Ancient ruins hidden in the jungle, waterfalls flowing into pools perfect for swimming, monkeys howling in the trees, and jaguars prowling in the shadows. Palenque, Mexico is a magical destination that is best known for its famous Maya ruins, but there’s so much more to see here.
Palenque (pronounced pah-LEN-keh) is a town in Mexico’s southeastern state of Chiapas. It shares its name with the famous Palenque archeological ruins that are just on the outskirts of town, so don’t get confused.
There is the town of Palenque, Mexico and then there is the Palenque Archeological Zone. Check out our article on exploring the Palenque ruins for more info on the archeological zone.
Although many travelers choose to visit as a day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas, Palenque makes for the perfect base for exploring the surrounding jungle and its treasures and it’s worth staying a few days or more.
Looking for more things to do in Chiapas? Check out these articles:
- 11 Amazing Things to Do in Chiapas, Mexico
- Ultimate Guide to San Cristobal de las Casas
- 7 Best Things to do in Comitan
- How to Visit San Juan Chamula
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How to Get to Palenque, Mexico
A common way to get to Palenque is to find a cheap flight to Tuxtla Gutierrez (TGZ) in Chiapas and explore the southern part of the state before making your way north to Palenque and towards the Yucatan Peninsula.
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If you’re in San Cristobal de las Casas, you can take the ADO bus from San Cristobal to Palenque. It takes 10 hours, double the time it does to drive a rental car, because the bus avoids the direct route through Ocosingo since there have been some issues with roadblocks due to protests. This is the same reason why we don’t recommend taking a colectivo on this route, but some people do.
Check out our guide to ADO buses for everything you need to know about the buses in southern Mexico.
Get your bus tickets online here.
Another great option is to take this day tour from San Cristobal de las Casas to Palenque and make it a one-way transfer. Let them know beforehand that you’ll be staying in Palenque and don’t need return transportation.
Best Time to Visit Palenque
Since it is in the middle of the jungle, Palenque has a tropical climate and it can get very hot and humid. There is no actual dry season and the rainiest months are June through October.
The best time to visit Palenque is from November through March for “cooler” weather (around 75-80 F) and less rain.
Where to Stay in Palenque
Palenque is a popular tourist destination in Mexico and has plenty of accommodations including hotels, hostels, and vacation rentals. There are good places to stay in town, especially around La Cañada, but also some great lodging options in the jungle along the road where you can walk or take a quick taxi or colectivo to the ruins.
Most of the budget jungle cabins are in a tourist area called El Panchan. But there are very few restaurants and stores here, so it’s a great option for those looking for a jungle escape who don’t mind taking a colectivo or taxi to town.
Hotels in Palenque
Hotel Boutique Quinta Chanabnal: luxurious Mayan-style hotel in the jungle with stunning landscaping, pools, and waterfalls
Hotel Maya Bell: mid-range hotel with a pool that’s only a 20-minute walk along the jungle road to the archeological ruins
Kin Balam Cabañas: budget-friendly private and shared bungalows with a pool along the jungle road with easy access to colectivos
VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) rentals are a good choice for finding a place to stay in Palenque. Vacation rentals offer a better value compared to most hotels and you get to experience life like a local.
Where to Eat in Palenque
If you want to get a taste of the local Chiapaneco specialities, head to the food stalls in the main plaza, also known as the Parque Central.
Another good local’s favorite is Tropitacos. They sell tacos, delicious licuados (fruit smoothies) and aguas frescas (fresh fruit water drinks). It’s located right on the main street in town, Boulevard Juarez.
Read Next: Ultimate Guide to Traditional Mexican Drinks
Best Things to Do in Palenque
There are so many things to do near Palenque that it’s hard to choose! It makes an excellent base for exploring all the natural wonders in northern Chiapas, like waterfalls and hidden jungle ruins. We ended up extending our trip because we kept finding more things to do here.
See the Palenque Archeological Ruins
The Palace temple at the Palenque archeological ruins is one of the most iconic sights in Mexico. At its height, Palenque was one of the Mayan civilization’s most important cities. The archeological zone is part of the Palenque National Park, so expect to see toucans fly by and spot howler monkeys swinging in the trees. The Palenque ruins are definitely one of the top 3 ruins to visit in Mexico and an experience you won’t soon forget.
It really is worthwhile to hire a guide for the ruins. They walk with you and point out fascinating details about the inscriptions and teach you about the history and culture to help you get a much better understanding of Palenque and the civilization that built it. It’s best to hire an official guide ahead of time so you don’t have to go through the hassle of finding one that speaks English onsite.
Visit the Palenque Museum
Access to the Alberto Ruz L’Huillier Palenque Site Museum is included in your entry fee to the archeological zone. Many people seem to skip it, but don’t! We enjoyed visiting this museum and learning more about the ancient ruins we had just explored. It’s filled with artifacts and fascinating historical and cultural exhibits about Palenque. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm.
Read Next: Guide to Exploring the Palenque Ruins
Spend an Afternoon at Aluxes Ecoparque
This is a great place to see the animals that live in the surrounding Lacandon jungle in their natural habitat. The animals at Aluxes Ecoparque are all rescued and well cared for. It’s a non-profit organization and your entrance fee goes towards conservation and rescuing more exotic animals from mistreatment.
Stroll Around Parque Central
Take some time to walk around town. Take a walk from the Maya head (in front of the bus station) along the main boulevard and down to the Parque Central. There you’ll find plenty of vendors and activity.
You can take a look inside the Church of Santo Domingo and sit in the park while enjoying some street food.
If you want to get a better feel for daily life in Palenque, head over to the local municipal market, Mercado Guadalupe. The markets in Mexico always have the most delicious food!
Experience the Lacandon Jungle
An awesome way to explore the Lacandon Jungle is to take this full-day rafting and hiking tour. It includes pickup in Palenque, a 2.5 hour rafting adventure down the Lacanjá River, and a hike to hidden ruins, a visit to an indigenous village, and a dip in a waterfall.
La Selva Lacandona is one of the last-remaining rainforests where jaguars live. It stretches from Mexico into Guatemala and up into the Yucatan Peninsula.
There are Maya villages where you can go for a jungle hike to waterfalls with a local Lacandon guide or rent a cabin to stay the night.
Explore the Bonampak and Yaxchilan Ruins
This is the closest you’ll get to an authentic Indiana Jones adventure! The Maya ruins at Bonampak and Yaxchilan are deep in the jungle and visiting is an unforgettable experience.
Even just getting to them is an adventure in itself. You take a boat ride along the Usumacinta River to get to Yaxchilan, then take Lacandon transport through the heart of the jungle to reach Bonampak.
Although both archeological sites are deep in the Lacandon rainforest, you can book a day trip to see Bonampak and Yaxchilan from Palenque.
See the Misol-Ha and Agua Azul Waterfalls
There are countless cascadas (waterfalls) in this jungle paradise, but the most well known are Cascadas Misol-Ha and Agua Azul. They’re both located south of Palenque and a quick day trip away.
The easiest way to see these is to take a day tour to the waterfalls from Palenque.
You can also catch a colectivo in town to get to the falls. The colectivo makes stops along the way so the ride from Palenque takes about 1.5 hours one-way to Agua Azul and about 45 minutes to Misol-Ha.
Read Next: Get Covered in Mist at Cascada Misol-Ha
There are other beautiful waterfalls a bit more off the beaten path, like Roberto Barrios and Welib Ja. Or you can take a tour to Metzabok Lagoon (a truly off the beaten path adventure).
Final Thoughts on Palenque, Mexico
All in all, we were happily surprised by Palenque town! The town itself may not be as charming as Comitan or San Cristobal de las Casas, but there are lots of authentic restaurants and many things to do in and around town.
We recommend staying at least a few days and exploring the magical ruins, waterfalls, and Lacandon jungle in this part of Chiapas, Mexico.
Have you visited the town of Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico? Share your travel tips in the comments below.