Visiting the Palenque ruins should be high on your list of things to do in Chiapas.
Palenque is one of the most incredible ruins in all of Mexico (except maybe Calakmul).
Tucked away in the jungles of Chiapas, you can see toucans flying, hear monkeys hooting, and feel the soul of this ancient city as you climb up the steps and take in the views over the treetops.
Palenque is a place I hadn’t even heard of before I moved to Mexico, but it has since grown more in popularity. That being said, due to the fact that much of the rest of the state of Chiapas isn’t very heavily visited, Palenque still feels like something of a hidden gem.
The Palenque ruins are incredibly easy and affordable to get to, but they’re also a great place to tack onto a trip to Chiapas, especially from San Cristobal de las Casas, one of the few Pueblos Mágicos in Chiapas.
How to Get to Palenque
Palenque used to have a small airport that you could fly into a few times a week with Interjet. In 2020, Interjet went bust and no other airline took on the route.
Now, the closest airport to Palenque is located in Villahermosa, a two-hour drive from Palenque.
There are direct flights to Villahermosa from Mexico City and Cancun. The planes are usually quite small, but the flights are quick and you’re not in the air for long.
There are multiple flights per day to Palenque from both of these destinations. Flights are operated by Aeromexico and Viva Aerobus. Read all about the best Mexican airlines if you have never flown with them before.
They cost roughly $80-150 USD round trip from Mexico City and take an hour and 20 minutes.
If you are coming from Cancun, VivaAerobus runs up to three direct flights per day depending on what time of year you are looking. You can get flights for as little as $60 roundtrip if you book far enough in advance. It takes an hour and 35 minutes.
From the Villahermosa Airport you can take a taxi directly for about $100 USD. You can also take an OCC bus (owned by the larger ADO bus company) from the airport to Palenque which costs 350 Pesos (about $20 USD). It takes two hours by bus and is a perfectly safe option for solo travelers and backpackers in Mexico.
Flying really is one of the easiest ways to get to Palenque. Driving in Chiapas is not recommended unless you are fluent in Spanish and you are accustomed to driving in other rural parts of Mexico. There are often land disputes in this region of Mexico and roads can be barricaded without prior notice.
Alternatively, you can take a bus to Palenque from any major city or town in the area. A popular place to arrive from is San Cristobal de las Casas.
You can take a very long bus ride from Cancun or Mexico City if you are on a tight budget. The bus company that operates in Palenque is called OCC and is a sister company of the much larger Mexican bus company, ADO.
Palenque Hotels and Airbnbs
There are tons of hotels in Palenque as well as some really great Airbnb places. We ended up staying at this awesome spot in between the town and the ruins.
If you want to self-cater or be away from the noise, I highly recommend this spot. It was easy to get to, they picked us up from the bus, and we got to hear howler monkeys in the morning and see and hear different birds throughout the day.
It was a 20-minute walk to town and the grocery store or you could take a colectivo (shared van) or taxi for only 50 Pesos.
If you would rather stay in a hotel in Palenque, Quinta Chanabnal is a great option.
It’s located in the area between the town and the ruins on a quiet street. There are a few restaurants within walking distance, otherwise, you can get a taxi just about anywhere for under 60 Pesos (about $3).
It’s definitely one of the more upscale options in Palenque with rooms starting at about $100 per night. There’s a nice outdoor pool and the rooms are gorgeous. Book a stay at Quinta Chanabnal here.
For a mid-range option, check out Hotel Paraiso Inn. The rooms start at $70 USD per night and they are clean, comfortable, and spacious.
It’s also really well located if your main interest is to see the ruins. The road to the hotel is right outside the entrance to the Palenque ruins. Your stay also includes a big breakfast, which will set you up perfectly for a day of exploring the ruins. Book a stay at Hotel Paraiso Inn here.
If you are on a budget, the most popular is definitely Casa Janaab Palenque. It’s one of the few hostels in town and is well located for great, cheap food. You can also self-cater and cook at the hostel kitchen to stay healthy and affordable.
This is the place to stay if you want to explore the Palenque ruins on a budget. You can get a colectivo in the morning straight to the ruins for only 50 Pesos per person, you’re close to the bus station, and there’s a great pool to cool off in after a day of exploring the ruins. Book a stay at Casa Janaab here.
What to Know About the Palenque Ruins
I highly recommend asking the colectivo or taxi driver to drop you off at the entrance of Motiepá.
From here you’ll walk through the forest for about 10 minutes. Follow the sign to the parking lot (estacionamiento) to get to the entrance of the ruins. This is a beautiful section to walk through.
If you want, you can wander around for a while back there or you can grab a guide from the parking lot and have him take you around and tell you more about the surrounding jungle.
If you want an in-depth understanding of the ruins, you can hire a guide from outside the entrance of the ruins near where you buy your tickets.
There are guides who speak Spanish, English, French, Italian, German, and several other languages, too. You can either hire them privately or wait 10-15 minutes and go on a larger group tour.
Entrance to the park costs 70 Pesos (about $3.50) as of March 2018.
This includes all of the areas of the ruins and the paths inside. Once you’re inside, you’ll find tons of signs in both Spanish and English explaining what was found in each of the buildings and what archaeologists believe about the culture that once called this city home.
Inside you’ll also find vendors selling all types of souvenirs. Be sure to haggle a little bit if you see something you like. There are also bathrooms in the far corner of the ruins near the exit.
When you leave, you should exit down the stairs near the bathrooms. This will take you past a beautiful waterfall and several more ruins. It will bring you out on the road near the museum. This is a great time to visit the Museum, which is an additional small fee.
From this road, you can hop back into a colectivo towards town.
What to Bring to the Palenque Ruins
For most of the year, it’s pretty hot in Palenque. I visited in March and it was incredibly hot and humid. I recommend wearing light clothing, a hat, and comfortable yet breathable shoes.
There are a lot of stairs to climb, so you’ll probably want something a little bit more secure than flip-flops, but lighter than sneakers.
December and January tend to be much cooler there. You can expect temperatures to be around 65-70 Fahrenheit degrees (18-21 Celsius) during the day and for it to drop several degrees after dark.
During the wet season (July-October), you’ll probably want to bring an umbrella, a rain jacket, and waterproof shoes with good grip.
Regardless of what time of year, I highly recommend packing sunscreen, a hat, bug spray, and plenty of water. You’ll be doing a lot of walking and you’ll want to stay hydrated and even when it’s a bit cloudy, you can still get a decent sunburn.
If you plan to explore every inch of the ruins, I recommend packing some snacks to keep you going, too.
There is a supermarket in town called Chedraui, where you can buy fresh fruit, granola bars, bags of chips, and just about anything else you could want. There isn’t anywhere to buy anything once you get into the ruins (unlike Chichen Itza which is like a ruins set amid a shopping mall).
Palenque is becoming a popular place to base yourself to explore the surrounding area thanks to its abundance of stunning natural beauty. I spent three days here and tried to fill them with as much sightseeing as possible.
The Palenque ruins are definitely a whole day. Even if you start early, you’ll still likely spend at least four hours wandering around. We went in the morning and then spent the afternoon relaxing, reading, and drinking a few cold beers.
If you want to book a tour of the ruins before you arrive, you can book something like this tour. The tour includes your entrance fee and a knowledgeable English-speaking tour guide. They also offer tours in Italian of French.
You will meet the tour guide at the entrance of Palenque and spend two hours learning about the history of this incredible place. Book that tour here.
If you want to spend another few days there are plenty of tours you can go on from Palenque.
We did a one-day tour of Agua Azul and Misol-Ha waterfalls. Both were really stunning. The tour guide will pick you up from your hotel or hostel, you will be transported to both locations, have time to spend in each, and then be returned to your hotel. Entrance fees are included in the tour price. Book that tour here.
Visiting the Lacandon jungle has also become a popular thing to do around Palenque in recent years. The people of this region have maintained much of their historical culture, language, and customs.
Going with a guide to this part of Chiapas is an experience that you cannot have elsewhere in Mexico and if you are interested in learning about the different people of this region of Mexico, I highly recommend checking out this tour.
You will trek through the jungle to the lost city of Lacanja. You will learn from a knowledgeable guide about both the jungle and the city of Lacanja. You will visit the archaeological site of Bonampak. Lunch is also provided. Book this outstanding tour here.
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