Backpacking in Chiapas - Don't you know I'm loco?
August 11, 2007 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Avoiding ruin at the ruins: tips for backpacking in the tropical rainforest of Chiapas, near Palenque? Am I gonna be kidnapped or eated?

Four people, no nunchuk skills, one week at Palenque. What to wear? What to take? How to stay safe? Photo Ops... with Zapatistas? I'm ready to boldly go, but I'm really a noob and I know it. I have the best Spanish in our group.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur to Travel & Transportation around Palenque, Mexico (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You do know it's hot and humid as hell down there, right? When I was at Palenque we were instructed to get up at dawn to see the ruins as it gets way too hot later on - great advice.

So if you're planning on backpacking in the jungle for a week, you're much more likely to cash in your chips from dehydration or heat exhaustion than at the hands of random Mexican revolutionaries (who I don't believe are quite loco enough to be marauding in that part of the state anyway).
posted by forallmankind at 3:49 PM on August 11, 2007

the CDC maintains a travel health web-site. there is a wealth of information there. here is the link for mexico.
posted by Flood at 3:50 PM on August 11, 2007

The Zapatista movement is not what it was in 1994, and Subcomandante Marcos these days is usually traveling the country trying to build support for a broader movement outside even making common cause with potential allies such as the PRD's Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

When I was in Chiapas in January, the only real evidence I saw of the rebels was wall graffiti and postcards of a hooded Marcos smoking a pipe, or Zapatista children. That is to say, it's already been turned into something of a tourist attraction. I know you can hire tours out of San Cristobal and other places that take you to indigenous villages run by or at least aligned with the Zapatistas (though I didn't do this myself). To wit: Your chances of getting caught up in any political violence are pretty much nil.

Not sure what it's like to backpack through the countryside, in terms of safety or otherwise. But as you've already noted, it's a steamy, tropical region, and you should expect hot weather and rain every day this time of year.

If you tire of being in the countryside, San Cristobal is an excellent place to hang your hat for a few days. Lovely colonial town, great food, high elevation (so not really hot at all). Also interesting are two waterfalls: Agua Azul and Misol Ha (the latter is the filming location of "Predator," for what it's worth). Easily the best thing I did on that trip was take a boat tour through the astonishing Canon del Sumidero.
posted by donpedro at 3:56 PM on August 11, 2007

When I was about seven, my family went on a roadtrip into Mexico. We drove along the gulf into the Yucatan peninsula, and then down into Chiapas. But, believe me, the decision to go to Chiapas was not one made lightly: it ended up being the debate of the trip between my parents. This was in 1997, three years after the NAFTA went into effect and the Zapatistas went public. Eating dinner in a little place in San Cristobal, a pair of Zapatistas stomped in, in full black garb with face coverings and scarves and assault rifles to boot. The pair marched right up to the owner and said something in very quick spanish (or maybe Mayan), to which the owner responded to with an outstrected finger pointed straight at us four Americans. Needless to say, we were frightened out of our minds when the combat booted Zapatistas walked over to us, reached in their bags, and.... pulled out dolls. A handfull of handmade dolls of what appeared to be a generic Zapatistas, but which the militia men insisted, in very good english, were of Subcomandante Marcos. They asked us if we would like to buy one in order to support their struggle against the exploitative Mexican government (their words). We bought two.

My point? The Zapatistas are a predominantly peaceful group fighting for land reform and equal treatment from the Mexican government. Be kind to any you meet, ask them questions about their struggle, and seem curious and interested. They would love to teach an American about their cause. They are bright enough not to charge the citizen with the crimes of his government. You shouldn't have much of a problem.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 4:22 PM on August 11, 2007 [5 favorites]

(great story the esteemed dr bunsen honeydew!!)

Backpacking in Mexico is great! All the normal off-the-beaten track travel tips apply (eg carry a photocopy of all your id/passport/ticket with you, keep an extra stash of cash hidden, don't be flashy about money or possessions, don't stick your camera in people's faces, do talk and/or be friendly with people, take small gifties to give out to kids (packs of crayola crayons, balloons), carry hand sanitizer and a small water bottle, only drink bottled water). Have fun!
posted by kch at 6:19 PM on August 11, 2007

I was in the area last year. When we went hiking in the woods near Palenque, we had a local guide with a machete who went first to watch for snakes. So I guess there is some concern there.

Also, the only political stuff we saw was that they had vehicle checkpoints going into San Cristobal, and some Zapatista graffiti. And we went to a bar called La Revolucion. And the little street kids were selling those Zapatista dolls. But, this was all in San Cristobal. Nothing political in Palenque.

I second donpedro on the waterfalls. Both are amazing to swim in.
posted by smackfu at 1:21 PM on August 12, 2007

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