Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Day 9: Palenque and Misol-Ha

The overnight bus  from Tulum to Palenque departed at 8.30pm from the Tulum bus station and was surprisingly comfy and not as cold as we had been told to expect. However I was woken up every hour by either the bus stopping and me getting worried that we would miss our stop or border patrol guards checking my bag for drugs (there were two blonde people on the bus and guess which two people he asked) so far on every possible opportunity to be searched I have. Luisa slept peacefully. Blondes do not have more fun....All in the name of Palenque ruins..

 We took the first class bus because it was a 10h journey but it cost a lot (661 pesos). Next time we will take the cheaper option (350 pesos for a little less leg room and 2h longer). We arrived in Palenque at about 6:30am, it turned out to be the last stop anyway so didn’t even have to get worried about missing the stop. We waited in the bus station just gathering our thoughts etc and got chatting to some backpackers who were looking to leave Palenque, they advised the best place to go would be El Panchen, as it was small commune of about 5 different hostels offering different rates for rooms in the middle of the jungle.  Taxi from the bus station cost 50 pesos, again it is fixed so don’t bother haggling, he showed us a little leaflet of the prices. We got a small hut with our own bathroom (230 pesos per night) but we found out later that we could have had basically the same accommodation for 100 pesos if we had shared a bathroom. Make sure to look around before accepting the first room offered. The entrance to the Palenque National Park was directly outside El Panchan and cost 10 pesos. The ruins themselves were around 3km uphill on a long and winding road so we took a collectivo (10 pesos). Entry to the ruins was 54 pesos and we were given a really useful park map at the last tour guide stand on the right just before the entrance. 

The ruins looked very impressive as we approached the clearing. Dozens of well-preserved temples that really capture the feel that an ancient civilization actually thrived here; yet there were still thousands of pyramids hidden amongst the dense vegetation behind the site.  There are many guides that offer tours to see these hidden ruins and the chance to see and hear the howler monkeys. The park was well restored and we were able to climb most of the structures but this was nothing compared to the spectacular rainforest backdrop. After trekking through the majority of the main area we took a path that winds through the trees to the exit and the main road. From there it was a 2km walk back to our hostel and in the sticky, sweltering heat with 100% humidity, it felt a lot longer than 2km!

Unfortunately, we had not done our research as we found out a bit late that there three main things to do in Palenque: the ruins, Misol-Ha and Aqua Azul. There are transport packages you can buy for just over 100 peso that will take you to the two latter at specific times. We managed to round up two guys who also wanted to go and got another collectivo into town. It was then that we discovered that the collectivos stop running after 2pm to these places and you “have” to take private tour guides.

After an hour of arguing and negotiating in broken Spanish we ended up getting a cab driver to take us to Misol-Ha for 460 pesos (115 pesos each, includes the parking fee (15 pesos per person + make sure you pay the cab driver after the whole journey....).  Misol-Ha was a beautiful single waterfall that cascades into a plunge pool that you can swim in with little fish. There is also a cave where you can see bats. Entrance to the cave was 10 pesos and we had an of swimming before getting driven back to our hostel.
El Panchan was a cool place to hang out with beers in the evening but do not be surprised to find bugs of all sizes in your room (or bed!) as it is in the middle of the jungle. We got an early night as the next day was our journey to Guatemala.

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