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If you’re planning a trip to Mexico and looking for an action-packed vacation or a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience, you should definitely add a stop in Palenque to your list! This vibrant city is full of activities and attractions to keep you busy, whether you’re a thrill-seeker or a history buff. From ancient ruins to exhilarating zip lines, Palenque is truly the place to be if you’re looking for an unforgettable trip.
Some of the top things to do in Palenque include exploring the ancient Maya ruins, zip-lining through the jungle, and rafting down the Usumacinta River – just to name a few. For a more relaxed experience, you can also visit one of the many waterfalls.
If this sounds exciting to you, then you’ll be delighted to know that that’s not even half of what Palenque has to offer! There’s so much to do in this beautiful city, and plenty of fun to be had for any type of traveler.
We’ve compiled a list of the 12 Best Things to Do in Palenque, Mexico to help you plan the perfect trip. We’ve also included other essential information about visiting, so this blog is your one-stop shop for a guide to Palenque, Mexico. So pack your sunscreen and sunglasses and let’s dive into Palenque!
About Palenque, Mexico
Palenque is located in the state of Chiapas in Mexico. The small city of Palenque is a gem in the Maya Low Lands. The arcological sites and waterfalls in Palenque have made this an increasingly popular destination for travelers, but it’s still off any mainstream map!
Palenque city often acts as a base for travelers to explore this lesser-known area of Mexico. In Palenque, you’ll find lots of restaurants and bars as well as hotels to choose from. There is also a large bus station here, making it easily accessible for those traveling around by bus. There is also a small airport on the outskirts of Palenque.
While Palenque is somewhat touristic, it still has managed to keep much of its original Mexican charm. When we last visited, I really enjoyed the many authentic (and cheap!) taco restaurants. The area of the city near the river is much more touristy than the areas near the main highway, and you should try to explore both areas on your visit. Palenque is pretty small, so it is pretty easy to wander around on foot.
Note: It’s important to note that there are also ruins called “Palenque” which are not to be confused with the modern city of Palenque. The city of Palenque is actually located about a 15-minute drive from the Palenque Ruins. Most people base themselves in the city and visit the ruins on a day trip.
Things to do in Palenque, Mexico
1. Palenque Ruins
One of Palenque’s most popular attractions in Palenque is definitely the ruins of Palenque (Zona Arqueológica Palenque.) These well-preserved Mayan ruins are some of the most impressive in all of Mexico.
The Palenque ruins date back to 226 BC and were once a major city of the Maya civilization. Around 2.5 square kilometers of the site has been excavated, however, this is believed to only be about 10% of the city. The area includes many temples, palaces, and pyramids.
Interestingly enough, many of these ancient structures were actually destroyed over time, by either natural disasters or man-made ones. Later, archaeologists used readings from the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the walls of temples to analyze what these structures may have looked like and then reconstructed them in a quest to preserve history.
The Temple of Inscriptions is one of the most popular and well-known temples in the Palenque ruins. This massive temple is home to the tomb of Pakal the Great – one of the city’s most famous rulers. The temple itself is over 20 meters tall and has 6 different piers (levels)! Visitors can enter the temple and climb to the top for an incredible view of the surrounding jungle.
The Palenque ruins are open every day from 8 am to 4:30 pm, and tickets cost around $4 USD plus a $2 USD national park fee. We recommend getting there early to avoid the crowds and heat! You can explore the ruins on your own or take a guided tour. There is a public bus that heads to the Palenque Ruins from Palenque ($1 USD.)
As for a tour, we recommend this particular tour, which takes you on a private day tour of the Palenque Ruins with an expert guide. You’ll also visit some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the region, like the Misol Ha Falls and the Cascadas de Agua Azul (more on them further down in this blog), and learn about the ancient culture of Palenque while taking in stunning views of the Mayan pyramids. You’re sure to be impressed by this ancient city!
Tickets for this tour start at $155 USD and include entrance fees, transportation, pick up and drop off from Palenque, and an expert guide.
If you are planning a trip to Southern Mexico, you must visit Palenque to see these ancient ruins and learn the glorious history of Mayan Culture and the other indigenous communities that continue to live there.
2. Palenque Museo de Sitio
Museo de Sitio is a museum located in the Palenque archeological zone and is one of the most famous attractions in the area. It’s the perfect place to visit after you’re done wandering the ruins. Palenque’s Museo de Sitio contains many ancient works of Mayan sculptures and goldsmiths.
The museum also holds a tomb that was discovered by archeologist Alberto Ruz which houses King Pakal himself- an important figure from the city who ruled over what would later become known as Palenquero. You can almost feel like you’re being transported back in time when exploring these rooms filled with frozen images depicting life during ancient Mayan times!
The museum is open from Wednesday to Saturday from 8 am to 4 pm. It’s important to note that you may have to wait for a little bit because the maximum capacity of people in continuous flow is only 30. It’s worth the wait though, because this ensures that it does not get too crowded inside!
Entrance to the museum is included in your Palenque Ruins entrance fee, so keep your ticket! There is an additional fee to carry a camera inside (we did not pay.) However, children under the age of 13, senior citizens, and students and teachers are free to enter without a fee. You’re not allowed to take any food or pets inside, so leave your snacks and furry friends at home.
3. Misol-Ha Waterfalls
Misol-Ha Waterfall is located in Palenque National Park. This waterfall is one of the most stunning sights you will ever see. The height reaches up to 35 meters (115 ft) and then falls into a circular pool surrounded by tropical vegetation. The sounds of water drops falling onto rocks below is absolutely incredible.
Misol-Ha Waterfall is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm. To reach the Misol-Ha Waterfalls, you can take a bus, drive yourself in a car, or go on a tour from Palenque city. The journey takes about 45 minutes by car, but is longer by bus. Most people visit Mishol-Ha on a combined guided tour with Agua Azul Waterfalls since tours are cheap and convenient. Entrance fees to the waterfall start at 30 MXN (about $1.50 USD).
Once you reach the falls, you can take a short hike to the viewing platform behind the falls, where you’ll get an up-close look at the falls. Beware, you’re going to get wet! You can also swim in the pools at the base of the waterfall, but be sure to wear appropriate footwear as the rocks can be slippery. You can also rent life jackets from the park for an extra fee.
For an extra exciting activity, why not rappel down the Mishol-Ha waterfall? This rappelling tour includes transport from Palenque, all safety equipment and instructions, as well as lunch. You’ll get to hike to the top of Mishol-Ha Waterfall (a view most don’t get to see) before rappelling down it – how exciting! This tour wasn’t offered when we last visited, but it is definitely on my list for next time.
The best time to visit the Misol-Ha Waterfalls is during the rainy season (June to October), when the water flow is at its strongest. However, even during the dry season, the waterfalls are still beautiful and worth a visit!
Misol-Ha Waterfalls are also closely located to Agua Azul falls (about 1 hour) so you can easily visit them both in one day. If you don’t want to drive yourself, this super affordable tour is a great option since it departs from Palenque and visits both Mishol-Ha and Aqua Azul Waterfalls!
4. Agua Azul Waterfalls
The Cascadas de Agua Azul (Agua Azul Waterfalls) are another popular spot for tourists visiting Palenque, as they are located in the Palenque National Park and are not far from Misol-Ha Waterfall. These waterfalls are located about an hour away from Palenque, and they are absolutely stunning!
The waterfalls are made up of a series of small cascades that flow into turquoise blue pools – hence the name “Agua Azul,” which means “blue water” in Spanish.
The Cascadas de Agua Azul are open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, and entrance fees start at 30 MXN ($1.50 USD), which is the same price as Mishol Ha which is located in the same national park.
Once you reach the waterfalls, you can take a short hike to the viewing platform, where you’ll get an up-close look at the cascades and have the chance to swim in the pools. There are lots of different pools to explore, so take your pick and enjoy!
As mentioned above, you can either drive yourself in a rental car to Agua Azul Waterfalls or go on a guided tour. We personally recommend this guided tour simply because the price is so reasonable and you’ll get to visit Mishol-Ha Waterfall too!
5. Roberto Barrios Waterfalls
If you’re looking for a breathtaking natural wonder, look no further than the Roberto Barrios Waterfalls!
These waterfalls are my personal favorite of all of the things to do in Palenque! There are several different waterfalls to explore here, and unlike Aqua Azul Waterfalls, are much less built-up and commercialized. You’ll walk through the jungle to explore each waterfall where you can jump in and cool off!
These stunning waterfalls are fed by a river that tumbles down from the nearby mountains and is surrounded by lush vegetation. Visitors can expect to see a variety of colorful flowers and birds, and there are even some small caves to explore!
The Roberto Barrios Falls include six main swimming spots, each with its own personality. Some have huge waterfalls to jump off of, while others have soothing infinity pools. Natural slides, tunnels to explore, and waterfalls to shower in are in abundance throughout the area.
Roberto Barrios Waterfalls are located about an hour away from Palenque city center, and are open daily from 8 am to 5 pm. Entrance fees start at 20 MXN (about $1 USD).
Like the other waterfalls near Palenque, you can either rent a car and drive yourself, take the public bus, or go on a tour. If you do visit on your own, when you get to the entrance gates tour guides will be available to hire for a small amount or even just a tip. It’s a good idea to explore Roberta Barrios Waterfalls with a guide so that you know exactly where to go, where to swim, and which areas are safe to jump.
Alternatively, just book this guided tour from Palenque in advance. It is a great price and includes a guide and your return transport fro Palenque.
6. Yaxchilan and Bonampak ruins
The Bonampak and Yaxchilán ruins are two other iconic landmarks near Palenque, and they are definitely worth a visit! They are located in a remote section of the Lacandon Jungle, about 3 hours away from Palenque, and are only accessible by boat.
The Bonampak ruins date all the way back to AD 580 to 800, and are best known for their brightly-colored murals that depict scenes of war, sacrifice, and daily life. The Yaxchilán ruins are even older, dating back to the 5th century! Those ruins are best known for their imposing pyramids and temples.
To get to the ruins, you need to take a trip through the Lacandon rainforest and a boat down the Usumacinta River from Palenque. The journey takes about 3 hours, and is rather complicated. The Yaxchilán ruins are located in the same general area as the Bonampak ruins, and you can take the same boat to get there.
Once you reach the ruins, you can explore the site on your own or take a guided tour, but we recommend taking a guided tour to learn about the history and culture of the Bonampak and Yaxchilán ruins.
A small-group guided tour of Bonampak and Yaxchilán is the best way to see the ruins from Palenque. You’ll look for monkeys and other wildlife in Lacandon Jungle, take a boat ride through the Usumacinta River and learn about the history of the ancient ruins from your expert guide.
The tour includes round-trip transportation, a boat ride, breakfast and lunch, and a guide who will teach you about the history of the sites. This tour starts in Palenque and includes hotel pick-up and drop-off in the booking price – all for about $131 USD! Honestly, a guided tour is the best way to visit since all the logistics of taking the boat are sorted out for you.
Visiting the Bonampak and Yaxchilán ruins is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it’s a great way to learn about the history and culture of Palenque and the surrounding area.
7. Trip to San Cristobal de las Casas
San Cristobal is a highland city in the central Chiapas state of Mexico, about 5 hours from Palenque. It is located on the central plateau of the Chiapas Highlands, which is at 6,900 feet (2100 meters) elevation. Although quite far from Palenque to make this a day trip, you could easily visit and plan on spending a night or two in San Cristobal. There are plenty of things to do and see in this famous Mexican city.
San Cristobal is the center of the cultural diversity of the many indigenous people who have lived in nearby areas, including the Mayans. It will keep you occupied for the entire day as you explore the many architectural wonders this city offers, including the Central Plaza and the Cathedral.
The Central Plaza was founded in 1528, and over the years, it has housed many shops that you can visit. The Cathedral of San Cristobal is a colonial building with a baroque style. Since the 16th century, the building has been one of the city’s most important symbols.
Other activities for you to enjoy during your day trip to San Cristobal include a trip to Sumidero Canyon, a tour of Chiflón Waterfalls and Montebello Lagoons, or a visit to the Indigenous communities from San Cristobal. Some trips also combine San Cristobal, Sumidero Canyon, and Chipa de Corzo. Chipa de Corzo is considered one of Mexico’s magic towns, owing to its stunning historic architecture.
8. Visit Aluxes Ecopark
One of the most adventurous things to do in Palenque is to visit the wildlife care and rehabilitation center- Aluxes. The concept of this park was inspired by the Mayan culture, whereby people could closely interact with nature and wildlife in complete harmony.
You can do much more than watch the animals in the eco-park. You can take part in feeding some animals and meet the Red Guacamaya and Giant Turtles. You can also take a boat ride in the lake situated inside Aluxes and explore the park’s gardens. The best part about these activities is they are all priced at $10 USD and below!
Aluxes is located just outside of the city of Palenque, so you can easily take a taxi there from your hotel. It is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm; except for Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays when it is open until 6 pm. The entrance fee is 150 MXN (around $8 USD) per adult and 60 MXN ($3 USD) for kids between the ages of 2-10.
This is a great opportunity to learn about the history of the Maya people and see some of Palenque’s amazing wildlife!
9. Take a photo with the Palanque sign
No trip is complete without capturing a few pictures to remember your holiday trip forever!
Opposite the central bus station is the Palanque sign, made with huge, colorful letter blocks. This sign is one of the most popular places to take pictures in Palenque, and it makes for a great photo op! The sign is a symbol of the town and is therefore visited by most tourists, so it can get crowded.
The Palenque sign is located in the center of the city, and it’s open 24 hours. There is no entrance fee, and you can take as many pictures as you want! Make sure to go here and click a memorable picture.
10. Eat authentic Mexican tacos
With every day you spend in Mexico, you have to try out a new taco place! There are plenty of authentic Mexican taco places in Palenque perfect for tasting your way through the city.
One of the best of these authentic Mexican restaurants in Palenque is Tropi Tacos. Tropi is located in the city center, making it accessible to tourists visiting the city. The best part is it’s a super affordable, so you can order plenty of tacos to try out all the different flavors Tropi offers! Tropi offers both takeout and dining options, but we recommend you sit down and stay awhile.
Another option to eat authentic Mexican tacos in Palenque is Chivo’s Restaurant. Chivo’s is located in Calle Hidalgo Zona La Cañada and is an affordable option too. They have been rated highly by customers and even offer vegetarian-friendly options.
11. Metzabok Lagoon
Metzabok Lagoon is a must-see for any traveler in Palenque! Metzabook is a gorgeous lagoon located in the town of Metzabaj, about 2.5 hours away from Palenque.
The lagoon is surrounded by lush jungles and towering mountains, and it’s a great place to relax and take in the natural beauty of the area. Metzabok Lagoon is known for its abundant wildlife, and visitors often see a variety of birds, including parrots and macaws. The lagoon is also home to several species of fish, turtles, and crocodiles. There are plenty of photo opportunities here, so make sure to bring your camera!
On this guided day trip tour, you’ll have the opportunity to take a boat ride through the lagoon, go swimming in the refreshing waters, and relax on the beach. You’ll also get to explore the nearby town of Metzabaj and learn about the Maya culture from your knowledgeable guides. This trip is perfect for nature lovers who want to take a canoe ride to caves and cenotes and discover ancient Mayan cave paintings and biodiverse wildlife.
The day trip to Metzabok Lagoon starts at $85 USD and includes round-trip transportation from Palenque, entrance fees, an expert guide, and a delicious lunch. This trip is available every day except for Sunday, and departure times vary depending on the season.
This is an amazing opportunity to experience some of Palenque’s nearby scenery and learn more about the fascinating history and culture of the Mayan people!
12. Welib Ja Waterfalls
Another popular waterfall in Palenque, Mexico, is to visit the Welib Ja Waterfalls. It is located in the municipality of Ocosingo Chiapas, between the eastern mountains of Chiapas about a 40-minute drive from Palenque.
Welib Ja Waterfalls is one of the least visited waterfalls near Palenque, and as such, is a refreshing break from the crowds that are usually present at Aqua Azul or Mishol-Ha. With that said, the falls are also less impressive (in my opinion) than the other waterfalls.
You can swim here, and there are changing rooms you can use. Just beware when swimming because the currents can be quite strong.
It is a short walk, a couple of hundred meters, from the parking lot to the falls. This trail is easy, but not wheelchair accessible by any means. You’ll also find a few restaurants nearby so it is a good place to stop for lunch. Like most of the attractions near Palenque, you can drive yourself here, organize a tour, or navigate the public bus system.
Where to Eat in Palenque, Mexico
There are some really amazing restaurants in Palenque that you simply just have to try while you’re in town! Below are some of my personal favorites with food that is sure to impress!
If you’re looking for a place with a wide variety of food choices, head to Cafe jade. They serve breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, and special diets, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. They’re centrally located and rated 4.5/5 for food, service, and value.
This restaurant is great for those looking for a slightly more upscale dining experience. It’s rated 4.5/5 for food, service, value, and atmosphere, and offers a variety of Italian and Mediterranean Cuisine, even serving vegetarian and vegan-friendly options.
Rated 4.5/5 for food, service, and value, Bajlum offers Mexican and Fusion Cuisine, and even serves gluten-free options. Their dishes provide a modern twist on traditional Mayan cuisine and the restaurant location provides stunning views of the jungle nearby.
Maya Cañada specializes in Mexican and Latin cuisines and serves vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options as well. With a 4/5 rating for food, service, and value, this restaurant is a very popular choice among tourists for both the quality of food and the atmosphere it provides.
Where to Stay in Palenque
If you are looking to stay in Palenque, there are plenty of options for all budget ranges. If your choice is not price-sensitive, there are many options to consider. You can decide depending on the location, along with facilities such as whether it is close to the airport, has a swimming pool, if there are family rooms available, etc.
The best hotel choice out of the budget-friendly options in Palenque is Kin Balam Cabanas. The hotel rooms are divided into bungalows, with each overlooking the main gardens in which the hotel is built. There is a swimming pool to enjoy an early morning or late-night swim. There is also a spa service inside the hotel. You can also rent a cycle from the hotel and ride it within the hotel.
The best part of this hotel is its location within a 3 km (1.9 mi) distance of Palenque National Park. The hotel also offers an airport shuttle service. A double room in this hotel starts at just $27 USD per night.
If you are comfortable with spending a little bit more, you can opt for Hotel Ciudad Real Palenque. This property has been given a 4.5/5 overall rating, with cleanliness rated even more highly. Hotel Ciudad is a perfect option for families who prefer spacious rooms. Superior double rooms, junior double rooms, and deluxe suites are available, depending on your budget.
The hotel also performs excellently in its location since it is located only under 10 minutes away from the most popular tourist spots. There is also a swimming pool available at the property and free parking facilities. A room at the Hotel Ciudad Real Palenque will start at around $76 USD per night.
If you want to have a luxurious stay, then Hotel Boutique Quinta Chanabnal should be your pick. The property is set in tropical gardens, with each room divided into suites. It is also only 5 km (3.1 mi) away from the Palenque Archeological Zone. If you do not wish to dine in the city, there is also a restaurant and bar available inside the hotel. The property also offers massage services and an airport shuttle ride at an added charge. A standard suite at the Quinta Chanabnal Boutique Hotel will run you about $212 USD per night.
Related Read: Traveling around more? Check out the best things to do in Chiapas, Mexico!
Renting a Car in Mexico
Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get around Mexico is in a rental car.
I struggled to get around by bus and taxi for the longest time. But after renting a car in Mexico in 2019, I never looked back. It allowed me to explore the country without worrying about tours or taxis. It was why I fell in love with Mexico and eventually decided to live here periodically.
I refuse to use local services whenever I rent a car in Mexico. The truth is they sometimes can’t be trusted or come with hidden fees (or costly insurance that doesn’t make sense.) There are even rental car scams! So instead, I use Discover Cars, the company most experienced travelers or ex-pats in Mexico recommend.
The rates on Discover Cars are cheap, too, with the average rental costing around $25 USD per day. Full coverage insurance can be added for an extra $10 USD a day too.
Driving in Mexico also only requires a driver’s license using the Roman alphabet. If yours uses another like Japan and China, you simply need an international driving permit.
Insurance is required, but if you book with Discover Cars and get the full coverage, that’s all you need! Oh, and being over 18 is required, and if you’re over 25, your renal will be much cheaper!
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $42 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
I am sure you can tell that Palenque Mexico is a beautiful place to visit! If you plan a holiday to Mexico, you definitely must see this place. Whether it is for a day trip, or you plan to stay for a day or two, you will have plenty to do and loads to enjoy during your stay there.
If you have any questions about things to do in Palenque, drop us a message. We can give you more information about the plenty of other attractions in the city- anything that convinces you to visit this majestic city!
If you enjoyed this blog and need some more inspiration and tips for your upcoming Mexico vacation, check out our other blogs about Mexico!