For all its rich indigenous culture and history, Chiapas has surprisingly few ancient ruins open to the public. But what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality, boasting some of the most stunning examples of Maya architecture, design, carvings, and paintings. The Palenque archaeological site is the crown jewel, of course, not only of Chiapas but of the entire Maya world. Though fairly modest in size and scale, Palenque exudes a sense of class and sophistication that has captivated visitors for decades, even centuries. (The town of Palenque, unfortunately, is decidedly less lovely, and the difference can be jarring.)
South of Palenque, the Río Tulijá flows out of the mountains on a limestone riverbed that gives the water a radiant turquoise color. Three popular attractions—the 30-meter Misol-Há waterfall, Agua Clara swimming and recreation area, and especially Agua Azul National Park, an impressive series of powerful waterfalls and blue-hued swimming holes—are great for escaping Palenque’s sticky lowland heat. Tour agencies in Palenque offer recommended day trips there.
Further south, the medium-sized city of Ocosingo is home to the terrific Maya ruins of Toniná, easily one of the best-kept secrets in Chiapas. The ancient city climbs a steep hillside, with elaborate temples, impressive stucco friezes, and expansive views of the surrounding countryside; there’s an excellent museum, too, a rarity among Maya sites. Located halfway between San Cristóbal and Palenque, Toniná is an easy and logical layover—welcome, even, if the corkscrew highway has you feeling green—yet amazingly few people stop.
Ocosingo is also the starting point for an arduous but rewarding journey to Laguna Miramar, a pristine lake deep in the Lacandón rainforest.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition