As we drove into Palenque, we were relieved to find a very cheap hotel directly on the road to the ruins. As you leave the last roundabout out of Palenque towards the ruins, it is perhaps the 5th or so place on the right, with a large restaurant in front. It cost us only $500 pesos ($40 USD), and I think we may have been the only guests. The only downer was that the beds in our particular room were terribly wirey and sagging in some parts, but the girls didn’t complain. Jared and I pulled out our hiking/camping mats, blew them up, and put them over the mattress and survived the two nights there! Now THAT is why we travel with those! 🙂

The next morning we entered the park, and paid a small fee to enter the road leading into the Parque Nacional Palenque  ($54 pesos). We took our friend’s advice and parked by the museum, and hiked up to the ruins, which is backwards from what most people do. The entrance to the pyramids was $114 for two adults (kids free), and we started on our journey without much ado.

We were almost immediately greeted by lush dense rainforest, and a beautiful stream running through the path.

A precarious bridge crossed the water, so we could continue on the hiking trail up to the ruins. Definitely not a bridge for wandering toddlers…or perhaps even clumsy Maiya…but we survived 🙂

We started a gradual (and sometimes not-so-gradual) climb up through various smaller ruins that once probably served as housing. It had poured the night before, and the dampness still covered everything. It was humid, but cool, and everything oozed of green moss.

As we left the cover of the waterfall rainforest trek, we found ourselves among some grand, bold pyramids.  The Palenque ruins were first occupied around 100 BC and flourished from around AD 630 to 740. After AD 900, Palenque was pretty well near abandoned. Since this area receives the heaviest rainfall in all of Mexico, the site became quickly overgrown with jungle. The ruins remained unknown to the Western World until 1746, when some Mayan hunters told a Spanish priest about it, and it wasn’t thoroughly investigated until nearly 100 years later.


Tombs lie open in the top of this pyramid, but we didn’t hike up. An eccentric Count de Waldeck lived atop one of these pyramids for two years (when he was in his 60’s), back in the 1830’s. Odd, indeed.

A Mexican family stopped to ooh and ahh over Ethan’s red hair (as well as have me take their photo), and they offered some photos in exchange.

I finally wandered over to where Jared was, patiently waiting to proceed with the exploration.

Maiya was already pooped after hiking up the good 30 minute incline past the waterfall. Tough luck, cookie…we were just getting started!

Ella was much more energetic!

Behind Ella is El Palacio (the Palace), which is a huge structure divided into four main courtyards, with a maze of corridors and rooms. It was likely the residence of past rulers.

One of its courtyards has a great deal of in-tact carvings at the inner grass-level…

This bell tower lies in the middle of the Palace, and they beleive that Maya royalty and priests could observe the sun falling directly into the Templo de las Inscripciones during the winter solstice. It always amazes me how so many ruins are oriented around the sun and stars.

We were certainly not the only tourists in sight.

Grand hallways lead from one section to another, and some walls still had the remains of ancient paintings on them!


The view to other pyramids was also extraordinary from the Palace.

I officially decided to give this shirt away after seeing the photos from this day. Seriously 😉

I was surprised to see that the Palace had lower levels and stairs leading into additional mazes of rooms!

Had we not gone down one set of stairs, we may have almost missed the fact that there were underground rooms in a large section of the Palace!

Some of the long narrow rooms had small windows that let in natural light!

Looking back at the Palace.

The other ruins/pyramids were just as impressive!

These leaves were bigger than the girls!

I just couldn’t get over how GREEN everything was. If anyone knows me well…they know I love anything this green!

The girls weren’t quite as excited.

However, they were excited to get some new headbands from a vendor. 3 for $50 pesos ($3.50)

Ethan took a break from his relaxing seat on our backs…so he could get dirty and show off his non-matching outfit.

And then we started our trek back down the waterfalls.

The Palace is #10 on the map…and as you can see, it is just a small bit of what is there. In fact, if you left the nicely trimmed tourist sections, you immediately hit hill after hill of what looks to be un-restored pyramids. This place is massive!

On the way back to the parking lot, we treated ourselves to some tamales cooked in banana leaf. Yum.

Palenque was awesome. No, it was EXTRAORDINARY. There was something so magical about being among the grand ruins, in the midst of a giant, overwhelming jungle. I can now understand why some of the first Westerners to “discover” the pyramids said that they could have been standing a few feet in front of a pyramid, and not even realized it!

If you hit up ANY pyramid in Mexico, visit PALENQUE. Of the 12 or so pyramids we visited on our month-long road trip through the Yucatan, Palenque’s pyramids were, in our opinion, the best pyramids to see in Mexico!

Yucatan Road Trip Day 25

2 Responses to “The best pyramids in Mexico – Palenque Pyramids”

  1. Very helpful! I’m visiting Palenque tomorrow and am even more excited after reading your experience. Have you been to Caracol or Tikal? I’m curious how you’d compare them. Those are my two favorite Myan cities so far….well maybe add Cahal Pech too.

    • Hi Christy…I replied to you by email, but thought I would share some of our corresondences with others who find this blog post.

      I replied “Thanks for finding my blog, and I hope you had a GREAT day tomorrow at Palenque! It beat out Tikal for us (hands-down!)…it is an easier walking distance between pyramids, much more jungle-like (oh–the rainy season is a fantastic time for you to be going!), and just so beautiful! What did you think? We haven’t been to Caracol, yet.”

      And Christy responded: “It was amazing!!!! The most spectacular ruins I’ve ever seen for sure. For me it was a combination of the large buildings of Caracol and the intricate buildings/passageways of Cahal Pech (both in Belize). I will say the one thing Caracol has going for it is that no one knows its there. The day I went there were no more than 10 people on site that didn’t live there and no vendors aside from one little craft store by the entrance. Its a good one to see before it gets on the map. Here’s a quick post I did on my visit there: http://flipflopsabroad.com/Travel-Blog/amazing-mayan-ruins-caracol-belize It was before I started my extended trip. Thanks again for sharing your post. Palenque totally lived up to your feedback and more! I feel like one of your daughters….ready for a nap!”

      Glad to know we’re not the only ones who think that Palenque is the best of the best!

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