I think most of us have heard of Palenque, if not seen Palenque in some movie. It’s an ancient Mayan city and temple complex in the middle of the Chiapas jungle.
We arrived late in the day and rented a cabana near the ruins from what might have been mistaken for a hippie commune called Chato’s Cabanas, part of the El Panchán complex. This whole area appears to be a stronghold of the backpacker lifestyle. The El Panchán complex has this great tropical feel with lush greenery, thatched roofs over a series of restaurants, live music and shows (like a fire juggling troupe) and streams running under wooden bridges between the cabanas. Unfortunately, the cabanas seem to be about 10 years past need for repair and the streams breed wicked amounts of insects. The good news is they cost $200 pesos a night, about $16 dollars, and the beers are cheap.
The second night, we stayed across the street at El Jaguar, a similar cabana complex in much better repair. We would heartily recommend El Jaguar for a place to stay at El Panchán and Don Mucho for the food and entertainment. Falling asleep with the (loud!) sounds of the jungle was unforgettable.
Ah, but the Palenque ruins! We hiked the short distance to the ruins through the rising humidity and heat. Entering the dense jungle, we discovered small groups of ruins covered in moss, surrounded by small waterfalls and hanging vines. It turns out this is just a taste because when you venture past these, the jungle opens up and you find yourself among massive ruins which seem to go on and on.
Indeed, according to the maps of the excavation, all of these exposed ruins are just a small section of the still mostly-buried city. In a very non-nerf way, the ruins are unrestricted — no guardrails or gates. You are free to explore as far as your stamina will take you up the steep crumbling stairways and interior passages.
Palenque and the jungle of Chiapas really endeared Mexico to us. Watching huge iguanas sunning themselves about town and climbing atop the ancient temples gave us a glimpse of a Mexico we didn’t expect to find.
All our photos from Palenque are here.
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