Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas boasts immense biodiversity and a climate that ranges from fresh and cool in the highlands to humid and hot in the jungle lowlands.
Home to some of the most impressive Maya archeological sites and a large indigenous population, it is one of Mexico’s most diverse regions both in culture and nature.
Close to the Lacandon jungle and the Usumacinta River, which divides Mexico and Guatemala, dozens of waterfalls dot the landscape. One of the most majestic of these falls has to be Agua Azul.
The Agua Azul waterfalls are located roughly 40 miles from Palenque and 80 miles from San Cristobal de las Cass in the state of Chiapas, southern Mexico.
The waterfalls get their name, Agua Azul, meaning Blue Water, perhaps rather obviously because the water thundering down it has a bright blue hue. Their incredible color is, in fact, because the high mineral content of the water, which deposits itself on the rock.
The limestone-rich deposits also give the waterfall an interesting, undulating shape. In the rainy season, when water pounds down the falls with a higher intensity and picks up silt, the blue color is less obvious, but the cascades are impressive nonetheless.
At the entrance to the falls, where the water pools, you can generally swim and enjoy the view of the cascades from below. There are also other areas higher up the falls where you can cool off in the clear waters.
It’s important, however, to heed signs and be sure that it’s safe to swim in any given area, as some have rip currents underneath.
Visitors can also climb the man-made path up the side of the waterfall, where it’s possible to see how smaller falls join together to create the larger cascade that pours down in the pools at the bottom.
The power of nature is clearly visible by the trees clinging to the banks by just their roots at a 90-degree angle. The farther up you get the more you can enjoy the falls away from the hustle and bustle of people and market stalls.
Did you know?
In November 2017, locals began to realize that less water was flowing to the falls than usual. They were especially surprised since there had been heavy rainfall that year.
After an investigation, the general consensus suggested an earthquake that hit southern Mexico in September 2017 cracked the riverbed and changed the water’s course. Sandbags were used to redirect the river and a permanent wall will be put in place. As of late November 2017, the flow of water to Agua Azul had been returned to 100%.
Planning your visit
If you want to see the clear blue color of the waterfalls, it is best to go in the dry season (November-May). There are a number of tours that take visitors to Agua Azul, Misol Ha (a nearby waterfall famous for its cameo in the “Predator” movie) and the archeological site of Palenque.
Taxis also service the falls from Palenque town, or a cheaper option is a shared taxi to the “Crucero de Agua Azul” (the Agua Azul Crossroad) where small pickup trucks wait to take you to the entrance of the waterfalls.
Make sure you take your swimsuit if you’ll want to take a dip, plus mosquito repellent. You can go wearing sandals but if you want to climb up beside the waterfall and a little beyond, you may be better off taking your sneakers as well.
Adventurous types can also take rafting tours along the Shumulja (or Xumul Há) and Lacanja rivers that can include rafting down the Agua Azul falls.
A little off the beaten path
If you keep walking up the man-made path, far up and to the left of the path you will also see a few houses of locals who live right next to the falls among the banana trees and palms. Up here it is also possible to enjoy the calm flows of the water before the storm of the waterfall.
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Where to stay
While there are cabins at the waterfalls, most people stay in nearby Palenque or make a day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas.
Palenque: The Boutique Hotel Quinta Chanabnal is set within lush jungle gardens and the feel of an ancient Maya city.
Quinta Chanabnal Carretera Federal Palenque Ruinas Km 2.2, 29960 Ruinas de Palenque
San Cristobal de las Casas: Hotel Bo is a beautiful boutique hotel, with a tranquil interior garden and stunning Mexican design.
Hotel Bo Av. 5 de Mayo no. 38 Barrio de Mexicanos San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas
Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist based in Mexico City. Find her website here or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.