Do you like chasing waterfalls and climbing ruins like a modern Indiana Jones? One of the best day trips from San Cristobal de las Casas is to Agua Azul waterfalls, Misol Ha waterfall, and the Palenque ruins.
San Cristobal de las Casas is one of my favorite places in Mexico: so charming, oozing culture and tradition at every corner. Many travel agencies offer day trips from San Cristobal, and one of the most popular day trips from San Cristobal de las Casas is the one that goes to Agua Azul waterfalls, Misol Ha waterfalls, and finishes with a visit to the stunning Palenque Ruins.
For this day trip, my friend Raphael and I partnered up with Tinggly, which is a cool gift solution for your loved ones who would rather experience things rather than owning them. A pretty cool idea if you still need to buy Christmas gifts!
Agua Azul Waterfalls
After a 4-hour drive, we were so happy to arrive to Agua Azul waterfalls (literally “blue water”), known for the color of the water. Strictly speaking, the Agua Azul isn’t a single waterfall, but rather a series of cascades that wind their way down the Xanil River. What’s unique about the water here is that it’s extremely rich in calcium carbonate. As they wash over trees and other plants in their path, they eventually coat these objects with a limestone shell, making for a very strange sight indeed.
While these falls have been around for countless millennia, their very existence was threatened by the 2017 Chiapas earthquake, which altered the course of the river. However, local residents took action, and helped the Agua Azul to keep on flowing.
The day I visited, the weather wasn’t great. It was rainy and cloudy, and no one was swimming in the natural pools, but when the sun comes out, you can definitely take a dip at Agua Azul. There are plenty of souvenir vendors around Agua Azul waterfalls, as well as cafès and restaurants where you can get recharged before heading to the next stop.
The second stop is at Misol Ha waterfall, very different from the previous ones. Many waterfalls are made up of several smaller cascades of water, but Misol-Ha is something truly spectacular. A single stream of water plummets some 35 meters down into the lagoon below. In Mayan, its name means “streaming water”, and the waterfall was treated as a holy place by these ancient people.
It’s not just humans who are attracted to this beautiful spot, either- if you visit, you can expect to see all manner of wildlife, from anteaters and armadillos to toucans, parrots, and even boa constrictors! Tucked behind the waterfall itself is a 20-meter long cave that contains its own inner waterfall, as well as plenty of bats and fossils of beasts from millions of years ago.
The last stop of the tour is at the Palenque Ruins. During this 3-month long trip, I’ve been lucky to explore 7 different ruins and pyramids in Mexico, including Chichen Itza, Tulum and Teotihuacan. They are all beautiful and different from each others, but Palenque is definitely in my top 3 and definitely worth a day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas. What makes it different from all the other ruins, is its jungle setting.
At its height, Palenque would have been one of the most magnificent cities in the entire Mayan empire. With thousands of buildings spread over some 15 square kilometers, this would have been a thriving city during the so-called Classical Era of Mayan civilization.
Like all Mayan cities of its time, though, Palenque’s success simply wasn’t to last. Some time after 800 A.D., the city was abandoned, and eventually the surrounding jungle reclaimed the area. It wasn’t until centuries later that the ruins were uncovered by archaeologists, and only a small fraction of the ruins have been fully cleared.
The rest still lie enveloped by trees and plants- making it the perfect place to experience an authentic jungle ruin adventure! The ruins are surrounded by vegetation and you literally walk through the jungle to reach certain ruins, passing waterfalls and rivers.
By far the most incredible ruin in Palenque (and one of the finest examples of Mayan architecture anywhere in Mexico) is the Temple of the Inscriptions. It was built as the final resting place of King Pakal, who ruled the city for almost 70 years and was one of the most significant figures in the city’s history.
On the outside, intricate inscriptions tell of the history of the city, giving archeologists and amateurs alike the unique opportunity to get a better insight into how the Mayans lived. Inside, it’s a whole different story, as an 80-foot stairway descends from the peak of the pyramid down into King Pakal’s tomb. While visitors are no longer allowed inside, it’s said to be so humid in the tomb that the walls drip with water, almost as if they are crying for the lost king.
In addition to this incredible centerpiece of the site, there is also another set of temples, known as the Temples of the Crosses. Visitors are more than welcome to venture inside these, and more carvings reveal some of the mysteries of the Mayan religion.
Some Practical Information
⇒ BOOK HERE the same tour I took from San Cristobal to the Palenque ruins and the waterfalls in Chiapas (keep reading for info about those). It’s a very long tour but in my opinion is totally worth it! At less than $40, the tour is also very affordable.
This tour isn’t for everyone: it’s long and tiring, but absolutely worth it if you want to see the waterfalls and the Palenque ruins.
Get ready for an early start: we got picked up at 4am from our hotel. It’s a full day trip, and when I say full I mean a 16-hour day, of which 8 will be spent in the car – Palenque is not close to San Cristobal de las Casas and the road is pretty bad.
I recommend getting Dramamine if you ever get car sick, as you WILL get car sick on this road. Otherwise, you can decide to stay in Palenque instead of going back to San Cristobal and reach to your next destination from there (which is what we did).
READ ALSO: The Best Things to Do in San Cristobal
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Tinggly for this experience.