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The Palenque National Park is known for the ruins of ancient Maya city-state of Palenque. The park is near (5.6 miles or 9 km) the village of Santo Domigo de Palenque (about 80 miles (130 km) south of Ciudad del Carmen) in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico. The ruins of Palenque are at the foothills of mountain ridge the Sierra Madre de Chiapas. Palenque is a Spanish word for fortification. The original name of the city was Lakam Ha meaning great water which can be attributed to springs and small rivers flowing from the site.
Based on hieroglyphic inscriptions found on the many monuments in Palenque, historians believe that the Maya city appeared around 100 BC and was abandoned somewhere near 800 AD. The ancient city remained in oblivion until late 18th century, when archeologists showed interest in studying Palenque. Extensive examinations of the city began in 19th and continued in the last century. Although Palenque is considered the most studied of Maya sites, it is estimated that only 10% of the total city has been excavated (with much of it taking place in the last 20 years).
In comparison to some other Maya sites (most notably Tikal in Guatemala and Copán in Honduras), the Palenque discovered area is relatively small - about 0.85 sq miles (2.5 sq km). However, the small size does not make Palenque less attractive. In fact, Palenque perhaps evokes more interest in visitors than any other ruin in the area extending from central Mexico down through Central America, including Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador - the area where major ancient civilizations were discovered - including the Olmecs, Zapotecs, Teotihuacanos, Mayas and Aztecs.
No doubt, attention to the Palenque site is due to its magnificent architecture - the finest examples of Maya craftsmanship and art where structures are organized in a harmonious balance and decorated with unique Maya style roof comb and bas-relief carvings. The dominant element of the complex is the Palace (Palacio) - a cluster of connected and buildings and courtyards erected over several generations. The intricacy of the Palace is balanced by the Temple of Inscriptions - a large temple-like structure sitting atop an eight-stepped pyramid. Other notable constructions include:
- Temple of the Cross, Temple of the Sun, and Temple of the Foliated Cross named for the cross-like images in their reliefs (constructed in a typical Maya style atop step pyramids)
- Piedras Bolas Aqueduct - the earliest known in the New World pressurized aqueduct.
In addition, the site has a number of other temples, tombs, and buildings, even a court for playing the pre-Columbian ballgame. However, the archaeological work has just begun - it is estimated that the total size of the site is about six square miles (15.5 sq km) with hundreds of ruined palaces and buildings yet to be excavated. But even today you can easily spend two-three days exploring the site.
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What Makes It Special
With its extraordinary architecture of ancient Maya, Palenque is a unique archeological site to enjoy and study the elegance and craftsmanship of the buildings constructed by hand including beautifully sculpted bas-reliefs with Mayan mythological themes. Pre-Hispanic City and National Park of Palenque is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978.
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Directions To Destination
Popular points of entrance to Mexico are by air through Mexico City International Airport or Cancun International Airport. The first is Mexican main international and domestic gateway. The Mexico City airport offers direct flights to more than 100 destinations all over the world. It is located six miles (10 km) from Mexico City. The airport has a Metro service to downtown Mexico City. There are also shared shuttles and bus services. However, before you decide on your means of transportation, consider a taxi - there are plenty of them and the resulting cost is often cheaper when you use them. If you need a taxi you pay in advance at the taxi counter at the airport but not to a taxi driver. Cancun International Airport is the second busiest airport, and the biggest in Mexico and Latin America by the number of International passengers.
If upon arrival to Mexico City airport you want to go sightseeing Mexico City before heading to Palenque, you can store your luggage (for more than one day) at the airport using Guarda Plus storage service located in the Commercial Zone. Short-term rates (prices 2011) are from $0.35 to $0.95 (4 MXN to 11 MXN) per hour, and daily rates are from $3.40 to $9.50 (40 MXN to 110 MXN). Small lockers are available for $2 (24 MXN) per day. The service is 24 hours round the clock.
The closest domestic airport to Palenque is Villahermosa, about two hours bus driving distance. Tuxtla Gutierrez, the airport for San Cristobal de las Casas is five to six hours by bus. Both airports service domestic flights from Mexico City and other cities in the country.
There is no airport in Palenque or close to it. To visit the site you need a bus, a train or a car.
By bus from Mexico City:
Mexico city has four large bus terminals located on the North, South , East and West of the city. To get to Palenque by bus you need The East Passenger Bus Terminal (TAPO). It is located near the Mexico City International Airport, the Legislative Palace and the Federal Justice Palace. It is about 1 mile (1.6 km) from the Historic Center downtown. You can get to TAPO from Mexico City International Airport by taxi or metro (you will need San Lazaro Station to reach TAPO by Metro).
The distance between Mexico city and Palenque is 627 miles (1010 km); it takes about 18 hours to reach the site by bus. The ADO overnight bus departs at 6:10 PM - arrives at 1:05 PM, cost (prices 2011) is about $75 (870 MXN)
By bus from Cancun:
The trip to Palenque from Cancun is 540 miles (870 km) - about 15 - 23 hours by bus (depending on specific bus service). You can get an overnight bus from following companies (with buses departing between 2 PM and 8 PM): OCC, Cristobal Colon, ADO GL, ADO with bus fares (prices 2011) from $40 (462 MXN) to $70 (770 MXN). These two websites will help you with the schedule: ADO and
There are also buses daily from nearby cities: San Cristobal de las Casas (five hours), Tuxtla Gutierrez (six hours), Villahermosa (2.5 hours). If you take a bus to Palenque you arrive at the bus station on Juarez road which runs through the town of Palenque and leads to the ruins.
Note that it is possible to get to Palenque from Flores in Guatemala by bus (six hour trip, leaving Flores daily at 5:00 AM, the cost is $35).
By car: driving to Palenque from the north is an easy trip. Use a map for directions - the roads are in good conditions and clearly marked.
By train: there is no train from Mexico City or Cancun to Palenque. But if you want to see all Maya's historic ruins you can travel by Expreso Maya (tourist train that runs on Yucatan peninsula; consists of 4 deluxe saloons with a seating capacity of 64 seats). It stops at Villahermosa, Campeche, Mérida, Palenque, Uxmal and Chichén Itzá.
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Best Time To Go
The southern Mexico weather is characterized by two seasons: the dry one from November to April, and the rainy season from May to October. Spring months are warm, while the summer months are hot, humid and rainy (mostly in the late afternoon). The state of Chiapas (where Palenque is located) has 85 inches of rain a year. The best time to visit Palenque is during dry season which lasts from November to April. The very best months are December and January.
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Where To Stay
- Misión Palenque (Periferico Oriente, 29960 Palenque) - three star hotel, rates from $60 (tax included in room price). The hotel is located within a five-minute drive to Palenque City Square and has 207 rooms.
- Chan-Kah Resort Village (Km 3.5 Carretera a las Ruinas, 29960 Palenque) - four star hotel, rates from $90 (tax included in room price). Hotel is located at the entry of the archaeological zone of Palenque and has 80 rooms.
- Hotel Chablis Palenque (Merle Green No 7, Centro Ecoturistico La Cañada, 29960 Palenque) - two star hotel, rates from $46 (tax included in room price). Hotel is located next from the federal highway and from the famous Palenque Mayan Head; Palenque downtown is about half mile from the hotel. Hotel has 32 rooms.
Research and book hotels in or near Palenque, Mexico
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Sightseeing. The main places to see include the Palace and the Temple of the Inscriptions.
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Useful Visitor Information and Tips
Palenque site is open from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, every day. Two entrance fees should be paid: at the park's main gate - MXN$ 15, at the archaeological park entrance - MXN$ 45. The total is equivalent to about US$ 6.50 (in 2011 prices). There is no entrance fee for the museum. You will have to pay for filming permit for a video camera. Professional film shooting are strictly prohibited without the appropriate permits obtained only in Mexico City.
Outbursts of politically-motivated violence happens from time to time in Chiapas. You should exercise caution if you visit area around San Cristobal de las Casas, the municipality of Ocosingo, and the jungle area next to Guatemalan border. Local roads can be dangerous. You should not leave main roads. Main and local roads can be blocked because of the local land disputes. Locals can be asking for money to pass through these unofficial tolls.
Keep in mind the US State Department warnings about traveling in Mexico. Check Mexico Country Specific Information on the US State Department web site for current conditions regarding traveling in Mexico
Malaria, Dengue fever are common in low-lying and jungle areas of Mexico. These diseases are caused by mosquito bites. Take all precautions against mosquito bites whenever possible.
Hygiene standards are low in many places in Mexico. Food poisoning is common throughout the country. Eat only thoroughly cooked meals and drink only boiled or bottled water; avoid ice in drinks. Exercise caution before purchasing food and not bottled drinks from street vendors.
On arrival in Mexico City and other high altitude areas of Mexico, you may feel weakness, shortness of breath, headaches due to the lack of oxygen - Mexico City is located at the altitude of 7,217 feet (2,200 meters) above sea level. Allow some time for adjustment while planing the trip.
Most first-class bus companies perform security checks when passengers board buses, but armed robberies of buses and passengers still happen. Be vigilant, long distance bus travellers should stay alert.
If you travel by first class buses you will need a sweater; because of air-conditioning it may be cold inside.
The ruins are about 3.7 miles (6 km) from the town of Palenque and minibuses run between the town and ruins every 10 to 15 minutes during the day. A collectivo (combis or shared taxi) from town is the cheapest way to get to the ruins. The main street is the most convenient place to catch it. It takes about 15 minutes to get to the ruins and costs about $1 (10 $MX). On your way back you can catch shared taxi at the exit of the ruins.
Since you are going to visit the rain forest, a raincoat and sturdy boots my be handy. if you intend to spend time in the jungle, you will need a mosquito repellent. Try to avoid the height of the rainy season - June, July and August.
Be aware of howler monkeys if you chose to live close to the jungles - some people cannot sleep at night because of their laud howls. The wild life in the rain forest is very rich; be aware of porcupines, agoutis, jaguars, ocelots, monkeys, anteaters, crocodiles, turtles and a great variety of birds, tapirs, wild pig, caimen. Also, you can find varieties of snakes: anacondas, boas, bushmaster as well as many types of insects including mosquitoes, ants, spiders.
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