When we visited Chiapas (Mexico’s southernmost state) a trip to the Archeological Zone of Palenque was high up on our list of things to do. Exploring Mayan Ruins is a right of passage for anyone who visits Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It is one of the best Mayan Ruins in the region. Palenque is one of the best examples of Mayan architecture. It has quickly become our favourite Mayan Ruins (so far).
Set in a dramatic backdrop of rolling hills and dense tropical jungles, Palenque has a certain mystique to it that sets it apart from other archeological sites in the region. The Ruins at Palenque are grand, built around the main plaza (which surrounds the main Palace) and has many great pyramids which you can climb.
There is still a lot of mystery behind the Mayans, and many of the sites were abandoned, only to be reclaimed by the jungles, waiting to be explored by future generations.
What makes the Mayan Ruins of Palenque so amazing?
Palenque site was likely known as Lakamha to its original inhabitants, and it was an important Maya city-state that flourished in the 7th century. Its peak dating from 226 BC to AD 799. When the inhabitants abandoned the city around 800 AD, it was quickly reclaimed by the jungle. There are still many of these ruins that are in the process of being “re-discovered”. Only about 10% of the city having been uncovered so far.
The inscriptions found in Palenque have been an important puzzle piece hepling archeologists to re-write the history of this lost civilization. It is one of the most studied cities in the region because of this.
The site was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. Palenque may not be as big as some of the most famous counterparts (like Tikal or Chichen Itza), it makes up for it in other ways. It is obvious this was an important place in the Mayan Empire.
Palenque is one of the can’t miss Mayan ruins to visit.
It’s history included war with other nearby cities, such as Calakmul sometime around 599. After being invaded and sacked by Calakmul, the city had three great rulers (Pakal the Great being the most famous). Most of the great architecture was built during and after his reign and was followed by his son and grandson. The main plaza which surrounds the palace, has many great buildings and structures. This includes the temple of Inscriptions, which was the burial place of Pakal.
This site has many great structures that have been carefully rebuilt and excavated to showcase how amazing the city might have looked during its peak. The “temple of the cross-group” had three important temples. The temple of the cross, temple of the sun, and temple of the foliated cross are built atop step pyramids. They are located above the main ruins area and look down towards the rest. From the top of these pyramids, you can get a pretty great view of the surrounding area.
Palenque was an important cultural and political powerhouse during its peak. The city was built where the lowlands surrounding the Gulf of Mexico met the mountains, and it’s proximity to the Usumacinta River, would have made it an important trading city.
Where is Palenque and how do you get there?
The Mayans occupied parts of modern-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and northern Honduras, and have left behind many great archeological sites that are being used to piece together the history of these Mayan City States. The ruins are located just outside of Palenque (in Chiapas) where the plains that extend from the Gulf of Mexico first hit the hills.
We spent several hours walking around here, and there are many distinct to areas to explore. Hiking around the hot and humid jungle works up quite a sweat, so it is worth trying to plan your day around a visit to one of the nearby waterfalls for a dip in one of the natural water pools. We visited these Three Waterfalls in Chiapas that would all be acceptable ways to cool off after a day of exploration.
There are many other great Mayan sites in the area worth exploring (such as Yaxchillan and Bonampak) as well as the many natural wonders that Chiapas has to offer.
The city sits in a mountainous landscape, still mostly covered by the jungle, and it is estimated that only about 10% of the city has been reclaimed from nature. Hopefully next time we visit there will be even more to see.
The ruins are surrounded by a National Park, which helps to preserve the beauty of the surroundings. There are many impressive structures found here, and several great pyramids at Palenque that you are still able to climb, which is always a thrill when visiting a Mayan archeological site.
If we could recommend visiting one Mayan Ruin in Mexico, it would be Palenque. We hope the following video will stoke your desire to visit too!
Mayan Ruins of Palenque:
Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Palenque
The Mayan Ruins of Palenque is located in the jungles of Chiapas, where the plains of the Gulf of Mexico first meet the rolling hills of Central America. This was an important city in the Mayan world for over 1000 years, with the city being constructed sometime around 200 BC.
After much deliberation, Palenque quickly become our favourite ruins in the Yucatan, with the mountain backdrop and dense jungle giving this ruins a sense of adventure. It has some very unique architecture and many well-preseved structures. It is estimated that only 10% of the entire complex has been excavated so far, and there are several trails you can walk that takes you too different parts of the complex. Without a doubt, this is the one Mayan Ruins you need to put on your bucket list.