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Ultimate Guide to Visiting Palenque in Mexico

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If you’ve found this guide then the majority lies that you have heard of Palenque in Mexico and you’re wondering what all the fuss is about and why it deserves an ultimate guide! Palenque is located in Chiapas and has plenty of things to do whilst you’re there. It is also up there as one of Amy’s favourite destinations that she has visited within Mexico. Before visiting this area of Mexico, most travellers end up finding themselves in San Cristobal. We would actually recommend skipping San Cristobal and going straight to Palenque. Bet you didn’t expect that! You will find that a lot of the tours that you go to do in San Cristobal, you can also do from Palenque but with less travel time.

It is truly a beautiful location within Mexico and you will find yourself in the jungle enjoying the sounds of the wildlife. There are plenty of Mayan ruins nearby for you to explore along with stunning waterfalls! Find out the top tips for visiting Palenque here…

Amy enjoying some of the beautiful ruins in Palenque.

How to Get There

Being in the middle of the Mexican jungle, it is unsurprising that Palenque doesn’t have its own airport. If you’re hoping to go straight to Palenque then your best option is to fly into Villahermosa and then take the bus to Palenque. The bus service is very good across Mexico and you will be able to get a 2-and-a-half-hour bus from Villahermosa to get to Palenque.

If you’re already travelling around Mexico then you will want to use the bus service. Whilst spending time in Mexico, it was a really easy and efficient way to get around. You will be able to get a bus from most major cities within Mexico. You can check the prices and book your bus tickets below:

Chiapas is a beautiful region of Mexico and you should definitely try to make the most of your time here by renting a car instead. There are so many beautiful sights to see that it is worth planning a road trip and exploring as many sights as you can. This incredible 15-day Chiapas itinerary will help you plan your road trip for this region.

Most travellers will tend to visit San Cristobal de las Casas first before making their way to Palenque. If you decide to do this then a word of warning: watch out for the sickness in San Cristobal. Whilst the actual town itself is beautiful, it is renown for travellers becoming sick so just be mindful. However, if you do decide to visit San Cristobal it will take you around 9 hours but you will be certain to meet more travellers along the way!

Mayan ruins is something that you will see a lot of whilst you're travelling in Mexico. This ultimate guide will give you plenty of recommendations to make the most of Palenque.

Getting Around Palenque

If you’ve spent some time backpacking Mexico already then you may be familiar with a collectivo. They are a great form of cheap public transport and will make you feel like a local. For those that have no idea what we’re talking about, collectivos are small mini-vans with a few extra seats used to transport locals where they need to go. It is similar to how the buses work but with no set route. You simply get in the collective and ask how much it will cost to take you to a certain point.

You will be able to get a collectivo to the Mayan ruins quite easily, you may just need to ask your hotel or hostel where the closest pick up point is. When you are leaving the ruins, you can get a collectivo close to where the ADO bus shelter is and can expect for it to cost you between 20-30 MXP (approximately £1 – £1.20).

You will be able to get the collectivo anywhere you need to go in Palenque essentially. If you’re staying in a hostel then you will most likely find other travellers that also want to join you for some of these trips. If you feel safer then make sure you ask someone if they want to join you and follow our tips for ways to keep yourself safe when travelling solo in Mexico.

3 Reasons Why You Should Visit Palenque

1. Less Touristy

One of the things that we love the most about Palenque is that it is much less touristy than other areas of Mexico which is why we’ve wrote this ultimate travel guide. No doubt you’ve heard of Chichen Itza but not heard of the Mayan ruins in Palenque. They are just as beautiful, less expensive to get to and you won’t have as many tourists in your photos blocking the view! It is easily one of our favourite hidden gems in Mexico.

Most travellers will head to the Agua Azul waterfalls but this image shows the Roberto Barrios waterfalls. This had to be included in our ultimate guide to Palenque because they are absolutely stunning and a hidden gem in Mexico.

When we went to visit the Roberto Barrios waterfalls, we had pretty much the whole place to ourselves. We got to enjoy an incredible day out swimming and sliding down some of the waterfalls without being crowded. The same for when we visited the Palenque town itself. It was nice to stroll around and enjoy the time without many other travellers.

Palenque is not as well-known by others so it is more of an off-the-beaten-track location. This means that you will get to enjoy plenty of amazing sights without the hustle and bustle.

2. Get to enjoy more of the nature

As Palenque is right in the middle of the Mexican jungle, you will be surrounded by plenty of incredible nature. In the hostel that Amy was staying in, one night all you could hear was howling monkeys. Don’t get us wrong, they’re a bit frightening to hear at early hours of the morning but at the same time it was such an incredible experience! We also found that there were usually howler monkeys lurking in the trees around the swimming pool. It has also been known for Jaguars to be around the jungle but as they often come out late at night, it is rare for them to be spotted. Along with this, you will find plenty of wild birds and other animals to enjoy.

3. Less travel time for sights

As we mentioned earlier, most tourists tend to visit San Cristobal de las Casas in order to visit the same sights as you can from Palenque. The difference is that if you go on these tours to the waterfalls and ruins from San Cristobal, you will have to leave at 4am and won’t be back until around 10pm at night. This is enough to put anyone off visiting so it is not as popular as you might think! Whereas if you visit from Palenque, you can generally come and go to these attractions as you please without a long day ahead.

One of the howler monkeys in the jungle of Palenque.

Best Hostel to Stay

There are two hostels that you can choose from in Palenque and they are both really good options. Casa Janaab Palenque is closest to the city itself and you can enjoy mixed dormitories that also have air-conditioning and hot water which is not as common as you might think. There are some really awesome communal areas with a pool table, swimming pool and plenty of hammocks for you to relax in.

We Recommend:

The hostel that Amy stayed in during her time in Palenque was Kim Balam Cabanas and she couldn’t fault it in any way. The thing that she loved the most about this hostel is that it is situated right in the middle of the Mexican jungle. It was one of the most awesome experiences during her time in Mexico as you could hear the howler monkeys sometimes during the night. The hostel itself has 4 and 6 beds in a dorm room. Whilst the rooms are a little smaller than most hostels, you won’t want to stay in there long anyway. There is way too much for you to explore during your time in Palenque that you will most likely be just using the hostel as a place to sleep.

Peacocks roaming around Kim Balam hostel.

Kim Balam has a gorgeous swimming pool, restaurant and a campfire area. We used all of these areas and they were great for meeting other travellers. Another highlight was also seeing the howler monkeys hanging around the trees by the swimming pool in the morning. If you’re lucky, you may also get to spot the peacocks roaming around the area and other wildlife if you look hard enough. Most people may worry that this is hostel is a little out of the way but you can get a collectivo just outside the front of the cabanas.

Best Hotels to Stay

1. Cabanas Bambutan £

If you’re looking for a bit more of your own space than you would get in a hostel but still trying to keep your trip on a budget then this is the perfect hotel for you. The cabanas are very similar to the Kim Balam hostel except instead of bunk beds, you will have your own private room. The cabanas are surrounded by mosquito nets and you will get to enjoy the peaceful sounds of the jungle at night.

Another highlight of the cabanas is that you will also be able to enjoy an American breakfast. You will be located close to the zocalo itself. The Palenque ruins are not too far either so it is certainly an ideal location for any traveller.

2. Maya Tulipanes Express ££

Even though this hotel is a little pricier than most of the others in Palenque, it is definitely worth the money! You will have plenty of luxury at an affordable price. It is situated close to the archaeological ruins so you won’t have far to go at all. Alternatively, there is also a travel tour company on site if you’d rather someone organise your trips for you.

Small stream that can be found in Mexican jungle.

With a beautiful swimming pool, karaoke bar, free wi-fi and an on-site restaurant, you will have plenty at your fingertips. One of the things that we love the most about this hotel is that there are plenty of replica Mayan art for you to enjoy too!

3. Hotel Boutique Quinta Chanabnal £££

Last but certainly not least is one of the most luxurious hotels that you can stay at within Palenque. The hotel has the most beautiful décor and resembles a Mayan palace. Every room within the hotel has air-conditioning and a mini bar with free soft drinks, beer and water. You will certainly be well hydrated! This is also a great spot for digital nomads to enjoy as there are work desks within each room too with free Wi-Fi.

You can enjoy the grounds of the hotel which offer beautiful views of the gardens, outdoor pools and waterfalls. It truly is a magical romantic place within Palenque and if you have the budget, it is a must visit for any couple travellers!

Best tours in Palenque

1. Agua Azul, Misol-Ha & Mayan Ruins Day Tour

This tour has got all the main sites for anyone that is planning a visit to Palenque but has limited time. You will begin the tour by heading from Palenque town and off to the archaeological ruins. You will step into Mayan culture and understand their history. The tour will then take you to the incredible Misol-Ha waterfalls which drops from around 25 metres! Lastly you will head to the popular Agua Azul waterfalls. This is one of the most beautiful places you will get to visit. It is a long day but absolutely perfect for anyone limited on time!

We Recommend:

2. Yaxchilan & Bonampak Ruins and Lacandon Jungle from Palenque

This is a really incredible tour for getting off the beaten track and enjoy a unique experience. This is a full day tour where you will be able to enjoy 2 different sites of Mayan ruins. Hotel pick-up and drop-off is included in your price so you will not have any concerns about safety at all!

Beautiful Mayan ruins.

You will first be taken to Bonampak where you will get to enjoy 2 hours exploring the archaeological site. Enjoy a breakfast buffet on your way to the Lacandon Jungle. Here you will find plenty of wildlife to marvel at along the way. You will then enjoy an hour long boat ride down the Usumacinta River and make your way to the hidden ruins of Yaxchilan. For us, this tour is really worth the money as you will also have 2 meals included. You will be exploring areas that very few people do.

Best Things to do in Palenque

If you’re hoping to do some self-touring then these are the things that we would recommend whilst you’re in Palenque. It is definitely the cheaper way of exploring. However, if you’re limited on time then we would suggest taking one of the tours we have recommended in the previous section.

1. Roberto Barrios Waterfalls

This is one of the most underrated things to do whilst you’re in Palenque. However, it is easily one of the most beautiful. If you make friends along your journey then make sure you grab a cooler, some beers and jump in a collective to Roberto Barrios waterfalls. It is an incredibly beautiful site and not as touristy as you would expect with Agua Azul.

Roberto Barrios waterfalls in Palenque.

2. Agua Azul Waterfalls

Whilst Agua Azul is a little more touristy than Roberto Barrios, it is still a really beautiful area to visit. You will find that this is included in many different tours so you will be able to combine this with other things to do. If you’re visiting the waterfalls during the rainy season then bear in mind that you won’t experience the beautiful blue waters that you see in the photos. If you’re looking for the crystal blue water then visit outside of the rainy season.

3. Palenque Archaeological Park

One of the reasons most people like to visit Palenque is to enjoy the Archaeological Park. Whilst Chichen Itza is one of the most well-known Mayan ruins, it is not the only or most beautiful one. We found that Palenque Mayan Ruins was actually more impressive because it is so underrated. You could easily spend a whole day exploring here and enjoying a break from the touristy hustle and bustle. You will be able to take a tour of the ruins or you can do a self-guided tour.

4. Touring Lacandon Jungle

To experience something a bit more unique and off the beaten track, take a trip to explore the Lacandon Jungle. We would recommend getting yourself booked on a tour if you wish to do this. It can become easy to get lost when trying to find your way around the jungle. Not just that but without doing the tour, we wouldn’t have learnt half the things we did. We got to see some fascinating animals during the tour. We also learnt more about the trumpet leaves that Mayans used to smoke for hallucinations. It really was an all over fascinating experience and we would highly recommend.

5. Visit Palenque Town

If you’re visiting Palenque then you need to visit the town as well and in particular try some local food. Of course, if you’re exploring around the town then you need to make sure you visit the Palenque sign. Have you really visited a place if you haven’t taken a picture with the sign? Haha! The town is a really lovely place to wander around and enjoy seeing a different side to Mexico.

Palenque sign in the town.

6. Misol-Ha

Last but certainly not least, take a trip out to Palenque’s third waterfall Misol-Ha. It is another popular waterfall with tourists due to the incredible height of it. The waterfall drops at approximately 25 meters and the views are absolutely stunning. Be prepared that you will most likely get absolutely drenched from all the mist whilst you’re enjoying this beautiful waterfall.

7. Aluxes Ecoparque

This was an unexpected visit whilst we were in Palenque. However, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience to learn about the animals. We loved seeing what the park is doing to protect the species. You can walk to the top of a huge viewpoint and experience a breath-taking view of the jungle that surrounds which is worth it alone!

Beautiful parrot at Aluxes.

Where you can travel to next

After leaving Palenque, most travellers tend to find their way back to Villahermosa to take a flight. Alternatively, they brave the bus journey to San Cristobal del las Casas. However, when Amy done this trip she headed towards Campeche instead. Depending on how much time you have left on your trip will really determine where you decide to travel next. If you can face the bus journeys then the world really is your oyster. We’ve provided some different popular routes below for you with links to Busbud to get them booked!

This is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Mexico so we really would recommend visiting Palenque and following this ultimate guide. There are quite a lot of things to do as it is situated in the jungle. You will also be able to take a nice break from the hustle and bustle. Especially for newer travellers, we would say this is a really good starting point to getting off the beaten track slightly. We hope that you enjoy your time in Palenque. We would love to know where your favourite place to visit was whilst you were there. Comment below what your highlight of Palenque is…

PS. If you’re travelling around Mexico then make sure you check out our itinerary for Isla Mujeres.

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Plan Your Trip to Palenque

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  • Book Your HOSTEL here – we frequently use HostelWorld to book for our hostel and you will find plenty of cheap finds here!
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  • Purchase CITY PASSES here – this is our favourite place for city passes as you will save much money on attractions using these passes!
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