Mexico / Classic Mexico / Chiapas
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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Mysterious Chiapas

Its landscapes make Chiapas one of the most beautiful federal states in Mexico.

The Sierra Madre del Sur welcomes us with a multitude of colors: The wild flowers along the road with their copious splendor and colors are a captivating sight. We notice a gradual change of climate, and the environment becomes subtropical. Our guests and we finally reach Chiapa de Corzo – one of the oldest Spanish settlements in Chiapas. Founded by Diego de Mazariegos as early as 1528, it welcomes us today with its restful atmosphere and interesting colonial buildings.

The boat trip through the famous Sumidero Canyon is certainly a highlight of any journey through Mexico and leads through the deep gorge carved by the Río Grijalva. Its steep bluffs rising up to 1,000 m (3,280 ft.) above the river are reminiscent of Nordic fjords. High waterfalls and rocks copiously overgrown with fern and moss are fascinating by their diversity. The Sumidero National Park features tropical vegetation and exotic animals such as little alligators, toucans, pelicans, and herons.

Get to know San Cristóbal de las Casas in the Chiapan mountains. Situated at an altitude of 2,783 m (9,130 ft.), the town offers your guest a pleasantly cool climate. It was founded in March 1528. At first named Chiapa de Españoles, it received the name it has today in 1844 in honor of distinguished Bartolomé de Las Casas. The Zócalo – as often in Mexico – marks the middle of the historic center. Shaded by trees, it was used as a marketplace until the beginning of our century and has now become a place of rest right in the town center. It is overlooked by the cathedral, whose cornerstone was likewise laid in 1528. West of the plaza is the Palacio Municipal with its white façade; the Liberation Army occupied its rooms during the Zapatist insurrection in 1994. Another must of any visit of San Cristóbal is, of course, its most beautiful edifice, the Iglesia del Convento Santo Domingo.

Our visit of Palenque will be a very special highlight. Starting in the village of Palenque and passing a landscape of hills covered with oak trees, you are approaching the impenetrable jungle. The farther you get, the more mysterious the landscape appears. You eventually reach the dense rain forest and find yourself before the most beautiful ruined town in Mexico.

On their way to Palenque, our travelers pass a mountain landscape with tropical rain forest with climbers and wild orchids to finally stop in Agua Azul. Small tranquil villages appear along the way, and their people offer their goods for sale: colorful blouses richly decorated with embroidery, squash, spiced cobs of corn, sweet tropical fruit, plantains, coffee-beans dried in the sun, and much more. Once arrived in Agua Azul, a narrow path takes us over bridges and traverses upwards to a charming landscape with countless cascades. If we are lucky, we will see the Blue Morpho Butterfly, one of the largest butterflies in Mexico. Arrival in Palenque in the evening.
Fascinating Palenque! Founded about 300 BC, Palenque had its heyday in the 7th and 8th centuries AD. All the buildings visible today date from this period. Palenque was thus one of the first sites of the Mayan Classic period that was abandoned for obscure reasons. Palenque had only been a small, insignificant place of worship before the legendary, but historically verifiable king Pacal (Shield) ascended the throne. He and his son and successor, Chan-Bahlum (Snake-Jaguar), gave the town a prominent political and economic position.
The “Temple of Inscriptions” is a fascinating edifice, which is covered by more than 620 hieroglyphs that tell Pacal’s history, beginning with his ascension to the throne in 615 AD. He was crowned at the age of 12 and ruled Palenque for almost 70 years. The discovery of his tomb in a temple erected in his honor was a sensation, indeed. Alberto Ruz L’Huiller found out in 1949 that the walls of the temple of inscriptions extended farther down into the ground than he had originally assumed. There was a stone slab with artificial holes that allowed it to be removed. L’Huiller saw downward stairs filled up with earth and rubble. After difficult clearance, the 5-ton stone lid was lifted from Pacal’s sarcophagus in 1952. Marvelous, highly artistic decorations on the sarcophagus relate Pacal’s way to the underworld. Pacal’s jade-decorated skeleton lay in the interior of the sarcophagus. And there are histories of other rulers and their buildings ready to cast their spell on us. Let’s go, for instance, to the large palace with its high tower, the observatory, or to the southeastern part with the steam baths, benches, and sleeping places. These living rooms were reserved for the elite and continue to impress the visitor by their richness of ideas and the luxury of the past. Equally fascinating are the Temple of the Sun and the Northern Temple with the rests of stucco decorations and war scenes. We then lead you a few steps into the jungle to show you the tomb of Pacal’s wife – Ahpo-Hel. The afternoon is free.