Set in the heart of Chiapas, Mexico is the incredible Palenque Ruins. This outstanding example of an ancient Mayan city quite rightly holds UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is undoubtedly worth a visit as you travel through Mexico. Set within lush jungle and, astonishingly, only partly excavated, wandering Palenque Ruins feels like stepping into the pages of the Jungle Book. As you wander the complex, you’ll half expect King Louis to come swinging from the tree tops surrounding the complex. It’s truly magical.
In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about visiting Palenque Ruins in Mexico. But first, what are the Palenque Ruins?
For more Mayan ruins as you travel through Mexico, check out our post here!
Table of Contents
What Is Palenque?
Palenque is an ancient Mayan city located in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Although smaller than other well-known Mayan sites like Chichen Itza and Tikal, Palenque was still a vast city with great importance, controlling large areas of modern Chiapas.
Today, the ruins are explored by thousands of visitors every year. The jungle setting of the Palenque Ruins makes exploration of the incredible temples and pyramids extra special and quite different from other Mayan archaeological sites you may have already seen in Mexico.
The modern town of Palenque lies just 9km away, making a trip to see the famous ruins very easy indeed. But, before we get into the ins and outs of a visit, let’s explore a little history of Palenque Ruins.
History of Palenque Mayan Ruins
The incredible city of Palenque was a grand Mayan stronghold between 226 B.C. and 799 A.D. The supposed founder of the city as it grew to be is K’uk’ Bahlam I, during the early classic period (200 to 900 A.D.). But, perhaps Palenque’s most famous ruler is K’inich Janaab’ Pakal (AKA Pakal the Great and simply Pakal). The great Pakal was responsible for the buildings we see today, after rebuilding following attacks from the city of Calakmul. The main pyramid at Palenque – Temple of Inscriptions, is where Pakal’s sarcophagus was found.
Because Palenque Ruins contain such a wealth of hieroglyphic inscriptions on many of the ruined buildings, it’s been possible to piece together a timeline of rulers and of general life in Palenque.
After Palenque was eventually abandoned, the impressive city was gradually swallowed up by the jungle. Much of the city is still to be excavated.
Palenque Ruins Facts
- Palenque was known as Lakamhaʼ in the ancient Itza language. It meant big water.
- Only around 10% of Palenque Ruins have been excavated.
- Palenque Ruins receives close to 1 million visitors a year.
- Palenque was occasionally ruled by females.
Where Are the Palenque Ruins?
The Mayan ruins of Palenque are located in the state of Chiapas in southeast Mexico. Visiting Palenque Ruins is most straightforward as a trip from the modern town of Palenque. But, it’s also possible to reach Palenque Ruins from Villahermosa and San Cristobal de las Casas.
Feel free to click on the interactive map below to see exactly where the ancient Maya Palenque Ruins are found.
Highlights of Palenque Ruins
Below, we’ll touch on some of the highlights of the astonishing Palenque Ruins archaeological site in Mexico.
Temple of the Skulls
As you enter into the ancient Maya world of Palenque Mexico, you’ll immediately be struck by the grand nature of the temples and palaces on show. First up is the Temple of the Skulls, so named because of the motif of a skull found at the bottom of the temple pillars.
Temple of the Red Queen (Temple XIII)
Next door to the Temple of the Skull is the tomb of the Red Queen, AKA the Temple of the Red Queen. Within the crumbling ruins, a red-coloured sarcophagus was discovered. Inside were the remains of a noblewoman, possibly of great importance, which has led to the theory of her being the wife of Pakal.
You’ll see there is a thatched roof covering the delicate stone motifs, helping to keep them preserved.
Temple of Inscriptions
One of the grandest structures of Palenque Ruins, if not the grandest, is the Temple of Inscriptions. This incredible Palenque Pyramid is one of the main attractions and looks remarkably intact. The Temple of Inscriptions contains the tomb of Pakal, found in 1952 by archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier.
The pyramid is 60 metres wide and 27 metres high and stands commandingly over the rest of the Palenque Ruins. Perhaps, only rivalled by neighbouring Palenque Palace.
Opposite the Temple of Inscriptions is Palenque Palace. This long stone structure is made up of several buildings, forming one massive complex. The tall structure in the centre is the observation tower and the palace complex itself contains many stone carvings. There is an aqueduct on the eastern side of the Palenque Palace walls, which would have supplied water to baths and saunas inside. Palenque Palace is the largest of the structures on show at the ruins.
Palenque Ball Court
If you’ve visited a few Mayan ruins in Mexico, you’ll be familiar with the ball court. Palenque Ruins also contain the remains of a ball court. Here, the ancient game of ōllamaliztli was played. Interestingly, the victor of the game was often sacrificed.
Temple of the Count (North Group)
In the northern area of the archaeological park is a cluster of buildings known as the North Group. Here, you’ll see the Temple of the Count. The name actually doesn’t refer to the Mayans, but rather Jean Frederic Waldbeck. Waldbeck was a French explorer who spent some time living in this temple at Palenque Ruins. He claimed to be a count.
Temples of the Cross Group
East of the Temple of Inscriptions is the Cross Group. This complex of temples includes the Temple of the Cross, Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Foliated Cross. The group of temples were named by some of the earliest explorers of Palenque Ruins, with cross motifs being found on the temples. Two of the reliefs depict the Ya’ax’che, which is the Tree of Life in Mayan mythology.
After exploring the Palenque Ruins site, you can then wander into the Palenque Jungle. This path returns to the main car park and museum via a shorter route to the one you entered from. So, you don’t need to retrace your steps.
In the jungle is also a small waterfall. Although, the waterfall may be dried up, depending on when you visit.
Once you arrive back at the museum, we highly recommend heading inside. The museum visit is included in the price of your Palenque Ruins ticket. Certainly, the artefacts and information on display are fascinating. In fact, many of the carvings from the Palenque Ruins site have been moved into the museum for preservation purposes.
Useful Things to Know Before You Go
So, now you know a little about the highlights of Palenque Ruins in Mexico, let’s take a look at some useful things to know about visiting.
Palenque Ruins Entrance Fee
The Palenque Ruins entrance fee is split into two parts. You’ll have to pay for entry into the Palenque National Park, as well as the ruins.
- Palenque National Park: you will need to pay $105MXN ($6USD) per person to enter the Palenque National Park as a whole.
- Palenque Ruins: the cost of the ruins is $90MXN ($5USD) per person. This also includes access to the museum after you’ve walked around Palenque Ruins.
So, combined, the total cost of a visit to Palenque Ruins in Mexico is $195MXN ($11USD). Visiting Palenque Ruins is certainly great bang for buck when you consider the price of other Mayan ruin sites in Mexico.
Additionally, if you want to capture your visit with anything other than a camera or phone (AKA using a video camera, GoPro or using a tripod etc) then you’ll have to pay an additional $45MXN ($2.50USD).
Palenque Ruins Opening Hours
Palenque Ruins is open from 8am to 5pm, seven days a week.
Best Time to Visit Palenque Ruins
The best time to visit Palenque Ruins is from November to May. This is outside of the wet season and feels a little less humid. Although, you’ll still find Palenque to be a warm place!
December and January are the busiest months. So, to avoid crowds, aim to arrive as early as possible.
Getting a Guide at Palenque Ruins
Dan and I chose to walk around Palenque Ruins independently, reading the information plaques located at each of the temples or buildings. But, in hindsight, a guide would have been a great idea to understand more about this ancient city. You can generally hire a guide on arrival at the entrance to the archaeological site. An English-speaking guide will cost around $85USD, whereas a Spanish-speaking guide will cost around $70USD.
If you’d rather secure your guide before arriving, skip to the Palenque Ruins Tour section.
How to Get to Palenque Ruins From Palenque Town
So, now you know some practical information about visiting Palenque Ruins, let’s look at how to get there from Palenque town.
Given Palenque Ruins are so close to Palenque town, it’s very easy to take a Colectivo to the archaeological site. The cost of a Colectivo to Palenque Ruins is $20–40MXN ($1–2USD) with a journey time of around 20 minutes. The Colectivo leaves from outside Palenque’s ADO bus terminal. The mini-bus will have the sign ‘ruinas’ or ‘palenque ruinas’ displayed in the window. Plus, there’ll likely be other tourists waiting for the same bus. The Colectivo usually operates between 7am and 7pm, daily.
The Colectivo from Palenque Ruins back to Palenque town leaves from outside of the museum.
By Rental Car
Of course, renting a car and driving yourself to Palenque Ruins in Mexico is one of the easiest ways to visit. The drive is short and you’ll find plenty of parking spaces when you arrive at the ruins.
If you want to hire a car in Mexico, then we recommend using DiscoverCars.com. You’ll find a variety of cars on Discover Cars, which are very easy to book online, with a great cancellation fee if needed.
If you don’t fancy the Colectivo and don’t have your own car, then you can take a private taxi to Palenque Ruins from Palenque town. Expect to pay around $100MXN ($5.50USD) one way.
Palenque Ruins Tours
Another option for getting to Palenque Ruins in Mexico is to take a tour. GetYourGuide offers numerous tour options to visit Palenque Ruins. As a bonus, the tours usually include visiting some of the other incredible natural attractions around Palenque, such as Agua Azul and Misol-Ha Waterfalls.
You can also take a day tour of Palenque and the ruins from San Cristobal de la Casas. You can even make a trip from San Cristobal to Palenque Ruins part of your travel itinerary, bringing your luggage along for the trip. Don’t worry, you can store your luggage whilst you explore Palenque Ruins. Viator offers this tour specifically. Click here to discover more.
How to Get to Palenque Town
Palenque is a fairly straightforward town to reach as you explore Mexico. Dan and I actually travelled down from Merida via a 9 hour bus. Travelling from the town of Campeche is closer still. But, given the length of the bus journey, you’ll want to travel in relative comfort. So, we recommend using the ADO buses.
ADO has routes throughout Mexico that conveniently link up many of the tourist hotspots. You can purchase tickets directly on the ADO website, using Busbud or by booking directly at the ADO bus terminal in whichever town you’re travelling from.
Alternatively, the ADO bus journey from San Cristobal de la Casas is 10.5 hours. But, this is the long version of the journey. That’s because the road between Palenque and San Cristobal, via Ocosingo, is notoriously dangerous. Armed gangs frequently patrol the road, often demanding cash or even robbing tourists as they pass through. Dan and I even saw a police escort accompany a tourist minibus as it headed that way. Think very carefully about taking this route if you’re driving yourself between Palenque and San Cristobal.
Given the risks, Dan and I opted for the longer ADO bus journey to San Cristobal after our stay in Palenque. It was safe and comfortable, despite the epically long journey time.
If you’re travelling from further afield in Mexico, it’s possible to take a domestic flight to Palenque Airport.
Palenque Ruins Travel Essentials
These are our travel essentials for a visit to Palenque Ruins in Mexico.
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: you’ll benefit from a sturdy pair of hiking boots whilst walking around the Mayan complex.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for day tripping, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- Insect repellant: this is the jungle after all.
- Camera: you’ll definitely want to document a visit to Palenque Ruins.
- Sunscreen: be sun safe!
Palenque Ruins FAQs
Below, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions in regard to visiting the Mayan ruins of Palenque in Mexico.
Can You Still Climb Palenque Ruins?
It used to be possible to climb all of the ruins at Palenque. But, that is no longer possible. You’ll notice certain areas roped off and access restricted. This is true of the larger pyramids and temples. It’s still possible to climb some of the smaller Palenque Ruins.
Is Palenque Mayan or Aztec?
Palenque is Mayan.
When Was Palenque Built?
Construction of the initial building of Palenque began around 226 B.C.
Why Is Palenque Important?
Palenque has some of the best examples of architecture and carvings discovered at Mayan sites. The hieroglyphs also provide excellent insight into the ruling and general life at Palenque.
Is Palenque Ruins Worth Visiting?
Yes. Palenque Ruins are great bang for buck, easy to reach and wonderful to explore. We think Palenque Ruins is one of the best Mayan ruins we saw on our month-long trip in Mexico.
Where to Stay Near Palenque Ruins
It makes sense to stay in Palenque town if you plan on visiting the ruins. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the best budget, mid-range and luxury options.
- Budget – Hotel Naj Kin: Dan and I stayed at Hotel Naj Kin and enjoyed the location and the private room, which is equipped with a bathroom.
- Mid-range – Hotel Maya Rue: the very reasonably priced Hotel Maya Rue offers simple yet comfortable decor and a great breakfast to start the day.
- Luxury – Casa 5 Bed & Breakfast: luxury doesn’t break the bank balance in Palenque, with a stay at Casa 5 Bed & Breakfast providing guests with a garden, air-conditioned rooms and a private bathroom.
Where Else in Palenque?
Other Mayan Ruins in Mexico
Mexico isn’t short of incredible Mayan ruins to explore. Below, is a brief selection of other popular sites to visit whilst visiting this beautiful country. Be sure to check out our Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico post for a longer list of ruins.
- Tulum Ruins: explore one of the most incredible examples of a walled Mayan city at Tulum. It’s also one of the few examples of a Mayan city on the coast.
- Chichen Itza: the creme de la creme of Mexican Mayan Ruins. Certainly, no trip to the Yucatan is complete without a visit to this incredible site.
- Coba Ruins: the most important of the Maya cities before Chichen Itza took over, located just outside of Tulum.
- Ek Balam: an incredible set of ruins located just outside of Valladolid.
Travel insurance is a real necessity, especially when travelling through Central America and getting a little off the beaten track.
SafetyWing is an excellent budget-friendly travel insurance provider. Personally, Dan and I have used SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance many times to insure our trips. The Nomad Insurance is fantastic value for money with a smaller additional cost to add a partner. Unlike most other insurance companies, there’s an option to pay on a monthly basis, similar to having a prepaid phone plan. Better yet, there’s no lock-in contract. In addition, you can cancel at any time, which will take effect the month after.
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SafetyWing is a modern travel insurance company that is certainly leading the way in terms of how travel insurance should work in the future.
Palenque Ruins Bonus Tips
- Avoiding the crowds: arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon to beat the crowds (including tour groups) and enjoy Palenque Ruins to yourself (almost).
- Carry cash: it’s always good to have some pesos handy when exploring Mexico.
- Make the most of Palenque: check out our Top Things to Do in Palenque guide for more incredible natural attractions in the area. Alternatively, GetYourGuide offers some pretty cool tours around Palenque which might be worth checking out.
Read our Belize guides to find out more information about Mayan ruins in Central America.