I only had a vague notion of where they were from. Mexican food has heavily featured in my diet since I moved to Southern California when I was ten years old. When I spent a year in Southeast Asia one of the things I missed was Mexican food. I came away from my month in Mexico impressed by the history, culture and beauty of the country.
I started off my time in Mexico in the capital, Mexico City. I spent 8 days as a tourist in the city. I visited superb museums. I saw the pyramids of Teotihuacan and Templo Mayor. I went to my first live lucha libre Mexican wrestling match. I saw the National Palace in the Zocalo. I went to the zoo and was surprised that a free zoo could be so big and filled with so many different animals. I also found out that Mexico City was built on top of a lake and that because of this it is sinking! I went clubbing in the trendy Condesa neighborhood. I saw Mexican Hairless Dogs for the first time. I also experienced my first shots of Mezcal. I visited one of the most sacred places in Catholicism, Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mexico City is a fascinating place with a lot to see and do. I could have easily spent 2-3 weeks exploring it. The city is hectic and crowded and I was glad that my next destination was Oaxaca.
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 →