Mexico is home to dozens of incredible archeological zones, but one of our favorite ruins we visited in our Mexico travels was Palenque Ruins.
Zona Arqueológica Palenque is an ancient Mayan city that was discovered by an archeologist in the 1950s. It’s estimated only 10% to 20% of the city has been excavated, making it one of the newest Mayan ruins to be uncovered.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, this site is rich in Mayan history and was once the home of several important Mayan Kings. Nestled deep in the jungles of Chiapas, Palenque Ruins feels like you’re on the set of an Indian Jones movie walk next to vine-covered ruins and listen to howling monkeys.
If you’re planning a trip to explore this archaeological zone, this guide will share everything you need to know about visiting Palenque Ruins. From cost, how to get there, important spots to see, and what to bring – we’ve got you covered!
Don’t want to read the entire post, use the table of contents below to get the information you need.
Quick facts about Palenque Ruins
- Location: Chiapas, Mexico (exact location here)
- Nearest town/city: Palenque
- Best way to get there: Fly into Villahermosa, Tabasco, and take a 2-hour bus ride to Palenque. *If the Mayan Train re-opens in 2024, that will be the best way to get to Palenque*
- Hours: 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM every day except major holidays.
- Entrance Cost: $200 MXP (roughly USD 12) as of 2024.
- Number of visitors annually: Around 600,000
- Special designations: UNESCO World Heritage Site and the third largest Mayan archeological zone in Mexico.
- Restrictions: No professional filming equipment and drones are not allowed.
- Built: ~200 A.D.
- Time spent there: 2 – 4+ hours on average.
- Best time to visit: Dry season (November to April).
History of Palenque Ruins
The site was first documented by Spanish missionary Father Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada in 1567. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Palenque Ruins was truly discovered. Many archeological zones had been abandoned before Spanish colonization. Their lack of development due to conflict or deforestation let nature take over. This led to many zones, including Palenque, being hidden by dense jungle for hundreds of years.
Palenque’s name is Spanish for fortified place, although in Mayan its name is Lamkamha. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and remains a protected space with active excavation.
It’s believed Palenque was built around 200 A.D. The city went through several Kings and battles with neighboring civilizations once acting as a capital city for the region. At its peak around 6,000 Mayans lived there between 500 and 700 A.D. Eventually, around 900 A.D. the site was abandoned.
Palenque was home to several Kings and is considered one of the most important places in Mayan history after uncovering several tombs of sacrifices, Kings, and high nobles. It has many glyphs and very well-kept records, making it one of the most studied archeological zones in the world.
One of the theories about why this city was abandoned was due to deforestation. While it’s hard to imagine today when the pyramids are covered with and surrounded by thick jungle and moss, Palenque would have looked barren when it was inhabited 1,500 years ago.
The Mayans used stucco and painted frescos to decorate their pyramids. Since stucco needs to be burnt at high temperatures to make, the Mayans cut down most, if not all of the trees, in the vicinity. No trees and lack of shade eventually changed the environment and caused drought, high temperatures, and a lack of drinking water and food.
The best time to visit
Mexico has two main seasons – the rainy season and the dry season. For obvious reasons, it’s better to visit Palenque Ruins during the dry season to avoid random downpours in the Mexican jungle.
The dry season begins in November and lasts until April. The rainy season lasts from June to October, but random showers can still happen during the dry season. Palenque sees as many as 600,000 visitors per year making it a very popular site. There’s a good chance no matter when you’re visiting you’ll meet other tourists.
How to get to Palenque Ruins
Palenque Ruins is located in the state of Chiapas near the Guatemalan border. Chiapas is one of the most remote parts of the country filled with epic mountain ranges and dense jungles making it a bit off the tourist path.
While it is a bit tricky to get here compared to some of the more popular archeological zones near tourist centers, it’s worth it. Chiapas is one of our favorite states in all of Mexico and is without a doubt worth visiting.
Here are a few of our favorite things to do in Chiapas, Mexico:
- Is Visiting Sumidero Canyon Worth it? Yes! Here’s Why
- Top 10 Things to Eat, See, and Do in San Cristobal de Las Casas
- 9 Amazing Waterfalls in Mexico You Need to Visit
Getting to Palenque from Cancun on the Mayan Train
In December 2023, Mexico launched the “Tren Maya” (Mayan Train). This tourist train connects major cities and archeological zones throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. The three trains (one for passengers, one food-focused train, and one sleeper train) allow visitors to seamlessly travel between Cancun, Tulum, Campeche, Merida, Tabasco, and Calakmul. Its final stop is in Palenque, Chiapas.
🚨As of January 25, 2024, Mexico STOPPED the Cancun to Palenque Mayan Train route due to complications on the railing. This stop is “Indefinite” with no clarification on when it will resume.
🚊 If the route has reopened when you are reading this, you can search and book your tickets for the Mayan train here. Click on the button at the top that says “Compra tu boleto aqui”. Then, select the route Cancún Aeropuerto – Palenque. The origin spot should say “Cancun” and the final destination should be “Palenque”.
The tickets aren’t cheap. When it was operating at the start of 2024, it cost $2,123.50 MXP for economy or $3,391 MXP for premier class. Which is roughly $125 to $186. The total time in route should be 6 hours.
Getting to Palenque from Villahermosa
If you’re flying into Mexico the easiest option is to get a commuter flight from Cancun or Mexico City to the Airport in Villahermosa, Tabasco (Carlos Rovirosa Pérez International Airport). From there it’s around a 2 hour drive to Palenque, Chiapas.
🚍 There is an ADO bus that will take you from the airport to Palenque in just around 2 hours and 10 minutes. The bus at the time of this writing cost $350 MXP or $20 roughly.
Getting to Palenque from Tuxtla Gutierrez
You can also fly into Tuxtla Gutierrez in Chiapas if you plan to spend more time in the state of Chiapas. However, we don’t recommend this route as the road from Tuxtla Gutierrez to Palenque can take 7 to 8 hours to drive. It’s also home to vigilante groups which are known to stop busses and passengers driving through.
We took this road after leaving Palenque to get to San Cristobal de Las Casas and had no issues, but other travelers we met had been stopped and asked for money.
It’s also worth mentioning that the ADO bus from Tuxtla Gutierrez to Palenque will drive through Villahermosa. So, the path from Villahermosa to Palenque really is the better option.
Getting to Palenque from Campeche City
We drove to Palenque from Campeche City, Campeche which took around 6 hours in total. This is another option if you’re in the Yucatan (Cancun area) and have your own vehicle to get you from place to place like we did.
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The closest town to the ruins is the city of Palenque. This is a pretty bustling city home to around 50,000 people with major hotels, unique eco-lodges, and even RV camping. Since we RV’d our way across Mexico this was convenient because we had great options just a 4 to 5-minute drive from the entrance of the ruins.
If you don’t have your own vehicle you can take a taxi or collectivo (like a public bus) from Palenque. Collectivos are the most cost-effective way to get there and should cost around $20 MXP or $1.18 (cash only). A taxi should cost around $200 – $250 MXP. The collectivos will have a sign that shows you where they are going. In this case, look for the “ruinas” sign on the front.
Cost to visit Palenque Ruins
As of 2024, the entrance fee for Palenque Ruins was $95 MXP which is roughly $5.60 for those aged 14 to 59. Children under 13 and those 60 and older can enter for free. Additionally, Sunday is free entry to all national visitors, including foreigners who prove their residence in Mexico (like us).
You will have to pay a separate fee of $105 MXP or around $6.20 to enter the National Park Palenque resides in. You can pay both of these fees at the ticket office (which is the Museum and visitors center about 5 minutes before the ruins entrance). Although there are two counters to pay the fees at (can’t be done all at once – don’t ask me why). 🤷🏽♀️
You can purchase your tickets online beforehand, but we recommend getting them to day of at the visitor center and museum (exact location here). The total cost for entry is $200 MXP or just under $12.
What to bring to Palenque Mexico
🧥Check the weather to ensure you have a rain jacket before visiting Palenque. The weather can be unpredictable in the jungle. Rain showers will randomly pop up so having a light and packable rain jacket is a good idea.
👟 I also recommend having comfortable shoes. You will be doing a lot of walking and you’ll want to have shoes that can handle standing and hiking. 🧢 If you’re going there during summer make sure to bring a sunhat with you. A lot of your time there will be spent outdoors and this can prevent you from burning.
💧We brought a small backpack with a refillable water bottle. There are no public places to refill your water, so make sure you have plenty of water on hand. It can get hot and humid in the jungle which means you’ll be sweating!
⛑️ We always recommend having travel insurance to cover the “what-ifs”, especially when doing things like hiking or venturing into the jungle. We feel Mexico is safe to visit, although there are travel advisories to be aware of, and always be aware of your surroundings. However, we like knowing we are covered if there are any major medical emergencies or trip interruptions while traveling.
💵 Mexico is a cash-forward country. Big cities like Mexico City, or popular tourist towns like Los Cabos or Cancun will accept cards. But outside of these hubs, cash is still the dominant form of payment. Tickets for Palenque Ruins and any tour guides you want to hire will be cash only. Have pesos on hand ($1,200 – $1,400 MXP should be sufficient).
📸 If you are bringing your camera gear to take photos or video do not have “professional equipment”. Since Palenque Ruins is a part of INAH (The National Institute of Anthropology and History) and a protected archeological zone, you need special permission to use things like a microphone, drone, or tripod. Leave this stuff at your hotel or RV campground before coming here or they will not let you in!
Get the gear here:
- 🧢 Sun hat
- 🧥 Rain jacket
- 🥾 Comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes
- 🧦 Breathable and comfortable merino wool socks
- 📸 Camera equipment (no drones, tripods, or microphones if you are vlogging. Handheld only)
- 🚰 Reusable water bottle
- 💵 $1,200 – $1,400 MXP if you want to hire a guide, $500 MXP if you don’t.
Tour guide or DIY tour
You do not need a tour guide to visit the Palenque archeological zone, however we do recommend it. To start, you’re supporting the local economy by hiring a certified guide to help you better understand the fascinating and complex history of this site. You’re also going to get a heck of a lot more out of the experience.
Mexico is notorious for having minimal information and signage available in its archeological zones. There are a few plaques to read to learn about the history, but the information is limited. For that reason, we always recommend hiring a tour guide when visiting archeological zones like this one.
We found our guide in front of the ticket office at the visitor centers. There were several guides kindly “yelling” at us to take a tour with them. If you’re new to this type of marketing, it can be overwhelming to have vendors solicit you so intensely. But this type of selling is common in Central America and something to get used to.
We haggled a private tour for the two of us for $1,000 MXP (around $59) for a 3-hour tour. We received other quotes for $1,200 MXP, but we negotiated the rate before accepting. Tours are priced per guide, regardless of the number of people with you. The more people you can team up with on the tour, the cheaper the total cost will be for you per person.
Ask around to different tour guides for the best price and assess their English speaking skills before agreeing. We hired a guide in Chichen Itza and his English was terrible and it ruined the experience for us.
There *should* be a sign stating the official guide prices somewhere near the entrance. Expect to pay $1,200 – $1,500 MXP for the guide depending on the length of your tour and time visiting.
Top things to see at Palenque Ruins
Around 80% of the city is still underground, with active digs happening to uncover other remains. The area visitors can see today is rather small compared to others, including those nearby, like Tikal (in Guatemala) and Calakmul (one of our favorites).
You can see most of the Palenque Archeological Zone in 2 to 4 hours. Below are a few of the key sites to visit and some interesting details about each.
Temple of the Skulls
Temple of the Skulls is one of the first pyramids you’ll see when entering Palenque. Archeologists found a tomb inside this temple, along with two additional buildings that the current temple was built over.
This was a common theme for civilizations during this period. Rather than tearing down and starting new, they would simply build on top. We saw evidence of this when we visited Teotihuacan near Mexico City.
Tomb of the Red Queen
The Tomb of the Red Queen is next to the Temple of Inscriptions and was believed to house two queens during this city’s reign.
Temple of the Inscriptions
This is one of the largest pyramids and one of the most well-known sites at Palenque. The inside has three walls covered in detailed inscriptions. This rare glimpse into the world of the Mayans has helped archeologists and historians piece key information together about the civilization.
This temple is also where the Mayan King K’inich Janaab’ Pakal was buried. His jade mask and other burial adornments were uncovered in the tomb here before being moved to the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
The pyramid had nine levels which correlated to the nine levels of the Mayan underworld. There were several remains of sacrifices found next to the King’s Tomb inside the Temple of Inscriptions, an indication of how important this King was to the Mayan people.
The Palace is the largest building in Palenque and is where the royals and nobles (below the King or Queen) would have lived. This large plaza would have been an interconnected structure for communal living including courtyards, bathrooms, passageways, private residences, and more.
The Temple of the Sun
The Temple of the Sun is one of the pyramids you can walk into to see a cool stucco relief. We visited Palenque Ruins during the pandemic (winter of 2021) when the Archeological Zone had blocked off passage to any of the pyramids.
Normally, you can walk on the pyramids and even inside some of them getting to see the glyphs sculpted reliefs, and burial areas for the royals. We were bummed we couldn’t have that experience during our visit. If you do venture on or in the pyramids, make sure to be mindful of your impact. This is a delicate landscape and try not to touch the walls or artifacts.
Temple of the Cross
The Temple of the Cross was one of our favorite buildings at Palenque. You’ll notice an intricate pattern adorning the top of the temple, which is believed to have been representing a King receiving blessings from his father in the underworld as he ascended the throne.
There are several more sites including a ball court where they played pitz, an aqueduct, a few waterfalls, and complexes that were used for housing. But the sites above are the main attractions. In total, we spent 3 hours there walking the grounds and learning about its fascinating history.
Hopefully, this guide sharing how to visit Palenque Ruins will help you plan your trip here. These pyramids are 100% worth visiting despite their slightly obscure location in Mexico. Let us know your thoughts or questions in the comments below.