Located in the tropical lowlands of Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas, Palenque was an important seat of power during the Classic Maya period, seeing its peak between 226-799 C.E.

The city was later abandoned in 900C.E, the reasons for which are still largely unknown, although some studies suggest that drought was a possible cause. It is now preserved as part of Palenque National Park.

Palenque’s hieroglyphs, particularly on the aptly-named Temple Inscriptions, are some of the best sources of information about Maya life. They tell of everything from trade, war and even marital bonds between different cities. This same temple was also home to the tomb of the emperor Pakal, rediscovered in 1952. An important emperor, who lived until he was 80, he was found wearing a mask of jade and with the sarcophagus lid intricately carved with what some new age theorists would later claim was an image of him piloting a spaceship. The tomb can no longer be entered but you are still allowed to climb many of the structures.

Only 10% of the city is believed to have been excavated, but if you feel like exploring further you can walk along the paths into the jungle to find streams, waterfalls and make guesses about which mounds are likely to be hiding Maya structures underneath.

Relief detail of the mayan temple ruins at Palenque in Mexico

Relief detail of the Maya hieroglyphs at Palenque

How to get to Palenque

Palenque now has a small airport with infrequent arrivals from Mexico City, Cancun and Tuxtla Gutierrez (Chiapas’s capital). There are also overnight first class ADO busses from Cancun (roughly 13 hours) and Merida (roughly eight hours).

Tours from San Cristobal in Chiapas take in Palenque and the Agua Azul waterfalls and start at $40/£30. However, it is worth noting that these tours require a start time of 4am since Palenque is a five-hour drive from San Cristobal. It is also important to note that these tours drive the most direct route which passes through an area with land conflict issues. Often there is no problem, but sometimes there can be roadblocks and more occasionally violence.

Travellers sometimes choose to take the longer route to Palenque from San Cristobal (around 10 hours) and stay in the local town for a couple of nights. Small combi vans run the 4.5 miles back and forth from Palenque town to the archeological site throughout the day.

The site entrance fee is $111 pesos ($5.50/£4), $36 pesos to enter the national park and $75 to enter Palenque itself. The fee includes access to the museum which can be found on the road into the site. English speaking guides who can be contracted at the entrance usually charge around $500 pesos ($24/£17.50) but prices can vary depending on the size of the group.

It is worth putting aside at least two and a half hours to visit Palenque. If you want to explore further into the surrounding jungle paths and/or visit the museum then you may want to set aside half a day.

The town of Palenque offers little more than a few restaurants, hotels and shops, so you may choose to stay instead at a hotel on the route into Palenque. From some of these hotels you can walk through the jungle to reach the site, passing waterfalls and checking out the flora and fauna.

About the author

Visiting The Ruins At Palenque

Susannah Rigg

Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist based in Mexico City. Her work has been featured by Condé Nast Traveller, CNN, BBC Travel and AFAR among others. She has visited 26 of Mexico’s 32 states and is captivated by Mexico’s rich Mesoamerican history.

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