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Sections of Palenque

Located in the southern state of Chiapas, about 290 km (180 mi) northeast of state capital Tuxtla Gutierrez and 220 km (136 mi) from San Cristobal de las Casas, Palenque is one of the most important Mayan archaeological zones. Simply put, it’s a must-see destination on your next visit to Mexico’s southern region.

The ruins are embedded in the heart of a tropical jungle, which gets torrential downpours during the summer and has an average temperature of 26º C (79º F). Palenque offers amazing temples and structures dating back to Mexico’s Classic era (from 400 - 700 AD); the ruins were explored during the 19th century. Among the most important structures at the site are: El Palacio (The Palace), which has a notable tower that rises above the complex; Los Templos del Sol, de la Cruz and de la Cruz Foliada (The Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Cross and Temple of the Foliated Cross), which surround the Plaza del Sol. There’s also the Templo de las Inscripciones (Temple of the Inscriptions). In 1952, a tomb was discovered under this temple with a beautifully inscribed sarcophagus among the funerary furnishings of King Pakal. The ancient ruler of Palenque ordered the temple’s construction, which would also serve as a holy tomb after his death.

In the ruin’s surrounding areas, you can go hiking amongst dense jungle vegetation while appreciating the abundance of plant and animal species that inhabit the Palenque National Park, which covers some 1,700 hectares (4,200 acres). There, you’ll spot various bird species, howler monkeys, and you might even get a glimpse of a jaguar.

About 6 km (4 mi) east of the archaeological zone and the national park lays the town of Palenque, which offers everything you’ll need for your visit: Lodging, restaurants, stores and markets, where you can buy all kinds of crafts and enjoy the tasty regional cuisine of Chiapas. Nearby, you can visit the waterfalls of Agua Azul and Misol-Ha, two important natural tourist attractions. There, you can go camping and take in the gorgeous scenery, .which at one time could only be admired by Mayan princes.

In 1561, Fray Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada, one of the few missionaries who accepted work with the indigenous towns arrives in Chiapas in response to an invitation from Fray Bartolome de Las Casas. By the year 1564 as a result of his missionary labor, he had integrated the Pochutla indigenous people from the town of Ocosingo, the indigenous people who lived in the area from Ocot to Yajalön, the Tzetzal indigenous people from the mountains to the north of Ocosingo and was working with the Choles settled in Tumbala and Tila.

After two years of intense labor, Fray Pedro went to the north of the Lacandon jungle trying to convert the Lacandon indigenous people from Lacantún, to convince them to follow the example set by the other inhabitants, but they reject his efforts. It is during time that he discovers many Choles living in small hamlets, following their ancient ways. He proposes that they leave their homes and follow him to a town he has prepared for them on the banks of Chacamax River, on the slopes of the mountains at the base of which some ruins of special beauty are discovered. In the year 1567, with the indigenous people who accepted his proposal, Fray Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada established the town of Palenque, honoring with that name the ancient settlement he had discovered some distance from the new town.

Fray Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada made two trips back to Spain to make the necessary arrangements for the legal establishment of Palenque, and to add it to the principality of Guatemala whose jurisdiction belonged at that time to the state of Chiapas. In 1573, he brought back from his second trip to Spain three bells, which he gave to the community as a symbol of their establishment. Today only the largest of the three remains inside the town's church and is the only lasting testimony of Palenque's foundation.

On October 29, 1813 the courts of Cádiz promulgated the decree by which it elevate the town to the Ville category. This decree was promulgated on the Royal Island of Leon on November 1 of that same year, by the infant Don Luis Maria Leborboy presiding over the regency of Cádiz in absence of his Majesty, the King of Spain Fernando VII. In December of 1972, the decree 31 from the Honorary Congress of the State was proclaimed, in which Palenque is elevated to the category of City, promulgated by then Governor Dr. Manuel Velasco Suárez.

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Numerous ethnic groups live in the surrounding areas of Palenque, including the Choles, Tzeltales and the Lacandones. These people have maintained a strong tradition of making regional clothes, purses, leather bags, embroidered blouses, necklaces and jewelry with stone settings, wood and metal sculptures and ceramics. You’ll find these objects and much more at the stands outside the archaeological site or at the market in the town of Palenque.

Stone carving (lapidary): Manufacture of handicrafts made of limestone with the bas-relief technique, representing Mayan cultural motifs. Technique: The figure to be carved is drawn on limestone and then the sculpting of the figure is begun. The unwanted layers of stone are removed, and the final detailing is done. The sculptors themselves make the tools for this labor.

Leather embossing: Manufacture of leather handicrafts, representing Mayan cultural motifs. Technique: The figure to be embossed is drawn on the leather and then the figure is marked with the aid of a type of electric soldering tool, which burns the leather as it pressed against it. Some craftsmen apply a layer of color in some areas of the representation.

In the town of Palenque, you can join in on the joyful celebration of Santo Domingo de Guzman, the town’s patron saint. During the colorful and festive event, which takes place during the first week of August, you’ll see traditional regional dances and listen to the sounds of the marimba, a typical percussion instrument from southeastern Mexico.

  • January 1, New Year's Festivities, celebration of Masses, parades and fireworks.
  • Holy Week (March or April), processions, celebration of Masses throughout the state. In some towns, the Burning of Judas ritual takes place - represented by paper-maché figures and cartoons of historical or contemporary personalities.
  • August 1 - 10, the Santo Domingo Fair in honor of the patron saint of the city. Celebration of Masses, a parade and exhibits of cattle, agricultural products and food.
  • September 16 is National Independence Day, celebrated with the Mayor presiding over the traditional ceremony of "El Grito" (the Shout for Independence).
  • November 1 and 2 are All Saints Day and Day of the Dead. Offerings are placed at the graves of the deceased to welcome and summon their souls, which are believed to return during these days. The offerings include traditional meals placed on altars inside the houses along with candles and flowers, or at the graves where families spend the day praying.
  • December 12 is the festival of the Patron Saint of all Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe celebrated with Mass, serenades and pilgrimages.

In the town of Palenque, you can enjoy such delicious local cuisine as shote con momo (made with freshwater snails, Mexican pepper leaf and pre-ground dough), traditional tamales from Chiapas, duck in chilmol (a sauce made from tomatoes, chile pepper and cilantro), steamed fish fillets, bread soup and shredded venison salad, among many other dishes. For dessert, we recommend that you try the delicious sweets made with fresh honey. To wash it down, have some pozol blanco or pozol de cacao, chicha and balche, beverages made from corn and other grains. You can find these and many other regional culinary treats in markets and restaurants, some of which also serve international and standard Mexican fare. 

  • Tamales de chipilín: Food made with corn flour and chipilín leaves wrapped in banana leaves.
  • Tamales de chaya: Food made with corn flour and the chaya leaves wrapped in banana leaves.
  • Chuti con momo: Food made with corn flour, river snail and momo leaves, known in some regions as Holy Weed.
  • Dulce de oreja de mico (Monkey Ear Candy): Candy made with young papaya fruit and sugar

Palenque’s archaeological zone has a museum on the grounds where you can see a wide variety of objects: sculptures, ceramics and spears with the image of the sun god. Archaeologist found the items while excavating and researching the ancient Mayan city.

Museo del Sitio de Palenque (Palenque’s Museum): Located 1.5 km (about 1 mi) from the archaeological zone and 8 km (5 mi) from the town of Palenque, this museum has two showrooms with a permanent collection. In the first, on the lower level, you’ll see a collection of some 260 pieces, including ceramics, stucco, bones, conch shells and jade. On the second floor, you can learn about the history of some of the most important archaeological excavations in Palenque, from the end of the 18th century to present day. From the front of the museum, one can follow a path leading uphill through the jungle scenery and along the Otulum River and its waterfalls. Open daily from 08:00 to 17:00.

Just outside the archaeological zone you’ll find numerous stands selling all kinds of crafts, regional clothes and jewelry. In the town of Palenque, there are several supermarkets, crafts centers and smaller markets. On Manuel Velasco Suarez Street, at 1 Poniente, you’ll find one such market where you can buy a wide variety of crafts and other items.

In the town of Palenque you’ll find various restaurants, bars and cafés that invite you to enjoy a pleasant evening in the company of friends while you listen to live music. We recommend that you visit La Galeria, one of the most popular coffee shops, where you’ll find a bohemian atmosphere and live bands; it also has excellent restaurant service.

The ideal complement to your trip to Chiapas is the rest and relaxation that you can enjoy in Palenque’s spas. Surrounded by gorgeous natural scenery, they offer personalized attention and comfortable facilities. At the spas, you can receive rejuvenating treatments, massages, lymph-system cleansings and temazcal steam baths (an indigenous vapor bath that has been practiced for ages).

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  Chiapas, Palenque, Hotel La Aldea, Room
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