Set within the shade of the jungle of Chiapas and next to a babbling creek, the ancient city of Palenque provides a breathtaking archaeological experience to rival the many ancient cities spread throughout Mexico and Central America.
Often used by backpackers as a stopover between San Cristobal and either Merida or Tulum, Palenque also provides a step back for the adventurer. There are many jungle accommodation options available that provide the opportunity to hear (and perhaps see) howler monkeys at all hours.
The ruins themselves are impressive, surrounding you (and even reclaiming ancient temples) by tropical forest which adds to the atmosphere from the moment you enter. At times it will feel like you are the only one on the site, as its vastness and hidden temples provide you with privacy and insight into what is known as a very important Mayan city in its time.
Some of the most interesting temples and structures we came across include:
Templo de las Inscripciones (Temple of Inscriptions), Templo XIII, and the Templo de las Calaveras (Temple of the Skulls)
These are the first temples you will see upon entering the Palenque ruins from the main entrance to the north. Walking up the hill towards them provides a breathtaking site, and gives you an immediate look at what you will find throughout the site.
Named after their features (Inscriptiones for its inscriptions, Calaveras for what is though to be a rabbit skull found within), these are some of the most stunning temples on the entire site. They were used as ancient burial locations for some of the great leaders of the city including Pakal, and Bahlam.
You can explore some internal parts of these initial temples, providing you with a sense of how difficult it would have been to create these massive structures.
El Palacio (The Palace)
Next you will come across the main structure of the site, and the most intricate, the palace.
Many courtyards and corridors lead into different areas that once housed the main palace, including sauna style rooms that also utilised the steam for child-birth, and the main courtyard used both for ball games (eg. Pok ta Pok) and to hold prisoners of war. This is most strikingly seen in the stone tablets in the courtyard, decorated with images of prisoners as a reminder to them of previous war victories of the Palenque people.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the palace is the “Tower of Palenque”, seen as a watchtower of sorts and giving a beautiful backdrop for photographs.
Templo del Jaguar (Temple of Jaguar), Templo de la Cruz (Temple of the Cross), Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun), Templo XIV, and Templo de la Cruz Foliada (Temple of the Foliated Cross)
Heading past the river (aqueducts) brings you to the other main area of the ruins featuring all of the above named temples.
The majority of these are climbable and provide excellent views back across the entire site including the Palace, Temple of Inscriptions and Temple of Skulls. We would recommend getting here early enough that the sun is not too hot, or using this area for shade for a short rest.
Grupo A, Grupo B, and Grupo C
Heading down the stairs towards the south exit (where we recommend you head after eating lunch either on site or at the main northern entrance), you will find relatively open areas that are often missed by tourists who end up exiting where they entered the site.
These three grouped areas follow the stream (known as the Otrulum stream) down and provide a tranquil area to sit in the shade and take in what look to be smaller Mayan structures.
If walking down the stairs here towards the south exit, we would recommend being very cautious as the stairs are steep and very slippery when wet (we slipped more than a few times).
Leaving the Palenque site from the south exit deposits you quite close to the fantastic museum (across the road and back towards town a few hundred metres).
Entrance is included with your ruins ticket, and provides a great chance to see many artifacts that have been recovered from the main site, helping to finish off your day with a final understanding of the ancient Mayan people that lived in Palenque.
In addition, you can also view the resting place of Lord Pakal here, providing an interesting view into history of this massive stone tomb.
- The site is open from 8am to 5pm. We recommend spending a full day on the site, or at least starting early to avoid the big tour buses that start arriving at around 10am (more then show up at 3pm).
- An overnight stay before your visit is probably the best way to visit the site, and we chose “El Panchan”.
Located in the jungle, El Panchan provides many accommodation options ranging from camping and hammocks, through to cabanas and rooms.
We stayed at Margarita and Eds in a double room for 280MXN peso, which gave us hot water and a fan for the night. This is probably your best option in El Panchan, and they have great reviews on TripAdvisor. They also offer Cabanas for around the same price (270MXN per night).Don’t bother trying to book before you get here though, the phones often don’t work and they have no internet at all!
Getting to the Palenque ruins and costs:
- Colectivo: these mini-vans run between the town of Palenque and the main archeological site up until 6pm (the site is open from 8am to 5pm), charging 20MXN peso for the trip (each way).
- Private taxi: you can get a taxi (we saw many throughout town and of course congregated at the ADO bus terminal) and may even be able to negotiate it down to around 80-100MXN if you are lucky. This option may suit if you have a group of 4.
You will pay the following to enter the Palenque ruins:
- 31MXN peso is paid as a government fee for accessing the site, which will give you a wristband you must keep on for the day.
- 65MXN peso is paid as your entry fee for the actual site (your entry ticket).
Got any inside tips on Palenque? Leave them below in the comments!