Beyond the colourful, colonial buildings and the flat terrain of the general Yucatan area, towards the mountainous, rugged landscape of northeastern Chiapas, lies the World Heritage-designated site of Palenque.
Whether you’re a history buff or not, the Mayan ruins of Palenque Mexico are an absolute must-see. They date back to the 7th century and saw the rise and fall of many prolific rulers along the way. While not as big as neighboring Tikal, there’s still so much to see.
The temples and structures here are fascinating. Although there are similarities to other variations of Mayan culture and architecture, there are many elements here that set this site apart from others in the area. The Temple of Inscriptions houses the second longest hieroglyphic text from the Mayan World, and in 1952, the tomb of the famous ruler Pacal The Great was discovered here.
Of all the ruins in Chiapas, however, nearby Bonampak is stellar. The place owes its fame to the murals in its main temple: Mayan warlords in quetzal-plumed headdresses, prisoners spurting blood and begging for mercy, as well as a severed head at the bottom of the steps.
From there it’s an hour by boat to Yaxchilán, which lies half-hidden in dense forest along the Guatemalan border. As scarlet macaws screech overhead, a lightless stone labyrinth leads the way, presumedly built by the Mayans to mimic their vision of the underworld. The tunnel spills out into an area flanked by temples with soaring roof combs, straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. This ruin is often regarded as one of the best ruins in Mexico today.
Away from all the history, however, lies one of the most impressive solo waterfalls in Mexico – Misol Ha. There’s a cave system behind the waterfall so you can actually walk along the path and feel the spray from just a couple feet away.
Elsewhere, time at Lacanja River is often described as a lazy day spent floating down the river. But you’ll have to prepare to contend with small waterfalls that will send you bounding all the way down – it’s an absolute blast! Local guides are often fearless in navigating the 6-9 foot (2-3 meter) drops. But during the quiet parts, it’s lovely to just kick back and feel completely enveloped by the trees and wild plants around you.
Ultimately, Palenque may be regarded as a pleasant slice of historical significance set within the jungle next to a babbling creek, but the ancient city also provides a breathtaking archaeological and adventurous experience to rival many contemporary towns spread throughout Mexico and Central America.