For the majority of our lives Jason and I lived in a part of the United States that had different weather for all four seasons – rainy springs, hot and humid summers, brisk autumns and often frigid winters. So moving to the southern part of Mexico was quite a change for us. The temperature was, for the most part, the same all year long. Sure the winter months produced some cooler temperatures that required a light jacket in the evenings, but otherwise? Shorts and t-shirts year round. To tell what time of year it was we often had to look at a calender or our Facebook feeds where friends were posting pictures of snow falling. Where we have lived for the past couple of years there was no changing of the seasons which also meant there was really no change in the environment. No changing of the leaves or new flowers blooming. The sun, sand, beach, and jungle were just always there. I didn’t miss the winters so much (I did mention they were frigid, right?) but sometimes I wished there was just a bit of a change in….something.
I think this wish might be one of the many, many, many reasons that I loved our visit to the Mayan ruins of Palenque so much. This place? Oh my god, this place is magnificent. The ruins, sure, they’re incredible, but also the surrounding environment? Stunning. Just stunning. Whatever ancient Maya people were in charge of picking where to build their homes here should have had their own house hunting show because they were good at what they did.
Palenque is located in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, near the border with Guatemala, in the foothills of a mountainous region, deep within a rainforest. This place is just so incredibly green and lush and vibrant. After having stared at sand and palm trees for so long (which please don’t get me wrong, I LOVE), it was just such a nice change of scenery and climate.
Oh yeah, I guess I should mention that in addition to the beautiful scenery there were these incredible ruins. We have visited several other ruin sites in Mexico and over time we’ve discovered there are ruins and then there are RUINS and I have to say that Palenque is definitely a RUIN. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site – those people also seem to know what they are doing – the structures, the architecture, the carvings, it is all just jaw-droppingly cool. From my understanding, and very limited historical knowledge, Palenque was at its most vibrant around 500 to 700 A.D. And to this day it remains one of the few popular ruins in Mexico that you can climb on and, in some cases, inside of which gives you such a unique and up close perspective. So of course we went exploring!
I read that less than a mile of the roughly 25 miles that Palenque originally was spread over has been excavated. Or put another way, there are more than 1,400 known buildings and only 10% of them have been uncovered. If they uncover any more buildings and let us climb them I’m going to have to go into training before visiting. But getting so close means we were able to see the well-preserved wall art. I’m positive there is another, more appropriate and fancier sounding name for the stuff carved in the walls but as I mentioned, I’m working from limited historical knowledge here.
And one other thing that made Palenque stand out? Aqueducts. There is a massive amount of fresh water streams and water sources in the area (hence the lush environment) so those crafty Maya engineers took advantage of this and built aqueducts all around the city. These helped prevent flooding, helped irrigate farmland and provided running water to each of the buildings. That’s right, the people who lived here in Palenque had indoor plumbing.
It was really an amazing experience to see such an advanced city that was not only over a thousand years old but also worked in such harmony with it’s surroundings. Palenque isn’t easy to get to but if you’re interested in Mayan ruins, natural beauty or both, than please take the time to see this magnificent place – just make sure to hit the treadmill a few times before you get there.
Palenque is a bit out of the way and hard to get to, which is part of why it was so perfectly preserved, but in our opinion completely worth the effort. Go early and you’ll avoid most of the tour buses and crowds. You can hire one of the many English-speaking guides or opt for a self-guided tour. Cost of entry is $191 pesos which includes admission to the nearby Palenque museum.