A Travellerspoint blog

Palenque: why you must go

sunny 33 °C

You'll get to do this. Like tourists propping up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, this is hardly an original pose, but Stephen made me do it. "Go stand in the middle of that plant."


You'll get to climb hundreds of stairs in 30 degree heat, and you won't even notice it. Well, you will, but it is so worth it. While none of these buildings have the vertiginous pitch of the pyramid at CobĂ , most of them allow visitors access, so not only was this a thrilling education, it was a four-hour workout. This is the Templo de la Cruz, the largest of three pyramid-shaped structures that we were allowed to climb on. Tough work climbing up those 12-15 inch steps - no idea how those little Mayans managed it.


This is the view from the top. We looked out over the main area of templos - the biggest one in the middle is El Palacio. Palenque gets a fair bit of rain, so everything stays green and lush and overgrown. The ruins themselves are one part of the experience - the surroundings are almost as awe-inspiring. Several times we would find ourselves on paths leading from one area to another, and we'd be all alone. The jungle noises are incredible - so many bird calls, and branches snapping and unfamiliar shrieks, which turned out to be howler monkeys - more on them in a minute.



We got there just as it opened at 8:00 am, and were one step ahead of the crowds the whole time. We were also a lot cooler than we expected to be, since there are so many shady paths, and even the open greens have huge shade trees and seating. I spent almost as much time admiring the foliage and monster trees, as I did the ruins.



As you enter the first set of ruins, you see this. Even more impressive when you realize that every building here was made without metal tools or a wheel. Visitors are not allowed to climb on this building - The Templo de las Inscripciones is an important burial monument, and one of the most stately and well-preserved buildings in Palenque.


The ruins are situated in three distinct areas and groups - the Templos, the Acropolis and The Grupo de las Cruces. Parts of them still have the look of having just been dug out of the jungle, and could disappear again if left unattended. Only a small percentage of Palenque has been excavated, as is the case with many archealogical sites. Wherever there are mounds of rock and moss, there are hidden treasures.


A small creek runs through the whole site, and the area around the buildings is dug deep and constructed of stone. We were wondering if this was original, or had been built like this in more modern times.


We spent a fair bit of time climbing around El Palacio, a huge maze-like structure with rooms, corridors, courtyards and open walkways. It was not a stretch to imagine how it must have looked intact. I think that is one of the features I enjoyed about Palenque - with very little imagination you could envision it as it once was.





There are vendors allowed inside the site, but they are very respectful, for the most part. They have their wares laid out on blankets - largely the same products from one to the next. We stopped to watch this man, who was painting images on feathers, and selling the finished products mounted and framed. Even though we showed an interest, he was not pushy - just kept quietly painting.


We stopped at some point to rest and found a spot in the shade beside a family who were having lunch. After we greeted them, the man started speaking to us in English, and was curious about our trip from Canada. He and his family were Mayan, so he tried to teach us how to say "mama" and "papa" in his language, and we bungled it so badly, we had them all giggling.

We seem to be regressing, not improving, with our Spanish. When we were in Chetumal, and walking along the boardwalk, we came upon a sign that said, "Larry, el cocodrilo". You know your Spanish is poor when you (Stephen) says,"Dondé Larry el cocodrilo" to the poor kid stting with his mother on a nearby bench. He replied, "no hablo ingles". He thought about it for a minute, ran over to the sign, then we could hear him saying, "lah-REE". (We just have to figure out the darn accents.) Sidetrack - back to Palenque.

We headed to the back end of the site - less excavation has gone on here, and it is much more overgrown.


Before we got there, though, we witnessed this incredible sight - a snake swallowing a frog. Three or four other people were there taking photos when we walked by, or we would certainly have missed it. I looked it up online - it looked like a parrot snake, but no way to be sure. Every minute or so, it would open its mouth a little wider, and re-sink its fangs into the poor frog, who slowly disappeared into its mouth.


While we were busy watching this spectacle, another National Geographic moment was going on just beyond us. We kept hearing the sounds of small children shrieking (although that is not precisely it, it is a very disturbing sound), and two tourists walked by, telling us they had just been watching the howler monkeys playing on the ruins, further back in the jungle. We dashed back, just in time to see a lone monkey in the canopy, and leaves tumbling to the jungle floor. We sat quietly for a long time, hoping for a replay, but the show was over.


As we were just getting ready to leave the site, we stopped to watch a group of Mayan dancers performing in the square. Their costumes were quite elaborate, and while it was a day after the equinox, we were wondering if this was a spring ritual of giving gifts to the gods. One man held a square cross, and added flowers, corn, and other objects, and there was ceremonial lighting of small lamps, and drumming and chanting.



In a trip filled with big moments and memorable experiences, Palenque was an experience that will stay with us for a very long time.

Next stop - Tlacotalpan, a UNESCO World Heritage town, just south of Veracruz on the Gulf coast. See you in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 17:11 Archived in Mexico

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


You might be interested in reading the story of the two Americans who "discovered" many of the ruins going horseback across the Yucatan in the 19th century. Fascinating. Catherwood and Stephens I believe are their names. Read it years ago.

by jon snipper

I can certainly see why Palenque made such a lasting impression. Your pictures are amazing!

by Heather

wow! you're right, we must go here ... thanks for bringing Mexico to us on a year when travelling there isn't in the cards. Can hardly wait to hear more in person ... happy, safe travels to you and Steve.
Love, Simone

by Simone Bell

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.