A clear distinction is needed here: Palenque is both a town and the ruins. The town is a don’t-bother-unless-you-have-to sort of place. It is uninteresting, a little run down and apart from offering internet really does not have any real charm.
If you are arriving to Palenque before 10pm I would suggest to bypass it altogether and head straight out to El Panchan area, however if arriving any later than it’s easier to crash out in Palenque and head out in the morning. There are both taxis and collectivos running to and from.
If staying in Palenque I would avoid eating anything that is not pre-packaged, harsh but both myself and 2 others who ate in the town were struck with food poisoning, coincidence?
El Panchan is a nice little “jungle” area next to the ruins that was cultivated back in the 80’s. The place is now made up of various places to stay all literally next to each other, from a sling your hammock up to a private room accommodation. Note that if you head further in towards the ruins you will also find the likes of Mayabell and couple of other places to stay, so there really is plenty of choice.
We opted for El Panchan area and chose Margarita and Ed’s cabanas, which were simple but clean accommodation with their own bathrooms. The complex also has a couple of eating places with Don Muchos being the primary place, the menu is varied and all the food is fresh with prices that won’t make your eyes water.
However, one thing to note is that there are no shops in the complex, so make sure you bring anything you need with you or you will have to return to Palenque for provisions.
The ruins themselves are a short collectivos’ drive away and run every 10 minutes, you could walk it but for 10 pesos we opted for the ride up. Try and get to the ruins early in the morning as the tours start arriving from 10am.
The most impressive part of the Palenque ruins has to be the palace with the sheer scale of it and the amount of hieroglyphs still found intact. You really do feel a little like Indiana Jones walking through the ruins with the jungle as your background whilst exploring the palace.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the museum, not only does it have an impressive array of near perfect ceramic masks and hieroglyphs but there is also a special chamber that houses the sarcophagus of Pakal the Great, discovered in the Temple of Inscriptions. Photos do not do it justice as the sheer size and condition of it are outstanding!
Palenque/El Panchan are also a great jump off point for many other sites nearby. We opted for a day out to Misol Ha and Agua Azul waterfalls, again this can be accomplished by taking collectivos but we opted for a tour as they gave us plenty of time at each place.
Misol Ha is a beautiful waterfall which you can actually walk behind of, but make sure you wear proper sandals as the stones are quite slippery. You can also go for a swim at the bottom of the waterfall.
From behind the waterfall:
Agua Azul on the other hand is a series of waterfalls with bathing areas at each level, in total the waterfalls run for around 7km but the lower level has the most impressive colours.
There are also plenty of places to either pick up a snack from empanadas to coconuts or have a meal at a number of restaurants. The water also varies in depth at each bathing level so there is an area for everyone, plus for safety there is also a lifeguard available at each pool too!