If you ever have the opportunity to go to Palenque, GO. If you ever have the chance to make it your opportunity to go to Palenque, GO. Make it happen, whatever you do. This place is magical. But actually. It’s a whole other world. I have visited many ruins all over Mexico and Palenque takes the cake.
Now getting to Palenque, which is in the Northern part of the State of Chiapas, is not the easiest of tasks because of it’s location. From all of our research of the best way to swing it, there was basically two options that we found: take a bus from Villahermosa, which is the Capital of neighbouring state Tabasco or take a bus from San Cristobal de las Casas (or wherever you are in Chiapas). After weighing all of our options for what we wanted to do on this trip, we chose to arrive in Palenque via San Cris and leave via Villahermosa. (This trip had us in Mexico City to San Cristobal to Palenque to one night in Villahermosa to a Querétaro #famjam before heading home to Toronto.)
If you have never taken a bus before in Mexico, let me tell you, they are wonderful. You are assigned a seat, oftentimes you are given a snack. They play movies. Sometimes there is wifi. It’s luxury, I tell you and not at all what you are likely imaging. We purchased our bus tickets from ADO the day before in San Cris. We were limited in our options because I wanted to be sure to arrive in Palenque while there was still daylight. Safety first. We left super early that morning and 7.5 hours later, we arrived at the bus terminal in the small town of Palenque. It was a looooong bus ride. From what we understood, traveling through the centre of Chiapas, the jungle area, is not always the safest so the bus takes the long route, basically around the State. We took one break on the ride to stop for snacks and a leg stretch. Otherwise, it was a lot of looking out the window – which was beautiful by the way.
I knew that Palenque was a small town from the research that I had done prior to our trip and I know that in different states, there are different ways to do things, such as taxis. From most of my experience, there is a bunch of taxis waiting at the bus terminal. In Palenque, this was not the case. We paced around for a while, exhausted and really wanting a shower, before we were able to hail one. When traveling to Palenque, there are two options for where to stay: in town or at a hotel along the road that leads to the Palenque Ruins (literally called “Carr. Palenque Ruinas”). The reason that we made the journey was 100% solely to visit the ruins. We had done the cocktail scene of Mexico City, we had explored the magic of San Cristobal de las Casas. Here, we wanted history and jungle and nature and we had booked two nights and three days to do so. Because of this, we opted to stay at a hotel, well resort, on the road to the ruins. After some confusion (and I’m still confused about that confusion), our taxi driver brought us to Chan-Kah Resort Village, our home for our stay in Palenque. The reasons why I chose this place was 1) it had a pool, 2) it was literally in the forest and 3) everyone that stayed there got their own casita. A casita. In the jungle. Dreams do come true.
If you are expecting a big fancy all-inclusive resort, you will not find it here. If you are expecting everyone to speak English, you will not find it here. Palenque is in the heart of Mexico. This is real Mexico. Our casita was great, clean and had wifi. The pool was fun and the restaurant had great authentic Mexican food. And no one spoke English. In short: we loved it here and would definitely go back, should we find ourselves in this part of Mexico ever again.
Besides all of the good things that Chan-Kah had to offer, the greatest thrill for me was BEING IN THE JUNGLE! This meant that creatures and birds were basically everywhere. I would wander around with my camera going wild. Josh would be a good husband supporting his wife for a while and then he would quietly saunter off to have a nap in our casita or watch bad Spanish TV (because that is what you do when on vacation! Also because he just loves bad TV in general….). The first creature that I spotted as an Agouti. These adorable little rodents could be spotted everywhere and I loved them. I saw one that I followed, only to discover that she had a wee baby with her. Come on! TOO CUTE.
The day after our arrival was designated Palenque Ruins day and the forecast was not great. We woke up to rain and it was supposed to continue all day. But, we are tough and I figured that this would just mean that there would be less tourists there to get in our way so we got up early, ate a big breakfast, packed snacks and water and we were on our way. I had read that the best way to get to the ruins was in a Collectivo (essentially a shared bus). These Collectivos run from the ruins into town constantly and there seemed to be a lot of them. We walked to the main road and literally within seconds one pulled up. He was on his way to town but turned around and took us to the ruins. I think that the cost was 25 pesos each or something super cheap like that. Outside of the entrance to the ruins there are restaurants and stalls and tons of people just ready to sell you their goods. It was honestly a bit overwhelming. We were dropped off at the spot where you pay your entrance fee to get in (30 pesos or something like that, per person) and from there, we were on our own.
I had seen many photos of Palenque. In fact, when I started my research, I realised that it was Palenque that was on the cover of my Lonely Planet Guide. But all the images in the world cannot prepare you for seeing the real thing. Upon entering, you walk for a bit through the forest and up some steps and then suddenly, the path opens up, and you see the first of several buildings that make up the ruins. There they are, these massive structures with a lush green jungle backdrop and on this day, there was fog. Fog rising from those trees creating this otherworldly effect. My breath was literally taken away. It was so beautiful.
You are able to walk into many of the buildings that make up Palenque and one of the first that you see contains the tomb of where Pakal the Great was buried. It is a strange thing to be able to walk inside such a historical building, touching the stones that form it. Here Pakal was buried with that famous Jade mosaic mask that now resides at the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City. (So when you see those souvenier mosaic masks all over Mexico, you now know where they originated.)
We literally wandered around Palenque for hours. Five whole hours. We took our time and saw everything. We sat in stillness and felt the space. We questioned just how they could have made such beautiful structures and such ornate carvings way back then. I took about a thousand photos and none of them do this place justice.
We climbed up the last of the buildings at Palenque and while I felt good and whole, I was missing something. I had read that because Palenque is situated in the jungle, that you often see Howler Monkeys and toucans here. We hadn’t seen any and I chalked it up to us being there at the wrong time of day. At this point it was past midday and I knew that generally animals are more active at dawn and dusk. So we climbed up that last set of ruins and we looked out into the valley. The view was incredible and then there in the far distance, I saw them: two toucans. I knew it was them by the spot of yellow and zooming in on my camera, I confirmed it. Two toucans. Palenque was complete. We grabbed some lunch at one of the restaurants there and took a Collectivo back to the resort.
When we go there, I got distracted by Agoutis (TOO CUTE!) yet again so Josh headed back to our casita. I slowly made my way back. Still feeling light from experiencing that what is Palenque. I walked back to our casita and instead of going outside, I sat on our little porch. I wanted to soak in as much nature as I could because the next day we would head out on a bus to Villahermosa. The only thing that was missing on this little adventure were those Howler Monkeys. I thought that maybe we could get up early the next morning before our bus left and head out down the road, find some trail to walk along and maybe we would get lucky and find some.
But then, I heard something. Something strange in the distance. Something that sounded almost mechanical, repetitive. It sounded so far away and then I heard it closer and my heart skipped a beat. I instantly grabbed my phone and looked up Howler Monkeys on YouTube and found confirmation. It was them. I nearly cried. The sound was almost angry, menacing, terrifying but I wanted to see it’s source. We followed the sound until we saw them, high up in the trees, amongst all of the casitas. There they were, a family of them. Settling in for the night and letting all of the other Howler families know that this was their home, at least for now.
The next morning, I heard them again and followed the sound, this time they were further along and higher up in trees with less branches. I took my camera out and began documenting. I followed one for a while and noticed that it looking a bit strange until I realised what was going on: it was a Mama and she was carrying her baby. The baby soon crawled off and was holding onto her own branch. Babies all around! If we hadn’t had a bus to catch, I likely would have stayed there watching them all day.
Here is what we heard that night, that I recorded on my phone:
So that was our experience at Palenque. Magical Palenque. It’s a place that is hard to describe. A place that is more of a feeling. A feeling of magic. A feeling of importance. A feeling of life and of solitude and of mystery. If you get the chance, please do go. I promise that you will not be disappointed.