By Jan and Marcia Chaiken
The Oaxaca Coast can be steaming hot in June. When you’re pricing out the cost of towing an iceberg into your favorite bay, we have a simpler solution, head to the hills – literally – up to the national park Lagos de Montebello.
Located in eastern Chiapas almost on the Guatemala border, the park is one of the most beautiful places in Mexico. Established by the federal government in 1959, the 6,425 hectares of pine and rain forest located at an altitude of 5,000 feet provide refuge for a wide variety of flora and fauna, including 117 species of insects and 35 species of reptiles.
The most memorable attractions of the park are – as the name suggests – the lakes. Easily reached by car along well-paved roads, the five Lagunas de Colores are each an incredible color, ranging from clear green to aquamarine. Be sure to bring a camera! Four of the five lakes can be viewed from overlooks and the fifth, Laguna Aqua Tinta, by a relatively short – albeit a bit steep – trail. If you are adventuresome and have an off-road vehicle, you can continue on many of the roads past the ending of the pavement for additional remarkable sights.
On the trails or sitting and viewing the lakes from above or on the shore, birding aficionados will delight in the individual songs of over 277 species of birds, including 6 species that are virtually extinct in other parts of the world. Even those human visitors who are less knowledgeable about avian varieties will enjoy the multiple chirping and trilling of the feathered inhabitants. In fact, except for Easter week, when the park is a prime destination for vacationing Mexican families, bird songs, the rustle of trees and the furtive activities of the 65 species of other mammals are the only sounds you are likely to hear on the trails.
Flora enthusiasts will be enthralled with the 261 species of plant life. For an up close and personal look at the orchids, the park administration has created a hot house near the park entrance. If you want to visit this dense, albeit artificial, habitat, ask to have the door unlocked – but don’t expect to see plants flowering out of season.
Immediately outside the park boundaries, the extensive land owned by local government is home to five accessible additional lakes. Entry requires an additional nominal fee for a day pass to all roads (generally not in good repair) leading to these lakes. Laguna de Montebello, the lake nearest the national park boundary, is an inviting place for swimming, picnicking, buying snacks or simply sitting and watching the ripples in the water.
The government of Mexico and the local government are dedicated to protecting and conserving the natural beauty of the area while providing for sustainable development of the ecosystems for the benefit of the people who live there. Special attention is given to species that are not found elsewhere in Mexico or that are in danger of worldwide extinction.
Another strongly-suggested area to visit, outside the park boundaries are the Mayan ruins of Chinkultic. Although only a small part of the ruins have been excavated, the area is pristinely maintained and displays large-scale Mayan architecture in striking surroundings. Take a moment to look beyond the ruins to the lakes; these views, by themselves, are worth the stop. The most important artifacts have been removed from the excavations but may be seen in the Archeological Museum in the city of Comitán. Comitán is a good place to base your visit because of its modern hotels and decent restaurants within easy driving distance of the national park.