Zona Arqueológica Palenque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico, located deep in the green jungles of Palenque in the state of Chiapas.
These ruins are a bit far from the prime tourist locations of Mexico like Cancun & Playa Del Carmen. But, it is a must visit place and it should be on your bucket list.
There are many other things to do and see in & around Palenque. You can read all about it in my blog post, here.
The Mayan Ruins Site Map
To explore all the important structures in the Mayan ruins of Palenque, you would need about half a day. I would recommend to arrive early in the morning, as soon as it opens at 8:30am, to beat the crowd and also avoid the afternoon heat. Even though you’re in a jungle, there is little shade and relentless heat.
As you can see the map in the image above, there are many structures to see and explore, the most significant among them being the Temple of the Inscriptions (Templo de las Inscripciones), Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun) and El Palacio (The Palace). The entry fee, when I visited back in 2021, was around 85 to 100 pesos.
Exploring the Mayan Ruins
Note: Back in the day, it was allowed to climb up on some of these ruins. But, now it is forbidden to climb on any ruins in Palenque.
As you enter, the first structure you’ll see is the Temple of the Skull. It gets its name from a stucco skull located at the base of the middle pier.
Next to the Temple of the Skull is the Tomb of the Red Queen. It is the burial chamber of the queen Ix Tz’akbu Ajaw, the wife of the King Pakal. It is dated at around 600 AD.
Two other skeletons were also found in another sarcophagus found inside this tomb and it is believed that they were sacrificed to accompany the queen.
Right besides the Tomb of the Red Queen is one of the most famous structures on the site – Temple of the Inscriptions (Templo de las Inscripciones). It is a magnificent 9 level structure initiated by the ruler of Palenque, King Pakal himself. But, it was completed by his son and successor, K’inich Kan B’alam II. It housed the sarcophagus of King Pakal. It is the largest pyramid structure in Palenque.
Standing at a right angle to the Temple of the Inscriptions, is The Palace. The Palace is a very large structure consisting a courtyard, five houses (including Pakal’s throne room) and the tower, which is visible from everywhere.
It is located in the center of the ancient City of Palenque and it served as its administrative center. It is believed that all the major events, rituals and ceremonies took place in the palace.
Note: When I was there, maintenance work was going on in The Palace. Hence, no one was allowed to go inside. Check online if that’s changed now.
Next, the trail will cross between the Temple of the Inscriptions and the Palace to the other side of the aqueduct. This area is known as the Cross Group. It consists of three temples – Temple of the Cross, the Temple of the Foliated Cross and the Temple of the Sun.
Each of the three temples is dedicated to one of the gods. The Temple of the Sun, as shown in the picture above is the smallest among the three, but it is the best preserved temple in the group.
Temple of the Foliated Cross, as shown in the image below, is in the middle, with respect to size. The largest of the group is the Temple of the Cross.
After exploring the Cross Group, you continue on the loop trail. Right besides the Temple of the Sun are two other smaller temples – Temple XIV & Temple XV.
As you continue, you are now approaching the palace again, but on the other side of it. You’ll get a view from the House A side of the Palace.
Moving on, the next structure is the famous Ball Court on the northeast side of the palace. This is the greenest area of the site.
Further north of the Ball Court, are some more smaller temples. Most notable among them is the Temple of the Count. It is the final structure. Continuing further, the trail will connect you back to the starting point, towards the main entrance to the site.
By the time you exit, many vendors would have opened their business outside the entrance. You can buy a fresh coconut juice to quench your thirst and get some relief from the scorching heat.
Based on the time you exit, you may head back to Don Mucho’s, in El Panchan, for lunch or just to relax before heading to your next destination.
Let me know how did you find exploring the Mayan ruins by leaving a comment below. Also, I would love to hear if you’ve visited other Mayan ruins too, and which one is your favorite and why.
While you’re doing that, do not forget to like this post & follow my blog site for immediate notifications with a link for every new blog post directly in your mailbox.
See you on the road, Cheers!