Crossing the Mexican boarder: Palenque and beyond

We arrived in Palanque early in the morning after the coldest bus ride of our lives. Palanque is a inland town in southern Mexico in the state of Chiapas. It is a poplar place to cross the boarder into Guatamala and is one of the only places where you can easily cross the Mexican-Guatamala border without having to go through Belize. 

We wanted to avoid going through Beleize as we didn’t actually want to stop there and going via Belize requires you to pay the boarder crossing fee of $25USD twice! Once, when you go Mexico to Belize, and again when you go Belize to Guatamala. We spent two days in this town, visiting ruins, empty waterfalls and shopping in cheap local markets. 

I spent the better part of our time there with travellers diaroreha, so actually missed the ruins and seeing most of the town. However, I managed to peel myself off the toilet long enough to visit Welib Ja waterfalls/cascadas. While most people go to the famous Azul Falls from here, we couldn’t justify the time or the price. Azul falls, if your interested, is a 1-2 hour drive away and cost anywhere from $30-70 for either go-it-alone up to a full day tour. The Photoes are impressive but when you can drive for 30 minutes, pay $7 for a round trip, plus entrance, and have the falls to yourself, I’m glad we went to the less popular Welib Ja Falls.

To get there you take a collectivo from the roundabout in the centre of town and say “Welib Ja” falls and this should cost you 20 pesos. Once you get dropped off the highway you will see a sign and after some 700m walk you will arrive at the entrance.  Entry fee is 25 pesos.  Now don’t get me wrong this waterfall isn’t the most spectacular waterfall you’ll ever see, nor the cleanest, but it’s a great spot for a picnic, a nice place to cool off and a much closer and cheaper alternative to Agua Azu. Further if you go in the rainy season, as I did, then your likely to have the whole place to yourself! 

Our main reason for stopping in this town was to jump the border and make it to Guatamala, however we still had virtually no idea how we were going to do this. In the end it was almost too simple and all the worries we once had about crossing the mexican border slowly disappeared.

After some research we learnt that booking your bus ticket was best done in one of the tour offices on the main street. We ended up stopping in the first tour agency we saw, bartering them down from 150 pesos to 120 and locking in a bus for the following morning that would leave at 9am and arrive at 5pm. Long day of travel ahead.

We got picked up the following morning, 5 minutes early (amazing as normally these types of things are at least half an hour late, often a lot more), by a private car that we assumed would take us to the awaiting bus. We were in the car for a good 20 minutes before we came to the conclusion that perhaps this was our transport the whole way. Slightly too good to be true!! Sure enough though we continued in this private, air conditioned luxury for about 2 hours befor arriving at the border. Once at the border we were told to get out with all our bags and go to the customs office (all in Spanish of corse). Here we spent no more than 5 minutes, getting our passports stamped and our little card ticked (hold onto the card you get when entering Mexico it makes your exit quicker and a hell of a lot cheaper!!). We then had to walk with our bags across the border and do the same thing on the Guatamalan side. Passports stamped, vague convosation in Spanish about Koalas and Kangaroos and we were on our way. Moments after leaving the office we were approached by a local to exchange money. As we didn’t have any Guatamalan Q’s we took him up on his offer. DONT! Exchange money in Palenque before you get to the the border as the rate is absolutely terrible, but having at least some money is nessary so if you must then exchange it, but be prepared to loose almost 50%.

This is where our private driver said goodbye and directed us to a nice looking minibus that would be leaving in 20 minutes. We made a quick lunch on the side of the road (always bring your own food for long travel days, trust me you will not regret it!) and then got our positions at the back of the bus, prime positions we thought….

The next 6 hours were somewhat of a loud, hot blurr. There was no air conditioning. Fine. The bus was over loaded with both people and luggage. Also fine. What made the journey simply unbearable however was the extraordinarily loud Guatamalan music that was bearing from the rear speakers. The speakers we were unfortunate enough to be sitting against. For the next 6 hours we suffered though an ear shattering array of local music that had to be loud enough so the driver all the way at the front of the bus could hear through the only two speakers on the entier bus. It was horrible.
When we arrived our next mission was trying to find our Airbnb without an adress or directions, as we forgot to print either off. Luckily enough for some reason we had the map coordinates printed so we plotted a dot on the map roughly where we thought the air BnB was and asked a tuk tuk driver to take us here. Somehow we made it okay and just like that we were in our room and had finally made it to Flores…

Somehow Duncan managed to sleep through the music, albeit uncomfortably!

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