The next morning, we travelled from San Cristóbal to Palenque. Palenque town is a bit dusty and a bit unremarkable, at least from the small couple of corners that we saw. Palenque ruins, on the other hand, are completely remarkable.
We travelled by taxi from town to a campground along the road to the ruins. There are numerous campgrounds, cabañas, and hotels in between town and the ruins that offer excellent, jungle-y escapes for as long as you want to spend in the company of howler monkeys and an abundance of magic mushrooms – I’ve heard the area is famous for them. The following day we woke up to rain, and thick clouds as far as we could see. We nevertheless stuck with our notion of heading to the ruins early, and we’re quite glad that we did. We were among the first to arrive near the entrance, mostly accompanied by people ready to start work in the shops, restaurants, or ruins themselves. Poncho sales were in full force that day. Though not normally the keeners of the tourist group, Tim and I were there before they opened their gates at 8 a.m., bought our tickets, and were the first ones through the door. Accompanied by a slight drizzle and thick grey skies, the ruins of Palenque emerged to us out of the mist, rewardingly missing the crowds of tourists who would descend on the grounds in a couple of hours. Bundled up in raincoats and shorts, we wandered the grounds of the ancient city, scaled the crumbling stone fascades, and admired the views of the surrounding jungle.
Palenque is one of the most amazing archaeological sites I’ve been to, for a number of reasons. The ruins themselves are impressive, and less restored than many of Palenque’s counterparts, which to me adds to the magic, if not the grandiose effect. The are also very accessible; roped off areas are few and far between and it’s not an issue to scale temples or explore the innards of palaces. The setting itself is amazing, as the ruins rise out of thick surrounding jungle. While Mexico and Central America offer no shortage of Mayan ruins, I’m very happy that we put Palenque on the list.