Agua Azul and Misol-Há
The photographs are thumbnails.
Agua Azul is a long series of glittering cascades coursing over kilometers of lush valleys in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas Mountains. The powerful, shimmering falls, white water and deep, clear pools, rush through steaming jungle about 50km from the town of Palenque. With sparkling turquoise water set against a deep green jungle background, the falls are probably one of the most spectacular natural attractions in México. They are beautiful to look at and, I was to learn, treacherous in places. When the group I toured with arrived, I read a sign close by warning of the dangers. In several places along the banks were commemorative crosses for ones that had drowned in this Dangerous Beauty.
In the van on the way to the river, I struck up an easy, friendly conversation with a woman named Analia from Buenos Aires. She is vacationing alone for a few weeks and will be heading back to Argentina in a couple of days. When we arrived, our driver dispensed insistent exhortations about using caution when choosing a place to swim. We read the placards nailed to the trees and stopped for a moment at the crosses of the drowned ones. I had heard only that the falls were dazzling and the river beautifulthe danger warnings and memorials were a somewhat solemn awakening. Analia and I coupled up with some fellow riders in the van, Martin and Ana from Denmark, and headed out on our own up a path along the river's edge.
The humid jungle lining Agua Azul is saturated with the sound of birds, insects and larger animals; we found ourselves really having to speak up above that cacophony in order to hold a conversation. The only signs of civilization we encountered were a few single dwellings tucked here and there in the luxuriant vegetation. We decided to stop for refreshing dip and chose a picturesque and what appeared to be slow-moving section of the river thickly overhung with giant, old trees. The water is delicious and, we soon realized, not for timid swimmers. Paddling against the current and still drifting downstream, we had to climb out and walk back upriver to where we had left our belongings. Later, we ran into some locals whom I had met two weeks before in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. They offered to show us one of their favorite swimming spots. Delighted, we accepted and followed them through the jungle and across a sugar cane farm, a couple of kilometers from where the van was parked.
Our guides took us to a place where we could dive into white water rapids and speed downriver to a calm, shallow pool. Analia and the Danes declined, thinking it too dangerous. Actually, Analia thought it insane, but I, at least, wanted to swim out to the rocks in mid-river and have a look. After watching where one of the guys dove in, I took the plunge. I had barely touched the water when suddenly I was shooting downstream in a roaring white world of surging foam and bubbles. Opening my eyes, everything was a blinding white color and stampeding bubbles, which filled my ears with an unbelievable thunder. Exhilarating is far too small a word to describe the experience. It was like the first time on a roller coaster when you want to ride again and again. And I did. It was an ultimate blast.
* * *
[I must say here that this is NOT a recommendation that others try this. My guides knew the river very well and knew this particular spot was somewhat safe.]
* * *
After Agua Azul, we headed back toward Palenque and stopped at Misol-Há. Over 35 meters high, the stunning "Sweeping Water" empties into a deep, calm pool at the base of jungle-covered cliffs. There were no other visitors other than our small group and we soaked up the serenity of the extraordinary cascade. The invigorating swim at Agua Azul had left us extremely tranquil; here we simply enjoyed the beauty and peacefulness of the lush surroundings and took a footpath to a huge open cave behind the falls. Rainbows were everywhere in the mist-filled air.