Saturday, April 22, 2006


Up in the mountains along the border between Mexico and Guatemala lies a national park called Lagos de Montebello (Lakes of Montebello). Consisting of more than 50 small lakes in a beautiful forest setting, the park was a nice place to visit during the recent Semana Santa (Holy Week), when Rob had the week off from work.

Each lake seems to feature a different, distinctive color, and in most of the ones we saw, the water was surprisingly clear. In the photo above, you can see a submerged tree several meters below the lake's surface.

During our 2-day stay, we enjoyed plenty of hiking and cool, refreshing mountain air. We were hoping to do some swimming, but unfortunately the weather was too cloudy and cool for that.

Some of the lakes offer rides on primitive rafts ("balsas") made from local trees.

Despite the crude construction, these rafts are much less likely to tip over than a canoe. Of course the trade-off is that they're much slower and less maneuverable.

Our raft trip took us to the base of this towering cliff...

...where we got a look through the beautifully clear water at this underwater cave. According to our guide, the cave connects to another lake on the other side of the cliff, less than a half a mile away. With the right equipment, you could SCUBA dive from this lake to the other lake.

During one of our hikes, we came across this impressive natural bridge, with a small stream running through it.

Nearby we found the entrance to a series of caves.

The caves are used by various local Mayans as shrines. When we entered this cave, we found one chamber full of lit candles!

Just outside the national park, we visited a set of ancient Mayan ruins called Chinkultic.

The site is dominated by a large temple or acropolis set at the top of a large hill, with beautiful views over the surrounding lakes.

From the temple, you could look down into the cenote below. Cenotes (pronounced "say-NO-tays") are freshwater-filled limestone sinkholes. They were often considered sacred by ancient Mayans, and this one was no exception. During the 6th to 9th centuries AD, when Chinkultic was in its prime, many offerings to the Gods were pitched from the top of the temple into the cenote below.

On the other side of the temple is yet another lake. What a strategic and beautiful location!

Almost all ancient Mayan cities contained "ball courts", where sporting events involving a large rubber ball were played. Here, Kina and Carley play "ball" with a rock in the remains of this ancient ball court, a relatively small one compared to the ball courts at some of the other bigger ruins. Incidentally, this was Kina's first visit to a Mayan ruin, since the sites at Palenque, Tikal and Copán did not allow dogs.

After a couple of days at the lakes, we headed back to Guatemala to visit the Cuchumatán mountains and the isolated indigenous town of Todos Santos.