Palenque is famous for its magnificent Mayan ruins. Most people arrive by bus from other locations on their itinerary, a very convenient way to travel. If you do take the bus and plan to stay more than the afternoon, go toward the plaza to the east to find a hotel. If you would rather stay near the ruins and explore them for more than a day you can hire one of the taxis that are waiting at the bus station. In the daytime it will cost you about $30 pesos to ride to the ruins while it can run $40-50 pesos at night. If you’d like to save some money you can cross the street and wait for one of the mini-vans with “RUINAS” signs in the windows; these vans will charge you $7 pesos each way.
As you near the ruins you will see that they are some of the best preserved in Central America. The Temple of Inscriptions to the east dominates the site and features three large limestone tablets on the outside filled with hieroglyphics. Inside you will find two flights of stair descending to a crypt housing the sarcophagus of Lord Shield II, ruler of the city between 680-672 AD. The walls of the crypt recount the ruler’s history as well as his death and burial and include a magnificent depiction of how the Mayans envisioned the cosmos.
You will also want to see the Temple of the Beautiful relief, named for the 19th century discovery of a relief showing a beautifully attired person perched on a throne supported by wild cats. The relief vanished mysteriously, however, and all that remains are artistic depictions of it in archeological and paleontology museums.
At the center of the city is The Palace, which has four courtyards, many corridors and a watchtower. It has smaller staired buildings, underground galleries, more stairways, hieroglyphics and stucco decorations that still retain some of their formerly brilliant colors.
To the east is the Building of the Leafy Cross, so named for a tablet within that features a cross-like depiction shrouded with leaves. Only the second corridor is complete as the whole building has been destroyed. To the south past the plaza are unexplored buildings which will undoubtedly tempt you but are off limits to the public. This location should not be confused with Temple of the Cross at the southeast edge of the site; it is very impressive and has retained its stairway, fretted stone wall and the remains of prolific stucco decorations. Inside the building is a shrine whose door that is flanked by two stone tablets. Each shows a richly dressed man, one old and smoking a pipe, and date back to around 642 AD.
These ruins will overwhelm you with a sense of mystery and ancient memories. They are much larger than you probably imagined and very imposing both physically and emotionally. If you go out of season you can climb to the top of one of the temples and listen to the wildlife, bird song and the chatter of monkeys as the site overwhelms you with a sense of mystery and ancient mystique.
There are campgrounds and hotels nearby, both costly and modest. If you’d rather stay in town, there are a number of resorts and hotels to choose from with a variety of amenities.
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