What to do and see in Palenque
Both a national park and a UNESCO world heritage site, Palenque is a must-see in Chiapas!
Although I had already visited the region a few years ago, I had not yet had the chance to see Palenque. Because you have to admit: the distances are long in Mexico and you need to have a little time in front of you to embark on a road trip to Chiapas.
So this time, finally, starting from Bacalar, we took the road to Palenque before continuing towards San Cristobal de las Casas.
The experience really exceeded my expectations, because beyond the archaeological site which is very interesting, I discovered other beautiful attractions in Palenque that I had not heard of!
So that you can see as much as possible during your visit, I have created this complete guide to Palenque with all the practical information for visiting the town of Palenque, the archaeological site and its other places of essential interest.
I explain how to get there by car, public transport or organized excursion, and I share my experience on the road between Ocosingo and Palenque that we often hear about.
I’ve also included my best restaurant and hotel recommendations for all budgets.
So, what to do and see in Palenque?
Book your tickets to Palenque
If you want to book your visit to Palenque now, without reading the article (although I advise you to do so, to learn more about the archaeological site and its practical information!), you can click on the ticket that suits you :
- Palenque Tour with One-Way Transportation – Day Starts in San Cristobal de las Casas and Ends in Palenque Town
- Excursion to Palenque with round-trip transport to San Cristobal de las Casas
The attractions of Palenque
1. The archaeological site of Palenque
Of course, the archaeological site is the main attraction of Palenque : it is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Mexico!
The pre-Hispanic city of Palenque is estimated to have been founded in the 1st century BC, but the buildings that can be seen today date from the 5th to 8th centuries.
It was one of the most developed cities in the Mayan world, like Calakmul and Tikal in Guatemala, with a complex social and religious structure.
The site stands out for its architecture and more precisely its hieroglyphs which provide valuable information about the city (calendar, history, rituals, etc.).
Buildings to see in Palenque
It is estimated that less than 10% of the city’s total area has been explored, but there is already much to see at the archaeological site.
Here are some of its main attractions:
Temple of Inscriptions
It is the most famous and photographed temple in Palenque. It is impossible to miss since it is very close to the entrance, but unfortunately you cannot access it.
The tomb of King K’inich Janaab’ Pakal I, also called Pacal the Great, was found there, with numerous offerings (jewelry, precious objects, etc.).
If you are passing through Mexico City, I really recommend visiting the Anthropology Museum.
It’s a huge and absolutely fantastic museum, where you can find a reproduction of the tomb of King Pakal with his famous jade mask. It’s worth the detour!
It is the largest complex in Palenque, which probably had political, administrative and even residential functions for the elite.
It is easily recognized with its 4-level tower, but there are also patios, underground corridors, temazcals, stairs, etc.
The Cross Complex
You absolutely must climb to the top of the Temple of the Cross because the view is magnificent: on the left you can see all the dense and magnificent vegetation, as well as the temple of the foliated cross, then on the right the temple of the sun and the temple XIV, with in the background the Palace.
This is the best place to take photos!
The North Group
Passing behind the Cross complex, and along the Palace, we arrive at the Mayan ball court and the North Group.
It is formed by 5 temples, the most important of which is the Temple of the Count. Fun fact: it owes its name to Jean-Frédéric Waldeck, a rather extravagant French explorer and cartographer who liked to be called “account” .
The Jungle Trail
For us, this walk in the jungle started a bit by chance, when a friend had a digestion problem and urgently ran to the toilet (yes, it happens! ).
I was waiting outside and noticed a small handwritten sign that said “cascadas” with an arrow. But the arrow seemed to lead to a renovation area so I didn’t pay too much attention to it.
Then, as the whole family finally decided to go to the toilet and I was really starting to get bored, I asked two workers if we could take this path – “Yes, it leads to the waterfall”
So to end our visit to Palenque, instead of heading back towards the exit, we decided to explore the trail instead. And what a great idea, because we loved it as much as the ruins!
The walk allows you to immerse yourself in the dense jungle where there are several structures covered with vegetation and immense trees that make us feel very small.
From the summit, the howler monkeys impose themselves, uttering loud cries that are initially intimidating, then, when you get used to them, simply fascinating.
The Palenque Museum
The Alberto Ruz Lhuiller Museum owes its name to the French-Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier who discovered the tomb of King Pakal in the Temple of Inscriptions in 1952.
It is considered one of the most important museums dedicated to the Mayan world with its collection of more than 200 artifacts found in different areas of Palenque.
There are 6 rooms which present different aspects of the city (war, gods, daily life, political life) as well as tombs including a reproduction of the Tomb of Pakal. It’s a must to do in Palenque!
- Entrance is included in your entry ticket to the archaeological site, but be careful the museum is closed on Mondays
My Impression on Palenque
It is one of the archaeological sites in Mexico that I like the most because it is not too big and therefore very pleasant to discover, in addition to having preserved a certain wild character with beautiful lush vegetation which surrounds it.
And above all: there are never as many visitors as at Chichen Itzá or Teotihuacan
We were 3 adults in their thirties, with two young people aged 14 and 11 and everyone loved it!
The Palenque Map
The map of Palenque, available on the site, where you can see all the structures accessible to the public.
How much does entry to Palenque cost?
You need to buy entrance tickets (2) to the structure with a red-orange roof that you will find to the right of the road, with ample parking. There is also the Palenque Museum.
At the counter, you must first pay the first entry (105 pesos for adults, or free for children aged 12 and under and seniors) which includes access to the ruins of Palenque and the Alberto Ruz Lhuiller Museum.
Then on your right, you will find another ticket office to pay for the second entrance, which is the entrance to the national park (90 pesos or free for those 13 and under, and for people 60 and over).
You will then have to take the road again (1.5km) to the entrance to the ruins of Palenque.
What are Palenque’s opening hours?
The Palenque archaeological site is open from Monday to Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last access at 4 p.m.) and the Palenque museum from Tuesday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
How to visit the ruins from the town of Palenque?
The Mayan ruins of Palenque are located 9km from the center of Palenque. Here’s how to get there:
- By car
The archaeological site of Palenque is only 15-20 minutes by car from the center of the town of Palenque following Carretera Palenque-Ruinas.
My tips for visiting Palenque by car:
- When you arrive at the entrance building, several people will wave to you (by calling out to you insistently) at the edge of the road. Don’t be surprised, you don’t need to stop, just keep going.
- There are two car parks in Palenque. The first is easily visible, on the left, but it fills up quickly. There is another one on the right, a little hidden, which is accessed by a small path just behind the toilets.
- Parking in Palenque is free. Yes, it is 100% free and don’t let yourself be intimidated by those who will tell you that you have to pay 50 pesos (supposedly for surveillance) that is completely false. Say “no” firmly, and don’t worry, it’s very safe, nothing will happen to your car.
- With an organized excursion
Taking an excursion to Palenque allows you to visit the archaeological site without worrying about organizing the day and transport.
Here are my recommendations for excursions to Palenque, from San Cristobal de las Casas or directly from the town of Palenque :
- Visit to the archaeological site of Palenque with pick-up from your hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas, visit to the Agua Azul and Misol-Ha waterfalls.
- By public transport
The cheapest way to get to the ruins is by taking a colectivo (white van).
There is a stop opposite the ADO bus station here.
It is possible that it will already be full by the time you arrive at the bus station (especially during holidays and weekends), the other option is to take it directly here.
It takes 15-20 minutes, 25 pesos one way.
2. Motiepá Trail
The Motiepá trail is located in Palenque National Park, very close to the archaeological site. So once you’ve paid for your entry to Palenque, it’s already included!
You can easily miss access to the trail if you don’t look to the side of the road, but there is an arch with a wooden sign that says “Sendero Motiepá”.
It is a well-marked trail that takes you through the jungle to the small Motiepá waterfall with its natural swimming pool and to the “Templo Olvidado”, a temple that was part of the Mayan city of Palenque. .
The walk is very nice and we only came across two couples in 1h30, so we really feel like we’re enjoying the jungle to the fullest, with the sound of the howler monkeys. What happiness!
The only problem is that there are no toilets on site, so if you are visiting Palenque with children, I suggest you go there before, for example to the archaeological site or to the museum at the entrance.
3. Aluxes Ecopark
If you are looking for what to do with your family in Palenque after visiting the ruins, this is the ideal activity!
It is a large park managed by a non-profit association which is responsible for rescuing animals which have been victims of cruelty (illegal trafficking, exploitation).
The association works with a team of veterinarians to feed them, care for them and rehabilitate them in their natural environment when possible.
In addition to saving animals, the association has allowed an entire ecosystem to regenerate, by planting more than 10,000 trees and plants, and creating different microclimates. This space today welcomes many animals who have made it their home.
There are two very easy paths to follow, a short road and a long road, which allow you to see parrots, crocodiles, monkeys in the trees, raccoons, pink flamingos, tapirs, jaguar, etc.
We were 3 adults and 2 young people (11 and 14 years old) and everyone loved the experience! On the other hand, towards the end we had to speed up our pace because the park was closing, so I suggest you calculate between 1h30 and 2h of visit to fully enjoy it.
- Admission: adult 180 pesos, child from 90cm to 1.30m 60 pesos, child under 90cm free.
- There are also night visits, but a minimum of 8 people is required (450 pesos for adults, or free for children under 90 cm)
- Open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last access 4:30 p.m.)
- Aluxes website
4. Ecomundo Park
It is a park for families, located near the archaeological site of Palenque.
There is a lake, a restaurant, waterfalls, suspension bridges, viewpoints, and the possibility of doing several activities (cycling, paddle boarding, kayaking, zip lining, guided hiking on the trails)
- Open only on weekends from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Address: Km. 4 Palenque Tourist Corridor to Archaeological Zone, 29960 Palenque, Chiapas
5. Visit the Center of Palenque
Besides the archaeological site and its surroundings, I didn’t find that there was much to see in Palenque.
But since we have to go there anyway, we might as well make the most of it! You can go to Parque Central, the square that is the heart of the city with several vendors and passers-by.
There is the Parroquia Santo Domingo de Guzmán, the colorful letters for taking photos, a craft market and the Lak Puj Kul textile museum .
You can also take a walk on Central Pte. where there is really everything (shops, souvenirs, bakeries, pharmacies, etc.).
6. Around Palenque
In addition to the archaeological site and the town of Palenque, there is plenty to see in the surrounding area!
Among the natural beauties of Chiapas, you can visit the Roberto Barrios Waterfalls, the La Asuncion Waterfall, the Misol Há Waterfall, the Agua Azul Waterfalls, the Catazajá Lagoons, the Welib Ja Waterfalls, or even immerse yourself in the Lacandon jungle by discovering the communities of Nahá or Metzabok.
If you have some time on the road between San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque, I suggest you make a stop to visit the archaeological site of Toniná (near Ocosingo).
It has little circulation, and yet it is a 700-year-old site with a huge 7-story structure, called the Acropolis, which is taller than the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan – and you can still climb to the top!
Accommodation in Palenque: the best hotels
We cannot say that Palenque is a very pretty town and, with a few exceptions, the best hotels in Palenque are rather out of the center or even located in the jungle.
Here are my best accommodation recommendations, for all budgets:
- Mitico El Castillo : an atypical hotel that looks like a film set, with its castle which accommodates rooms, dormitories, swimming pool and kitchen. This is the best cheap hotel in Palenque, from only €13 for a dormitory or €27 for a room!
- Cabañas Kin Balam Palenque : another budget hotel in Palenque that has the advantage of being in the jungle, with fruit trees and sounds of exotic animals and within walking distance of the ruins. With swimming pool and restaurant, from only €22 for a dormitory or €40 for a room!
- Chan Kah Resort Village :ideal hotel for relaxing during a family trip to Palenque that offers excellent value for money. Bungalows that can accommodate 2 to 4 people, 2 large natural swimming pools, bar, restaurant and spa. From only €75 per room!
- Adriana Villas : an ideal oasis of peace for couples, with rooms and villas in the jungle, swimming pool, hammocks, large gardens, roof terrace. Delicious breakfast included, from 80€ per night!
How to get to Palenque?
To get to the Palenque site, you must first pass through the town of Palenque. Here’s how to get to Palenque:
Of course these are the “official” GPS times, but with the many “topes” (speed bumps), curves and toll points, it is always better to calculate a little wider when planning your day.
Considering that Palenque is quite far from other destinations in Mexico, I suggest you dedicate 1 day to the road, then visit the archaeological site the next morning. Otherwise it will be difficult to enjoy it!
Tips for your Palenque itinerary:
There are few gas stations in Palenque compared to demand because it is the large city in the region. Many people fill multiple cans, so lines can be long!
That’s why, if you have a busy itinerary, I recommend stocking up the day before you leave or going early in the morning before you leave.
Many travelers decide to rent a car to visit Chiapas. And indeed the advantages are numerous! Freedom, speed, flexibility of routes and schedules…
By Public Transport (Bus, collective)
After San Cristobal de las Casas
It takes 9 hours with OCC (there is a day bus and a night bus). Buses prefer to avoid the short route to Ocosingo and instead take the longer route to avoid waiting at possible roadblocks. To avoid wasting too much time during your stay, I suggest you choose the night bus.
It is also possible to take a colectivo to Ocosingo (2h30, 90 pesos), then another colectivo to Palenque (3h, 120 pesos)
From Tuxtla Gutiérrez
You must first take an ADO or OCC bus to San Cristobal de las Casas (1h30, several departures per day) then follow the same path as indicated above.
Tips for your Palenque itinerary:
Many travelers hesitate to take the San Cristobal-Ocosingo-Palenque route, whether by car or colectivo, because we hear a lot of negative things, especially in relation to dams.
There is no airport in Palenque.
The closest airport to Palenque is Carlos Rovirosa Pérez Airport which is located in Villahermosa in the state of Tabasco (2h, 140km).
The Villahermosa Airport receives flights from several destinations in Mexico such as Mexico City, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Cancun, Mérida and Reynosa.
The Ocosingo-Palenque Route
We often hear about safety on the road between Palenque and San Cristobal de las Casas, and more specifically around Ocosingo.
This is not always the case, but sometimes people from local communities set up a roadblock (usually to make demands of the government) and ask for money.
This just happened to me and here’s how it went:
There was a lot of traffic on the road and we wondered if there had been an accident.
As a very long line of cars were completely stopped, it was impossible to see where the traffic jam started. After about 20 minutes, the cars started moving again and that’s when we realized there was a roadblock.
There was a large banner indicating demands from local communities to the government. In front of each arriving car, they placed a long piece of wood with nails and asked for money to remove it.
The gentleman who approached the window gave us a paper with the demands and asked us for 100 pesos. We kept calm, kindly said we only had 50 pesos, then he let us pass without any problem.
We only had one blockade on the road, but the principle is always the same: they place a rope and ask you for money so it is very important to always have change on you. It’s not dangerous, but what’s annoying is that we waste time on the road and we have no choice but to wait!
Beyond the potential roadblocks, what is certain is that there are a lot of curves and as there is only one lane on each side, we cannot go too fast because of the cars (40 -60km/h) so calculate a little wider than what your GPS tells you…
Where to eat and drink in Palenque
- Ha’Ki : I really liked this restaurant in Palenque, with its terrace near the central park and its great service. Prices around 100-120 pesos: breakfasts, salads, desserts, pancakes, soups, meats, sandwiches, pastas. Fried bananas with cream and cheese are delicious!
- Las Tinajas: if you prefer a more “complete” restaurant, here is a good address with a large choice of dishes with rather generous portions (120-240 pesos). I really liked the chicken milanesa with cheese (190 pesos) and the caldo tlalpeño.
PS: It is mainly covered (very practical in the rainy season! We just had the right to a deluge…) with a terrace area.
- Café de Yara : the perfect place to taste organic Chiapas coffee, with a little dessert. And the service is very friendly!
PS: I was also mentioned Cafe Fuga and Cafe Jade as nice cafes in Palenque, but I didn’t have time to go there.
What to Bring to Palenque?
No matter the season, it is always quite hot and humid in Palenque, although of course we feel it even more in the rainy season!
Here’s what to bring to visit Palenque:
- The sun can be very strong, so it’s best to have a cap or hat and sunscreen
- Good , comfortable shoes to walk well and avoid slipping when climbing the steps of temples or on trails
- Mosquito repellent since there is a lot of it in the jungle
- Lots of water as it’s hot, and after going up and down the many steps of the various structures, you’ll need it
- A raincoat because when it rains, it RAINS! I was very happy to get mine…
- Cash for entrance to the ruins, souvenirs, etc.
- Good travel insurance
When to go to Palenque?
The best time to visit Palenque is from December to February as the climate is drier and it is cooler.
Personally, I was there at the beginning of August, so in the middle of the rainy season, and it was indeed very humid.
The rain was quite heavy during our two days in Palenque. At times it was a flood, at times there were only droplets, but that didn’t stop us from visiting the ruins and walking on the trails.
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