DescriptionThe town of Palenque, some 145 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of Villahermosa, has little to offer tourists, although there are hotels and restaurants around its main plaza. It does, however, provide access to the Mayan ruins of Palenque, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. Occupying the lower foothills of the Sierra Madre in one of Mexico's wettest, most lushly forested regions, Palenque (pah-LEHN-keh) is perhaps the most haunting archeological site in the entire country.
This ancient city most likely began as a farming settlement around 150 B.C. and flourished between A.D. 600 and 800, when it ruled an area covering much of the present-day states of Chiapas and Tabasco. Palenque was abandoned around A.D. 900 for reasons unknown but still debated by historians.
Large-scale excavations in the 1920s under the supervision of Danish explorer Frans Blom began clearing away centuries of earth and encroaching jungle. Subsequent excavations have brought to light significant knowledge about Palenque, its inhabitants, its culture and its central role within the Mayan empire.
Travel agencies in Villahermosa, Tuxtla Gutiérrez and San Cristóbal de Las Casas can provide information on reaching Palenque by first-class bus; the trip takes 2 to 3 hours from Villahermosa and about 6 hours from Tuxtla Gutiérrez. Although the ruins can be adequately toured in half a day, staying overnight makes for a less hurried agenda.
From Villahermosa, motorists should take Mex. 186 to Catazajá, then Mex. 199 south to the ruins. Passing through lush countryside, the roadway is generally straight, although slick during the June-through-October rainy season and potholed at any time of year.
Mex. 199 intersects Avenida Juárez about half a mile west of the town's main plaza; the junction is designated by a large statue of a Maya chieftain's head. The road to the ruins branches west off Mex. 199 less than half a mile south of this junction. If you arrive by first-class bus, colectivo shuttle buses and taxis run between the center of town and the ruins.
The winter months—November through February—are a better time to visit than in the summer, when it is oppressively hot and humid. Arrive early to avoid both the heat and the crowds, and wear a hat and sunblock for protection from the sun. An all-weather jacket or other rain gear will come in handy at any time. Insect repellent is necessary if you plan on doing any exploring, particularly in the late afternoon.
Visitor InfoChiapas State Tourism Office (Delegación de Turismo)
Things to SeeAgua Azul Waterfalls