We decided to make a visit to the Mayan ruins at Palenque the main ruins we spent time at during our trip to Mexico. While others in the states of Yucatán and Chiapas such as Chichén Itzá, Uxmal or Yaxchilan are popular with visitors, we chose to focus on Palenque for several reasons: it is surrounded by jungle, it is less busy than some other sites and it is easily accessible from the nearby town of the same name which has plenty of hotels where we could stay.
The reason the ruins are in the middle of the jungle is because the city of Palenque (known formerly in Yucatec Maya as Bàac) was not inhabited at the time of the Spanish colonisation of Mexico. It was abandoned in the 8th century and in the intervening centuries, was consumed by the jungle. Even now, archaeologists believe that only 10% of the area of the former city has been uncovered, meaning that there are likely still hundreds of structures hidden in the jungle.
The main buildings that you’ll see when you visit the Mayan ruins at Palenque are all relatively close together. Two hours should be enough to see most of what is currently visible.
Temple of the Inscriptions
The main pyramid you’ll see upon entering the park is the Temple of the Inscriptions. So called because the tomb within contains many unique examples of funerary iconography for the ruler Pakal, whom the pyramid was built for. You cannot ascend this pyramid, but it is an imposing sight to be met with as soon as you enter the area.
Built over 400 years before Palenque reached the height of its influence and importance in the 6th century, this is the largest and most diverse building that has been excavated at the site. Consisting of several adjoining buildings and courtyards, it’s a fascinating place to explore.
Temple of the Cross
A pyramid that you can walk up, the Temple of the Cross atop depicts the tree of creation, a central icon in Mayan mythology. The views from atop of the rest of the city and surrounding jungle are quite impressive and definitely worth the climb.
Temple of the Count
On the edge of the archaeological area, this smaller temple atop a very steep pyramid got its name from a French explorer, Jean-Frédéric Waldeck, who actually lived inside it for a while, and he claimed to be a count! It’s worth climbing up as it’ll get you away from some of the busier structures and offers nice, unobstructed views of the landscape.
Getting there and entry fees
We took a colectivo from downtown Palenque. There are white minivans marked Chamula that leave from the corner of Central Pte. and 3a Pte. Norte when full and cost M$10 (€0.45) per person, taking 20 minutes to get to the entrance to the archaeological park.
Like most public archaeological sites in Mexico, entry is M$70 for foreigners or $51 for Mexican citizens. Use of a video camera is M$41, though there didn’t seem to be anyone enforcing this fee.
The town of Palenque is a normal small Mexican town where people live that is neither particular beautiful nor ugly. It is divided into two distinct areas, La Cañada to the west near the bus station and Centro in the downtown area. La Cañada is where the nicer hotels are, and is generally quieter and more green whereas Centro is more urban and is full of shops and eateries mostly aimed at locals rather than tourists.
Of the few vegan food offerings, nothing really stands out. L’khofi in La Cañada had a few items that were easily veganisable and did a decent vegan burger (just ask for no cheese). Saraguato’s just across the street is a bit fancier and has one vegan item: also a vegan burger, which was average but nothing special. In Centro, Green Time did nice juices and had one or two vegan items which were a little different: vegan ceviche and vegan nachos. Neither were amazing, but both were adequate.
As for cafés for digital nomads like us, the only worthwhile one was the chain Italian Coffee in Centro, which had reliable wifi, power sockets, comfortable seats, air conditioning (very necessary!) and staff who didn’t care that we stayed for two hours on a cup of tea. Another potential work spot was Cafetos in La Cañada which had decent wifi and nice drinks but no power sockets or air conditioning.
We stayed in Centro because it offered better value and easy access to the conveniences of town. Our hotel, Maya Rue was fine, but there are certainly better options. Search for a Palenque hotel, B&B or guesthouse here.
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