Palenque in Chiapas, a region in the south of Mexico on the Guatemala border, is one of the country’s many Mayan Ruins and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. What makes it stand out is a combination of the jungle settings, quality of intact buildings, and the ability to explore without massive crowds.
Getting to Palenque is not the easiest task; I arrived in the early hours of the morning after undertaking the long 10 hour overnight bus journey from Tulum. The town itself is relatively easy to navigate from the ADO station – heading out of the centre in a south western direction takes you directly to the ‘Zona Arqueológica’ – the area housing the ruins.
Alternatively, if you’re dropping your bags in town first, head east to the centre where most of the guesthouses are located. I stayed at the Hotel Chablis Palenque – a good value hotel with impeccable service and cleand and comfortable rooms. Usually I would be happy with a hostel, however Palenque is severely lacking in these, especially if you wish to reserve online first.
When you arrive at the Archaeological Park there are two fees to pay; the first to the ecological fund at the main gate of MX$15, and the second to enter the ruins of MX$45. Keeping in mind MX$ 60 total is currently the equivalent of £2.70, a bargain price for a busy and amazing day of exploring.
Not too soon after I had arrived and scaled the Grand Palace structure a massive downpour started. I was stranded at the top of steep slippery steps and had to hide within the nooks and corridors. The benefit of this is that I could look out across the site and admire the landscape with few interruptions. At this height the clouds started to merge into the ruins and the surrounding hilltops, creating a atmospheric ambience filled with mist and haze.
Sitting behind the Grand Palace,alleviated on the hills, is the Cross Group of structures.
This group of buildings include the Temple of the Cross and the Temple of the Sun, both in excellent condition and featuring carved panels. If you spend some time sitting at the top of the Temple of the Cross you can breathe in the pure air and listen out for the Endangered Howler Monkey, a distinctive noise you’re sure to notice.
Set apart from the main plaza and Cross group of buildings is the North Group, a cluster of ajoining buildings with beautiful rows of staircases. There’s also plenty of room to sit comfortably under a tree at the base, or walk around the top level for even more enjoyable views.
Away from the main section of the park there is still more to see; following a winding woodland path over streams and down steps leads to another section of very different buildings. These really remind me of Hobbit houses!
There is plenty of moisture here from the nearby river, and you can hear the beautiful fall of the waterfall that breaks up the stream. You can admire the waterfall from a wooden viewing dock before venturing further to a wooden rope bridge to cross.
Walking further down the path unfortunately brings you to the end of the park. You can decide to explore the nearby museum (I passed due to the humidity), or head back into town by grabbing a taxi or one of the frequent minivans.