Lakes, falls and our first sight of Guatemala

Trying to arrange a side trip to the Lagos de Montebello and Cascadas El Chiflón (Montebello Lakes and the Chiflon Falls), we got both unlucky, yet lucky at the same time.

Originally seeking a tour operator to take us on the Saturday, giving us a break following our Thursday trip to Cañón del Sumidero, we were to discover that nobody would take us anywhere on that particular day, as it was no normal Saturday. For on that weekend, the country would be celebrating the Mexican independence!

Essentially, it was part of a national fiesta that would continue until the actual independence date on the coming Monday.

So how did we get lucky? Well Sarah was actually a little unwell on the Saturday, but by the Sunday for which we were eventually able to book, she was fine!

It was a several hour journey from San Cristobal to the lakes, the terrain very alpine and dotted with the occasional town or village, Comitan being the nearest town of any note to our destination.

With the clouds overhead looking fairly grey and moody, our driver took the decision to change the order of our destinations, so it was the lakes first, to be followed by the falls later in the afternoon.

Although the day felt dull, the trio of lakes visible at our first stop, were still pretty wonderful shades of green and blue, again like Puente de Dios, taking our minds immediately back to Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes (sadly any place like this will always be compared to that natural wonder).

Our first sight of the Montebello Lakes on a drizzly morning

Our first sight of the Montebello Lakes on a drizzly morning

We walked a quick circuit of the path near the closest lakes, before crossing the access road to investigate the lake on the opposite side.

Whilst the first lakes had been a nice blue and a slightly dull green, this side of the road showed us a lake of the most brilliant turquoise (very impressive given how dull the skies overhead remained).

Maybe it was this lake that caused the chicken to cross the road?

Maybe it was this lake that caused the chicken to cross the road?

We strolled down to the shore, admired both the colour and the clarity of the waters, within which we could see the skeletal remains of long fallen trees, and I tried my best to avoid slipping in from the slick rocks along the muddied shore (thankfully I succeeded).

Carefully dodging our way about fellow snappers so that we didn’t ruin their perfect pictures, we slowly made our way back towards the van as we only had a short 30 minute window in which to enjoy this first stop.

A beautiful way to start the morning (Click image to enlarge)

A beautiful way to start the morning (Click image to enlarge)

True to form however, as the majority of our group was Mexican, they ran on Mexican time, so as you can imagine, we were amongst the first few to return, and thus had quite a wait for the rest.

It did allow me the chance to spot some of the most beautiful blue birds hanging about the trees. Sadly, despite a bit of time on Google, I’ve still not yet been able to identify them!

At least there was some blue in the skies this morning...

At least there was some blue in the skies this morning…

En route to our next location, it started to drizzle, and by the time we pulled over on the side of the road to a vantage point over some blue lakes (that also had a steep, slippery looking path down to the shore), it was only a small window before the drizzle became rain, and the lake turned from blue to grey.

It did at least, give us out first sight of Guatemala, way off on the distant shore.

A hazy view of Guatemala on the opposite shore

A hazy view of Guatemala on the opposite shore

Even before the weather proved so uncooperative, this was only ever going to be a brief photo stop, so we were quickly back on board and headed to our next destination.

Here we would have the opportunity to experience the lakes by raft, find some lunch… all whilst it continued to rain.

With the inclement weather, we had no interest in leaving ourselves exposed out there on the water, but perhaps foolishly, or just to show us both how soft Australian tourists are, all of the Mexicans from our bus quickly paid the fee, jumped on board and found themselves in the middle of a thorough drenching.

Looking at the weather, I'm sure you can see why a trip on the lake by raft didn't really entice us

Looking at the weather, I’m sure you can see why a trip on the lake by raft didn’t really entice us

Unfortunately for us though, there were only three food vendors open, all of which appeared to be offering the exact same lunch item, cheese quesadillas!

Not really feeling in the mood for them, we settled instead for a traditional hot chocolate, which was actually much better than expected, despite the absence of any milk!

By the time the remainder of now sodden tour party returned from their respective voyages and began to dine on the aforementioned quesadillas, the sun did begin to emerge and we began to see once again some lovely blues…

A return to blue as the rain subsides

A return to blue as the rain subsides

There was one more pretty average, windswept lake to visit, before we were on our way for the couple of hour journey to the Cascadas El Chiflón.

The skies never really cleared, but it was anything but cold when we finally arrived, and began the walk to the falls.

Now, we’d met an American woman on our tour to the Cañón del Sumidero, who when the guide had pointed out that the depth of the canyon at its deepest was about 1000m, commented on how well she’d done when visiting the falls the day earlier as they’d climbed 1.2km.

The river looking a torrent of rage

The river looking a torrent of rage

Turns out we needn’t have feared such a strenuous climb.

True, the distance was 1.2km to the falls, but that was flat distance, not elevation, and we possibly climbed 50-100m along the length of the whole trail.

We soon heard, then felt the first of the cascadas, as from a fair distance we encountered the spray, which made photography that little bit more difficult!

The first of the falls. Pretty impressive we thought...

The first of the falls. Pretty impressive we thought…

The wet season in general, but especially the recent rains, appeared to have swollen the river, and as a result the first of the waterfalls was a torrent of power (hence the spray travelling such distances to drench us).

We certainly felt vindicated in bringing our spray jackets along for the walk!

The path continued further along, and so did we, passing along the way a couple of platforms where it appeared you could zipline back and forth across the river.

Unsure of how far we still had to travel (or climb at this stage), we passed on this option, instead following a set of steps that took us through some denser undergrowth.

Eventually we got our first glimpse of the 70m high beauty that is Velo de Novia.

A first glimpse of the most imposing of the Cascadas El Chiflon, Velo de Novia

A first glimpse of the most imposing of the Cascadas El Chiflon, Velo de Novia

The path diverged, so we took that which appeared to climb higher, although only a short distance as ahead lay another, closed zipline tower with the onward path closed for any further climbing.

Returning to the second branch of the path, it took us down slightly to a very slippery viewing platform (where I slipped on the muck covered concrete), before descending even further to a viewing point nearer the base of the falls.

Feeling the spray despite the distance

Feeling the spray despite the distance

This thing was truly awesome, I’d go out there and say one of the most amazing waterfalls we have yet seen, making us feel thrilled that we chose to travel during the wet season when it was at full power!

Giving our spray jackets (and our camera lense) a good workout

Giving our spray jackets (and our camera lense) a good workout

It was ultimately, but for a long drive back to San Cristobal, the end of our day, as although we’d spotted a closer viewing point to the base of the falls, this was on the opposite side of the bank, and not reachable by us on this particular day…

 

Notes:

* For our day trip to Montebello, we managed to get a tour for only $300.00 pesos per person for the whole day trip (no meals were included). This got us entry into both the lakes and the waterfalls.

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