I had planned on a blog post on the birds of the Orquideas Moxviquil botanical garden for today, but when I looked at our "birds" photo folder, I realized that it included photos from many different sites on our trip, so I am going to wait and do a bird photos post after the other trip posts, as I have done in the past.  So today, instead of birds, you get food! 

Our favorite restaurant in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico quickly became the TierrAdentro Cultural Center and Cafe.  As I was working on this blog post, I came upon an excellent article providing much information about the restaurant and the center's goals.  I didn't know until I read the article that the cafe had been recommended as one of the top five places to eat in San Cristobal by the New York Times.  Not bad!  In addition to the cafe, there are Zapatista co-operatives selling art pieces and crafts in the same building.  

As an aside, I knew almost nothing about the Zapatistas until we got home from this trip and I read a little. I didn't much care for history when I was in high school or college, but I'm finding it more interesting now that I'm older.  Turns out that we missed a parade of Zapatista rebels in San Cristobal just a few days right after we left.  That would have been a unique travel experience.
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Inside TierrAdentro
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Inside TierrAdentro
Our first meal here was a daily special dinner that came with a spicy noodle soup and bread, entree of chicken mole and rice, and fresh lime juice.  Everything was simple and delicious, and the price was very reasonable at $65 MX each (approximately $5.20 USD).  This did not include the wine, however!
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Chicken Mole served with blue corn tortillas and rice -- the sauce was SO good!
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Consulting our Spanish-English dictionary
For dessert, our favorite place quickly became "Oh la la!", a small coffee and French pastry shop right down the street from our hotel (and TierrAdentro).  It was very hard to choose just one goodie to take back to our hotel room, so we didn't even try.
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Oh la la!
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Our yummy stash
The following morning brought us right back to TierrAdentro for breakfast.  Turns out they don't open until 8:30 am, so we took a walk beforehand as we were there too early.  One thing about the cities we visited in Mexico, they're so hoppin' in the evenings that everything seems to start later than in the US or Belize, where I can't imagine a breakfast place not opening by 7 am.  It was well worth the wait, though, as the breakfast was muy excellente!
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Fruit cups and very strong coffee to start
Quoting from the article I linked above, I found this interesting (after arriving home -- did not know this at the time):

"The center buys its coffee directly from co-operatives within the Zapatista controlled areas. Its policy is to buy the best organically produced café arábigo, which is usually exported to Europe, so that it is available to local people. It also believes in paying the price asked by these co-operatives without bargaining. Within this frame of reference, it is able to offer a truly excellent double expresso at 17 pesos (just over 1 USD) and sell one kg of high quality coffee at 90 pesos. Starbucks charges 160 pesos for the same quantity and quality."
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Barry's Mexican eggs and beans
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My Huevos Rancheros with blue-corn tortillas
For dinner that night, we tried a place that came highly recommended in Tripadvisor (#3 of 89 restaurants in San Cristobal):  Pizzaria Napoli.  This charming Italian restaurant in a colonial home seats only a few, and since we opted for an early dinner after eating only snacks for lunch, we had it entirely to ourselves.  The owner took our order and was incredibly warm and welcoming -- I wish we had gotten her name.  
We had a table outside looking out on the courtyard.  It was a little bit chilly since the sun was going down, but I had bought this pretty shawl at one of the many market stands in town (for only $70 MX or $5.60 US, such a steal I didn't even haggle).  I used the shawl quite a bit in San Cristobal, as the city's altitude is over 7000 feet, making it much chillier than anything we'd experienced since leaving the US.  
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It felt like our private restaurant
Our pizza couldn't have been more delicious.
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Hawaiian pizza with homemade crust
Since the pizza was a fairly light dinner, of course we had to indulge ourselves at Oh La La! bakery again.  Don't worry, we did not eat all this this evening -- we saved some for snacking on the next day.  
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It was all amazing, but the lime tart was my favorite. Yum!
The next morning found us right back at TierrAdentro, where we both had hotcakes.  We had thought we were ordering banana/blueberry hotcakes, and were excited about that since we never get blueberries in Belize.  Unfortunately, the translation from our cheat sheet threw us off as the hotcakes were actually filled with bananas and dried cranberries.  When we got home and looked up blueberries and cranberries in our dictionary, it appears that both can translate to arándano.  Oh well, they were still quite tasty, especially since they were served with both real maple syrup and local honey.  Yum!
A little later, we stopped by Oh la la! so I could get another cup of coffee -- most restaurants in Mexico don't give free coffee refills.  
Here are some of the other treats they sell, though we never got any since we couldn't seem to resist the French pastry counter.
Please stay tuned for Part 2 of San Cristobal dining.  There's more good food to come!
 
After checking out all the gorgeous plant specimens in the Orquideas Moxviquil botanical garden, it was time to take a woodland hike.  There's a 2.5 km loop trail (though it felt longer!) beginning right behind the garden and leading up to a wonderful view of San Cristobal.  We had read about this hike in Tripadvisor and were looking forward to locating the trail.

But first, a few photos of our initial attempt to locate the orchid garden, which I mentioned in the previous post.  When we saw the first sign for the preserve, we thought we needed to hike on the trail by the sign to get to the garden.  So, we enjoyed a short hike into the forest before we realized that we needed to turn back to the road and continue along a bit farther to find the garden.  
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Perhaps the orchid garden is hidden up this trail?
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But alas, all we found was a private home
Now, onto the trail from the back of the orchid garden.  We had it completely to ourselves and did not encounter another hiker.  Perfect!
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The trailhead behind the "artsy outhouses" featured in our last post
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Great view of San Cristobal as we climbed the trail
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There were signs like this all along the trail
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Getting higher up!
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Plenty of climbing!
We came upon this limestone sinkhole/cave near the top of the trail.
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Looking down into it -- during rainy season I am betting there's water in here
Naturally Barry had to climb down for a closer look!
The trail leveled out at the top and opened to a grassy meadow area, where I took a brief rest.  The foliage and scenery reminded me a bit of some of our North Carolina and Virginia mountain hikes.
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Time to head back down
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A beautiful forest
Please stay tuned for bird photos from the orchid garden and much more from San Cristobal, as we continue exploring this beautiful city.
 
One of the most interesting things we did in San Cristobal, Mexico was visit the Orquideas Moxviquil botanical garden.  The garden is a preserve for over 600 species of Chiapas orchids, cacti, bromeliads, ferns, and other flora.  Most of the specimens were rescued from within the Chiapas state from sites that were disturbed by human activities.  

It was a little over a mile from our hotel as the garden is north of the city in a more rural area, but we had a beautiful day for it.  We had a bit of difficulty finding the entrance and ended up hiking along a woodland trail in the Moxviquil Reserve (which the garden is part of).  We finally realized that we were not in the right place, back-tracked, and went farther up the road where we saw this sign.
Before we knew it, we found the gardens up the road just a bit.
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Love their fencing and gate
This place was absolutely gorgeous!  The owner met us and gave us a quick tour as he had to get back to a ceremony there on the premises.  We spent a good long time walking around and looking at orchids and other specimens.  And after we'd seen all the plants, we spent a good amount of time bird-watching -- of course we had brought our binoculars!
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Calla Lily -- one of the few non-native plants in the garden
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I'm looking for birds in front of the office where we paid our entry fee
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Charming office -- loved the metalwork on windows and door
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The hothouse -- very unique!
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Owner showing us something inside the hothouse
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Spore pattern
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A real beauty!
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Artsy outhouses
This sculpture demonstrates the natural erosion process of a cube.
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Amphitheater for classes and ceremonies
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One last look at the hothouse showing its unique architecture
We'll have to do a separate blog post with bird photos, as well as one about the wonderful woodland hike we took in the Moxviquil Reserve behind the Orchid Garden.  In the meantime, check out the Orquideas Moxviquil website for much more information on this unique and fascinating site.  We would love to go back again and hope to get the chance to.
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We had a great visit!
 
More photos from our sight-seeing walks around beautiful San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico...
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One of the city parks
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Cafe in center of city park
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Festive holiday decor
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Busy street
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Quiet residential street in the morning
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Love the paint colors and brilliant blue morning sky!
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Peek-a-boo mountain view
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Fiesta tents for Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration
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Great city view from way up high at a church on a hill
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Collectivo traffic jam
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Look who was peering over a rooftop...
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Busy shopping day
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Many streets in San Cristobal are named after important dates in Mexican history
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The Maya vendor ladies could be quite persistent -- I preferred to shop at booths where I didn't feel hounded.
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Yo queiro Taco Bell
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Mountains right outside the city -- so pretty
Stay tuned for much more from San Cristobal!
 
We got a lot of walking in around the beautiful colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico's Chiapas state.  I thought I'd share some of the many photos Barry shot as we walked around town.  San Cristobal's architecture was strikingly beautiful. 

You'll likely notice that we (and others) are dressed more warmly than in Belize in some of these shots.  It was much cooler and less humid up in the Mexican highlands than what we were used to -- and breezy as well.  Morning temperatures were in the 40s, but the sun warmed things up quickly and mid-day temperatures hit the 60s and 70s.  When the sun was out, it felt great, but overcast skies off and on made it feel a bit chilly.  Still, no rain, bugs, or humidity made for very pleasant sight-seeing weather!
There were several pedestrian-only streets, like the one above, that made walking easier and more pleasant.
We climbed up this switchback staircase to a beautiful scenic overlook of the city.  There's a school and church up top, and we read about a cafe on Tripadvisor, but never saw it.
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What a view!
Stay tuned for much more from San Cristobal...
 
We decided to visit San Cristobal de las Casas while we were traveling around Mexico because it sounded absolutely charming.  Lonely Planet describes it this way:  

"Set in a gorgeous highland valley surrounded by pine forest, the colonial city of San Cristóbal (cris-toh-bal) has been a popular travelers’ destination for decades. It’s a pleasure to explore San Cristóbal’s cobbled streets and markets, soaking up the unique ambience and the wonderfully clear highland light. This medium-sized city also boasts a comfortable blend of city and countryside, with restored century-old houses giving way to grazing animals and fields of corn."

We were looking forward to the highland terrain with lower humidity and cooler temperatures than we've grown used to.  It would be a brief taste of autumn -- and much cooler than winter in Belize!  So, on December 13, we left Palenque behind on a bus bound for San Cristobal.  Even though both cities are in the Chiapas state of Mexico, San Cristobal sits at an elevation of 7200 feet, while Palenque is only at 200 feet, so we would be doing quite a bit of climbing on this day.

We bought our tickets the day before at the ADO station, though we would actually be taking an OCC bus to San Cristobal, as OCC serves this part of Mexico.  It is equivalent to the ADO first-class bus.
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Typing in our names when buying tickets
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Palenque ADO Station
I think I was attracting a little attention as I used my new Galaxy Tab to read in the bus terminal (see below).  There was no wi-fi, but I was reading a book using the Kindle app.  This was our first trip with the tablet, and it worked out really well.  We had no room for a full-size laptop in our packs, and while on previous short trips we've managed without a computer, on a sixteen-day trip, we didn't feel comfortable without some form of communication device.  The tablet allowed us to check bus schedules, restaurant ratings, and even make some reservations for our return trip -- not to mention to keep up with all those pesky emails that pile up on a trip.  And I didn't have to carry a book along as I had several free ones loaded on the Kindle app. 
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The men at the desk had just loaded a washing machine up on the counter to go on the bus!
Although the bus ride from Palenque to San Cristobal is only about 130 miles, it takes approximately five and a half hours due to the mountain roads.  It was a beautiful drive, but Barry and I both felt quite queasy during the middle part of the trip where there were many hairpin turns and bumps.  Fortunately, we didn't have to run for the rest room, but it was an icky feeling and not something we anticipated in advance.
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Gorgeous views
I would have liked to check out this road-side clothing stand.  I just love these embroidered Mexican dresses and blouses!
At last, the road straightened out, and we were both feeling fine again by the time we arrived in San Cristobal.  

The walk from the bus station was little less than a mile.  And as anticipated, this city was very charming, though bigger than we had realized.  Including the surrounding area, approximately 250,000 people call San Cristobal home.
We stayed at the Hotel Diego de Mazariegos, which is spread over two old colonial buildings and is gorgeous.  We would spend three nights here before beginning our journey back to Belize.  The price was $69 US per night, an amazing deal, I thought.
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Inside the pretty courtyard
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Our room -- 309
Our room was super charming with high, beamed ceiling, two beds, a table and chairs, and even a fireplace!  We didn't use it, though; that seemed like too much work (and we had no matches).  I felt like we were in a castle.
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Our castle-like digs
We also had a great patio out the back of our room, though we really didn't get to use it.  During the two full days we had in town, we kept so busy we were rarely in the room during the day.
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The patio view
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And on a sunnier, but cooler, day
The hotel even provided a little shopping opportunity for me.  I bought a pair of earrings and a bracelet for good price from a friendly little man who manned this booth in the evening.  He was one of the few people we met in San Cristobal who spoke excellent English.
Please stay tuned for much, much more from San Cristobal...this may just have been my very favorite city of the five that we visited (thought it's awfully hard to pick)!
 
During our two days in Palenque, Mexico, we got to enjoy some tasty food.  On our first night, we just wanted a simple dinner.  We needed to find an ATM to get some cash beforehand and ended up walking a long way looking for a Scotiabank ATM.  We never did find one so had to backtrack to another ATM, then re-backtrack to Pizzeria Palenque.  I was more than hungry (and fussy!) by the time we got there, but it was worth all the trekking. The pizza was delicious, and the cervesas were very cold.  Great prices too!  
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Ahhhhh...the simple things in life are the best
Our pizza had fresh tomatoes, spicy chorizo, jalepenos, and avocado.  Delish!
Both mornings we had the continental breakfast at the Hotel Xibalba, which was included in our room rate.  The breakfast consisted of fresh fruit, bread and butter, and really good coffee (but only one cup -- free refills are not typically given in Mexico, or Belize for that matter).  We sat outside in handmade chairs constructed from thick wood rounds, sanded and polished to a smooth shine.
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Find the kitty photo bomb!
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This furniture was very cool
We didn't eat any lunches out as we were at the Palenque Archaeological site the entire full day we were in town and ate only snacks, but we had an excellent dinner that night after climbing lots and lots of stairs all day long.  We ate at El Huachinango Feliz (The Happy Snapper) right next to our hotel.  We'd noticed a good mix of locals and tourists the night before and that it was FULL -- a good sign.  
They first brought out a complimentary shrimp and vegetable salad with our beers and chips.  Wow!  What restaurant gives away shrimp salad?  It was absolutely full of shrimp and delicious, similar to ceviche but not swimming in lime juice.  
For his entree, Barry ordered the shrimp au gratin, and I went out on a limb and tried the octopus au gratin.  It was tender, well-seasoned, and absolutely delicious!  We ate every bite and rolled out of there full to the brim.
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Shrimp Au Gratin
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My Octopus Au Gratin -- highly recommended!
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I may not be big, but I can put away some grub!
Stay tuned as we travel farther west to San Cristobal next!
 
In addition to Maya temples and other structures, there were plenty of other interesting sights at the Palenque Archaeological Site in Chiapas, Mexico.

We saw one of our favorite tropical birds, the Blue-Crowned Mot Mot. These birds must like hanging out at the ruins as the first one we saw was in Cahal Pech in San Ignacio.  I love the way they just sit still on a branch for so long, allowing us to take multiple shots.  Wish more birds would behave that way!
And this tree, on a closer look, revealed a fascinating fruit (reputed as a possible cancer cure), soursop.
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Soursop (graviola)
Here's a pretty tree -- no idea what it is, though.  Anyone?
It was interesting to me that vendors were allowed inside the park; we hadn't seen that at any parks in Belize.  We bought a refrigerator magnet with a hand-painted image of a Resplendent Quetzal.  Big spenders, I tell ya!
I didn't know exactly what this was until I did a little research.  Turns out that the Palenque site included an extensive system of aqueducts and channels used for water management by the Maya.
In addition to engineered waterways, there was a lovely river running through the site.  The stairs to access the river, which was much lower than the rest of the site, were extensive, but worth all the sore quads.  The jungle in this area was impossibly beautiful!
There was a very cool swing bridge over the river.
After enjoying the beautiful river walk, it was time to head back up.  By this time my quads were screaming.  It was not only the structures that had steep stairs, it was the park itself.  I was definitely "undertrained" for this site!
We got very lucky and got to see a troop of Howler Monkeys very close up at the site.  I always get very excited by a monkey sighting!
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Baby howler on momma's back
Before we leave the ruins, here are a couple of my favorite shots of multiple structures from up on high.
After a great day at the site, it was finally time to leave.  But not before a little shopping!  I bought a beautiful embroidered Mexican blouse from one of the many stalls in the parking area.  Little did I know, I'd later see the exact same thing available in San Cristobal for half the price.  Oh well, it was still quite inexpensive (approximately $14 US).
We then caught a collectivo back to town.  We were the only gringos in the van, as usual.  
Similar to taxis in San Pedro, Belize, the collectivo vans are old US mini-vans, and not in very good condition.  Rattle-traps!  And where's the license plate?  Hmmmmm....
Stay tuned...the Palenque food post is coming up next!

A note to our readers:  I thought it was odd that we hadn't gotten any blog comments in about a month.  I now realize why.  For some reason, Weebly has stopped sending me the email notifications of comments.  When I finally thought to poke around and see if I had any in a pending status, I found 50!  So, if you've commented on the blog in the past month, my apologies that you were ignored.  I am going to try to get these posted (and responded to, where warranted) as soon as I can.  Your patience and understanding is much appreciated!
 
Here are the remaining temples and other structures we visited, photographed, and climbed up on our visit to the Palenque archaeological site in Chiapas, Mexico in December of 2012.  (Here's Part 1 if you missed it.)

Temple of the Count.

Group 1 and 2

It was so incredibly peaceful in this wooded part of the site, with few other tourists around....

Group B.

North Group.

Murcielagos Group.

Temple of the Inscriptions.

This was one of the very few structures that we were not allowed to climb up.  Just as well, my quads were absolutely SCREAMING by about 3/4 through this day, and would be sore for days after.  And I thought riding my bike everywhere would be enough "training".  Nope!  Barry was smart and trained by doing multiple stair climbs in our condo building prior to the trip and thus did not suffer like I did.
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They did let us climb up this section to the right of the main temple
There was actually a lot more to see at the site than ruins, so stay tuned for one more Palenque site post (hint: howler monkeys!)
 
Our main purpose in visiting the Mexican city of Palenque in the Chiapas state was to visit the Palenque Archaeological Site (Maya ruins).  This site is medium in size compared to huge sites like Tikal, but is one of the most widely studied, written about, and well-known Maya sites.  

After breakfast we walked out onto the main highway to catch one of many collectivos to the site.  These are inexpensive vans that run back and forth all day long.  There are no set stops, you stand by the side of the road, and before too long, one will stop for you.  In addition to tourists, they also transport vendors carrying their wares to sell at the site.  There were a few vendors in the collectivo that we caught.
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Riding in back of a collectivo

Entering the site.

After paying our entrance fee, we entered the site.  Unfortunately we did not have a printed map and did not see any available there.  If you're going, you may want to print a map before you go, because it's easy to get disoriented -- this is a large place!  Another tip:  there is plenty for sale to eat and drink right outside the entrance for very reasonable prices, so you don't need to buy bottled water or anything to eat in town to bring along if you don't want to.  We bought some water and a couple of snacks to supplement what we'd brought along.
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Entrance to site
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What lies ahead?
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This map would have been really handy to have in hand. There are no more of these billboards once you pass here.
I wish it had been a sunnier day for photographs, but it was hazy and overcast for most of the day.  That did help keep temperatures down.  Here are just a small (?) selection of the many, many photos Barry took of the various structures at the site, in no particular order.  

The Palace.

The Ball Court.

Temple of the Cross.

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Temple of the Cross in the center of the photo
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Temple of the Cross (right) showing all the stairs. Yes, we did walk to the top. In fact, Barry walked up them twice in pursuit of photos!

Temple of the Foliated Cross.

Temple of the Sun.

Temple 13.

Temple of the Skull.

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Emily climbing the Temple of the Skull
Please stay tuned for Part 2 of the Palenque ruins and much more!