After an exciting drive on the not yet completed new highway from Oaxaca to the Pacific coast, we reach Puerto Escondido just before sunset… when we get out, humid and hot air rushes towards us: we are back in the tropics! The coast around Puerto Escondido, including the former hippie village of Mazunte to the south, is considered one of Mexico’s top future vacation regions and a lot of money from the Mexican state is flowing into the development of this area. The new highway should also help when it is completed 😉. The village of Mazunte is currently in the process of transforming itself from a hippie to a lifestyle place and has a cool vibe: lots of beach bars, yogis, batik dresses in cute boutiques and nice street serenades characterize the narrow streets – and there’s a lot going on. Finding a good parking space for Shujaa is not easy in this densely built-up place with small streets overgrown with tropical vegetation. So we set off again after one day… It’s a shame, otherwise we would have liked to stay a few more days and Karin could have visited the good local yoga studio more often.
So we move on to Playa San Agustin to the west… and here we find it: our dream beach! Immaculate sand, a few nice little restaurants right on the shore and, above all, a sheltered bay where you can swim – a rarity in this area due to the otherwise omnipresent massive Pacific surf. Parking in the small campground right on the beach isn’t easy, but the boondocking options are less nice and so we enjoy two great days before we head further west to the dune area of Playa La Bamba. Once again, the climate and with it the nature changes in a very short time: here it is much drier (due to the constant wind from the landside), which creates large sand dunes in place of the previously predominant jungle vegetation. We enjoy it, unfortunately the waves here are too high for swimming.
A long day of driving takes us back inland to the province of Chiapas: it is the poorest province in Mexico and the mostly indigenous residents don’t really feel like they belong to Mexico. The area is also notorious for demonstrations and road blockades, which have forced many overlanders to turn back. We’re lucky – with one exception! First, we enjoy the incredible abundance of water and the magnificent jungle landscape, which is so completely different from the rest of Mexico. Waterfalls like El Aguacero and El Chiflon inspire us – and we have seen many waterfalls on our travels! The boat trip through the deep and lonely canyon of Sumidero is great fun… despite being a bit touristy. San Christobal de las Casas is another colonial World Heritage city, but with more indigenous influence than the previous colonial cities we visited in the other provinces. The church in nearby San Juan Chamula welcomes us with a spirituality that we have never experienced before: large pine needles lie centimeters thick on the ground, thousands of candles flicker in the dark, many indigenous people crouching on the ground, meditating and murmuring quietly in memory of those who have passed away.
Impressed we continue on to the Lagos de Montebellos, also located in the highlands of Chiapas: a lake district with deep blue water lakes in a mixture of mountain rainforest and conifers. Unfortunately, the weather doesn’t quite cooperate, but the next morning we can still go on a longer hike with great views of various lakes (almost like in Canada!).
The sparsely populated lowland of Chiapas, which extends far into Guatemala, welcomes us with monkeys, parrots and other jungle animals with the corresponding background noise. Although the humidity is at 90% (our air conditioning system is running at full speed again), we enjoy this exotic, peaceful atmosphere and the overnight stay in the remote mini village of Reforma Agraria on the large jungle river Rio Lacantun. However, nothing to linger any longer and so we head for the ruins of Yaxchilan, which are so remote that they can only be reached by boat from the jungle town of Frontera Corozal. Unfortunately, this is also where the Chiapas roadblocks stop us: at the entrance to the town, we are denied access by armed residents and the mayor explains to us in a friendly but firm manner that they are currently in a dispute with the local cartel and that the situation will last longer. So, we turn around and drive on through many police and military posts… you can’t oversee it that this area is in some state of turmoil!
At the Mayan site of Palenque we reach civilization again… and unfortunately with it some tourism. Fortunately, this is still limited, as it is low season just at the end of the rainy season here. Ruins enthroned beneath jungle giants radiate a fascination that even well-traveled overlanders can hardly resist. The huge complex with countless temples and pyramids has only been partially uncovered… you can only imagine what else is hidden in the deep jungle.
The local border area between Mexico/Chiapas and Guatemala was the core of the Maya dynasty with its independently operating city-states and so one Maya site rarely comes alone… The Calacmul site, located in the middle of the jungle, poses challenges for travelers with large vehicles like us, as it can only be reached via a narrow, 60 km long, jungle track with low-hanging branches. In addition, the passable part of the track is even narrower during the last 10 km due to ongoing road construction work. Once again we are grateful that we have our quad Shujoo and that driving in stress can easily be turned into driving with fun: early in the morning we rush through the deep jungle and are excited to see what awaits us behind the next corner… Unfortunately, the Jaguar, of which there are said to be almost 5,000 in Mexico, cannot be seen. The Maja complex impresses us enormously: hardly any tourists or even tour buses due to the complicated journey, huge dimensions, beautifully preserved pyramids and temples and above all – wherever you look from the top of the pyramids that can be climbed everywhere here – nothing but dense jungle: pure mysticism. With these unique impressions we say goodbye to the Chiapas region and head towards the Yucatan Peninsula.