Palenque is not the easiest place to visit. It is a bit removed from most other Mayan ruins and tourist destinations. But this geographic restriction should not deter you from visiting. It is a wonderful destination worthy of the extra effort required. I think of it as an advantage. If Palenque was located a hour from Cancun, it would be swamped with people (like Chichen Itza).
Located southwest of the Mexican Yucatan in Chiapas (the southernmost state in Mexico), it is close to the border of Guatemala and is a long 390 km from the equally worthwhile Tikal. Most people who visit Palenque do so by flying in. Villahermosa is two hours away and is the location of most flights in the area. There are some small flights that now go directly to the town of Palenque, which is a few minute drive from the archaeological site of Palenque.
Bus rides are available from Cancun or Merida, but it is a long haul taking 12-14 hours (from Cancun). First class overnight rides are available from Cancun. Escorted travel agencies (like Gate1 or G Adventures) offer guided trips to Palenque that are part of multi-day Yucatan trips.
My preferred way is by car. Despite its location, there are other interesting things to see in the area, and a loop around the Yucatan that includes other Mayan ruins, cenotes and the nearby Aqua Azul waterfalls is a great trip that can be done as a long week (as we did) or two weeks (which would be better).
By car, the Palenque ruin is located 367 km from the nice colonial town of Campeche. The roads are good and there are plenty of lodging and restaurant options in the nearby town of Palenque (same name as the Mayan ruin). The road heads into the mountains as you go south from Campeche and you go through some pretty poor Mexican towns. In one of them, we saw several children 7-8 years old who were playfully stringing vines across the road to stop motorists. We stopped mostly for concern of hitting them and they approached our car and pressed their faces playfully against the glass. They were cute as could be, but as they wanted handouts, I didn’t give them any. I didn’t want to encourage them coming into streets after cars.
If you are in the town of Palenque without a car, you can take a collectives (taxi) for about 20 pesos per person each way. The drive is is about 9 km through nice jungle. At the time of this writing, it cost about 90 pesos total to get into the National Park and access the ruin site. Numerous street vendors lie about the entrance and can be a little pushy. They expect to be bartered with on price, so feel free if you choose to.
The site itself is pretty flat if you stay in the main courtyards and appeared to be pretty handicap accessible. There are winding stone stairs in the jungle that lead to structures along the edge of the main clearing. Most all of the structures and temples, including the palace, require climbing some pretty steep stairs. No railing is there to assist. Please take care when climbing the temple stairs. People have died falling down similar stairs at Mayan sites.
If you have the opportunity, make sure you go to the for-mentioned Aqua Azul waterfalls. They are dozens of falls with rich, aqua blue water that has to be seen to believe. They are located 62 km south of Palenque town. It costs about 40 pesos per person. Also within a short drive of Palenque is the Roberto Barrios waterfall.
To read about our visit to Palenque, go here.
A gallery of pictures from our visit is here.
To see my list of favorite Mesoamerican ruins I have visited, go here.