I made the 15 hour overnight bus trip from Oaxaca de Juarez to the jungle town of Palenque. The main attraction here is Ruinas de Palenque – the archeological site of the ancient Mayan city. I had heard it was one of the best Mayan sites to visit in Mexico.
Arriving first thing in the morning without any sleep (except for a couple of short naps), I dropped my bag at my accommodation, waited for the pouring rain to cease and then headed to the site. I chose to stay close to the site instead of in town. This meant an easy twenty minute walk to the ancient city of Palenque.
I started my visit by checking out the museum. Good move, as this helped me get some background understanding of the city before I explored. The museum is very well done in my opinion. There are many inscribed panels from the buildings, ornaments, pottery, jewellery, other everyday items as well as beautiful sculptures.
The most impressive piece however is the tomb of K’inich Janaab Pakal, a very important dude. A whole section of the museum is dedicated to this. It was an incredible archeological discovery back in the 1950’s. Not only did it tell archeologists more about Palenque’s society (and probably opened up some more questions too), the piece itself is simply extraordinary. I actually had a sense of overwhelm when I saw it. To start with, it is massive. The thought of how the thing was made blows my mind. To add to that, the detail of the inscriptions and decorations is incredible. My pictures don’t do it justice one bit.
I left the museum in a great state of mind for visiting the site of Palenque. My imagination was running wild as I considered life around 600AD, when the city was at its peak.
The stone path from the entrance into the site itself goes through lush jungle and past a waterfall. Shortly after, the jungle gives way to open space and many VERY old structures. As with other ancient Mesoamerican cities, the buildings are organised around plazas and in line with astronomical calculations.
Because of the intense heat, my ‘wander’ through the site resembled more of an interval workout: sprint under the beaming sun and then rest in the shade provided by the trees and buildings. Throw in a few stair climbs to the tops of pyramids and I swear my eyebrows were melting off.
Some of the most important buildings are the Palace, the Temple of Inscriptions (where Pakal’s tomb was found) and the Temple of the Cross.
The Palace was definitely my favourite. It is huge, HUGE! It has many rooms and courtyards. The corridors (more like tunnels), although damp and smelly, were super fun to explore and a great relief from the heat.
The Temple of Inscriptions is also impressive in its size. I went into a corridor/tunnel here too, I think maybe this was the funeral chamber but I’m not 100% sure.
The Temple of the Cross was great for its mirador, and worth the steep climb up. I got a great view of the city.
I walked through a few other sections with smaller buildings. I stuck to the jungle as much as I could as I seriously thought I was going to pass out from the heat.
After about two hours, I was satisfied with what I’d seen. Making my way out again through the jungle, I passed some small buildings and went around the other side of the waterfall.
I was so grateful that my accommodation had a pool. I spent the afternoon reading and swimming, it was wonderful. I had a little cabaña, right by the river and shaded by tropical trees. Having some peace, quiet and space was a nice change from the often hectic scene of hostel life.
My second day in Palenque started nicely with a 10km run, stretch, meditation in the pool (it’s the next big thing, you heard it here first) and a swim.
In the afternoon I went to check out a couple of waterfalls. The first one, Misol Ha, not far from Palenque town. It was pretty impressive, the cascade was furious from last nights storm and the past few days of rain.
Next stop was Agua Azul, a further hour away. Agua Azul is an area with several waterfalls and pools in a jungle setting. The name means ‘Blue Water’, but unfortunately due to the rain, the water was far from blue. It was pretty brown. I knew that this was a possibility so wasn’t surprised. Even though it was raining and there was no blue water to be seen, I still enjoyed visiting and think it is very beautiful.
There is a pathway running alongside the falls for more than a kilometer. The path often leads off to viewpoints for photo opportunities. There are some sections for swimming, other parts are unsafe due to strong currents and rocky areas.
After an hour and a half, I had seen as much as I could. The path did go a bit further but was closed off due to the recent rain.
My short visit to Palenque was pretty jam packed but I’m glad I got here. The Palenque ruins are definitely worth exploring if you’re in Chiapas.
Tonight I’m heading east, the last overnight bus for a while thank goodness! I’m going to Merida to check out the famous Yucatan Peninsula.