The main tourist attraction in Palenque is, of course, the ruins for which the town and park are named. Palenque was a city-state that flourished from around 260 BC to AD 800, and upon its decline was absorbed into the jungle from which it was constructed (Wikipedia). The archaeological site of Palenque is considerably smaller than Chichen Itza or Coba, other ruins of the Mayan empire around the same period; however, it is said that the excavated pyramids display a mere ten percent of structures left to be uncovered. The architecture of the ruins is very unique and well preserved, and the large number of glyphs both on the pyramids and around the site has been integral in recounting the history of the city, its rulers, and the lives of its inhabitants.
Palenque’s ruins are by far the most beautiful ruins I have seen as they are surrounded by jungle and covered by lush green grasses and mosses. They cover one side of a mountain face and contain a large waterfall and pool system that accompanies visitors in their descent from the main pyramids to the smaller structures and finally to the exit of the main national park road. All but one of the pyramids can be climbed by visitors, each summit offering a different yet mesmerizing view of the other pyramids and the surrounding jungle. Many guests often sit on the top of a pyramid and meditate to the sounds of waterfalls and bird calls.
From Palenque centro there are collective vans that bring visitors the 7 km scenic route to the ruins for a low price of 30 pesos. There are also many visitors who rent cars and locals that live along the route that gladly give rides if you would like to take a chance on hitch hiking. The entrance fee to the ruins is 70 pesos which also includes entry to a highly informative archeology museum located directly across from the ruins’ exit. To enter the national park in which the ruins are located there is an additional cost of 27 pesos per person.
The ruins are open daily from 8 am – 4:30 pm and the national park itself closes around 9 pm, although since there are campsites and communities inside of the national park, people are free to cross at any hour. I would recommend getting a collective to the ruins in the morning and then staying to explore the surrounding rainforest and waterfalls within the area on foot before grabbing a collective van or hitching a ride out of the park at dusk.
There are two different waterfall locations that can be easily accessed on foot within the national park; one is located about 1 km from the entrance of the national park and the other is located halfway up the adjacent mountain to which the ruins are located. Both waterfalls are unmarked and not visible from the road but do not require much of a hike into the jungle to find them. There are tour guides both within the ruins and at the waterfalls adjacent to them if you are interested in a longer jungle hike where you will encounter all sorts of wildlife that may include spider monkeys, howler monkeys, an assortment of vibrantly colored beetles, birds, frogs, and if you’re lucky, a jaguar! Both waterfalls have various steps each with a small wading pool. The waterfalls closer to the ruins contain red clay bottoms which are great for face masks; scoop up some clay from the bottom of a pool, coat your face or any part of your body and bask in the sun for as long as you wish before washing the clay off and marveling at how soft your skin feels.
Palenque is the most magical and beautiful meeting point of history and nature. Visit these incredible ruins in the morning and traverse the lush jungle all afternoon all for under 200 pesos!
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