Lacandon Jungle is the last untouched jungle forest in Mexico and one of the last ones in Central America. Untouched meaning it's not explored, exploited, inhabited by people or made easily accessible for tourism. We decided to hike and camp by the jungle lake Miramar which is what we discovered some adventurous souls have done before. There are no roads to the jungle lake after the last village Emiliano Zapata, only 6km hiking trail which occasionally is shared with cattle - after the village and before entering the forest the land is used by the locals for pasture. Anyway, let's start at the beginning as reaching even Emiliano Zapata village is an adventure on its own.
If you decide to visit the jungle laguna be prepared to a) either have your own/rented car b) spend about 2hrs in a crammed minivan (best part of the journey) and then 6hrs in something that in the US or Europe would not be considered legal or even remotely acceptable way of transporting human beings - on a wooden bench in the back "cage" of a ridiculously crammed truck under direct sun. In both cases a and b - the last 4 hours of the trip will be on unpaved, muddy, uneven track full of stones and humangous potholes. Yeah, leave your comfort levels at home.
If you're traveling from San Cristobal like we did there are several ways to reach the jungle - one via Comitan & Margaritas and one via Ocosingo. We picked the Ocosingo way as it was described as a more picturesque way through the mountains, forests and tiny villages - which it was - a very beautiful road indeed. So, from San Cristobal we took a colectivo (like a shared microbus) to Ocosingo (costs about $5 and leaves from around ADO bus terminal - you'll hear people yelling "Ocosingo! Ocosingo!" to collect their passengers) After 2hrs the microbus will leave you on the Northern side of Ocosingo and in order to catch your next transport you'll need to find the truck heading for San Quintin - for that head to the central market (taxi from Northern side to the market is about $2) and ask around for the truck/colectivo to San Quintin, it's going to be at the rear end of a sort of colectivo parking by the market. Departure times are flexible.
Essentially the truck will leave when it's half full - with people, mostly brightly dressed indigenous Maya going back to their villages, and stuff - bags of rice, baskets of bananas, live chickens, cartons of milk and bread, and just tons of indistinguishable staff. The ride to San Quintin is going to cost about $7 and it's going to be slow and painful as hell with all the stuff falling over on you on every bump, people sitting and standing almost on top of each other on benches and floor, sitting on the top of the metal carcass of the truck with their cowboy boots swinging right next to your face, or just hanging from the sides of the truck, sometimes you'll be squeezed between elbows, bellies and naked boobs of moms who somehow manage to feed their infants in the middle of all this craziness. And yeah - you'll move around the truck quite a lot - with every single stop in one of the tiny villages people will get off and on, so you'll be switching positions, helping to unload the stuff, helping to find missing bananas and machetes around the truck, helping lift & pull a paralyzed grandpa into the truck, and things like that. There is an element of fun in there as it's probably one of the last ways how you can truly blend with the local way of life. And the indigenous will generally be quite curious about you - watching you with genuine interest and occasionally smiling shyly at you. You won't really understand much from their conversations as they won't speak Spanish, only their local Maya dialect, but 6hrs in this truck is enough to learn a thing or two about their ways.
When the truck finally pulls in near an army base in San Quintin village you won't believe this is happening and you're finally liberated from the "cage". From there you'll need to walk 1km to the neighbor village Emiliano Zapata (ask the way, its very simple), our truck driver knew that our final destination is Emiliano Zapata so he kindly drove us right to the jungle park entry. I mean, there's really no other reason why a white person would appear in this god forgotten village except to venture to the lake :)
In the village you'll need to find a guy "el presidente del turismo" (Im serious, ask around) - it's going to be the guy who will arrange your overnight stay at the village and your stay at the lake. You'll stay in one of the 6 pretty nice cabanas (bungalows) for $10 a night right on the river before venturing to the lake next morning. With the presidente del turismo you can pay all the applicable fees like jungle entrance fee, camping place on the lake (about $5 per night) and rent what you need - tent itself, sleeping bags, blankets, kayaks, horses if you don't want to hike 6km. When you rent tents/sleeping bags and any other equipment - you won't need to carry all that to the lake, the rangers who always stay at the lake will give it all to you when you arrive (just keep the receipt of having paid for all equipment and services to show them) A bit of Spanish will definitely be useful to arrange all of that, English is rare to non-existent.
You'll probably arrive to the village wishing to have some food - beware, stores are few and very basic (water, tortillas, sweets, chips, sodas, etc) and if you want to have a cooked meal - there's one place in Emiliano Zapata village (el comedor along the main winding village road) - it doesn't look like anything, so you'll have to just enter the gate and ask if the family can cook something for you. And there is one comedor we tried in San Quintin village - coming from Emiliano Zapata pass the army base and turn left at the first left turn - in about 50m there is going to be an eatery.
What to bring to the lake:
- have good hiking shoes or rent rubberboots (from the same guy) as it's going to be a hell of a hike through mud and watered plains
- mosquito repellent & sun block
- food: yes, you'll need to bring all your food and water with you so count your ration - water you can buy in the village, as for the food - Ocosingo is probably the last place where you can find proper stores. We brought our food from San Cristobal: tuna cans, canned beans and vegetables, bread, tortillas, avocados, tomatoes, instant noodles, cookies, sausages and quesillo (string cheese thats quite salty so it won't go bad soon) - needless to say, there's no fridge on the lake, there's some electricity, but it's mostly in the rangers camp. The rangers will have some basic bowls, pots and machetes, so anything you need you also bring with you - knives, forks, cups, rope (we used rope to tie the food bag above the ground to avoid insects getting into it), we also bought a tin pot at the market in San Cristobal and used it for boiling water on fire.
So next day it's best to wake up and start your hike early as it gets smothering hot and humid in the day time. We had our breakfast at the comedor - just some eggs and rice. A ranger at the cabanas will escort you to where the trail starts - about 10 minutes out of the village and there you're all on your own. It's important to follow the instructions - don't turn anywhere from the trail, some people got to wander around for 6 hours after turning off the trail. At times the trail will not be very obvious - try to figure out the logic: follow cattle steps, cross water creeks where a log is put to serve as a bridge, you'll need to pass through many fenced pastures - so even if you don't see the trail in these pastures all of them will have an entrance and an exit (wooden gates), so when you enter one gate search for the second gate across the pasture for exit - thats where the trail will become visible again.
The hike is difficult - I'll say it upfront. It takes about 2 hours and in the non dry season the trail will often be a knee deep mud puddle, last 1-2km is jungle forest with creeks, sleepery muddy hills and spiky bushes. It's going to be really hot and you'll be carrying all your food and water with you. Sometimes you might feel like dying, but you'll be so damn happy at the sight of the blue water shimmering in the distance when you come close to the camp.
At the camp you'll see 2-4 people hanging out in hammocks - these are the rangers :) They change shifts every day, so sometimes there could be grownups and sometimes the rangers are 10-14 years olds. After well deserved swim in the crystal clear jungle lake get your rented equipment from the rangers and find a good spot for your tent on the beach. In any season rain is common so it's smart to build your tent under a palapa (wood covered/roofed area) as the rain could be very strong. Check out the palapa that they have a bit further from the rangers camp - that one has a wooden wall from the side of the lake - first we wondered why would they hide the lake view from this area with a wall, in the next 2 nights we understood why - if the wall wasnt there our tent would fly away on the wind or we would end up all wet as the rainstorms here are really violent. Each of the 2 palapas has some benches and a sort of table and a fire place, so it's nice to claim it as your own private jungle camp. Palapas can fit several tents, but luckily for us we were the only ones there. In order to make a fire you'll need to walk into deeper jungle to find some fallen trees and branches or borrow a machete from the rangers and cut some old branches off the trees. So yeah - all Robinson Crusoe style, you do everything yourself and in the wild.
The lake is beautiful - surrounded by jungle, caves, rocks, mountains. You can hear myriad of birds singing just outside your test. You can see fish in the water, bright butterflies and sometimes spot a turtle while kayaking as well. A bit scarier thing is to hear howler monkeys just outside your tent every morning. This is how they sound.
Rainstorms here are violent. Some time around 5pm you can see some grey clouds starting to form above the opposite lake shore, then the storm starts to slowly move towards your shore as a wall made of fog that makes everything it passes invisible. You can enjoy this view all the way until the wall is about 100m from you, and then - the weather just goes nuts. Gusts of wind that breaks trees and tropical rain that gets the shore flooded in seconds. The rain continued almost all night both nights and we woke up during the night just to check if we're still attached to the ground.
It's scary and beautiful at the same time.
This was one of the most unique, authentic, extreme and exciting experiences we had. Highly recommend!