Palenque is an ancient Mayan city located in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The archeological site provides a wide range of ancient tombs and constructions and is one of the most studied and written about Mayan sites and a prime example of a Mayan sanctuary.
Visiting ancient archeological sites has always been fascinating to me, especially the ones that I have seen in Mexico. I have visited the ruins of Coba and seen the gigantic pyramids of Teotihuacan, both outstanding places to visit, but they did not come to close to what I have seen in Palenque.
We stayed in a small hostel and travellers hangout named El Panchán, located roughly a 5 minute drive from Palenque city. The place is simple and rustique but provides a very convenient access to the close-by ruins. If you want meet like-minded and adventure-hungry people and want to experience staying in a real Mexican jungle (and all its noises), this definitely is the place to stay!
There are some taxis and combis which take you close to the archeological site’s main (upper) entrance and commute regularly between the city and the ruins. Upon arrival there are many stands and smaller shops which offer food and souvenirs, showing how popular this place has become as a tourist attraction. The best time to visit is in the mornings as the heat and crowd is still low.
We entered the compound (entrance around 50 Pesos I believe) and, despite of the large amounts of tourists, were fascinated by the site.
The ancient city of Palenque is located on small group of hills and stands amidst a dense jungle that has been covering this site for the past thousands of years. Hundred different ruins are expected to be located in this area but just a fraction of it has been excavated.
When walking around the ruins you realy drift off into a journey of time, imagining how the city life would have been back then. The now grey stones of the building were once covered in blood-red paint, elaborated with green, yellow and blue stuccos. The old stone carvings and bas-reliefs depict scenes and people from the ancient city. These architectual remains are all very well conserved and in a very good state. This is mostly because of the thick jungle vegetation that protected the buildings from being looted.
Many archeologists have studied these ruins and have established a detailed description of the different buildings in the area as well as the various rulers that have reigned over this city as of around 900 BC. The city had its height between AD 500 and 700 and had a very strong influence within the region.
Climbing up to one of the upper temples you can have a great view of the entire site. The thick jungle around the ruins are home to so called howler monkeys – famous for their loud howls which can still be heard kilometers away. The combination of listening to the monkeys howl and seeing these majestic old constructions is a very unique and incredible experience. It somehow felt like an adventurous mix of Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones!
The state of Chiapas has a huge variety of places to visit and things to see. It is probably one of the most diverse and culturally interesting states in all of Mexico. Palenque is truly an imcomparable achievement of Mayan Art. Visiting these ruins of Palenque is definitely on the list and should not be missed when traveling through this incredible state.