Before we started this trip and even during it (even after we had spent three weeks in hot spot Michoacan!) I was worried about driving through Chiapas. Fear is a funny thing, it can take on a life of its own. We had read about a couple that ran into some trouble in Chiapas about seven months ago, and only getting part of the story, it fostered fear. This fear infected not just us, but most of the people driving the PanAm in 2013 and 2014. We all became worried about Chiapas, even the Europeans we met were not sure if it was safe. The overland community is fairly small in many ways, and when bad things happen, everyone seems to hear about it. Sadly, this fear kept many people traveling in Mexico this year from exploring much of this stunning state.
My only advice after nine months on the road is this, shit can happen anywhere. Most of the time it is just plain bad luck or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The worst things that have ever happened to me in my life have been in very nice parts of California. I had my car stolen in Pasadena in front of my house, and I had a home invasion robbery in Dana Point in a lovely condo next to the beach while I was home alone. The funny thing is you never hear people saying they will never go to Pasadena or Dana Point because of crime…..
The American media has turned Mexico into a place that fosters fear. I think part of this is slightly related to racisim by our news media. It is much easier to look externally at problems than to have to deal with our country’s own internal issues around violent crimes and drugs. I will not deny that violence around the border areas for people involved in the drug industry is pretty gruesome in Mexico. But not to tourists. Honestly, I am more horrified by stories of people going into elementary schools, airports, or movie theaters in the US and spraying people with bullets from automatic rifle fire than stumbling across drug violence in Mexico. Again, shit can happen anywhere. We are just programmed to fear it more here.
After spending five months in Mexico, I have met zero tourists that have been harmed or threatened other than a few police shake downs for some harmless bribes.
My experiences have been of a country of kind, warm, hospitable, people that are focused on kids, hard work and social interaction. If you come here, be smart and aware of current hot spots, but try to leave the fear at home because you will miss out on so much. Mexico is an amazing country. Every traveler I have met here this year seems surprised by how much they have fallen in love with this country’s people and beauty.
So after much unjust worrying we arrived in Palenque with zero problems. Since we followed the road that paralleled the Guatamala border, we went through many military road blocks (human trafficking is a problem here, but not from tourists). The military were very nice and we had no issues. There are a few villages you pass through that have aggressive people trying to sell you things at speed bumps, but a big smile and a firm no gracias seemed to always work. Or even better, help these poor communities by buying a bag of fruit or tomatoes they are selling for a buck. I guarantee the produce is local and that small purchase will help their families.
The Palenque ruins are one of the three most visited Mayan ruins in Mexico (Tulum and Chichen Itza are the others). After just spending an amazing day exploring Yaxchilan, they felt touristy and manicured, with vendors selling cheap souvenirs inside between the ruins. But even with those lingering feelings, we enjoyed our day exploring these jungly ruins and were impressed by the scope and complexity of the Mayan people. I would say these ruins are not to be missed.