Saturday, December 16, 2017

Mexico Diary - Palenque and the Maya Ruins

Hey there and happy weekend, adventurers! Are you all enjoying your day off? I hope so!
I have a new post for you with more cool Mexico tips, this time I'm taking you to Palenque.

We didn't actually visit the town of Palenque but did a full-day tour of the Maya ruins and other sights in this area. We booked the tour right when we arrived in the morning, it was about 180 Pesos per person, so more or less 9€. The first stop was the archaeological site of Palenque, an ancient Maya city state in the middle of the jungle. It was only a 15-minute ride there and we paid about 100 Pesos or 5 Euros entrance fee. Those were the first Maya ruins we visited in Mexico, and the first ones ever in my whole life, so needless to say that I was amazed! The weather wasn't that great when we arrived but the sun quickly came out and brought the tropical heat. I loved exploring the ruins without any tour guide. We walked the whole site, climbed up the temples and palaces, took our time to admire the detailed sculptures and fine carvings and tried to imagine what this place looked like hundreds of years ago. It somehow gives you a chill walking through this 'city' thinking of the Maya culture, how they built these huge, impressive temples and palaces, how they lived back in the days and how they disappeared from one moment to the other. We spent about two and a half hours at the archaeological site and then headed to our next destination in the jungle.

Our second stop was the Misol-Ha waterfall, which was about half an hour away from the ruins. It was never on our list but included in the tour we booked. We spent about half an hour at the waterfall which is enough time because there's really not much else to see. The waterfall is about 35 metres high and really beautiful, however, I'm sure the water is even prettier when it doesn't rain the day before. There's a path that leads to the back of the waterfall from where you have an impressive view and can hear the roaring water even better. Watch out for your camera there, it will get really wet, haha! You can also swim in the waterfall. Since we already had some amazing waterfall baths in Costa Rica last year we decided to skip this one.

Agua Azul
Last but not least we went to see the Cascadas de Agua Azul, a series of waterfalls that are about one and a half hours away from Palenque. The waterfalls are part of a river and the water usually has an intense, blue color. Unfortunately it wasn't that blue the day we went because it rained the day before, bad luck. However, the waterfalls were impressive and the walk along the river was very nice. The only thing I didn't like about this place is that it's very commercialized, there are tents, cables and garbage everywhere along the river and people are trying to sell you souvenirs, food, drinks and more, at times being very annoying because they don't leave you alone. I understand that every country or city is commercializing sights and natural wonders, I do live on a very touristy island. However, I don't like when people are turning a beautiful place into an ugly tourist spot. I prefer seeing things in their natural, peaceful and calm surroundings without being molested by vendors. This was my experience, maybe other tourists appreciate that there are restaurants and stalls everywhere at Agua Azul.
So after spending about 2 or 3 hours at the waterfalls we headed back to Palenque's bus station which took about another hour and a half. We had some tacos for dinner, the best tacos al pastor I ate in Mexico, and took the bus to our next destination, Mérida, around 9pm.

Traveling by ADO Bus
Thinking of these nightly bus tours now I have to admit that it was a crazy adventure. We spent 3 nights in a row in buses running from one destination to the next one. We didn't have any room where we could drop of our stuff and relax for a few days, we were just checking out one new place after the other. This was our third and last night sleeping in the bus and we were so happy when we arrived the next day in Mérida where we took a hotel, had a nice shower, a long nap and good night's sleep in a comfy bed and could just chill. Taking night buses was definitely a great time saver and a very convenient and fast way to get from Mexico City to the Yucatan Peninsula allowing to see other cities in between. The ADO buses we took were very safe, comfortable, modern and not too expensive (between 15 and 30€). However, I'd recommend you to stay one night in between at a hotel to relax a little. My legs and feet were very swollen after these 3 nights we spent in buses because I couldn't put them up to let them rest a little after so many hours of walking and sitting. Please consider this in case you decide to spend a few nights in a bus!
I hope you liked this post and my travel tips, more are coming soon!

Yummy fresh cacao, we ate the pulp and took the beans home with us

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Mexico Diary - San Cristóbal de las Casas

Hey there, hope you're all having a great week! Today I'm taking you to San Cristóbal de las Casas, our third stop in Mexico. San Cristóbal is a lovely colonial city set in a highland valley in the state of Chiapas. It's a very walkable city, you can easily see it in one day. What surprised me most about this town was its crazy mix of century-old buildings, tradition and modern, cosmopolitan places. You'll find lots of indigenous people there selling food and handmade products on the market and also (unfortunately) begging for money in restaurants and cafés, whereas many other Mexicans and tourists spend lots of money on shopping or lunch and dinner at modern stores and food places. We only spent 12 hours in San Cristóbal and the weather wasn't too great so we basically spent the whole day in cafés and restaurants. Going through the pics I prepared for this post I noticed that this is more a food rather than a travel post, haha. I hope you find it helpful anyway.

What to Do and Where to Eat
We got to San Cristóbal early in the morning coming from Oaxaca. After dropping off our luggage at a storage we found at the bus station (cause we would leave that same day) we headed to the town centre looking for a nice breakfast place. After only 5 minutes we found a cute, tiny restaurant called No Name Restaurant which you can see in the first photos. They had a great breakfast offer including eggs, pancakes, fruit, bread, tea and coffee. I opted for fluffy pancakes (in Mexico they call them hot cakes) with yummy dulce de leche and Miguel for 'huevos divorciados', fried eggs with tasty red and green salsa. After breakfast we walked through the town centre for a bit exploring the charming cobbled streets and central square. We checked out the local market where you could find all kinds of food, clothes and decoration. We also stopped by the artisans market where I bought a lovely tablecloth for my mom. Since we were not dressed properly that day (leggings and a sweater were definitely not warm enough) we spent the next few hours at the café Cacao Nativa to warm up. It's a very modern café where they serve all kinds of hot chocolate. I chose the 70% dark chocolate and Miguel had a yummy frappé topped with whipped cream. After having so much sweet food and drinks in the morning I needed something salty. So we tried some Mexican street food, 'chicharrín', a large cracker topped with corn, cucumber, mayonnaise, carrots, cheese and hot sauce. I loooved it! Honestly 'chicharrín' quickly turned into my new favorite Mexican dish, it's so simple yet so fresh and delicious. I'll try to make this at home, haha. After having a snack we went for another walk and stopped by El Meson Del Taco for 'tacos al pastor' which weren't too bad but not the best tacos I've tried in Mexico. Last but not least we went to Esquina San Augustín, an ultra modern, hipster mall/food market where we had a matcha and caramel latte at the café Amor Negro. Before taking the night bus to our next destination we picked up some clean clothes at the luggage storage and went to a hotel to take a shower. It was a little crazy 'living in a bus' for 3 days, I'll tell you all about it in my next post so stay tuned ;-) Hope you like these pics of San Cristóbal. Have a great week, everyone!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Mexico Diary - Oaxaca and Hierve el Agua

Hi there, hope you all liked my first Mexico blog post and found it helpful. Today you get to see some pics of our second destination, the beautiful town Oaxaca. Unfortunately we only spent one night and one entire day there but enjoyed it to the fullest!

Where to Stay
We arrived late at night coming from Mexico City, went for some tasty dinner at a restaurant called Alvaro and spent the night at Hostal Pochon, a cozy, laid-back place located just five minutes from the city centre.

What to Do
The next day we got up early and went for a little walk through the town. I loved seeing the streets almost empty, everything was still so peaceful and quiet in the morning. Oaxaca is just amazing, it was my favorite town in Mexico! It's a smaller city but so beautiful with all its colorful buildings from the colonial times, its very clean streets, its cool street art and great food. I felt so comfortable in Oaxaca, I can't even exactly say why but you know, it gave me that feeling of being home. So we strolled through the streets, visited the Zócalo (Oaxaca's lovely central square), booked our tickets for our bus trip at night and explored the Mercado 20 de Noviembre. That market was one of my favorites, there were lots of colorful clothes, handmade products and so much fresh, great-looking food from fruit and pastries to spices and seafood. We bought a papaya, some bananas, guayabas (one of my favorite exotic fruits), pastries and tried the typical 'chapulines' which are grasshoppers with chilli sauce, very hig in protein but not my favorite snack, haha. After this culinary excursion we headed back to the hostel where we had beans, scrambled egg, bread and some fruit for breakfast before starting our day trip to a very special place...

'Chapulines', just had to try them!

My dinner the first night, 'pozole', a tasty chicken soup

The Hostal Pochon

Hierve el Agua

When I saw this unique place on my friend Lola's Instagram I knew I just had to see it with my own eyes! And I wasn't disappointed, photos can't even show how impressive this place really is.
After breakfast we took a bus from Oaxaca's baseball stadium to Mitla. It was about 20 Pesos per ride per person, so more or less 1 Euro, really cheap. The bus took about 40 minutes to get to the village. In Mitla we got on a camioneta, also called collectivo, that took us to Hierve el Agua. Collectivos are small vans that are waiting for people who wanna go in the same direction or have the same destination. Once there are enough passengers and the van is full it leaves. It's a very common transport in Mexico. The collectivo ride through the mountains took about one hour until we finally reached Hierve el Agua. We paid the 25 Pesos entrance fee and got off the collectivo. The parking lot is really touristy, you will find lots of restaurants, smaller food stands and shops there. At the end of the tourist area there is a path that leads to the mountains and the mineral springs.
Hierve el Agua is a set of rock formations and mineral pools you can swim in surrounded by mountains which guarantee stunning views. Since we went on a Saturday afternoon there were lots of tourists but also many Mexicans taking a dip and having picnic with their families. I'm sure it's less crowded in the morning or on regular weekdays. Since the mineral pools were a little crowded when we arrived we decided to go for a little walk first. I got an insider tip for you, there is a path on the right side of the pools that leads to further mineral springs where you will find less people. If you keep following that path for about 15 minutes until its end you'll reach the foot of the mountain from where you have stunning views of the white stone waterfall formed by the mineral water streams. It's a breathtaking sight! We stayed there for about 20 minutes enjoying the beautiful nature surrounding us and later climbed back up. When we reached the top of the mountain we couldn't wait to jump into the natural pools, it was so hot that day. That bath was so relaxing! The mineral water was pretty cool and actually greener than on my photos. It reminded me a little of a cold, green lagoon in Costa Rica we swam in last year. After taking a bath we changed, went back to the parking lot and took the next collectivo back to Mitla and from there a bus to Oaxaca. We got our stuff from the hostel and took a night bus to our next destination, San Cristóbal de las Casas.
My personal conclusion: Oaxaca and Hierve el Agua are really worth a visit. When you get the chance to travel through Mexico and don't know where to stop, visit Oaxaca and the mineral springs!

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