We rose just before the crack of dawn the morning of our long trip to Bacalar via Palenque. The reason we wanted to get on the road ASAP was that we planned to take the notorious Highway 199 to Palenque, a route that not even commercial buses run anymore.
Not only are road blocks by indigenous protestors who demand money common along this route, but it’s widley known that bandidos run rampant, holding up cars with machetes and guns and taking more than just your money. It actually wasn’t that long ago that an entire tour bus was held up, hence why they now take the much longer way around to reach Palenque.
So why were we even considering taking Highway 199? Well for starters it was a much quicker route than the alternative, shaving a few hours off our journey and saving us a lot in fuel. Secondly we wanted to visit the Cascadas de Agua Azul, an incredible multi-tiered waterfall which lies just off the highway. And the third reason was that we spoke to many locals in San Cristóbal who all told us the same thing. Leave early, keep moving, don’t drive at night, and we won’t have any problems. So that’s exactly what we did.
As we wound around mountains, through small villages and over what felt like thousands of topes, we were only minutes away from Cascadas de Agua Azul when we arrived at a road block. We knew we would come to one somewhere along our journey through Chiapas, it was just annoying how close it was to where we needed to be. We waited in a line of eager vehicles as the locals approached us, demanding 200 pesos to pass and providing us with a paper receipt, detailing the reason for their roadblock (governent related, no doubt). After paying we were let past and continued on our way.
When we arrived at the waterfall, the usually crystal blue water was brown due to the heavy rainfall that occured the few days prior. The waterfall was still unbelievably magnificent, pouring down the rocks and crashing into the stream below. We spent a bit of time walking up and around the area before jumping back into Fuego and continuing on to Palenque, arriving at the ancient Mayan ruins not long after.
The Palenque ruins date back to 230BC-800AD. After the city’s decline, the ruins were left to the jungle but the surrounding area has since been excavated and restored. And thanks to some student passes we managed to score in Mexico City, entry to the popular archaeological site didn’t cost us a cent! After a walk around we grabbed some early dinner at a local supermarket then decided to set up camp in the parking lot for the night.
The next morning after another long drive we finally arrived in Bacalar in the state of Quintana Roo. The small town is most famous for it’s “Lake of Seven Colours”, with beautifully clear water and long list of water activities. We did some walking around the town before grabbing a bite to eat, having a quick catch up with friend Ben from Puerto Escondido, then jumping into the back of the van for the night.
The next morning we walked down to the lake and hired a two person kayak from one of the waterside hostels. We paddled out to El Canal De Los Piratas to laze about the man-made shipwreck and exfoliate our faces with the sulpher infused mud, an activity popular amongst visitors. We then paddled further down the lake to Cenote Negro, a large natural underground resovoir stretching nearly 80 metres deep! We didn’t really feel comfortable swimming in the deep dark water so paddled back up to the shore to return our kayak.
That afternoon we found a sectioned off area of the lake to swim, and spent the rest of our time in Bacalar moving between the cool clear water and the shade of our cabaña.
Next stop, the warm white sands of Tulum!