The second stop on my Mexican road trip, after San Cristóbal, was the Pueblo Mágico called Palenque. It is located in the northeast corner of the state of Chiapas.
To read more about things to do & see in San Cristóbal, check out my previous blog post here.
Why visit Palenque?
If you are a history buff, Palenque is your window to the ancient Mayan ruins. If you like nature, Palenque has a dense jungle where you can go for an adventure walk and get away from the modern world amenities. If sliding down the waterfalls is on your bucket list, Palenque’s got you covered there too. If you like to chill, Palenque has many luxury hotels to chic hostels to stay and let the time go by ever so slow. Some hostels are very close to the ruins in El Panchan, where you can do nothing but sit by the pool, or spend an evening at the most famous restaurant in El Panchan called Don Mucho’s, listening & dancing to the live music. Whatever your interest, Palenque will serve you well.
How many days to spend in Palenque?
It really depends on why you’re visiting Palenque. If you are tight on schedule, you should plan for a minimum of 2 days in Palenque. That is what I did as well. I was satisfied with my time there and saw everything Palenque has to offer, including a half day trip to the nearby falls which is off the radar of many tourists because of the other famous falls that everybody goes to (more on that in the post below…).
Your ideal 2 day itinerary in Palenque
Day 1: Venture into the jungle of Palenque on a guided jungle walk tour
There are a few guided jungle tours available in Palenque. But, the best one would be from an individual named Gabriel, whom I’d hired, with a reference from a friend. He is the best guide you could have as he grew up in Palenque with this jungle as his backyard (hit me up if you need his contact as he does not have a website or a booking page).
Gabriel knows the jungle very well, including all the hidden paths, and he will take you deep in the jungle for a true tomb raider style adventure – climbing up & down the waterfalls, and having a mud bath in the streams flowing through the jungle. It was truly a rejuvenating experience to say the least.
We spent about 3 hours on the jungle walking tour. Get a pair of good hiking shoes and come with a whole lot of adventure in you. Entire walk is in a dense jungle, where you’ll need to bushwhack, cross some streams and climb waterfalls.
Gabriel can even imitate the sound of a howler monkey to call them, which are present here in large numbers and call the jungle their home. He will also take you in & out of old ruins buried deep in the jungle. If you’re claustrophobic, you might skip this part, as it involves passing through small holes on all fours.
More often than not, he brings along with him various kinds of fresh fruits like cocoa & lychee. It is a unique experience, sitting in the middle of the jungle, as he gives a brief history of this area and his story associated with it, while you keep on munching away those fresh fruits. It was the first time I tried a raw cocoa fruit and it was so bloody delicious. It’s a must try if you’ve not done so yet.
We ended the tour with a mud bath in one of the rivers deep in the jungle. The entire place will be for yourself, as tourists rarely venture out this deep, unless they’re with Gabriel. The whole experience was out of this world!
After the tour, you can spend the rest of the evening at Don Mucho’s before heading back to your hostel/hotel (more about this place in the post below).
Day 2: Exploring the Mayan Ruins & the Secret Waterfall
Today, you will wake up early to get a head start before the rest of the crowd comes in to explore the Zona Arqueológica Palenque (Ancient Mayan Ruins) – the highlight of Palenque. It is better to reach there early to beat the mid-day scorching heat.
If you’re staying in El Panchan (more on the accommodations below), the Mayan ruins are a quick 5-10 min shuttle ride or a 30-40 mins walk along the Palenque National Park. It makes for a good walk back, with jungle on either side of the road.
Based on the level of interest, expect to spend anywhere between 2 to 4 hours at the park. If you’re a history buff, a guided tour of the site is highly recommended. It took me about 3 hours to explore the park at my own leisure pace. I was back at the hostel by lunch time.
Note: Read more about exploring the Mayan ruins of Palenque in detail here.
Post lunch, me and my friend Vivi, whom I’d met on the jungle walk tour, went to the secret waterfall, that she’d mentioned is a must visit. I’m so glad that I met her and got to know about this place, which I would’ve missed otherwise.
Most travelers visit either the famous Cascada Misol Ha (Misol Ha Waterfalls for my English friends) or the Agua Azul (Aqua Azul in English). Both of these falls are very busy with travelers, and several tourist buses visit them daily. Hence, I would instead recommend to go to Cascada Roberto Barrios (Roberto Barrios Waterfalls). It is not as frequently visited by tourists as the other two. But, it is truly a hidden gem in Chiapas.
Roberto Barrios waterfall has 7 layers of falls with 6 different pools to swim and explore in. You can slide down these falls (literally) on 2 of these 7 layers, or you can walk behind these falls by passing through the sheer amount of water falling, to get a different perspective. In some of these pools, there is a long string attached to the tree to swing & jump in the water below. If you’re not feeling that adventurous, then, you can just swim or float in the emerald colored pools. Whatever your choice of adventure, you’ll certainly have a great time and never feel like going back home.
Unfortunately, I did not bring the camera with me for the obvious intentions of swimming & sliding down various waterfalls. But, you can check out the images of the falls here.
Note: There are no lockers available at the falls. You can leave your valuables in the vehicle. Keep in mind, it may not be feasible to get to the vehicle to get your camera or other belongings once you’re down in the lower set of pools as it is a bit of a walk back up.
After a lot of playing in the water and completely exhausted, we went back to Don Mucho’s for a filling dinner and a good night’s rest.
Where to stay in Palenque?
There are all kinds of options to stay in Palenque. If you’re looking for a mid-to-high range accommodation, your best bet would be to put in at one of the hotels in Palenque or in one of the many resorts on the Palenque-Ruinas road. These hotels & resorts can cater to all your needs. Note that the ruins are a 10 kms drive from the Palenque city center.
Some of the best hotels/resorts with good reviews to consider are Hotel Chablis Palenque, Chan-Kah Resort Village, Hotel Tulija Palenque, Hotel Maya Tulipanes Palenque. You will never run out of options in Palenque, as it is a tourist ready town.
If you’re on a budget or if you’d like to stay The Globe Backpacker style, then the closest and the best options are right on the doorstep of the ruins. There are two hostels with excellent reviews – Jungle Palace & Cabañas Kin Balam Palenque. I’d stayed in Cabañas Kin Balam and it was the best hostel stay from all my stays on the entire trip in Mexico.
For one, it is easy to socialize with other backpackers if you’re traveling solo. Secondly, it was super cheap, about CAD$20 per night. Thirdly, the hostel was really well maintained, with amenities like swimming pool right outside your dorm. Lastly, you’re just 40 min walk (3 kms) or a 7 min shuttle ride away from the ruins.
Where to eat in Palenque?
The best restaurant around is undoubtedly Don Mucho’s in El Panchan. It is 2 mins from Cabañas Kin Balam and there’s live music every weekend. You’ll always find this place busy from early afternoon to late in the night. Most hostelers hang out here to socialize & party until very late. It is a must visit restaurant when in Palenque.
Palenque and El Panchan in particular is a must visit place in Chiapas, with beautiful Mayan ruins to explore, to go on an adventurous jungle walk or to bathe in the emerald colored pools of the Roberto Barrios waterfall.
If you’ve been here, share your experience and pictures in the comments section below. Also, if I’ve missed anything, mention that in the comments section too, so the fellow travelers can benefit from it. Lastly, while you’re at it, do not forget to like, follow and subscribe to my website & the Insta page for instant updates on new travel posts.
See you on the road, cheers!