Contradictory Ecotourism in Palenque

From San Cristobal, we took a bus to Palenque. It was a 7 hour bus ride. It was a 7 hour bus ride with movies playing the whole way. It was a 7 hour bus ride with multiple R-rated movies playing the whole way. I just don’t understand. The one entertaining movie they showed was Mexican-made and set in Jalisco (our state). Viva el mariachi!

Palenque was hot and humid! Fortunately, we had a very nice hotel and air conditioning in our room. The next day was an adventure for me because April wanted to relax around Palenque, Bev wanted to see ruins hours away closer to Guatemala, and I wanted to see some waterfalls. So, I went on my first tour by myself. After a great buffet at the hotel and a lazy morning journaling, I got on a tour bus with fifteen other people and went to Misol-Ha.

It was a pretty waterfall, but it really got me thinking about the whole concept of ecotourism.  We have waterfalls just as pretty and similar in height in Virginia and if you go visit them, you might see ten other people. They are really enjoyable to visit. You get some friends together, pack a picnic lunch, and enjoy a hike or walk to the falls and of course take out all of the trash with you. In Misol-Ha, there were probably at least 500 tourists there. It was very difficult to find any spot to stand where you could get a nice view or a picture of the falls without dozens of other people in it, or without feeling like you needed to hurry because of the dozens of people coming behind you. There were several vendors along the very brief walk from the parking lot and by the parking lot there was a huge restaurant which was also full.

The cascades at Agua Azul were very impressive and I’ve never seen anything quite like them. However, the overall enjoyment factor was quite low. Why? Same problem, but carried to a further extreme. Close to 100 makeshift vending booths right up to the edge of the water. There were again probably 600-700 people around. It is quite interesting that Chiapas is advertised for its ecotourism, yet it seems very obvious that the tourism is damaging the ecosystem. Yes, the tourism does bring money to the local people, such as the vendors, as well as to the state when people pay a park entrance fee, but is it worth it long term? What will the people of Chiapas loose by the tourism? The pride of living in a beautiful place and being able to enjoy it and preserve it in peace?


While I was sitting down eating some snacks and pondering this, a family enjoying a picnic started talking to me in English to practice. In the usual Mexican way, they asked if I was single and introduced me to their son who was also single and spoke some English. What a coincidence?! After a few minutes, I left to see the falls more up close. Before our group left, I had a little time and I wanted to get in the water. I felt stuck because I had my backpack with me and with 100s of people around it wouldn’t be responsible to just leave it somewhere. My friends weren’t there and I hadn’t really connected with anyone in the tour group and couldn’t find them even if I had. So, I went back to the family I met and asked if they would watch it. They were more than happy to comply. I guess there are always options when you travel alone; you just have to be bolder in making quick relationships.

The next day, we went to see the ruins right outside of Palenque before returning to San Cristobal. These are incredible ruins of a Mayan city, complete with a palace, dozens of temples, and houses. It was another sobering reminder of the Mayan religion, heavily influenced by fear of the gods and spirits, who were often appeased with blood. On a positive note, the architecture and advance of the society was impressive. It was a neat experience to climb to the top of a pyramid, face away from the people out into the jungle and imagine what it would have been like to live there 100s of years ago.


All photos are my own.


2 thoughts on “Contradictory Ecotourism in Palenque

  1. […] I went in Chiapas was very commercialized. I already expressed my opinions on the crowded “ecotourism” sites. Apart from this, you cannot go anywhere without very aggressive vendors trying to sell something […]

  2. […] I loved living in the big city of Guadalajara, but I also loved the opportunity of using it as a launch pad to go visit other places in Mexico. There is currently a tourism promotion in Mexico called Pueblos Magicos. These “magic towns” are quaint little places with historic interest or natural beauty. I was able to visit a few of them and have linked my posts Mazamitla: Colder Weather Calls for Cabins, Markets and Churches in San Cristobal, and Contradictory Ecotourism in Palenque. […]

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