Sixteen and a half hours is a long time to sit in a chair.
Budget travellers as we are, there are just some things we’ll spend a little money on; there’ve been enough too-long local bus rides in the past, we paid for a proper bus for this leg. At just over 500 pesos each, it was a fair bit of change to throw for a bus trip, but being a night bus it was easier to justify as it also technically acted as our accommodation for the night. Kylee slept alright, myself not so much. It was a long, restless ride.Upon arrival in Palenque, spaced out and starving in the hot sun, we stumbled into the first restaurant we found and grabbed a seat. “Taqueria El Fogon Suizo” turned out to be a fantastic choice, as the menu was cheaper than an equivalent in Oaxaca, and the portions were massive. It was 10am and we inhaled a huge platter of tacos al pastor.
Palenque is known for one thing above all else, the ancient Mayan ruins around ten kilometres outside of town. Having a place already booked near the small cluster of backpacker accommodation known as El Panchan, roughly half-way to the ruins, once breakfast was finished we quickly headed out of town and checked into our little hut. Although we only had two full days to explore the area, we saved the ruins for the following day and spent the first just relaxing, enjoying the scenery and fresh jungle air we’d been craving for weeks. Tired as we were from the long bus ride, we didn’t sleep, the surroundings were far too beautiful to waste time with our eyes closed.
The evening was spent with a little more relaxing and catching up on some work, sitting at the small table separating our hut from a wall of dense jungle; the prehistoric growl of howler monkeys echoing through the trees. After a while, right around the time the mosquitos were beginning to get unbearable, I felt something crawl over my foot. I thought it was probably a small cat, but it startled me nonetheless and I kicked at it; to my shock I saw a huge agouti run off and out of sight. What is an agouti you might ask? It’s a foot and a half long jungle rat.
With that fresh on my mind, it was time for bed; early morning to come.
Collectivos, or shared busses, roll up and down the highway between Palenque and the ruins very frequently, picking up anyone along the way for about 20 pesos; just stand on the side of the road and wave one down. After paying the 70 peso entrance fee at the ruins themselves, and passing through the gauntlet of hawkers selling everything from keychains to weed I arrived at the entrance. The only hiccup was that I had to check my tripod, as any professional camera gear requires it’s own – and very expensive – permit. Arriving only a few minutes after the 8am opening time, I had to get moving with the camera before the light became too harsh; as much like Monte Alban you’re unable to catch any sunrise shots.
Seeing as the ruins are lesser known than many others in Central America, the crowds were fairly minimal; and it was fairly easy to get around and see everything in a few short hours before it got too hot – and it got hot fast. One of the nicer aspects of being less popular is that you can not only climb the majority of the buildings, but some areas you can even walk inside ancient corridors, giving an interesting perspective to how life must have been like centuries ago. Although most of the areas are obvious to the eye and impossible to miss, head to the farthest north structure and look for the stairs heading down into the trees. Follow these to see some small waterfalls and several crumbling, moss covered structures seemingly left to nature.
Before heading back to the road, I stopped to take a rest on one of the more remote foundations and as I was climbing down, I nearly stepped on a three foot long lizard. It startled me pretty good, but it was kind enough to pose for a few snaps before I left.
Aside from the ruins, most of what we read prior to heading here had little good to say about the town of Palenque itself. However, later that afternoon when we headed back to purchase our bus tickets for the following morning, we were pleasantly surprised! The city itself is fairly small, but has some great restaurants, a beautiful centre square that was decorated for Christmas, several markets and some cool little shops. So while staying out in El Panchan was a great experience, being situated right in nature, Palenque would be a great option as well!
First thing the next morning, we ate a quick breakfast of a stale bus station sandwich and boarded another bus, this time only a brief nine hours, on our way to the city of San Cristobal de las Casas, way up in the Chiapas highlands.
Check out the video here!