If you saw the Mexico Archaeology page,
you would know that I consider Palenque to be the second most impressive
archaeological site in all of Mexico. The rating was given for the
extent to which the ruins are preserved as well as the sheer beauty
of this site. What you will see is impressive, yet to date,
only 2% of this 25 square mile site has been excavated.
About the ruins :
Palenque is thought to have its origins some time around the first
century and continued to flourish until around 900 AD which corresponds
to the time when the Yucatan was scourged by a drought that lasted
for years, drying up even the largest lakes and killing everything
that remained. In any event, while some may debate the demise of
Palenque, it is the fact that it was uninhabited and therefore unknown
to the Spaniards when they first arrived in the region that spared
Palenque the fate of so many ancient places in Mexico.
Their thousand plus year old city would have been stripped for its
stones, the governors palace would use the steps and base of the
old palace, but would replace everything else and a cathedral would
have been erected on the pyramid where the natives used to worship.
For many years, the speculation as to what brought about the sudden
end of what we call the classic Mayan empire continued to argue opinion
over fact as there were no "facts". The "facts", however, are now
a scientific certainty. This lush rain forest was once turned
into a deserted waste land by a drought of epic proportions that
lasted so long, everything that stayed in the region, died in the
region. While this is not proof positive about what happened here,
the most likely explanation is now that they suffered the same fate
as their Maya neighbors in the Yucatan.
Anyway, now comes 1773 when a bored priest named Father Ramon de
Ordonez y Aguilar in what is now San Cristobal de las Casas hears
of this city from the Indians. He finds it to be what he considered
to be the most beautiful ruins in Mexico . . . This peaks the curiosity
of King Charles III of Spain who in 1787 sends Don Antonio del Rio.
In typical Spanish fashion, he hires some local natives to tear through
the site looking for treasure.
It is not the purpose of this site to give you a Mayan history lesson
or to tell you of each and every aspect of Palenque that some have
called an enigma because it raises more questions than it answers
. . . However, we do suggest searching sites like wikipedia.org or
getting a book on the Maya civilization which includes Palenque before
Getting There :
The easiest way to get to Palenque is from Villa Hermosa. The city
of Palenque is only an hour and a half away (140 km).
The not so easy way to get there is from San Cristobal de las Casas.
You may read in some guide book that it is only 199 km and guess
that it is only a couple of hours away . . . WRONG! The distance
is correct, but the fact that you are traveling through on poorly
maintained winding roads that make it impossible to average more
than 20 to 25 MPH (no more than 30 to 40 KPH). I don't care if you
have a 4wd vehicle, you can't make any speed with one hairpin turn
after another. The only straight places are when you hit a small
village that has speed bumps designed to flay the bottom of your
car even if you are going the posted speed limit. -- Plan on 5 hours
The City of Palenque :
It's small, old, has lots of flavor, some of the nicest people you
could ever meet, a few decent hotels and great food.
The more adventurous will find the campgrounds on the road to the
ruins extremely popular with Euro-hippies. . . COOL PEOPLE! If you
are 18 to 35, and traveling alone, I would strongly suggest doing
the campgrounds any day of the week . . . but the facilities are
not up to your typical KOA standards . . . so up-tight anal retentive
types suffering from cranial-rectosis are excluded from this suggestion.