If you’ve heard about Palenque before, it’s probably because of its remarkable ruins. The town itself, small but bustling, is situated in the state of Chiapas, in the south of Mexico.
Unsurprisingly, the main draw to this jungle town is the Palenque ruins or Zona Arqueológica Palenque. The ancient city, which flourished in the 7th century, was considered by the Maya to be just as important as Chichen Itza and Tikal. Some travellers would argue that Palenque is actually better than Chichen Itza as you can climb some of the pyramids here.
Don’t let the ruins steal the limelight though, Palenque has other things to offer. The town is a great jumping-off point for day trips and a notable stop on your way to other destinations, such as San Cristobal. Even better, just over an hour away, you’ll find Agua Azul and Misol-ha, two of the best waterfalls in Mexico!
Get your bucket list ready. In this guide, we’ll show you the best things to do in Palenque and how to experience them.
Need help planning your trip? Check out our tips for visiting Palenque — you’ll find the best restaurants, where to stay, how to get around and more!
#1 Explore Palenque’s Mayan ruins
The ancient city of Palenque dates back to the 3rd century BC, with most buildings constructed between 400 AD and 700 AD.
Even though it’s considered medium-sized (compared to sites like Chichen Itza or Tikal), it contains some of the finest architecture and carvings that the Mayan civilization ever produced. This is also where one of the most famous Mayan treasures was found: the jade death mask of king Pakal the Great (you can see it at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City).
After the decline of the Mayan cities, the jungle reclaimed the city which slowly eroded away. But a great job has been done excavating and restoring the structures, so today you get a pretty good picture of what it was like to live here in the past.
As you follow the winding paths that take you around the site, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported back in time.
How to visit Palenque’s ruins
Visiting the ruins is an easy task that can be done independently. The best way to reach the ruins is by colectivo. These can be found along the main road or you can wait outside the ADO bus station.
The colectivos will drive past and have a sign saying ‘ruinas’ on their dashboard. The journey takes just 20 minutes and costs 25 MXN ($1.30).
You can also get a taxi to the ruins for between 50-100 pesos.
Whatever form of transport you take, it will stop at the entrance to the park where you’ll have to pay two different fees. One to enter the national park and another to enter the ruins. The total entrance fee adds up to 182 MXN ($9.50). Once you’ve paid, get back into your taxi or colectivo as there’s still some ways to go to the actual archaeological zone.
Zona Arqueológica Palenque is open every day from 8:00-16:30. We recommend getting there right when it opens to avoid the crowds and the heat.
Covid update Dec 2022
Climbing Palenque ruins was temporarily suspended during the pandemic. The good news is, you are now allowed to climb some of the pyramids again! Pay attention to the signs to know which areas are safe to climb and which ones are off-limits.
#2 Visit Palenque’s museum
If you are already visiting Palenque’s ruins, you may as well visit Palenque Site Museum (Alberto Ruz Lhuillier).
You can find the museum a short hike down from the ruins. Follow the well-marked trail that begins near the bathrooms.
Inside the museum, you’ll find around 234 objects from around Palenque that are showcased with detailed explanations, allowing you to gain a deeper understanding of the Mayan city.
The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays. The entrance to the museum is already included in your ticket to the Palenque ruins.
#3 Take a day trip to stunning waterfalls
You won’t want to miss out on the waterfalls around Palenque as they’re some of the best in Mexico!
The waterfalls can be visited both by car and colectivo, but the easiest option is to join one of the day tours from Palenque (more on that later).
There are three to choose from: Agua Azul, Misol-ha and Roberto Barrios.
Agua Azul Waterfall
Located 69 km from Palenque is Agua Azul, a multi-tiered waterfall with a number of pools that are perfect for swimming. The waterfall gets its name from its vibrant blue colour, similar to the ocean colour in the Maldives.
Make sure to walk to the top of the waterfall, the ‘mirador’, to really appreciate the grandeur and power of the waterfall.
The entrance to Agua Azul is around 50 pesos.
Just 20 km from Palenque, you will find Misol-ha, a 35m-tall single cascade waterfall. At its base, there’s a plunge pool that’s perfect for swimming in.
At the site, there’s also a path that allows you to walk behind the waterfall. The spray from the waterfall here is very refreshing.
Entrance to Misol-ha is 30 pesos.
Roberto Barrios Waterfall
A 45-minute drive from Palenque is Roberto Barrios, another multi-layered waterfall similar to Agua Azul but not as bright blue.
This waterfall isn’t as popular as the other two, so you can escape the crowds and have a quieter experience here.
The entrance to Roberto Barrios costs 30 pesos too.
Booking a tour
Walking around Palenque, you’ll find many tour operators offering day tours to the waterfalls. These are an efficient way to see the waterfalls as everything is organised for you.
The most popular tour tends to be a 6-7 hour tour to Misol-ha and Agua Azul. You can book this tour online for about $30, but it’s much cheaper to book it when you arrive. When booking the tour in Palenque, expect to pay around 300 MXN ($15.50) – 350 MXN ($18.50) for a similar tour.
It is also possible to visit the waterfalls independently, but if you add up the transportation costs and entrance fees, it can actually work out more expensive. With a tour, everything is already organised for you, so all you can sit back and enjoy.
If you love animals and being surrounded by nature then Aluxes Eco Park can be a good way to spend the morning or afternoon.
Some of the animals you can see include crocodiles, jaguars, leopards, monkeys and parrots. The park rescues and rehabilitates animals that have been victims of cruelty and animal trafficking, so it’s not the regular zoo you might think of!
After planting 20,000 trees in the area, the park has begun to flourish and a new ecosystem has been created. Now the park is a beautiful place full of life and colour.
The park is open every day 9:00-17:00. Entrance ticket costs 150 MXN ($7.50).
#5 Relax by the pool in a hotel
Palenque is a very hot and humid place, so we wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to escape the heat. The waterfalls are a great way to do this, but for a bit more luxury, a pool may be a better option.
Within Palenque, there are a number of hotels that have pools and sun loungers. Many will let you use their pool as long as you buy something from the bar or restaurant — a pretty good trade!
Hotel Maya Tulipanes Palenque is a great option for this. Entrance is free, drinks are very reasonably priced and there’s not only a pool but also a hot tub (if you can handle more heat).
If you’re looking to treat yourself, Chan Kah Resort is one of the best places to do that in Palenque. You can give yourself the gift of relaxation without the expensive price tag. Plus, you can speed up the relaxation process with a delightful massage at the onsite spa facilities, or by enjoying a drink at their bar.
Possibly the best part, as you splash around in the lagoon-style pools, you’ll be able to hear the monkeys cry in the jungle trees all around you. Alternatively, you can enjoy the jungle symphony whilst enjoying dinner in one of the two restaurants.
The central courtyard of the hotel truly feels like a magical oasis, with its palm trees and thriving greenery. And you’ll find not only a swimming pool, but also a hot tub. You won’t ever want to leave, and don’t have to, with their on-site restaurant that serves both delicious international and local dishes.
Located a short walk from the bus station, you won’t need to be dragging your luggage all around town. It’s location also makes your visit to Palenque ruins easy and convenient.
When you think of Palenque, the ruins surrounded by jungle immediately come to mind. Staying at Cabanas Bambutan is the perfect way to experience Palenque, surrounded by nothing but nature and wildlife.
Their bamboo-style buildings help you to feel connected to nature, whilst still providing ultimate comfort and a good nights sleep. Enjoy a drink at their onsite bar or chill out in the lush gardens.
The hotel owners steal the show here, making you feel at home straight away. The resident cats and dogs also add to the friendly atmosphere of the place. If you need any help with your visit to Palenque ruins, the owners will be more than happy to help.
Palenque can get pretty hot, which makes having a pool almost a necessity. Thankfully Casssa Vlanca has one for you to cool down in after your day of sight-seeing.
Kate is a writer, (ex)Management Consultant and avid traveller. She recently returned from a 2-year career break exploring the world and decided corporate life wasn’t for her. She’ll soon be testing life as a digital nomad. She’s visited over 40 countries and fell in love with Latin America in particular. Her travelling has inspired a passion for yoga, salsa, hiking and Spanish.
Aleksandra is a writer and editor who recently moved from Hong Kong to London. She’s worked and studied in four countries (and counting) and picked up a new hobby in each of them. She’s a big fan of long train journeys so you can count on her to take the scenic route, finding a few hidden gems along the way.