The churning cascades and serene pools of Agua Azul National Park (60 km/37 mi south of Palenque, 7 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, US$1 pp, US$0.50 restrooms and changing area) are reason enough to visit, but the blue-teal color of the water is what makes it especially impressive. The Tulijá is quite powerful here (having been joined upstream by another river, the Río Shumuljá) and tumbles down several kilometers of stair-stepped limestone, variously splintering and rejoining and forming hundreds of waterfalls in the process.
Between the falls—which range from just a few feet to several stories high—are pools of water where the water’s teal hue can be appreciated. Several of the largest pools have been shored up to allow swimming and wading, and various miradores (vista points) afford fine views of the falls from above and below.
A wide paved path leads from the parking area up alongside the falls, with smaller trails leading to the observation points and designated swimming areas. Unfortunately, there are also myriad stalls crammed along the pathway, hawking food, T-shirts, souvenirs, and more.
The first several hundred meters have the most shops—also the largest falls and most accessible pools, not coincidentally. However, even on busy days (it’s a madhouse during Christmas and Semana Santa) the park’s upper section remains much quieter and less crowded, and a number of scenic pools are great for cooling off.
The upper section starts about a kilometer from the entrance, where the path turns to dirt. Even further (about an hour’s hike) is El Cañon (The Canyon), where the valley narrows and a number of additional falls are located.
Be cautious when swimming or wading in Agua Azul, as the current is deceptively strong in many places, even those that look placid. Drownings have occurred, and there are relatively few signs warning of the danger.
The Comisión Federal de Electricidad (Federal Electricity Commission, no phone), of all places, allows camping on its grassy enclosed yard, charging US$10 per tent (up to four people). The white cinder-block building is located just past where the path turns to dirt, or you can drive there through the small community; ask at the park entrance for directions. Several local homes also allow camping—look for signs.
Agua Azul is located four kilometers (2.5 miles) down a windy road from a well-marked turnoff on Highway 199. Taxis are often waiting at the turnoff to ferry passengers who arrive by combi (US$1.50); otherwise it’s an hour’s walk down, and an even longer walk back up.