Ancient Palenque stands at the precise point where the first hills rise out of the Gulf coast plain, and the dense jungle covering these hills forms an evocative backdrop to Palenque’s exquisite Maya architecture. Hundreds of ruined buildings are spread over 15 sq km, but only a fairly compact central area has been excavated. Everything you see here was built without metal tools, pack animals or the wheel.
As you explore the ruins, try to picture the gray stone edifices as they would have been at the peak of Palenque’s power: painted blood red with elaborate blue and yellow stucco details. The forest around these temples is still home to howler monkeys, toucans and ocelots. The ruins and surrounding forests form a national park, the Parque Nacional Palenque, for which you must pay a separate M$35 admission fee at Km 4.5 on the road to the ruins.
Palenque sees more than 1000 visitors on an average day, and visitation spikes in the summer holiday season. Opening time is a good time to visit, when it’s cooler and not too crowded, and morning mist may still be wrapping the temples in a picturesque haze. Refreshments, hats and souvenirs are available outside the main entrance. Vendors line many of the paths through the ruins.
Official site guides are available by the entrance and ticket office. Two Maya guide associations offer informative two-hour tours for up to seven people, which cost M$1300 in Spanish or around M$1600 in English, French, German or Italian. French, German and Italian speakers may have to wait a bit longer as there are fewer guides available.
Most visitors take a combi or taxi to the ruins’ main (upper) entrance, see the major structures and then walk downhill to the museum, visiting minor ruins along the way.
Combis to the ruins (M$25 each way) run about every 10 minutes during daylight hours. In town, look for 'Ruinas' combis anywhere on Juárez west of Allende. They will also pick you up or drop you off anywhere along the town–ruins road.
Be aware that the mushrooms sold by locals along the road to the ruins from about May to November are the hallucinogenic variety.