How to visit Palenque National Park – Visitor’s Guide (2024)

The ancient Mayan ruins of Palenque are one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Mexico. Find out how to visit Palenque National Park with these travel tips.

Plan your trip to Palenque

👩🏻 Best guided tours in Palenque

🏡 Where to stay in Palenque

Palenque National Park is a gem if you’re into ancient Mayan ruins hidden in the misty jungle.

I’ve seen my fair share of ruins in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, and each one has its own story. Palenque is no different.

It has that classic Mayan atmosphere but stands out with unique touches and its epic jungle setting. And it’s not just any place; it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Are you ready to discover my best tips for how to visit Palenque National Park?

Let’s dive in!

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How to visit Palenque National Park

About Palenque Archaeological Site

Palenque is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mexico, and it’s steeped in mystery. Archaeologists believe it dates back to at least 200 BC, with its newest buildings dating to 799 AD.

Palenque was an important city with ties to other famous Mayan cities like Tikal and Chichen Itza. It flourished with impressive structures at the peak of Mayan dominance.

But, in 799 AD it was abandoned.

The most impressive part of Palenque Temple City is its intricate architecture, which is built without metal tools or wheels.

Only a small part of its over 500 structures has been excavated. The rest is abandoned and overtaken by the jungle.

Palenque, Mexico

Where are Palenque Ruins?

Palenque is located in Chiapas, near other big tourist spots in Mexico – think Oaxaca, San Cristobal de las Casas, and Cancun.

The closest airport is Villahermosa, which is around a 90-minute drive away.

Do yourself a favor and stay overnight in Palenque. The site is huge, and trust me, it’s worth every minute.

Palenque, Mexico

Map of Palenque Ruins

Here’s a map of Palenque National Park to help you navigate the historic site and its surroundings.

Should you get a guide to Palenque Ruins?

Yes, absolutely!

We joined a private day tour and I highly recommend it because you’ll get so much more out of your visit. Our guide also took us to the middle of the jungle where we tasted termites and fresh avocados. Amazing experience!

You can either opt for a guided tour or get a guide at the entrance.

Guided tour

For a stress-free day, think about a guided tour from Palenque Town. It includes transport and covers the beautiful Misol Ha and Agua Azul waterfalls (which are must-sees!).

You can also start this tour from San Cristobal, hitting the same highlights. It’s a long day, but totally worth it.

The benefit of joining a guided tour is that you don’t have to worry about transport or haggling over the price. Best of all is that you also visit the waterfalls – they’re amazing!

Tour guide at the entrance

You also have the option of finding a guide at the entrance of Palenque.

Spanish-only guides cost around 1,300 MXN ($77 USD) for a 2-hour tour for up to 7 people. English, French, German, or Italian guides are about 1,600 MXN ($95 USD).

The downside is the price and that you won’t get to see the nearby waterfalls.

Do what we did 👉🏼 Book a private guide to Palenque, Misol-Ha and Agua Azul

Palenque, Mexico

What to see in the ancient city of Palenque

We explored Palenque Ruins with a private guide and decided to see the ruins first, then the museum before continuing to the Agua Azul and Misol-Ha waterfalls.

1. The Temple of the Inscriptions

The first thing you’ll see when you enter is the Temple of Inscriptions. It’s the largest there, dating back to the 7th century.

It’s believed to be Pacal the Great’s tomb, started in his last years and finished by his son, Kan B’alam II.

What makes it special are the hieroglyphic tablets found inside, which have shed light on the ancient Maya civilization.

Palenque, Mexico

2. Temple of the Skulls

Next to the Temple of the Inscriptions is a large complex with several temples. There’s a great view as you walk towards them.

One notable temple is the Temple of the Skulls, named for a carving of an animal skull on one of its pillars.

Palenque, Mexico

3. The Palace

Right next to the temples is the Palace, a maze of buildings and courtyards

It was built over 400 years, starting in the 5th century, and the highlight is the four-story tower used as a watchtower and astronomical observatory.

The Mayan rulers lived, hosted ceremonies, and even had baths and saunas here, thanks to a redirected river.

You can’t go in, but it’s impressive even from a distance.

Palenque, Mexico

4. Temple of the Cross

The Grupo de las Cruces, or Group of Crosses, is a set of pyramids you can actually climb.

Started by King Kan B’alam II, it sits on a hill with three main temples: the Temple of the Cross, the Sun, and the Foliated Cross.

The most famous, the Temple of the Cross, has these bas-relief carvings. It was built to honor Kan B’alam II’s rise to power, showing him getting a symbolic gift from his dad.

Palenque, Mexico
The Temple of the Cross

5. More temples to check out

Other key spots at Palenque include:

  • Templo del Jaguar (Temple of Jaguar)
  • Templo XIV

Each has its own unique flair, definitely worth checking out.

Palenque, Mexico
Palenque, Mexico

The Palenque Museum

After exploring the ancient ruins, you should head to the Palenque Museum.

It’s packed with info and artifacts from the site, helping you make sense of what you’ve just seen. Plus, all the info is in English.

The best attraction is the huge stone tomb of Lord Pakal, one of Palenque’s rulers. It really ties the whole experience together.

Palenque Ruins entrance fee

Totally, we paid MXN 240 each ($13.72 USD).

The ticket includes the entrance to the archeological site and the museum outside.

Here’s an overview of the entrance fees for Palenque Ruins:

Palenque Ruins90 MXN ($5.35 USD)
National Park of Palenque104.90 MXN ($6.25 USD)
Photography Permit (optional but worth it)45 MXN ($2.68 USD)

Palenque opening hours

Palenque is open daily, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

I recommend visiting in the morning when the light is softer and the heat not as suffocating. The ruins look magical then, enveloped in a misty jungle haze.

Palenque, Mexico
Palenque, Mexico

The best time to visit Palenque

The best time to visit Palenque Ruins is from November to March when it’s cooler after the rainy season.

Southern Mexico’s peak season is December to January, making Palenque busier, but it’s not overcrowded with about 1,000 visitors a day.

Palenque is located in the dense jungle so it’s always humid here. Make sure to wear mosquito repellent.

Palenque, Mexico

FAQ – Guide to Palenque Ruins

Why is Palenque so special?

Palenque stands out because it’s a well-preserved Mayan ruin in the middle of a jungle.

Its detailed carvings and unique buildings give a real sense of ancient Mayan life. Also, it’s not as packed with tourists, so you get a more relaxed, up-close look at the history there compared to Chichen Itza.

Is Palenque Mayan or Aztec?

Palenque is a Mayan site, not Aztec. It’s known for its impressive Mayan ruins, which provide a significant insight into ancient civilization.

What are some fun facts about the Palenque ruins?

Here are some fun facts about Palenque ruins:

  1. Architectural Marvel: Palenque’s architecture is some of the finest art and architecture of the Mayan civilization.
  2. Hieroglyphic Tablets: The Temple of the Inscriptions contains hieroglyphic tablets that were crucial in understanding Mayan history and language.
  3. Tomb of Pakal the Great: This site houses the tomb of one of the most famous Mayan rulers, Pakal the Great, discovered in 1952 inside the Temple of the Inscriptions.
  4. Less Explored: Despite its richness, only about 10% of the city has been excavated, leaving much of it still hidden in the Lacandon jungle.
  5. Unique Aqueducts: Palenque had an advanced aqueduct system to control rainwater, a rare feature in Mayan cities.
  6. Astronomical Significance: The site’s structures were aligned with astronomical events, reflecting the Mayans’ advanced understanding of astronomy.
  7. World Heritage Site: Palenque was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 for its historical and cultural significance.
  8. Diverse Wildlife: The surrounding jungle is home to diverse wildlife, including howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and toucans, adding to the site’s mystical ambiance.

Can you go inside Zona Arqueológica Palenque?

Yes, you can explore Palenque Ruins. Most of the ruins are open for visitors to walk through.

Just remember, some parts, like Pakal the Great’s tomb, are off-limits to protect them. It’s always good to check the latest rules when you visit.

Palenque, Mexico
Having Tequila Sunrises in the town of Palenque

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