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Parque Nacional Montebello



Wandering through the grassy ruins of Chinkultik, through ancient plazas with temple mounds, one comes to a small creek meandering through dense leaves. On the other side, high on the face of a cliff, looms a tall temple. El Mirador, the temple clinging to the side of the cliff, seems out of reach to the mere modern mortal.


But it is an easy climb up, and the reward is spectacular vistas over the National Park. Scamper up the hill and you can see the forest canopy stretching to the Guatemalan border, to the Usumacinta River. Thirty kilometers away, as the quetzal flies, the shimmering of the Lagunas de Montebello now and again breaks through the verdant landscape.


These two wonders of Chiapas, Mexico, are located southeast of Comitán, very near the Guatemalan border. Simply head 16 kilometers down the Pan-American highway to Las Trincheras and take the road from there. Thirty kilometers along this camino is the turn-off for the Chinkultik ruins, which is then another two kilometers along a dirt road. Chinkultik is a classic Maya site whose name in Tzeltal means “The Little Sanctuary.” Even to this day, peacefulness reigns in this partially excavated and restored site, which consists of 200 mounds in six clusters. The site peaked from 591 to 897 A.D., though evidence shows its final abandonment to have occurred about 1200 A.D. It is one of the few places of the Late Classic Maya period with numerous hieroglyphic inscriptions. A small museum and a “forest” of statues and stela are located near the entrance.


The entire site includes temples, a ball court and Cenote Azul, a sinkhole filled with sapphire-blue water, which providesa refreshing swimming break in the steamy tropics.


Parque Nacional Lagunas de Montebello (also called Lagos de Montebello) is located 65 kilometers from Comitán. Its gorgeous 6,000 hectares are scattered with dozens of lakes and lagoons of every color of the rainbow, from turquoise to red, emerald to black. These colors are caused either by Maya magic or by oxides in the waters—take your pick. The most accessible ones can be reached by private car, or by hopping off the public bus at each one, or—for those who don’t mind walking a while—on foot.


The park includes other wonders beyond its lakes, including orchids, quetzals, woodpeckers and various migratory birds. Besides hiking and birdwatching, one can take boat rides on some of the lakes, rent a canoe, or go horseback riding.


Both the National Park and the ruins can be reached by one-day tours from San Cristóbal de Las Casas or Comitán. An even better option is to stay in one of several basic inns on the road to the park, or in the Park itself at one of the lodges or campsites at Tziscao or Laguna Bosque Azul. Then one can enjoy the natural beauty of Lagunas de Montebello National Park and Ruinas Chinkultic over several leisurely days.

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