Palenque Ruins: Things to See & Do

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Maya Ruins of Palenque Temple

If you love to take the road less traveled, then the Palenque Ruins in Chiapas, Mexico, should be on your radar. It was once a thriving Mayan city-state and now offers travelers some of Mexico’s most impressive architectural wonders. To top it off, they’re still uncovering new parts of this ancient site – so a visit offers excellent insight and discovery.

During your visit, you will have the opportunity to explore the unique culture of the Maya. As you journey through time, you will discover the spectacular architecture of their pyramids and be wowed by their grandeur. 

Let your imagination carry you away into ancient times when you visit the Palenque ruins. You’ll be amazed by how much history exists in the Maya world – it’s like no other!

History Behind the Maya Ruins of Palenque

Ancient Ruins of Palenque in Yucatán, Mexico
Maximilian / Adobe Stock

Located in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, Palenque town and its nearby ruins are fantastic remains of the past that bring energy and life to the present. It is believed to have been constructed between 500 and 700 AD and holds so much history, ready for us to explore.

The beautiful ruins were once the center of a large city, founded by Pakal the Great – a remarkable ancient Maya ruler who reigned from 615 to 683 AD. Evidence of the Mayan occupation in this fantastic part of Mexico dates way back to 600 CE, so there’s loads of exciting history to explore.

Palenque flourished by the Late Classic Period, becoming one of the most influential Mayan city-states. With its beginnings going as far back as 226 BC, this sizable metropolis was a force to be reckoned with throughout Mesoamerica. While it may not have been quite as expansive in size compared to Chichen Itza and Tikal, Palenque was still a dynamic center of culture.

The Palenque ruins are impressive, with stunningly-preserved stone temples, palaces, and other public buildings. After being abandoned for centuries in the 9th century, these ruins were rediscovered by a team of Spanish explorers led by Alberto del Rio in 1787 – how extraordinary! And best of all, they earned the UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1987.

Things to See & Do at the Palenque Ruins

Visiting the stunning Palenque ruins is an extraordinary journey of enchantment and stimulating discoveries. You know you’re in for a fantastic adventure from your first step onto this great site. Here are some of the best things to see at the ruins:

1. The Palace

Palenque Palace and Scenery
Arian Zwegers / Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Visiting the Palace at Palenque is an incredible experience. Amazingly, many of its features, such as its stunning roof comb and stucco decoration, have been preserved so well that you’ll be able to admire this remarkable building, which Palenque rulers once used.

The Palace at the Palenque Ruins is a jaw-dropping structure that still looks marvelous today. With its linked-up rooms and pathways, it has been speculated that the place doubled as both living quarters and an area for governance held by Pakal the Great. Also, a glorious four-story tower is included in the palace – how cool!

When you visit the palace, prepare to be amazed. Its elegant carvings and stunning sculptures celebrating the art of Maya are an impressive testament to the culture and one of the finest examples of Maya architecture. Each room and corridor is filled with something new – explore away and enjoy all that this incredible building presents.

2. The Temple of the Inscriptions

Palenque Ruins Temple of the Inscriptions
Tjeerd Wiersma / Flickr, CC BY 2.0

The Temple of the Inscriptions is a fantastic structure in the Palenque ruins and is so named because of the incredible stone carvings it features. It was built to celebrate Pakal the Great, one of the most admired figures here. This magnificent temple will certainly wow everyone who visits this revered site.

There is so much to discover at the temple. It’s a tall pyramid-shaped structure with many carvings and inscriptions believed to commemorate Pakal the Great. When you visit the temple, explore these fantastic ancient designs – they will give insight into the Maya world.

3. The Temple of the Sun

Palenque Ruins Temple of the Sun
Arian Zwegers / Flickr, CC BY 2.0

The Temple of the Sun is a magnificent structure that amazes you. Even after centuries, it remains an incredible sight—a well-preserved ruin from the 7th century.

The temple is a marvelous structure devoted to the sun god, and it towers above the lush jungle in Palenque. Carved with incredible detail and hieroglyphic inscriptions, it’s a remarkable view – not to mention the invigorating journey up its ancient steps. And when you reach the top? Spectacular views of all the Mayan ruins below await you.

You might get lucky and see some cheeky little monkeys swinging madly from branch to branch. There’s also the possibility that you’ll hear the howler monkeys making all kinds of noise in the distance – it’s an experience like no other; no wonder Palenque is such a popular spot with tourists.

4. The Temple of the Cross

Palenque Ruins Temple of the Cross
Arian Zwegers / Flickr, CC BY 2.0

The Temple of the Cross is a small but incredible site in tribute to Chac, the Maya god of rain and agriculture. It’s packed with extraordinary carvings — including an eye-catching sculpture of Chac himself. Plus, you can spot scenes from ancient Maya mythology dedicated to the god of rain and agriculture everywhere you look.

This temple is like a mini museum. It’s got some of the most awesome ancient Mayan art. Mayan Murals and bas-relief carvings – they’re all here in one spot. You don’t want to miss it.

As you explore Palenque, check out the Temple of the Cross. Not only is it among the most stunning spots there, but you’ll get to see some remarkable Maya artwork and learn more about the mythology surrounding this incredible civilization.

5. The Temple of the Foliated Cross

Palenque Ruins Temple of the Foliated Cross
Rob Young / Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0

The Temple of the Foliated Cross is a high-priority attraction if you visit Palenque. See this mysterious and ancient ruins site where legends say your life can be changed. It’s named after the cross carved onto its front– a marvelous sight to behold.

This temple is one of the most significant in Palenque and was once used for worship. Think about making a wish at this fantastic spot, too, because word on the street says that if you do, it’ll come true.

See Related: Best Ancient Ruins & Archeological Sites in the World

6. Miscellaneous Structures

The vast ruins at Palenque are simply stunning – there’s so much to explore and take in. What throws the experience over the top is all the differently shaped miscellaneous structures you’ll find here. You’ll come across tiny mysterious buildings, grand temples, and palaces – multiple options to suit a range of architectural interests.

  • The Temple of Skulls – Located close to the Temple of the Foliated Cross, The Temple of Skulls is a tiny building that would usually go unnoticed – if it weren’t for the many spooky-looking skulls carved into its facade. Ancient Maya people dedicated this temple to their god Chac and legend has it there are a few heads inside that were supposedly taken from defeated enemies.
  • Temple of the Count – The Temple of the Count is one of Palenque’s oldest excavated buildings. It’s a classic Palenque-Mayan pyramid with a great view from its spot, right next to the North Group and facing the Ball Court. It’s even named after someone special – Frederick Waldek, an explorer from the 19th century.
  • The Temple of the Jaguar – The sensational Temple of the Jaguar is one of the most famous sights in Palenque. This grand building is easy to spot as it stands proudly in its central location, with its towering roof comb stretching thirty-three meters into the sky.
  • Temple XIII – This so-called ‘Tomb of the Red Queen’ is a limestone temple boasting wonderful carvings and hieroglyphics. Rumour has it that a Maya queen was laid to rest here – and her tomb has the artifacts to show. Fancy jade jewelry and pottery can be found inside – some of the site’s fantastic archaeological pieces.

7. Palenque Museum

Exhibit at Palenque Museum
Ovedc / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

If you’re ready to experience a fantastic voyage through the archaeological history of the Maya, then you can’t miss checking out The Palenque Museum. This extraordinary museum has an incredible collection of art and artifacts from the old Palenque and loads more murals and stelae from other Mayan sites. It’s like traveling back in time!

The museum is an information goldmine about the ancient and exciting Maya city of Palenque. Plus, not only do you learn all sorts of cool things about Maya culture, but you also get to enjoy a stunning building in a simply striking spot right next to the Palenque ruins.

Where to Stay Near the Palenque Ruins

Many places to stay near the Palenque ruins, and most offer excellent services and amenities.

  • Chan-Kah Resort VillageOnly a few kilometers away from the famous Palenque ruins, this resort has all sorts of fancy rooms and suites with lush gardens and tropical foliage that’ll blow your mind. They also got fantastic restaurants, a pool to splash in, and a spa for chilling—a one-stop shop for relaxing after an epic day of explorations.
  • Hotel – Museo XibalbaIf you’re a budget-conscious traveler, Hotel Xibalba offers wallet-friendly rooms and numerous amenities—just a few minutes away from the Palenque ruins. The rooms have free Wi-Fi, an onsite restaurant, and a swimming pool. It’ll give you everything you need for a leisurely stay in Palenque without breaking the bank.
  • Piedra de Agua Palenque – If you’re bored with the same mundane hotel room experience, change things up and check out Piedra de Agua Palenque. It’s built right around a beautiful natural waterfall. Plus, their comfy rooms come with sweeping views of the lush jungle. They even have yummy restaurants and spa services, if that wasn’t enough to pique your interest.

Getting to the Palenque Ruins

Colorful Street in Chiapas, Mexico at Dusk
JoseLuis / Adobe Stock

Palenque is only about 7 km away from the archaeological site. The small town will be your base, where you can find hotels, restaurants, and the bus terminal. 

The minibus here is labeled Ruinas and takes passengers from town to the site’s entrance – so don’t worry if you’re stuck somewhere in between; they’ll stop anywhere along the road.

Palenque is tucked away in Chiapas, making it a total off-the-beaten-path attraction – not the most accessible destination. But once you’re there, you won’t want to leave. There’s a little airport, but flights don’t come through often – and mostly, it’s just Mexico City-bound.

But once you are at the archeological site, you can check out a modern visitor center with extraordinary exhibits on history and archaeology. Plus, check out some cool stuff at the museum shop too. And don’t forget to immerse yourself in the archaeological zone, which contains most of the excavated structures of the ancient city.

See Related: Best Resorts in Cancun

Tips for Visiting the Palenque Ruins

Overview of the Palenque Palace

Palenque is like a secret find tucked away in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico. It’s one of the most talked-about Mayan sites and draws people from every corner of the globe. But certainly don’t jump on a plane without first prepping to see this fantastic example of ancient architecture. Before you go down to Palenque, jot these things down so you’re ready for all that ancient beauty.

  • Comfy clothing is a must when visiting Palenque, so wear shoes that are fit for a humid and sizzling hot climate. Don’t forget the sunscreen, either; it’s non-negotiable if you want to avoid getting sunburned. And pack some insect repellent as well to ward off all the crawly critters.
  • Palenque is a vast area with tons to explore—so make sure you plan your day well to get the most out of it. Think ahead and arrive as early as possible — that way, you can avoid the crowds and beat the heat.
  • When you head off for an adventure in Palenque, get excellent insurance coverage. VisitorsCoverage and SafetyWing Insurance are two of your best bets, offering full-on medical protection while exploring the ruins. Get covered so you can roam easily – no more stressing over unexpected ancient emergencies.

See Related: Diving the Cenotes of the Yucatan

Best Time to Visit Palenque

Palenque is hot and humid all year-round – unless you visit during the short dry season when you can take a break from burning up. If you’re eager to venture there for some cooler air, stick between November and March, but if you aren’t used to tropical weather, know that it’ll still be pretty sweaty.

December and January are when hordes of tourists flock to southern Mexico. Palenque has all the bells and whistles during these months. But don’t expect it to be super busy like the Caribbean coast in the Yucatan peninsula – fewer people travel to this part of town even in peak season.

See Related: Best Travel Shorts for Warm Weather

Other Attractions Near Palenque

Palenque Ruins
  • Yaxchilan Ruins – Are you hoping to explore some ancient Mayan city besides Palenque? Then you must check out the Yaxchilan Ruins, just a few hours away from Palenque. You’ll get to view some of Mexico’s most awesome Mayan architecture while taking in the sights of this cliff-side ruin practically hovering over the Usumacinta River. To top off an already epic experience – you can only reach these majestic ruins by boat.
  • Agua Azul WaterfallNot too far from Palenque sits the impressive Agua Azul waterfall – and it is one great site to behold. Its tiers cascade elegantly in beautiful shades of blue, and you can take a splash underneath or an unhurried saunter around the area.
  • San Cristobal de las CasasOn this tour from San Cristobal, you’ll get to know this region’s culture and history – perfect for curious travelers. Don’t miss out on the Museo del Ámbar, the Museo de la Medicina Maya, and many more awesome museums that call this town home.
  • Palenque National ParkNo visit to the region would be complete without exploring the Palenque National Park itself. Not only are there exciting ancient ruins that beg to be explored, but the jungle’s bursting with wild animals you won’t find anywhere else. Also, prepare your hiking boots; there are plenty of trails and viewpoints to take in the scenery.

FAQs

How long should I plan to spend in Palenque to see all the major attractions?

If you’re eager to check out everything Palenque provides, allocate two days to your plans. During that time, you’ll explore the central archaeological zone – including the powerful Templo de las Inscripciones, amazing Palacio, and other temples. And don’t forget about museum visits and all the superb scenery around town.

What are some recommended restaurants and local cuisine to try in Palenque?

Palenque is the place to go should you seek a culinary adventure. For Mexican flavors, swing by Restaurante El Jardín and La Selva; El Panchán serves unique international dishes.

While at it, sample local dishes like Sopa de Lima, tacos al pastor, and heavenly tamales. Plus, Chaya Maya will fill your tummy with tasty traditional Mayan cuisine.

Is it safe to travel to Palenque, and what precautions should I take?

Palenque is generally considered safe for tourists, but it’s best to stay safe and follow some recommendations. Stick within well-lit, bustling areas, don’t wander alone at night, and don’t carry large sums of cash – and be cautious since pickpocketing happens in big crowds. You should also get travel insurance like SafetyWing or VisitorsCoverage to keep you extra secure if anything unexpected comes up.

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Kyle Kroeger
WRITTEN BY

Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He's a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he'd heard.

Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he's learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.

He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time. Read more about his portfolio of work.

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