Is going to Palenque/San Cristobal de las Casas worth it?
May 29, 2021 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Not sure when I will get to Mexico (see my previous question) but starting to plan again after I cancelled my trip in April 2020. Last time I sadly ruled out getting to San Cristobal/Palenque because they were too off the beaten path for my two week trip but is it worth it to squeeze 'em in if you've been? Details inside...

My previous itinerary was something like 4 days in Mexico City including flying in, 2 days in Puebla/Choula, 3 days in Oaxaca, fly to Merida, 3 days in Merida including one day in Uxmal, one day in Valladolid, and then a few days in Isla Mujeres.

I am considering squeezing the time in some of the above cities (for example, cutting Valladolid/some of the beach) and maybe adding more time to the trip-up to 21 days. Feeling fairly "YOLO" about it after the pandemic. And I would maybe skip Uxmal if I got to Palenque instead.

The two main ways of getting there I'm considering are:
-Overnight bus from Oaxaca to San Cristobal, stay in SC for a day or two, bus to Palenque, bus to Villahermosa and then fly to Merida
-fly Oaxaca -> Villahermosa, bus to Palenque, bus to Villahermosa, fly to Merida

I might get to Guatemala someday in which case it feels like it would be way easier to get at Palenque from there anyway, plus they already have Tikal. But part of my problem is I don't know when I'll get back to Mexico.

Is it worth it? As of the last few years is the bus from San Cristobal to Palenque safe generally? I kind of want to see San Cristobal as another city in a different state-is it worth going out of my way/having a more grueling day or two for these two places? Or should I spend more time in the area around Mexico City/in the Yucatan? I'm not a huge Maya buff but I would love to see at least one really cool Mayan ruin and I plan to see Teotihuacan and the ruins outside of Oaxaca City.

Thanks for any advice. Excited to go to Mexico whenever international travel gets going in a safe way again.
posted by clarinet to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Response by poster: Oh, also: I speak pretty good Spanish and will be taking a class before I go to refresh. I WILL be traveling alone but I am confident in getting around as long as it's relatively safe. I definitely can write down Spanish even if the locals can't understand my accent :) Not nearly as worried about solo travel as I was in my last question but would prefer to not go someplace super risky.
posted by clarinet at 7:50 PM on May 29, 2021


Best answer: My experience of visiting the area was back in the 1990s - as part of a circular trip through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and back to Cancun. I was also planning to try to include both destinations on a trip to Guatemala in 2020 - one which did not get to happen. San Cristobel has, I see, earned the designation "Pueblo Mágico" from the Mexican government - places which combine natural beauty with cultural richness and hospitality. It certainly earned that label to judge by my original visit: many of the places on the "Mayan route" are ruins but San Cristobel was very much a living centre that was going about its business. (I have a vivid recollection of rounding a street corner to bump into Subcomandante Marcos leading an entourage of masked Zapatistas: not the kind of thing that happens in Cancun.)

Palanque - as I remember it now - was a great place to visit. Quite different from some of the other Mayan sites - but if I was planning a visit to the area it would be San Cristobel rather than Palenque that would draw me.
posted by rongorongo at 11:40 PM on May 29, 2021


Best answer: I don't see anything you list as not being worth it, in the theoretical sense (with one exception), but your trip seems kind of rushed and packed full. For example, we did Mexico City and then Oaxaca as one trip, and Merida and the Mayan sites as another trip.

For Mexico City, I found I had to adjust a bit to the altitude (I was getting headaches), and wanted to do justice to the city itself (are you going to Coyoacán?), and the Templo Mayor and associated museum in the city are not to be missed to my mind, as well as Teotihuacan. For Oaxaca, we explored the area itself, as well as going to places like Monte Alban.

For Merida, we stayed there for a day or so, but also went to Uxmal and actually stayed over night and also went to smaller sites like Sayil. It was magical to be at sites early or late when there were few tourists around, and just to take in the area. I will never forget wandering Uxmal with just us and the massive iguanas, or buying a carving from the guard who lived on site at that time at Sayil. We also stayed overnight at Chichen Itza (totally different experience with fewer people), and at Coba (using the small hotel chain Villas Arqueologicas).

We did not get to San Cristobal and Palenque (yet), because we wanted that trip to be its own focus.

Finally, we did go to Isla Mujeres, but other than the seafood, were not that taken with it, and wound up leaving early and going back to the mainland.
posted by gudrun at 8:08 AM on May 30, 2021


Best answer: That is a REALLY rushed trip! Obviously it's up to you how much you want to see, but in my opinion, part of the joy and charm of Mexico is just strolling around neighborhoods and markets and things like that.

I thought San Cristobal was charming, and it was a great place to shop for gifts, but I don't know if I'd go out of my way to visit. It's quite geared towards tourists and expats. And if you are interested in Mayan culture, it's not a great place to visit for long, complicated political reasons (short version: unlike Guatemala, tourists are only really allowed to visit a few Mayan villages, which wind up feeling like zoos. Having been to Guatamala, the whole thing felt pretty gross to me). I haven't been to Palenque so I can't really speak about that. But I would say with only two weeks, it wouldn't be at the top of my list of places to visit.
posted by lunasol at 1:43 PM on May 30, 2021


Response by poster: Haha, thanks for the reality checks. I will take a longer trip and probably skip San Cristobal. Loathe to break the trip in two but maybe I'll think about that too. And maybe I'll make Guatemala my next trip and cross the border if I'm so moved :)

Thanks all!
posted by clarinet at 3:17 PM on May 30, 2021


In 2019, I did Cancun-Bacalar (bus). Bacalar-Belize-Tikal-Flores, Guatemala (bus). Flores-Antigua (fly). Antigua-San Cristobal MX (minibus). San Cristobal-Cancun (fly). Tikal was the best Mayan site i've seen. Spectacular, beautiful and uncrowded. There were numerous potential options on the route. I highly recommend this.
posted by Xurando at 5:30 PM on May 30, 2021


Best answer: For what it's worth, if you were looking forward to San Cristobal, you would probably get similar enjoyment out of Quetzaltenango and Antigua in Guatemala. That whole region is one of my favorite parts of the world, and obviously the three towns aren't interchangeable, but I'd say any of the three is worth it. Similar mountain climate and scenery, similar amount of tourist amenities, similar "backpacker hub in the old center of a regular normal town" vibe, similar mix of Maya and foreign culture. Quetzaltenango leans harder in the "regular normal town" direction.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:09 PM on May 31, 2021


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