Palenque is a place I hadn’t even heard of two years ago when I moved to Mexico. I saw a photo of it last year at some point and I was determined to find it and visit those jungle-covered ruins. 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.
How to Get to Palenque
Palenque used to be a little bit tricky to get to, but thanks to a newly opened airport, flying into and out of the small town has never been easier. There are direct flights to Palenque from Mexico City, Cancun, and the Chiapas capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez. The planes are only small, and there are only flights a few days a week, but it’s a very quick flight, so you’re not in the air for long.
I flew from Mexico City to Palenque with Interjet. They currently operate two flights per week – one on Wednesdays and one on Saturdays. They cost roughly $50-$75 each way and take an hour and 20 minutes. If you are coming from Cancun, Calafia is a small Mexican airline that operates a few flights per week between Cancun and Palenque. It costs roughly the same and only takes an hour and a half. Flying really is one of the easiest ways to get to Palenque.
You can also fly between Tuxtla Guttierez and Palenque, but you have to book directly on the Calafia website (it looks like it doesn’t come up on Skyscanner anymore). You can fly from Tuxtla to Palenque on Fridays and Mondays and from Palenque back to Tuxtla on Tuesdays and Saturdays. This flight costs roughly $50.
Once you arrive at the airport, there is a single taxi stand that is somewhat expensive. It costs 250 Pesos to get into the town which is only a few minutes away. Some hotels or Airbnb’s will pick you up from the airport since it’s only a short distance away.
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. Book tickets on the ADO App (Android or Apple) or directly at the bus terminal.
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 airport, 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 20 Pesos.
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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 $200 per night. There’s a nice outdoor pool and the rooms are gorgeous.
For a middle of the line option, check out Hotel Paraiso Inn. The rooms start at $50 a 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.
If you are on a budget or want to stay at a more social hostel, the most popular is definitely Yaxkin Hostel. It’s one of the few hostels in town and is well located for great, cheap food. The town isn’t necessarily anything to shout about, but you can get some really great tacos and other Mexican antojitos around the town for very cheap. 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 20 Pesos per person.
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. If you want to, 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 around 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. We didn’t go into the museum because it was an additional 70 Pesos, but if you wanted to learn more about the Mayans in this region, then it’s definitely worth a trip.
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 degrees 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, 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.
Palenque is becoming a popular place to base yourself to explore the surrounding area thanks to its abundance of amenities and it’s new airport. 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 spend another few days there are plenty of tours you can go on from Palenque. We did a one day tour to Agua Azul and Misol-Ha waterfalls. Both were really stunning. The tour was only 300 Pesos per person (about $15) and included transportation, pickup and drop off at our hotel, and entrance fees for both waterfalls. We got a cheap lunch at Agua Azul which was filling and delicious.
The tour company we booked with was Tulum Transportadora Turistica. They were easy to book with via email and spoke a little bit of English. It’s less of a tour company though and more of just a transport company. We didn’t receive much information about the places we went, but this seems to be the only option, no matter what company you go with in the area.
Other Palenque tours that looked really great that I didn’t have a chance to go one are the one to Cascada Roberto Barrios which is meant to be like Agua Azul, but with fewer tourists, and the one to the Yaxchilán and Bonampak Ruins. They are deeper into the jungle and while similar to the Palenque Ruins, also receive fewer tourists and there isn’t much known about them. They look pretty spectacular, though.
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