Palenque: Mayan Ruins in the Jungle
We cannot even count how many Mayan ruins we saw when traveling in Mexico, but we couldn't get tired of it. Jungle-covered Ruins of Palenque in the Chiapas state are not on the usual backpacker's trail but are worth visiting. Read our guide on how to enjoy Palenque Ruins the best.
That's being said Palenque Ruins are for sure not unknown but are often visited by groups rather than by individual travelers because the Chiapas state of Mexico is one of the least visited parts of the country, as it takes time to get there and the safety situation has worsened lately.
But if you want to see beautiful atmospheric Mayan ruins, waterfalls deep in the jungle nearby, and want to help the local economy (Chiapas has the highest poverty rate among all Mexican states), Palenque is for sure the place where you should be.
Although we'd already visited quite a lot of ruins in Mexico or Guatemala, we still can remember each and every one.
Mayan Ruins for sure have similar elements, but also many details which set them aside and Palenque Ruins are unique in their own way.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF PALENQUE RUINS
Palenque site was inhabited from 226 BC to 799 AD, but the city was on the top of its power in the 7th century.
In this area, there were smaller or bigger cities competing for the leadership, among the most important ones belonged Calakmul, Palenque, Tikal and later Tonina, nowadays another archeological site near Palenque Ruins. Palenque city thrived thanks to its rulers, and to prove their power, they built many impressive structures with carvings and paintings we can admire even today.
Palenque was several times defeated by Calakmul, but the last war with the city of Tonina was fatal, and Palenque came to an end similarly as Tikal.
People living here slowly abandoned the site, and the jungle quickly took over the reign.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN PALENQUE RUINS
We decided to explore Palenque Ruins on own, so we had two options on how to start our visit.
We opted to go to see the ruins first and later go to the museum. In case you want to see the museum before the archeological site, ask the driver to drop you off there otherwise, you will have to retrace your steps a bit.
We arrived early (the site opens at 8 AM and closes at 4:30 PM) as we wanted to beat the tour groups, experience the site without vendors (who can sell inside the site) who were not ready that early in the morning, plus the light for taking photos was much softer.
We were not able to beat the heat at this time of the year, though.
The first thing we couldn't miss was the large building consisting of several temples.
When approaching those temples, we had goosebumps because the view was utterly breathtaking.
One of them was the Temple of the Skulls named after an animal skull relief sculpture found at the base of one pillar. The other temple worth mentioning is the Temple of Inscriptions, the burial pyramid which got its name because of the second longest carved inscription in Mexico.
Next to two temples stands the Palace where we continued soon.
The Palace was one of the most famous structures in Palenque from where the king ruled, we admired here the four-story tower which served back then as a watchtower, and we also had a nice view of the whole site.
Don't rush, as there are many details carved into Palace's walls, and the Palace was one of the most fascinating structures we've seen in Mexico.
Then we crossed the creek dividing the grounds into two halves and headed to another astonishing part of the Palenque Ruins.
This group of structures is called Grupo de las Cruces alias Group of Crosses, and it consists of several pyramids - we could climb most of them. If we can recommend one site you should climb, it would be the Temple of the Cross from where we got perfect vistas over the whole archeological site.
Later, when we soaked in the atmosphere, we continued the less traveled path via North Group to the museum.
This part of Palenque Ruins is not that well-preserved, and you still can see from time to time how structures fight hard not to be buried under the roots. When you walk to the museum, you don't need to return via the main entrance but continue around Group A, B, and C through the jungle (this section is short and not challenging, no worries), you will cross the river again, and when lucky, you can see a waterfall.
We were in Mexico at the end of the dry season, and the waterfall was dry.
After fifteen or so minutes you will emerge on the road - cross it, and continue to the museum if you want.
We were quite surprised by how large the museum was. There were no visitors, and the exhibition was pretty entertaining.
Big plus that information boards were translated to English. The highlight of visiting the museum is a massive stone tomb of one of Palenque rulers, Lord Pakal.
After we were done, we walked outside the museum and waited for a van going back to the town.
ENTRANCE FEE TO PALENQUE RUINS
We sometimes did not understand the system of pricing management in Mexico.
Some ruins such as famous Chichen Itza or beautiful Uxmal were quite overpriced while other, equally beautiful places did not cost much. Admission fee to Palenque Ruins is Mx 75, plus you need to pay the entrance fee to the National Park of Palenque cost Mx 36.
Totally we paid Mx 111 each.
The ticket includes the entrance to the archeological site and the museum outside.
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HOW TO GET TO PALENQUE RUINS FROM PALENQUE TOWN
Palenque Ruins are only 5 kilometers away from the town, and it is easy to get there either when you travel by your rental car or if you need to rely on public transport.
Rental Car | We noticed that the most popular way on how to get around Mexico is via rental car. It is comfortable, effective, and we recommend to rent a car, especially for families with kids as you will save a lot of time. You can drive from Palenque to the ruins and park your car in front of the entrance.
Public Transport | Getting to the Palenque Ruins was so straightforward that we couldn't even believe it. It is usually not like that. Frequent minivans with a sign Ruinas or Palenque Ruins stop in front of ADO bus terminal near the roundabout every now and then, and we had to wait like two minutes before the van pulled over. One ride cost Mx 40 and takes around 20 minutes. Generally, you can wait for the ride anywhere on the road leading to the ruins and just flag down the driver. The price is not expansive but not cheap either when considering the distance (and locals pay much less as well), but it is the most budget way how to get to the ruins.
Tour | It doesn't make sense to take a tour from Palenque to the ruins because it is so close. If you want a guide, you can hire one in front of the entrance. But you can take a tour in case you want to visit other points of interests near Palenque, waterfalls Misol-Ha and Agua Azul.
In case you want to visit Palenque ruins on a one-day trip from San Cristobal, you can reserve your tour here.
HOW TO GET TO PALENQUE
After more than two weeks we left the Yucatan Peninsula behind and headed to Palenque, the town which is well-known for the ruins, but still is quite off the beaten path, hidden in a sweaty jungle of Mexico's Chiapas State.
Backpacking in Mexico was quite easy because public transport is efficient and reliable. You can get to Palenque via a direct bus from either Merida or Campeche - both are pretty colonial cities with Mayan ruins nearby.
When traveling to Palenque from the opposite direction, the situation is a bit more complicated because the road between popular town San Cristobal de las Casas via Ocosigno to Palenque is not safe lately mostly because of road blockades and armed gangs patrolling this stretch of the road.
You can either risk it and take a van to Palenque (robberies are common at night, so increase your safety by traveling during the day) or take an ADO bus which makes a detour via Tuxtla and Villahermosa.
Palenque also has a small domestic airport, in case your time is limited, and you would like to visit the ruins either from Mexico City or Cancun.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A ONE-DAY TRIP TO PALENQUE RUINS
Palenque Ruins are located in the jungle, so be ready for hot and sweaty weather all year round.
From May to October lasts rainy season when you can experience wet afternoons and storms. Palenque Ruins are close to Palenque, and you will most likely spend there anything between three to four hours, so you don't need to pack much.
Here are five essential things to pack with you when visiting Palenque Ruins.
- Camera | Try to arrive early in the morning or later in the afternoon to take beautiful photos of the ruins with soft light.
- Tank Top for Him & for Her | It was way too hot in Palenque to wear anything else but tank top and shorts.
- Water Bottle | We really liked traveling in Mexico for many reasons. One of the was that we always received drinking water in our accommodation, and did not have to buy plastic bottles. Pack your water bottle with you.
- Daypack for Him & for Her | No matter where we go, we always bring along a quality daypack with a good back support.
- Bug Repellent | You are in the jungle and mosquitos are ruthless, especially in the rainy season.
WHERE TO STAY IN PALENQUE
Although Palenque is not exactly on the backpackers' trail, many people make a worthwhile detour to see famous Palenque Ruins are waterfalls nearby. Travelers can find here more and more accommodation options, and the standard of hotels is increasing as well.
Here you can find three best hotels in Palenque for every budget.
Budget | Hotel Naj Kin - The hotel is centrally located and within walking distance from ADO bus terminal. Rooms are clean, and all of them have a private bathroom for a very cheap rate.
Mid-range | Hotel Maya Rue - Close to the center of Palenque town, this well-rated hotel offers the best value for money in Palenque. Air-conditioned rooms and complimentary breakfast are nice touches.
Luxury | Hotel Boutique Quinta Chanabnal - Excellent hotel set in a tropical garden has an outstanding room design, outdoor pool, and spa.
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