Chiapas is home to one of the most spectacular Maya archaeological sites: Palenque. Here’s a everything you’d need to know about visiting the Palenque ruins.
Located in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, the ancient city of Palenque is widely regarded as one of the most impressive Mayan ruins in Mexico. Yet, it receives a fraction of visitors compared to famous sites like Chichen Itza and Tulum ruins. Once buried under thick jungle growth, the massive complex remains only partially restored, with vines dangling over palaces and roots jutting out of steep pyramids.
Palenque was an important Mayan city during the Classical period from 500 AD until it was abandoned at 900 AD. Palenque’s mightiest ruler, King Pakal, who reigned for 80 years, chose this spot to build his palaces and ceremonial complexes. Today, only 10% of the area has been excavated, but you can already get a sense of the grandeur of this ancient city.
Since moving to Mexico, I have visited countless archaeological sites — and the Palenque ruins remain my favorite. To help you plan your trip here, I’ve compiled a detailed guide to Palenque ruins: from how to get there to which tour to take and where to stay.
Table of Contents
- A Guide to the Palenque Ruins
- Why Visit the Palenque Ruins?
- Palenque Pyramids Facts
- Best Time to Visit Palenque Ruins
- How to Get to Palenque
- How to Get to Palenque Ruins from Town
- Palenque Ruins Entrance Fees
- Palenque Hours
- How Much Time to Visit Palenque?
- Do You Need a Tour?
- Best Palenque Tours
- Things to Do in Palenque
- Things to Do Near Palenque
- Where to Eat at Palenque
- Where to Stay near Palenque Ruins
- Visiting Palenque with Kids
- What to Pack for Palenque
- Rules at Palenque
- Final Tips for Visiting Palenque
- Enjoy Your Trip to Palenque Ruins!
A Guide to the Palenque Ruins
Why Visit the Palenque Ruins?
Visiting Palenque is one of the top things to do in Chiapas, for good reason. Palenque stands out from other Mayan ruins in Mexico because of its incredibly preserved structure in the middle of the jungle. The hieroglyphics found in the Palenque ruins also gave important insights for historians to understand what life was like during the Mayan civilization. Because of its historical significance, Palenque was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What I love most about the Palenque ruins is its pristine, natural setting. Nestled at the base of the Sierra de Don Juan, alongside verdant lowlands replete with flowing streams and cascading waterfalls, Palenque’s original Maya name, Lakam’ha, aptly translates to “Place of many Waters.” Wandering through the Palenque ruins, you’ll undoubtedly notice the gurgling streams and refreshing waterfalls that dot the dense jungle.
The national park that surrounds the Palenque ruins is also home to a myriad of wildlife: you’ll probably hear the yowl of howler monkeys, smell an iguana nearby, and see scarlet macaws soaring overhead. Unlike other popular Mayan ruins where you’ll have to jostle with the crowd, Palenque allows you to soak up all its history, in a calm and peaceful setting backed by nature.
Palenque Pyramids Facts
Between 500 and 900 AD, the site of Palenque thrived as a bustling city, reaching the pinnacle of its influence during the 7th century. Palenque’s prosperity was attributed to its capable rulers, who oversaw the construction of impressive pyramids and palaces, which still stand today.
The most famous king who ruled Palenque was Kinich Janaab I, also known as Pakal the Great (603 – 683 AD). Ascending to the throne of Palenque at the tender age of 12, Pakal started a dynasty that transformed Palenque into a thriving trading and political center in the Mayan civilization. His reign endured until he died at 80.
The region saw various cities, big and small, vying for supremacy, with prominent contenders being Calakmul, Tikal, and later Tonina (now an archaeological site near the Palenque ruins). Sadly, Palenque’s final downfall came when it was defeated by the city of Tonina.
Best Time to Visit Palenque Ruins
The best time to visit Palenque Ruins is in the dry season, which runs from November to April. The weather is drier: there’s less chance of rain, and the temperature is milder. But keep in mind that it’s also the peak tourist season, so there might be more crowds compared to other times of the year.
I visited Palenque in May, at the start of the wet season (May to October) but the weather was perfect. While this season does bring more rain and humidity, it also offers some advantages. The landscape is lush and green, making for beautiful photos and a more picturesque setting. Additionally, the rainy season sees few tourists. Just be prepared for occasional heavy rain showers.
How to Get to Palenque
Palenque has a small domestic airport, however flights are not frequent and they only fly out of Mexico City. The other airport near Palenque, Villahermosa Airport (VSA) is 133km away in Tabasco. It’s a small airport and planes that land there tend to be smaller.
There are regular flights from Mexico City, Cancún, Mérida, Monterrey and Guadalajara. ADO runs a direct service in comfortable minibuses from Villahermosa airport to the bus terminal at Glorieta de la Cabeza Maya in Palenque town. Check for flights.
The closest tourist town to Palenque is San Cristobal del las Casas, which is just about 3hours 20minutes away by car. However, the road between San Cris via Ocosingo to Palenque is not safe mostly because of road blockades and armed gangs patrolling this stretch of the road.
You can catch the overnight ADO bus, which takes a detour via Tuxtla Gutiérrez. The journey takes much longer, around 7 hours, but ADO bus takes the longer and safer route to Palenque. You can save a night of accommodation and arrive in Palenque in the morning. Book your seat here.
By Day Tour
Another way to get there is to book a day tour from San Cristobal de las Casas that will also bring you to a few waterfalls on the way (I’ll talk more about the waterfalls below). These day tours include transportation, admission, and a guide in Palenque. It’s a great option if you want to learn more about the Palenque ruins and have someone else handle the logistics.
How to Get to Palenque Ruins from Town
The Palenque ruins are located about 7km (miles) away from Palenque town, where most hotels and restaurants are located. To get to the Palenque Ruins from the city center, you can take the colectivo minibus with a sign that reads ‘Ruinas’.
They depart from the ADO bus terminal every 15 minutes and make stops in town along the way, operating from 7:00am to 7:00pm every day. Tickets only cost 40 MXN (US$2) and the Colectivo takes you directly to the entrance of Palenque ruins. Generally, you can wait for the ride anywhere on the road leading to the ruins and just flag down the driver.
Palenque Ruins Entrance Fees
When you enter Palenque, you have to pay two separate entrance fees. The Palenque National Park charges 50 MXN (US$2) for admission; it’s the area surrounding the archaeological site.
Then it’s an additional 90 MXN (US$4.50) per person to visit the Palenque ruins. This includes admission to the museum on the main road. There’s no need to book your tickets in advance.
On Sundays, it’s free for Mexican citizens and foreign residents of Mexico (as with all archaeological sites in Mexico). Avoid visiting on Sundays as it tends to be more crowded.
The Palenque Archaeological Site is open every day from 8am to 5pm, 365 days a year. The last entry is at 4pm. The site staff don’t allow any leeway for this time. The museum opens from 9 am to 4 pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays. Make sure you time your visit to coincide with those days.
The best time to visit Palenque is early in the morning, around opening time. This is when the site is the least crowded and you can avoid the heat of midday. I was one of the first to enter the Palenque ruins when they opened; and it was spectacularly seeing the sun piercing through the mist that hovered above the pyramids.
How Much Time to Visit Palenque?
You could easily spend a whole day at the Palenque Ruins, but if you’re short on time, I would allocate at least 3 hours. Of course, this all depends on your interests and how much detail you want to go into while exploring the site.
The on-site museum itself can take up to an hour or so each. It’s absolutely worth visiting; the exhibit on the Red Queen is particularly interesting (scroll down to read more). If you’re looking to eat lunch at the ruins, that will take some time too.
Palenque town itself is a modern city with not much to see; all the interesting sights lie outside the city. I spent three days in Palenque and that gave me enough time to explore the ruins and visit all the waterfalls nearby. In the intense heat, it’s really refreshing to dip in the nearby Agua Azul and Roberto Barrio, considered some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Mexico.
Do You Need a Tour?
At the entrance of Palenque ruins, you have the option of hiring a guide for an in-depth tour. A good guide can make a big difference. The Maya guide associations offer private, two-hour tours in English for 1300 MXN (US$65) starting at the main upper entrance. For a Spanish speaking guide, the price is around 800 MXN (US$40) depending on group size
If you are visiting Palenque without a guide, I highly recommend that you read up on the history behind the ruins before going as there is limited information inside the park.
Best Palenque Tours
If you’re just doing a day trip here from San Cristobal de las Casas, I suggest booking a day tour. Most day tours to the Palenque ruins will also bring you to the beautiful Agua Azul and Misol-Ha waterfalls (read about them below). Both waterfalls are breathtaking and cannot be missed if you’re in the area.
This tour for instance has good reviews. It includes a guide, transportation from San Cristobal de las Casas, pickup and drop off at your hotel, and entrance fees for both waterfalls. The only downside of taking a tour is you only get a certain amount of time at each place.
Things to Do in Palenque
Here are some of the key pyramids, temples, and sites you should visit when exploring the Palenque ruins. Besides exploring the site, some of the best things to do in Palenque lie in its vicinity.
See Pakal’s Tomb in Temple of Inscriptions
This is one of the most famous structures in Palenque. As you venture through the entrance, the first thing you’ll see is a majestic row of pyramid-shaped structures. Among them, the most imposing is the Templo de las Inscripciones, which houses the burial ground of King Pakal.
This eight-story pyramid boasts a central staircase that guides you to a cluster of small chambers. Adorning one of its inner walls are three panels adorned with intricate Maya inscriptions, narrating the rich history of Palenque. Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier bestowed the temple’s name in honor of these unique carvings.
Beyond these inscriptions, a staircase ascends to Pakal’s burial site, which is presently not open to the public. An accurate replica of Pakal’s tomb and his mask can be found in the Museo Nacional de Antropología, one of the best museums in Mexico City.
See the Red Queen’s Tomb
Adjacent to the Templo de las Inscripciones stands Templo XIII, the final resting place of the Red Queen, Tz’ak-b’u Ajaw, the wife of King Pakal. In 1994, archaeologists unearthed her tomb, revealing her remains colored red due to cinnabar, along with a trove of 1000 jade pieces and an exquisite malachite mask.
Today you can enter the chamber where her tomb was found through a stone walkway, but the chamber is empty. You can see a replica of her mask are on display in the on-site museum.
Get Lost in the Palace
Diagonally opposite the Templo de las Inscripciones is El Palacio (which translates to mean “Palace”), a monumental complex used for ceremonial and political functions, including hosting foreign dignitaries. The sprawling structure comprises a labyrinth network of 12 rooms interconnected by a web of corridors and subterranean passages.
The palace’s crowning jewel is its tower — a four-story structure that offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, although entry into the tower is restricted. Archaeologists believe that during the winter solstice, royalty may have observed the sun’s rays from this vantage point. Adjacent to the palace, a stream flows towards an aqueduct, reputed to hold over 50,000 gallons of freshwater.
Admire the Carvings on Temple of the Sun
To the southeast of the Palace, within the Grupo de las Cruces (Group of the Crosses), lies a cluster of temples devoted to Palenque’s trinity of gods. These three pyramids were masterminded by Pakal’s son, Kan B’alam II.
Among them, the Templo del Sol, or Temple of the Sun, stands out with its remarkable roofcomb. Inside, you’ll encounter impeccably preserved carvings depicting the birth and ascent to the throne of Kan B’alam II. Some suggest that this astonishing structure hints at the influence of local hallucinogenic mushrooms on Palenque’s builders.
Climb up Temple of the Cross
Ascend the steep steps of Templo de la Cruz, or the Temple of the Cross, to enjoy the finest view of Palenque. From this elevated perch, the vast archaeological site sprawls beneath you, framed by lush greenery in the distance.
Kan B’alam constructed this temple to house panels commemorating his ascension to the throne after King Pakal’s passing. The bas-relief carvings also narrate Kan B’alam’s ancestral lineage and the origins of his dynasty.
Visit the On-Site Museum
As with other Mayan ruins in Mexico, all the precious masks, jewelry and artifacts that have been dug out here are on display at their on-site museum. It’s best to see the ruins first and leave the Museo del Sitio for the last as it’s located at the bottom of the hill. I took the trail behind the Aqueduct to a series of unrestored ruins, hanging bridge and swimming hole; it eventually led to the museum.
The spacious, climate-controlled sanctuary showcases artifacts excavated from the ruins and presents historical insights in both English and Spanish. A highlight not to be missed is the special exhibition dedicated to the Red Queen, providing a glimpse into the discoveries from her tomb, along with captivating videos documenting the excavation process.
Things to Do Near Palenque
There are three epic waterfalls near Palenque that are absolutely stunning and within easy access from the town. After a day of exploring the Palenque ruins in the tropical heat, you’d want to take a refreshing dip in these waterfalls to cool off. If you’re coming from San Cristobal, I suggest booking a day tour, so you don’t have to worry about transport and you can visit all three falls at one go.
Frolick in Agua Azul
Considered one of the best waterfalls in Mexico, Agua Azul is a spectacular cascade just an hour from Palenque. The name translates to “blue water,” Agua Azul is famous for its stunning crystal clear blue tones. However, this color is only visible during the dry season (October to April). During the rainy season (May to September), the consistent rain will make the water look brown. When I was there, the water was so brown and turbulent that swimming was allowed.
If you’re visiting during the dry season, don’t forget your swimsuit, towel and dry bag!There are life jackets rentals if you’re not a strong swimmer. Water shoes are also highly recommended as the rocks to walk on can be very slippery. It takes around 2 hours from Palenque to get to Agua Azul.
Misol-Ha is the largest waterfall in Palenque, at over 110 feet (35m) high. Misol-Ha stands out from the other waterfalls because it has a single drop, so you can explore the cool networks of caves behind the falls. You are allowed to swim in the plunge pool at the bottom of the waterfall.
From Palenque, the colectivo takes about 40 minutes at 90 MXN (US$5) per person. The entrance fee is 30 MXN (US$2), although sometimes an additional 10 MXN maintenance charge is also applied.
Swim in Roberto Barrios
This is my favorite waterfalls in Palenque! Although it’s not as well known as Agua Azul, the Roberto Barrios waterfall is less crowded and has many pools for you to relax in. For those who are more adventurous, there are spots to jump into the water. There are a few food stalls and amenities like washrooms at the Roberto Barrios Waterfalls, however there are no lockers so keep your valuables safe.
It costs 30 MXN (US$2) for the entrance fees. There are tours that bring you to both the Palenque Ruins and Roberto Barrios. Book here. If you have time, the cheapest way to get there is public transport. The colectivo only costs 50 MXN (US$3) one way and takes around 45 to 60 minutes from Palenque center.
Visit the Aluxes Eco Park
If you’re interested in wildlife, the Aluxes Eco Park is a great place to visit, especially with kids. The park is a 10 min colectivo ride away from the Palenque ruins. All of the animals in the eco park are rescued and the entry fees collected are used to support conservation efforts and the continuation of rescuing wild animals that are abused or abandoned. Admission costs 150 MXN (US$8) per person.
Where to Eat at Palenque
There are a few different options for food right by the Palenque ruins entrance: If you’re looking for something quick and affordable, there’s a row of restaurants in the carpark. Otherwise, wait till you get back to Palenque town for lunch/dinner.
A budget friendly restaurant close to the central square with lots of tacos options to choose from. Make sure to try their agua de guanabana, a drink made with water, sugar and the guanabana fruit (similar to a guava). Read reviews.
Close to Palenque ruins, Bajlum is an upscale spot featuring unique dishes inspired by the cuisine during the Mayan civilization. The family run restaurant uses locally sourced ingredients and rare meats like boar and stag.
Located along the road to the Palenque ruins, El Panchan has live music and spectacular fire shows at night. There are a variety of Mexican and Italian food options on the menu and the price is not expensive.
Where to Stay near Palenque Ruins
There are two main areas to stay in Palenque: the city center and the area along the road to the Palenque ruins. Staying in the city center offers more amenities and food options, on the other hand the hotels along on the road to the ruins are surrounded by nature and you can even hear the howler monkeys at night!
Luxury: Hotel Nututun Palenque
Hotel Nututun Palenque is a 4 star hotel in Palenque that offers a comfortable stay for families, couples and friends. Surrounded by beautiful nature, the Hotel Nututun Palenque has air conditioned rooms, swimming pool, restaurant, onsite parking and free Wi-Fi. Just a short 10 minute ride away from the Palenque ruins. Check rates here.
Mid Range: Axkan Palenque
Axkan Palenque is a great option to stay without breaking the bank. Located just outside of town, you can catch the colectivos outside the hotel that head to the ruins. Amenities include free Wi-Fi, a swimming pool and restaurant on site. Check rates here.
Budget: Cabañas Kin Balam
Cabañas Kin Balam is conveniently located just 5 mins away from the Palenque ruins. Cabañas Kin Balam offers affordable yet charming cabins surrounded by gardens and an outdoor swimming pool for guests to relax in. Check rates.
Visiting Palenque with Kids
The Palenque ruins give kids a chance to see Mayan history up close and learn how ancient Mayan rulers used to govern their people. That said, Palenque is a huge archaeological site with a lot of jungle surrounding it, so watch the little ones and make sure they don’t wander off into the wilderness.
If you’re traveling with younger kids, I suggest carrying them in a sling or hiking carrier. It would be a pain to transport tiny toddlers in a stroller on the rocky, earthy trails. Pack lots of water, hat, and maybe an umbrella for kids who don’t do well in the sun.
The swimming holes and pools at the waterfalls in Palenque are also a hit for kids to splash around and play in. Most of the restaurants and hotels around Palenque are also catered to families and kids.
What to Pack for Palenque
Palenque is in the middle of the jungle and the weather can get very hot and humid. Don’t forget to bring a water bottle, insect repellant, a hat and sunscreen for your day of exploring the ruins. For a whole day of exploring and walking, comfortable walking shoes are recommended.
The walking isn’t too difficult as it’s mostly flat. You won’t need hiking boots. I wore my Teva sandals for the whole day and they were fine. Climbing the Chiapas pyramids can be tedious, but absolutely doable for people of all ages — my daughter loves climbing pyramids!
Here’s the list of what I packed/wore:
- Teva sandals
- Hiking t-shirt
- Hiking shorts
- Lightweight daypack
- Power bank
- Sunscreen – SFP50+ if possible
- Wide-rimmed hat
- Water bottle (2 liters)
Rules at Palenque
The Palenque Ruins is a protected UNESCO world heritage site, in order to maintain the archaeological park, here’s a list of rules:
- Smoking is not allowed anywhere within the park.
- Stay within the designated areas and entering the restricted areas is not allowed.
- You can climb and enter some of the Chiapas pyramids, however, depending on the current regulations.
- Picking or cutting down any of the vegetation are not allowed within park premises.
- Do not litter in the park.
- Do not feed the wild animals.
- Do not graffiti, touch, lean or sit on any archaeological monument.
- Drones and unauthorized filming for commercial purposes are not allowed.
Final Tips for Visiting Palenque
- Arrive just as gates open at 8am to avoid the crowds. Book an early access tour if you want to be the first through its gates!
- Take plenty of water and snacks with you. There are many vendors selling cold drinks in the archaeological site, just make sure the bottled drinks are sealed before opening them.
- Wear sunscreen, a hat, and comfortable shoes – it gets hot!
- Be careful when you’re climbing these Chiapas’ pyramids, some steps are rocky and uneven.
- You will need cash for the entrance fees, so make sure to bring some Mexican Pesos with you.
- You might encounter locals selling mushrooms along the road to the ruins. Be aware that they are hallucinogenic.
- If you only have a day to spend at Palenque, take the day tour to the Palenque ruins, Agua Azul and Misol-Ha waterfalls. You won’t have to worry about transportation and you’ll get to see the best of what Palenque has to offer.
Enjoy Your Trip to Palenque Ruins!
Thank you for reading this far. If you have any questions on the Palenque ruins, please leave them in the comments below and I will be happy to reply to any questions you have.
Since you’re already in Palenque, make sure you take the opportunity to explore San Cristobal de las Casas, a beautiful colonial city in the highlands of Chiapas. Don’t miss the spectacular Sumidero Canyon and small pueblo magico (magic town) of Chiapa de Corzo! Chiapas is one of my favorite states in Mexico — it’s extremely diverse, packed with so many natural sights and outdoorsy pursuits.
Read my articles on Chiapas below:
- 15 Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico
- Things to Do in San Cristobal de las Casas
- Best Restaurants in San Cristobal de las Casas
- 10 Best Waterfalls in Mexico
- My Guide to Ek Balam Ruins
- Monte Alban: My Guide to the Oaxaca Pyramids
- Visiting Teotihuacan: Mexico City Pyramids
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links i.e. if you book a stay through one of my links, I get a small commission at NO EXTRA COST to you. Thank you for your support!
Inspired? Pin it!