Palenque: sights, excursion tips and accommodation
Palenque is world famous for the beautiful ruins, which are located a stone’s throw from the city of the same name. Many tourists have this on their list, and only stay in Palenque for a short time. Unjust in our opinion. Palenque is perfect for a longer stay. In addition to the ruins, there are still plenty of opportunities to make beautiful trips. Beautiful waterfalls where you can swim, an adventurous excursion to the jungle towns of Yaxchilan and Bonampak, or a visit to a small, but nice eco-park: Palenque has it all!
To See and Do in Palenque
The ruins of Palenque, the museum and the eco-park are within walking distance of each other. These are 6 km from the city, so if you’re staying in the city itself, take a collectivo (or your rental car). If you’re staying in the hotels on the way to the ruins, get to these sights on foot. Agua Azules, Misol Ha and Roberto Barrios are outside the city; you can do this on your own with your own transport, or you can book an excursion. You cannot undertake the excursion to Yaxchilan and Bonampak yourself.
The ruins of Palenque
Palenque was an important city before anyone even heard of Chitzen Itza. Inscriptions found at Palenque indicate that the city was a regional capital between 300 BC and 250 AD. Much of what is known about the rulers of Palenque comes from the texts in the Temple of the Inscriptions. This temple was built as a funerary monument to Pakal the Great, who has recorded detailed information about his ancestors and the history of Palenque. Under Pakal the Great, who became ruler of Palenque in the year 615, a period of prosperity began. He reigned until 693 and most of the buildings we see today date from this period. There is also a temple group which was built by Pakal’s son.
The temples of Palenque are located in the middle of the jungle. You can still climb some buildings. Because they are a bit higher than the surrounding area, you have a beautiful view of the area. Keep your eyes and ears open during a visit: we spot howler monkeys, a colorful number of butterflies, and scarlet macaws. The Palenque Archaeological Site includes the following major structures:
- Temple of the Inscriptions: This is the largest pyramid of Palenque. It is the tomb of Pakal the Great. Here the tomb of the king was discovered. In addition, hieroglyphs were found, which tell about the history of Palenque (and Pakal itself of course)
- Temples of the Cross Group, i.e. the Temple of the Cross, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Foliated Cross
- The palace
- The Temple of the Skull
- Temple XIII, with the tomb of the red queen
- The Temple of the Jaguar
- Structure XII
Tips for visiting Palenque
Be on time
Palenque is a major landmark. Because Palenque is out of the way, most travelers stay overnight in the city itself. That also means that everyone is close to the ruins, unlike Uxmal or Chitzen Itza, which are often visited from Merida or the Riviera Maya. However, the following also applies here: be on time. The temple city opens at 8.00. Make sure you are on site before 8.00. You can then still avoid large crowds and you are ahead of the heat. Because the complex is so extensive, it is not that bad in the park itself, when it comes to crowds.
Lubricate anti-mosquito spray
Actually always valid in the jungle, but we like to repeat it: it is recommended to lubricate yourself well with anti-mosquito spray. Be sure to take extra with you during your visit.
Take enough water with you
Be sure to bring plenty of water with you during your visit. It can get really hot and you can climb a number of temples. So you put in more effort here than during a visit to Chitzen Itza.
Make sure you have good shoes
Flip flops or flip-flops aren’t going to get you up there, at least with a lot of effort. We are not saying that you should buy special, sturdy walking shoes. A good, comfortable shoe (may also be a sturdy sandal with a good sole) with which you can certainly climb well is recommended.
The museum at the ruins of Palenque
Many people skip this, incorrectly. You should not miss this after your visit to the ruins. Moreover, entrance to the museum is included in the entrance fee for Palenque. This museum is slightly in front of the ruined city and you can easily walk to it after your visit. The museum has a large and very well-preserved collection of Mayan artifacts. Obviously it’s not a Guggenheim or Louvre, but it’s unique in Mexico that artifacts could be kept so close to the site itself. The replica of Pakal’s tomb is huge and sublime.
Aluxes Eco Park
This is a very nice park to visit with children. Only animals that occur in Mexico are taken care of here. What is special is that injured animals are taken care of and cared for there. The goal of the eco-park is to release them back into the wild. With some specimens this does not work and these remain in the ecopark and you can therefore spot them. The accommodations are very spacious and natural. There are also a number of animals semi-wild: the howler monkeys, for example, are allowed to move around freely, no cage, but also no defined area for them.
A successful reconstruction of a wetland has also been set up, where nature can take its course and there is therefore no intervention by humans or where animals are deliberately released. We found an agouti in the thick undergrowth, it was wild. Finally, Aluxes eco-park has been involved in a breeding and reintroduction program for scarlet macaws. At the moment, red macaws are flying around in Palenque again, making it one of the only places with a healthy, extensive population in Mexico. Entrance is 150 pesos, money well spent!
Agua Azules and Misol Ha
Agua Azul is a succession of waterfalls in beautiful shades of azure blue and unearthly beautiful colors The water splashes down through various terraces and floors. A very beautiful face. You can visit it all year round, but in the dry season the water is at its bluest. In the rainy season, the colorless rainwater mixes with the blue water and looks a bit paler. In the lower part you can swim. The waterfall of Misol Ha is 35 meters high and forms a small lake below, where you can swim. It is also nice that you can walk behind the waterfall. Both sights are about an hour and a half away from each other, but are often combined in a day trip, which you can book here.
Where many tourists take a day trip to Agua Azules and Misol-Ha, these waterfalls are mainly known by the local population, who come here to cool off. These waterfalls are therefore not crowded with tourists, but certainly just as beautiful. Here too, the water splashes down in various terraces and floors. You can swim here and even jump off the rocks (ask the locals). You pay 10 pesos entrance and 20 pesos to the guys you meet along the way and who pull up a chain (yes really). A kind of toll to drive through their village haha.
Excursion Bonampak and Yaxchilan
If you think Palenque is already Indiana Jones-esque, with the excursion to Bonampak and Yaxchilan you are far removed from civilization. We did not meet anyone who tried to undertake this excursion on their own; you are dependent on different means of transport and therefore also agreements, to get to your destinations. Everything is included in the excursion price, including entrance fees, breakfast and lunch. Below I briefly describe the excursion. The visits can also be done in reverse order. that means visiting Bonampak and the Lacandon Reserve first and then Yaxchilan after lunch. In any case, the same is always discussed during the excursions. You leave early in the morning (5.00) and then drive to a roadhouse, where you get breakfast. On and on, until you can’t go any further: you have arrived at the Usumacinta River, which forms the border between Guatemala and Palenque. Here, transfer to a boat for a one-hour cruise to the ruins of Yaxchilan. These are only accessible by boat and are overgrown by jungle.
You will then return with the same boat. It’s already time for lunch. Then the driver will drive to the Lacandon reservation, where the Lacandon Indians live. These stick to their traditions and live in the jungle; they are the closest to the ancient Maya of the still living Amerindian peoples in Mexico. Here you will transfer to a van driven by a member of the Lacandon community: this is their property. He will take you to Bonampak, where you can view beautiful frescoes. These are unique in Mexico, in no other Mayan temple you can see them! If there is still time left, you can also take a walk through the Lacandon Reserve. Count on a good 13 (!) hours to make this excursion. In the evening you come back tired, but satisfied. And you fall asleep like a log!
Below are a number of tips and practical information regarding the climate, restaurants and shopping options.
The weather in Palenque
Palenque is located in the rainforest and has a tropical climate. It is warm, the average temperature is 28 degrees and hardly fluctuates through the months. Even at night it hardly cools down. August, September and October are known as the rainy season; it normally rains a little more than usual. We were in Palenque in August and didn’t have a drop of rain. If it rains, it is usually a short shower in the afternoon.
Palenque is not a city you go to for shopping. You come here for the immense ruins and the overwhelming nature. Do you want to buy a souvenir? That is best done in the park itself, but the message is haggling!
Monte Verde Trattoria Pizzeria Italiana: This is an Italian restaurant, with a Mediterranean atmosphere…in Palenque. Located in a beautiful jungle setting, it is very atmospheric.
Restaurante Bajlum: This restaurant is also in a jungle location. The menu is in Spanish, but they help you with everything. Hugely extensive choice, both Mexican food and international dishes. They serve very original gourmet dishes. These are a must!
Café Jade: Tasty Mexican food, but you can also enjoy international dishes here. Moreover, there are some vegetarian options, not always easy in Mexico. You can also just go there for a drink and a small snack.
Don Mucho´s: This restaurant is also located in the jungle, just before the entrance to the Palenque ruins. Service is fast and the cuisine is international. A large, open space, with lights, candles and live music. Very atmospheric.
Staying in Palenque
The climate of Palenque is very warm, say hot, with high humidity. Palenque is located in the middle of the jungle and some hotels have a lush jungle garden. I have selected all hotels with a nice swimming pool for you.
Budget hotel tip: Hotel Mallorca**
This lovely hotel with a score of 8.3 has a swimming pool and a terrace. It also has a good location close to shops, restaurants, the ADO bus station. You can park for free, the air conditioning works fine, the staff gives you a warm welcome. Rooms are available from €32 for a double room and, yes, €32 for a quadruple room. A bargain for families! Book Hotel Mallorca** quickly!
Hotel tip: Hotel Mision Palenque****
Once again a lovely spot in an excellent location! This hotel has it all: a very nice swimming pool, a wellness area, a beautiful tropical garden (bird watching!), a very good restaurant on site, and a great atmosphere! You park in front of the door. You have a double room from €36, a quadruple room from €54. Highly recommended, Hotel Mision Palenque****, with an 8.5 on Booking.com!
We chose: Hotel la Aldea del Halach Huinic****
A mouthful this hotel. It is therefore really a topper, where you can celebrate your holiday in style. This paradise with an 8.7 on Booking.com is really wonderful! A very nice swimming pool, a wellness and a large, tropical garden, what more could you want? The rooms are very nicely furnished, with top air conditioning, you can park in front of the door. The hotel can give you many tips for trips and can also organize them for you if you wish! Cost: from €63 for a double room, from €91 for a quadruple room. Book Hotel la Aldea del Halach Huinic**** quickly, because the hotel is very popular!
From Palenque you can travel on to other places in the country. This can be done by public transport (with the ADO bus) or by rental car. We went by rental car to the little visited, surprisingly beautiful Calakmul.
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