The Palenque ruins are some of my all-time favorites. Picture this: You’re standing in front of some of the most impressive ancient temples you’ve ever seen, surrounded by a lush jungle, with the sound of howler monkeys nearby.
The main temple at the Palenque ruins is one of the most iconic Mexican sights. But, the site is also spectacular because it is part of the Palenque National Park (which is home to toucans, monkeys, and all kinds of jungle animals) and has an exceptional museum all about the ancient Maya of Palenque. The Palenque ruins are definitely one of the top 3 ruins to visit in Mexico and one you won’t soon forget.
How to Get to Palenque Ruins
The Palenque ruins are located in the jungle on the outskirts of the town of Palenque, Mexico. Palenque is located about a 5-hour drive north of the colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico’s southernmost state, Chiapas.
By Colectivo: Take any of the colectivo (shared) vans along calle central (main boulevard) in Palenque town that say “Ruinas” across the front window (about 15 min. away from ruins). They charge about $25 pesos per person and do continuous loops from the town to the ruins.
By Taxi: Private taxis are also available in town to take you to the ruins.
The Road to Palenque Ruins
On your way to the Palenque ruins, you’ll be entering the Palenque National Park and will pay around $27 pesos per person for the park entrance fee. We were there before they opened and were waved through without paying.
If you want to do your own 100% gratis jungle walk, get dropped off at the trailhead for Sendero Moteipa. It’s marked with a sign along the road and takes you to the Moteipa Waterfalls. Turn left after reaching the waterfalls to take the path back to the main road towards the entrance to the ruins.
Follow the road until it dead-ends at the main entrance and parking lot for the Palenque ruins.
Entering the Ruins
Once you arrive at the entrance to the Palenque ruins, you’ll get offers for guided tours of the ruins themselves and separate tours for jungle walks. The guided tour of the ruins is 2 hours long and costs about $1,200 pesos.
The entry fee for the Palenque archeological zone is $70 pesos per person (as of Dec. 2018) and includes the entrance to the on-site museum. The ruins are open every day from 8 am to 4:30 pm, even on holidays.
We were there right after Christmas, during one of the busiest times of the year, so we arrived about 30 minutes before opening time and there were already a few people waiting in line. We were able to hire a Spanish-speaking guide for $800 pesos total and split the cost with 2 other travelers.
The entrance to the site has bathrooms, multiple souvenir shops, and food vendors. There are also bathrooms inside the site.
A Bit of Palenque’s History
Along with Calakmul and Tikal, Palenque was one of the most powerful cities in the ancient Maya world. Its greatest ajaw, or king, was K’inich Janaab’ Pakal and known as Pakal the Great.
His tomb and stunning carved sarcophagus were discovered inside the Temple of Inscriptions in 1952 by the archeologist Alberto Ruz L’Huillier. His body was found covered by a jade suit held together by gold wire and his face had a mask made up of 340 hand-carved pieces of jade. Pretty fancy, if you ask me!
Pakal the Great ruled Palenque for almost 80 years (basically his entire life) and began the construction of his tomb (the Temple of Inscriptions), while he was still alive. Palenque reached its peak during Pakal’s reign, due in part to his focus on the construction of great buildings and the expansion of the city.
Exploring the Palenque Ruins
The well-treaded path to the ruins lead us deep into the Lacandon jungle. One of the last rainforests inhabited by jaguars. The roaring sound of the howler monkeys reverberated throughout the jungle.
The morning mist was still floating on top of the lush jungle, creating a mystical backdrop to the impressive Maya ruins that lay ahead.
We walked onto the main plaza and stood in awe at the sight of one of the most iconic Maya temples in Mexico: the Temple of the Inscriptions in Palenque.
To its right sat the Temple of the Red Queen (Templo de la Reina Roja) and the central complex known as The Palace (El Palacio) was to the left.
The few buildings that have been uncovered are all very well restored, making it a little easier to imagine what life must have looked like for the ancient Maya in this massive city.
Take some time exploring the site. Walk along the ancient aqueduct and take the paths that lead into the hidden ruins in the jungle.
Palenque Site Museum
Once you’ve explored all of the buildings, aqueducts, and crumbling ruins (and have spotted at least one toucan or monkey), you can take a quick hike down a well-marked trail (past the interior bathrooms) to the “Alberto Ruz Lhuillier” Palenque Site Museum. The trail passes through waterfalls, jungle streams, and more ruins. We highly recommend you take this route to the museum.
The “Alberto Ruz Lhuillier” Palenque Site Museum is one of the best we’ve seen at an archeological zone in Mexico. In other words, don’t miss it!
Admission is included in the 75 pesos entrance fee to the ruins. It’s open from 9 am to 5 pm, Tuesday through Sunday (closed on Mondays). Most signs and descriptions inside are in English and Spanish.
The museum houses about 234 artifacts from all over Palenque. Remember, the site itself is much larger than the small area that has been uncovered and restored. It explains the history of the city itself, the culture, religious beliefs and practices, and other aspects of the ancient Maya society in Palenque.
My favorite part of the museum was the reconstruction of Pakal’s tomb, giant sarcophagus and all. The real tomb is still inside the temple due to its giant size and weight. You get a true sense of the splendor of this historical find.
What to Do After Visiting Palenque Ruins
After you’re done with the ruins and museum, we highly recommend visiting Aluxes Ecoparque Palenque on the road back into town. It’s a wonderful animal rescue and conservation center that’ll give you a chance to see most of the animals that inhabit the Lacandon jungle. The entry “donation” is $150 pesos per adult and it used to help support their work.
Tips for Visiting Palenque Ruins
- Protect yourself from mosquitoes! Wear repellant and cover your limbs as much as possible. There were tons of mosquitoes when we visited and it wasn’t even mosquito season.
- Wear shoes adequate for climbing temples, exploring ruins and hiking through the jungle.
- Be prepared for heat and humidity.
- As usual, bring water. In case you forget, there are vendors outside the site, but it’s always best to bring your own reusable bottle.
- Wear sunscreen. There is plenty of shade at this site, so you don’t have to worry too much about getting scorched by the sun, like at Monte Alban.
- Allow plenty of time to explore this site. We were there for about 3 or 4 hours and I still don’t feel like that was enough.
The jaw-dropping ruins at Palenque and the amazing museum are definitely one of the top spots to visit in Mexico. Make sure to add these to your itinerary if you’re in the area (and if you’re not, at least try to make it there for a day). It’s totally worth going out of your way to see this ancient Maya city and hike up temples in the middle of the Lacandon jungle.
Planning a trip to Palenque? Let us know below if you have any questions.