Palenque is one of the most famous ruin sites in Mexico. Therefore we couldn’t miss it on our six-month trip around Mexico! We managed to do the Palenque ruins without a tour for a few bucks without a problem and we’ll tell you how! Just keep reading.
Ruins in Palenque
The ruins in Palenque are widely visited from the charming town of San Cristobal de Las Casas as well as from renowned destinations in the Caribbean. We visited it along our trip across the border from Mexico to Guatemala and combined it with the charming Miso-Ha and Aqua Azul waterfalls.
We kept hearing about the ruins in Palenque ever since we arrived in Mexico. Everyone loved them and maybe that’s why we were a little disappointed. On the one hand, it is true that the jungle setting is quite impressive.
On the other hand, even though we arrived as early as possible, we were far from being alone. Therefore in Mexico, our nr. 1 are definitely the ruins of Monte Albán in the state of Oaxaca, and in general when it comes to the Mayan ruins, then definitely the magnificent Tikal in Guatemala. Still, I’m glad we went to Palenque when we were around.
Now I’d choose a different place for a weekend trip. There is another ruin complex on the Mexican-Guatemalan border called Yaxchilán. It’s much less visited, really hidden in the jungle and only accessible by river. When we discovered this place, unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time left, but I definitely want to come back one day!
History of Palenque
The Mayan city of Palenque can be found in the very south of Mexico, near the border with Guatemala. The city was inhabited from the 3rd century BC until the end of the 8th century AD. After its decline, it became overgrown with jungle and only regained attention in the 18th century. By 2005, excavations covered about 2.5 kilometers, about 10% of the total area.
Palenque is nowhere near the size of Tikal, or even the famous Chichen Itza. But you will find well-preserved architecture, statues, engravings, and other remains of the original cultures. History geeks are sure to be entertained for a few hours here.
How to Visit the Ruins in Palenque without a Tour
As always, when we can, we decided to go without a tour. And in this case, it’s not difficult at all! And if you decide at the last minute that you want to learn more about the site, it’s not a problem to hunt down a guide on the spot.
How to Get to Palenque by Bus?
You can get to Palenque by bus and colectivo from many cities in Mexico. As for the colectivo route from San Cristobal via Ocosigno, we were advised by locals to avoid it as there are frequent riots and colectivo robberies are not exactly an exception.
There are night buses that go through here as well, so we opted for the day bus. It detours the problematic area via Tuxtla. The journey thus takes an awfully long time (imagine it with a horrible hangover :D), but it should be safe. Make sure you ask the locals what the situation is like before you make the trip – it might just be totally fine to take the night bus.
If you go by bus, you can easily find the connection on the official ADO website, where you also buy a ticket. Alternatively, you can buy tickets at any station where ADO (or its subsidiaries) operate. ADO website isn’t very good at finding connections that aren’t direct. If you have a hard time finding one, check the map and try to look for a split route through a larger town between your starting point and Palenque.
The principle is similar with colectivo, but instead of simply typing in the connection into the search engine, you’ll have to do a lot of googling and/or ask the locals. But don’t worry, it’s always possible – the colectivo will take you even to the smallest town in Mexico.
To Palenque by Public Transport
Once you’re in Palenque, taking a tour makes no sense at all. The ruins are only about five kilometers from the city! And how do you get here? Ideally by colectivo or taxi.
The colectivo goes around the roundabout at the ADO terminal and costs 40 pesos. But when we were waiting for it, all the colectivos with the sign “RUINAS” were already full. Eventually, we found some more people and took a taxi. Since it was five of us (plus the driver), we ended up paying the same price.
But! The taxi driver only takes you to the ticket office, where you need to pay the national park fee and the entrance fee. You might try to ask him to wait a minute and take you all the way up to the main gate. Otherwise, you’ll need to walk about two kilometers uphill, just like us. It should be possible to ask for this if you go by colectivo as well.
Still, we recommend waiting for a colecitivo! Why? The colectivo will take you to the top entrance, while the taxi only takes you below the hill. This saves you about 25 minutes of walking uphill and gets you to the gate earlier.
Palenque Ruins Opening Hours and Entrance Fees
The Palenque site is open Monday to Sunday from 8:30 am to 5 pm and the last entry is at 4 pm. We arrived at the site before 8 am, and walked another 25 minutes to the upper entrance, and when we arrived there was quite a queue already.
We visited Palenque on Monday and entered right away with the first wave. However, there were already a lot of people all around us, so we didn’t feel like there was the slightest chance of experiencing the place without the crowds of tourists – maybe those who actually went in first got about 30 seconds of great views. Entrance is 90 Mexican pesos, plus 35 pesos to enter the national park.
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Our Impressions of the Ruins in Palenque
As I mentioned in the article, we honestly weren’t that impressed with the ruins in Palenque. Even though we arrived early in the morning, right after opening, it was really crowded for our taste. We walked through the entire complex in about an hour, but we couldn’t go to the museum since it was currently closed due to covid.
On the other hand, if you can’t get to Tikal, are just near Palenque, or are a big history buff, you definitely don’t want to miss Palenque. It’s not difficult to get here, and the journey and entrance are not expensive. Most importantly, you can also visit the nearby Misol-Ha and Aqua Azul waterfalls, and again, they are well worth a visit!
Enjoy your trip and let us know how you liked Palenque.