The area around Palenque, Chiapas is home to several of the most spectacular and beautiful waterfalls in Mexico. Of all of these, Cascadas Roberto Barrios is by far my favourite.
Much less busy than some of the other waterfalls in the area (such as Agua Azul and Misol Ha), Roberto Barrios is also a favourite of many locals.
Surrounded by thick forest and jungle, here you’ll find a series of five different waterfalls, with crystal-clear turquoise water, natural swimming pools and even a (natural) 10 metre water slide.
If you only visit one set of waterfalls during your stay in Palenque, make sure it’s Cascadas Roberto Barrios.
Where are the Cascadas Roberto Barrios?
The falls are located 31 kilometres south of Palenque, in northern Chiapas, Mexico.
Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state, is a dream travel destination. It receives far fewer international tourists than the neighbouring Yucatán peninsula, and is packed full of exciting, interesting and beautiful places.
If you’re able to spend more time in Chiapas, consider also taking a trip to Boca del Cielo, an unspoilt beach paradise on the Pacific coast.
Best things to do at Cascadas Roberto Barrios
Cascadas Roberto Barrios is a perfect place to relax and unwind in beautiful natural surroundings. Find your own little secluded spot and settle in with a picnic or a good book.
There are several places that are perfect for swimming and bathing.
A few of the waterfalls have infinity pools at the top, where you can sit and watch the water tumble over the edge. Others are underneath the falls, with natural high pressure “showers” that are incredibly refreshing.
In some places, you can slide down sections of the waterfalls. This is awesome fun, although be sure only to do this where it’s safe! The last (lowest, downstream) of the falls has the best natural slide.
If you have a guide, they’ll show you where you can safely slide down the falls. Otherwise, just watch what other people are doing.
You’ll also find a few ropes, tied to overhead tree branches above some of the pools, that you can use to swing into the water.
The various waterfalls and swimming pools are accessible via a series of paths through the jungle. Some are signposted, others are not.
I recommend exploring the area on foot as much as possible. As well as being a fun place to hike through the jungle, you are likely to discover several hidden areas with no other people.
Keep an eye out for beautiful tropical birds, giant butterflies, and monkeys in the trees.
Do you need a guide to visit Cascadas Roberto Barrios?
It’s perfectly possible to explore the area by yourself.
However, if you prefer you can also hire one of the local guides to show you the various different areas of the falls.
These guides will tell you the best places to (safely) slide down the falls and jump into the water. They’ll also take you to see the hidden caves, which you might miss if exploring by yourself.
Guides take payment in the form of tips. A good tip would be anything from 100-200 MXN, depending on how long they are with you.
Potential guides tend to hang out around the entrance to the park, so are usually easy to find. Alternatively, you could also ask the person collecting the entry fee (30 MXN per person) to help find you one.
If you’d rather not hire a guide, you can also just keep an eye out for the places where other people are sliding and jumping. And/or ask someone who looks like they know what they’re doing.
Personally, I much prefer to explore a place at my own pace – especially somewhere as peaceful and idyllic as this.
How to get to Cascadas Roberto Barrios from Palenque
The nearest town to Roberto Barrios is Palenque, located about 31 kilometres to the north.
There are several ways to get from Palenque to the falls, depending on your budget and inclination.
The easiest way is by driving yourself.
However, if you don’t have a car, you can either go on a group organised tour, take a taxi, or a colectivo.
Most people who visit the falls on a group tour or via a colectivo end up on the south shore, reaching the falls via the little village of Roberto Barrios.
However, the north shore is arguably more scenic, and certainly has fewer people (mostly just a few local families). The paths through the jungle are narrower, and the whole thing just feels a bit more adventurous.
There’s also no tourist gauntlet on this side of the river. Nobody trying to sell you souvenirs or other stuff that you probably don’t want or need.
Getting to the north shore is easiest either with your own car (see below), or if you take a taxi. Just remember to tell the driver that you want to go to the north side, otherwise they will probably assume you want to visit the “main” south side.
However, if you do end up on the south side, it’s still perfectly possible to get to the other side… you’ll just need to swim across one of the pools to get there. (Hint: bring a dry bag for your phone and wallet!)
With your own car
If you have your own car, getting to Roberto Barrios is easy and only takes about 45 minutes.
Another advantage of driving yourself is that this makes it much easier to reach the north shore of the cascades, which is more scenic and even less visited than the other side.
From Palenque, drive south along México 199 towards Ocosingo. After 9 kilometres, turn left onto México 307. After another 7.7 kilometres, turn right off the main highway onto a minor local road.
Continue along this road for 13.5 kilometres, following signs to Roberto Barrios, until you arrive.
To get to the north shore of Cascadas Roberto Barrios, you need to look out for a sign off to the right about a kilometre before you reach Roberto Barrios village. This is before the road bridge over the river – if you reach the bridge, you’ve missed the turn.
With a group tour
Another way to get to Roberto Barrios is to go as part of an organised group tour.
There are several companies offering trips to the falls, and some will also combine Roberto Barrios with one or more of the other waterfalls in the area (more on those below).
The people at your accommodation in Palenque should be able to organise everything for you. Expect to pay approximately 300 MXN per person (about $30 USD / £23), including the entrance fee and a shared guide.
Personally, this isn’t what I would choose to do. I don’t really like group tours. I much prefer to see places by myself and go at my own pace, without a set itinerary and schedule.
However, this would be a good option for those who don’t have much time, want to see as many places as possible, and don’t mind being part of a group.
Alternatively you can take a taxi from Palenque to Roberto Barrios.
This should cost around 600 MXN for a one-way trip, though you might need to haggle to get this price (depending on how good your Spanish is).
To get back to Palenque again afterwards, you can either take another taxi from Roberto Barrios (if you can find one), or take a colectivo back once you’re ready to leave (see below).
Sometimes it can make sense to hire a taxi for a whole day, but on this occasion I wouldn’t bother. Having the same taxi take you to the falls and back again would be much more expensive than hiring one each way, as you’d also be paying for the driver’s time while you’re at the falls.
Is there public transport to Cascadas Roberto Barrios?
There’s no “formal” scheduled bus service from Palenque to Cascadas Roberto Barrios. However, you can take a colectivo (shared minibus taxi, common throughout Latin America).
These don’t have any fixed timetable, but will make the trip once they are full. The journey takes between 45 minutes and one hour, and costs MXN 50 per person each way.
From Palenque, colectivos to Roberto Barrios leave from near the market, which is about a 10 minute walk from the main ADO bus station. Look out for a minibus (usually white) with the words “Roberto Barrios” written on the front or the side.
If you have the app Maps.me (and you should – it’s awesome), you can find the departure point by searching for “collectivo Roberto Barrios”.
Bear in mind that most colectivos from Roberto Barrios to Palenque stop running around 4:30pm, so try to catch one back before then. Sometimes it’s possible to get one back later than this (or hitch a lift with somebody driving in their own car), but this is by no means guaranteed.
If you miss the last colectivo, you might be able to find a taxi to take you back to Palenque. But at that point your bargaining position will be severely diminished (!) and you will probably end up paying over the odds.
Facilities at the Roberto Barrios waterfalls
There are very few facilities here, especially compared with some of the more popular waterfalls in the area. Make sure you bring enough water and anything else you might need (see below).
You’ll find toilet facilities on both sides of the river. These cost 5 MXN, assuming there’s somebody there to take your money.
Other waterfalls near Palenque
As I mentioned at the start, if you only have time to visit one set of waterfalls in the area around Palenque, I’d strongly recommend choosing Roberto Barrios.
However, if you have more time and would like to see some of the other beautiful falls in the area, check out these other two.
Misol Ha waterfall
Unlike Roberto Barrios (and Agua Azul), Misol Ha waterfall only has one main cascade. But it’s very impressive, falling 35 metres vertically into a single circular pool.
There’s also a path that runs behind the falling sheet of water to a hidden cave inside the waterfall. It’s a pretty unique and spectacular place.
In my opinion, this is the second best of the Palenque waterfalls, and could be combined with Roberto Barrios in one day trip. This is easiest if you have your own car.
(Tip: Visit Misol Ha first, then Roberto Barrios. You’ll want to spend more time at the latter.)
Agua Azul waterfall
Agua Azul is the most popular set of waterfalls in the Palenque area.
It’s similar to Roberto Barrios in many ways. There are several beautiful waterfalls, pools where you can swim, and trails through the jungle.
However, the main difference is the large number of other visitors and how overly touristic the whole place is.
At Agua Azul, you’ll be surrounded by multiple coach-loads of people. There are also loads of vendors trying to sell you souvenirs, and other people trying to get you to pay them to guide you around.
It’s busy, crowded, and (frankly) a much less enjoyable place to visit.
If you like being surrounded by hundreds of other noisy tourists taking selfies, and being hustled by vendors trying to sell you stuff, Agua Azul is the place for you.
If not, I’d go for Roberto Barrios instead. (And Misol Ha, if you have time.)
Best time to visit the Roberto Barrios waterfalls
The jungles of northern Chiapas are hot and humid throughout the year.
However, the best time to visit Roberto Barrios is from November-March. During these months, it is (marginally) cooler, less humid, and it doesn’t rain much.
That said, it still gets pretty hot from about 11am onwards. Go early in the morning if you can.
What to bring when visiting Cascadas Roberto Barrios
As noted above, there are very few facilities at Roberto Barrios.
You can sometimes buy supplies from the little shop and restaurant located near the car park. However, it’s not always open.
Make sure you bring enough water for your day out, just in case you can’t pick up any more during the day.
Other things to pack include:
- sunscreen and insect repellent (though see below section re sustainable travel)
- swimming gear and towel
- waterproof dry bag – not strictly essential, but a good idea in case you drop anything into the water, and/or if you want to swim across to the other side of the cascades
- cash – you can’t pay for anything here using card. (Entrance to the falls is 30 MXN, as of March 2022)
Beyond this, I’d try to minimise any other valuables that you bring with you.
You’ll probably need to leave your stuff unattended on the shore when you go swimming and sliding down the falls, so it’s best not to tempt fate. Thefts of unattended belongings (although fairly rare) do occasionally happen.
It should be common sense… But a few people seem to think it’s okay to dump the remains of their picnic, empty beer cans and water bottles in the jungle.
Don’t be one of those people.
There are bins at the top of the stairs leading down to the first set of waterfalls. Failing that, take your rubbish away with you. It’s really not difficult.
Bring a reusable water bottle (ideally one with a filter so you don’t need to keep buying water in single-use plastic bottles). I use (and strongly recommend) the Grayl Geopress.
Sunscreen and insect repellent… you might need it, but try to avoid putting it on before getting into the water. Chemicals from these products can pollute the river and damage the ecosystem. I recommend bringing it and applying it after you get out of the water.
A note on ATMs…
As with most places in rural southern Mexico, ATMs are few and far between in this area. However, it’s also not possible to pay for anything at Roberto Barrios by card.
“Solo efectivo” (“cash only”) is a phrase you’ll hear a lot in Chiapas.
Be sure to take enough cash with you, as you’ll need it for paying the entrance fee (30 MXN), tipping your guide (if you choose to take one), and buying any food and drink at the falls.
The nearest place with reliable ATMs is Palenque. There are several in the town centre, including at the large Chedraui supermarket and near the ADO bus station.
Other things to do near Palenque
No trip to Palenque would be complete without a visit to the Palenque archeological ruins.
This incredible place is one of the most important and impressive ancient Mayan sites in all of Mesoamerica.
Built on top of the first hill to rise from the vast flatness of the Yucatán and Gulf coastal plains, the ancient city is spread over at least 17 square kilometres and dates from the period 226 BC to around 800 AD.
At its height, Palenque controlled a huge area spanning across parts of modern-day Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, and southern Mexico.
After its decline, this amazing city became lost, swallowed up by the dense jungle.
Today, only about 10% of the site has been excavated.
Exploring the crumbling ruins, partially hidden by thick forest, with the roars of howler monkeys echoing from the treetops, it’s hard not to be blown away by this incredible place.
It’s atmospheric beyond words.
Be sure to allow yourself enough time to explore the ruins properly. Half a day would be ideal. There are several hiking trails through the jungle that lead to various less-excavated sections of the site, as well as a small waterfall.
Due to their relative remoteness, the Palenque ruins are much less crowded than many of Mexico’s other important archaeological sites (e.g. Chichén Itzá, Teotihuacán, Monte Albán, etc.).
However, it still pays to arrive early. That way, you’ll get to experience the ruins at their most peaceful and atmospheric, as the mist rises from the jungle. You’ll also avoid much of the heat of the day.
Where to stay in Palenque
There’s no shortage of places to stay in and around the (modern day) town of Palenque.
You can either stay in the centre of the town, or along the road that leads to the archeological site.
Choose somewhere in the former if you like being within walking distance of shops, restaurants and bars. And the latter if you’d prefer somewhere quieter and more secluded.
If your budget allows, I highly recommend Boutique Hotel Quinta Chanabnal. This luxurious hotel, located just outside of town (on the road leading to the ruins), is an incredible place to stay. Surrounded by lush jungle, it has beautiful Mayan-style architecture, a spa, and its own private lake (home to many birds, turtles, and even a baby crocodile).
Alternatively you’ll find a large range of Airbnbs to choose from in and around Palenque.