What? Better than Chichen Itza? Better than Uxmal? Better than Tulum? I can hear the jostling of "Mayan Ruin Buffs" everywhere... sighing. The Mayan Ruins at Palenque are some of the best ruins, Mexico has to offer! The forest around the ruins are spectacular, the campgrounds nearby are great, the food in Chiapas is amazing and these are still some ruins you can climb around on. We know, there are those who say, climbing on them isn't a good thing. You can stop reading now, and maybe you will like our Chichen Itza post better. For those of you who love the pseudo-feeling of being Indiana Jones and exploring ruins without destroying or graffiti-ing them (can't believe it, whenever we see it)...continue on.
Palenque was one of our "must-see" and top 5 Mayan ruin sites that included; Tikal, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Tulum. What differentiates Palenque from the rest, is in its combination of sculpture, architecture, and bas-relief carvings that the Mayas produced. What makes Palenque even more intriguing is that only an estimated 10-15% of the total area of the city is explored, leaving more than a thousand structures still covered by the dense surrounding jungle. We loved being able to truly explore these ruins.
Most of the structures you could climb on and walk around. The Temple of Inscriptions was roped off and we heard it was due to the steps and recent injuries sustained by careless tourists. We particularly loved the Palace structure with it's Palace Observation Tower. Full of bas-reliefs and interesting cutouts, the views of the entire complex from its central location were fun to explore. We found a few great places to sit in the almost unbearable heat and humidity of the day, and be by ourselves just taking it all in.
Within the Palace, there are numerous sculptures and bas-relief carvings. One of the most recognizable features is the four-story tower known as "The Observation Tower". The Observation Tower like many other buildings at the site exhibit a mansard-like roof. You can truly imagine indigenous people keeping a lookout on the complex from here. The A-shaped Corbel arch is an architectural feature found throughout the palace and we found it fascinating how different these walkways were from other sites we have seen. The Corbel arches require a large amount of precision masonry and large mass stones that provide the characteristic high ceilings and narrow passageways for the Palenque elite. The Palace was also equipped with numerous large baths and saunas which were supplied with fresh water by aqueducts. We could see one of the aqueducts from the back wall of the Palace. Imagining life in the Palace was easy and we spent hours exploring most of it.
The Temples of Palenque
We hiked around the grounds and saw some of the other temples we could explore and before long the heat of the day and lack of water began to get to us. We saw most of the complex and were in awe of the beauty of the jungle and ruins. We also walked around and explored some of the other buildings including:
- The Temple of the Skull
- The Temple of Inscriptions
- Temple XIII (just right of the Temple of Inscriptions) which contains the Tomb of the Red Queen
- The Temple of The Jaguar (a.k.a. The Temple of the Beautiful Relief)
- Structure XII
- Temple of the Count
There were smaller sites and more to explore but opted to get back to our campsite at the Maya Bell on the main road not far from the entrance to the park and get into the pool.
Maya Bell Campgrounds and "Resort"
We walked through the masses of vendors selling everything from cheap trinkets, juices in a bag, tamales and even the occasional bag of magic mushrooms to help us "speak with the monkeys" and headed back to our Jeep parked down the road. Parking at Palenque is far from adequate. If you go... go early and park on the side of the road the closest to the entrance as possible. Most of the road is uphill to the site, so keep that in mind if you have physical problems.
We got a "campsite" in a "resort" called Mayabell... or Maya Bell. It is technically in Palenque's Park and is within walking distance of the museum. A little outside of town was great with us and the howler monkeys could be heard and seen flying from branch to branch in the canopy as they made their way back and forth. We never stop marveling at the creatures. You can hear their roar from a long way, and when they are close, it makes your heart beat faster. We were far enough from town that we were definitely in the jungle.
The Maya Bell was a nice place, but far from the glamorous resort living as advertised. The pool area was crowded with everyone trying to escape the heat of the day in the pool. We sat around and people watched in the lukewarm jungle setting pool and decided to head into town to get some authentic street tacos in town and found a place called Mr. Taco. The tacos were amazing! Chiapas, Mexico make some of the best "al pastor" street tacos! Mr. Taco was cheap and delicious.
Our camping spot was actually in the main trailer park area because we wanted our Jeep close to our tent. (there is a camping area with gravel pads too) While taking a shower later that evening, we noticed something peering at us. The big green bug we found was proof that we were in the jungle.
Change In Perspective
What is it about Palenque? The picture above sums it up. Why it's our second favorite Mayan site after Tikal? It's the jungle surrounding the ruins that makes it special. The wild and old mixed in a way that makes YOU feel special for having seen it. Palenque not only has the temples and structures, reliefs and sculptures, but also a feeling. A feeling you can't really put your finger on. Somewhere special that leaves a place in your heart forever. We never took the magic mushrooms nor communicated with the monkeys, but the time we spent sitting in silence looking over the jungle from ancient buildings is a bigger high and beautiful enough. Besides, doing illicit drugs in Mexico and trying to talk to a howler monkey might just get your face chewed off and a night or few in a Mexican jail.
The Mayan Ruins, Palenque is quite possibly the best ruin in Mexico holds true for us as Tikal is in Guatemala. Chichen Itza was overcrowded and full of hawkers that are made to stay outside the park in Palenque. Uxmal and the Ruta Pucc was great but didn't have the jungle around it. Palenque was incredible and felt as if it was a smaller Tikal. We can't wait to get back to see how much more has been uncovered in the newly excavated temples and structures.