Into the Jungle and Off the Beaten Path
Chiapas has one of the largest indigenous populations in Mexico and is home to numerous Mayan ruins set in the rainforest. For us, this made it a must see region of Mexico as we continued our quest to interact with indigenous communities in some of the wildest places in Mexico.
San Cristóbal de Las Casas is a great place to get your feet wet in Chiapas. We had an amazing week there, enjoying one of the most beautiful colonial cities in the world and mountain biking through the indigenous communities surrounding the city. San Cristóbal was the center of the Zapotista rebellion in Chiapas. The rebellion was brutally and quickly crushed by the Mexican Army with help from the US. But after spending some time in indigenous communities like San Juan Chamula, we felt like we had a bit of an appreciation of why the Zapotista movement was formed (and to a certain extent is still alive today). Chiapas generates a lot of the power (via dammed) for all of Mexico (via hydroelectric power plants). Yet the people of Chiapas get very little in return from the Mexican government. Yet these poor, proud people nevertheless seem happy with their lives, despite how little they have.
From San Cristóbal de Las Casas, we took the “safer” of the two routes toward Palenque. This involved driving southeast through the Lacandan Jungle along the Mexican Guatemalan border on a horrible road.
The Bonampak ruins are home to some of the best preserved Mayan murals in the world. And the Yaxchilan ruins, reached via a one hour boat ride on the Usumacina River, are set in the apex of a horsehoe shaped bend in the river deep in the jungle. The journey to these ruins was particularly unforgettable, including for Oz who loved the boat ride (but was less enthusiastic about the crocodiles).
The Amazing Murals of Bomampak
We finished our trip to Chiapas by visting the Palenque ruins. Palenque was a huge city and the ruins, including the architecture, hieroglyphics, murals and sculptures, are amazing. The day after visiting the excavated ruins, we headed into the jungle to explore some of some of the 1,000 structures in the rest of the city, only 10% of which has been explored, never mind excavated. After spending the day climbing buildings that reclaimed by the rainforest over 1,200 years ago, including huge cedar, mahogany and sapodilla trees, we felt an even greater appreciation and even connection to the ancient Mayans.
From Palenque, we headed east toward the Yucatan. And despite the fact that we were happy to leave the mosquitoes behind us, we were sad to see the amazing jungle of Chiapas in our rear view mirror.