Palenque - Mayan ruins in Chiapas, Mexico
Palenque is one of the grandest Mayan ruins you will ever see
It easily ranks with Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Tikal in architecture and majesty. Even though it is over 400 miles (650 kilometers) away from the Riviera Maya, Palenque is doable, though definitely off the beaten path for beach lovers. Count on two full days driving for the round trip, and at least a full day there to see Palenque and nearby Misol Ha falls and Agua Azul (mimimum two night trip). We were blessed with good weather and made the non-stop drive from Akumal to Palenque in about 7½ hours, stopping only for gas and a couple of snacks. This was our "vacation" from the beach and the flat lands of Quintana Roo, to the exotic mountain state of Chiapas in southern Mexico; land of waterfalls, cascades, Mayan ruins, caves, canyons, lagoons and extraordinary wildlife.
At the foot of the mountains
Palenque is perched on the first rise of the Tumbalá mountains, looking out over a vast carpet of green that stretches north to the Gulf of Mexico (photo above). This is the alluvial flood plain of the Usumacinta river, a fertile sedimentary flatland that could have fed many in ancient times, as it does today. The Usumacinta would have also provided a means of transportation via canoe, facilitating trade with others.
The high canopy jungle and landscaped plazas of the ruins are as powerful as the ruins themselves in emotional impact. There is a tranquility that envelops you as you walk from temple to temple, enjoying the beautiful setting and the towering trees that surround the site. With abundant shade at every turn, it is easy to hang out at Palenque most of the day, exploring the jungle trails that lead to other smaller plazas and temples, and to the travertine cascades that carry water down the mountain during the rainy season.
There has been much written about Palenque and its known history. Undoubtedly, many secrets remain. For now, just enjoy these images of our day at Palenque, and consider that this place deserves to be on your personal "must see" list, because Palenque is unforgetable.
Below, two temples of the Crosses group
The Temple of Inscriptions
The Temple of Inscriptions is perhaps the most significant structure on the site because it contains the tomb of Pakal the Great, the mightiest Mayan ruler of Palenque, who sanctioned the building of the temple to be accomplished after his passing. The stairway from the top of the pyramid down to the tomb was discovered by Alberto Ruz in 1952. He solved the mystery of the holes in the stairway capstone which had baffled archaeologists for 112 years, since Stevens and Catherwood "discovered" Palenque in 1840.
The stairway descends vertically 80 feet to Pakal's burial chamber where a great ornately carved stone slab was used to seal his tomb. The humidity down there is intense, and the walls literally weep for Pakal. Special permission is required to visit this interior part of the Temple of Inscriptions