For many, Palenque is the doorway to the state of Chiapas, a state which offers some of the most interesting archaeological sites in Mexico, as well as access to the Lacandon Jungle, the largest unbroken stretch of forest left in North America. The road into Palenque is breathtaking, with thousand year old majestic bone white buildings set against the lush, dark green jungle. Add the echoing growls of howler monkeys in the surrounding treetops and you have an unforgettable experience.
Palenque is a spectacular – and popular -- setting for meetings of up to 250 people. MPI Mexico held its national meeting there in 2012. The Mexican oil company, PEMEX, regularly holds company meetings in Palenque, knowing that the destination will be a draw for attendees. Most people get to Palenque by flying in to Villahermosa, Tabasco and taking 45-minute ground shuttle from Villahermosa to Palenque. Palenque does have its own small airport, but its traffic is mostly charters from Mexico City or regional capitals.
HOTELS IN PALENQUE
Thanks to the destination’s popularity for groups, there are a number of good hotels in Palenque with more than 70 rooms. The Hotel Villa Mercedes Palenque is an excellent choice for a headquarters hotel for larger events: its complex sprawls over a lush hillside only five minutes from the archaeological site. The hotel has 92 rooms as well as indoor and outdoor meeting spaces that can accommodate up to 500 people. Rooms are ample and comfortable. The hotel restaurant is standout, offering a wide variety of regional specialties as well as a well-prepared international menu. If your group requires additional rooms, the friendly and professional staff at the Hotel Villas Mercedes Palenque will find space in nearby hotels. The hotel has an tour agency that can help guests arrange visits to local attractions.
WHAT TO DO IN PALENQUE
There is so much to see in and around Palenque that visitors could easily fill three days with activity. The three top attractions for visitors are:
Palenque Archeological Site. The site is enormous and visitors could easily spend the better part of a day exploring the spectacular ruins. Just next door to the site is a
well-stocked bookstore. An onsite museum gives visitors background information on the site and its history. If your group wants an English language guide for the group, you can hire one at the tent beside the ticket booth.
Los Aluxes Ecopark. Just a hundred yards from the Hotel Villa Mercedes is Los Aluxes (a-LOO-shays) Ecopark, a non-profit attraction that opened in 2011. The park, which was under development for the better part of a decade, allows visitors to get up close with animals endemic to Chiapas and the Lacandon Jungle area. Los Aluxes presents animals in large spaces that resemble their natural habitat, better than any zoo we’ve experienced. Expecting to make the tour in 45 minutes, we spent more than three hours, captivated by jaguars, Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks, spider monkeys, crocodiles, and birds, including a Yucatan Jay raised in captivity that was so curious and friendly that it makes a habit of perching on visitors’ heads. The park aims to raise awareness about the region’s biodiversity and, in partnership with university programs in Mexico and around the world, study the animals of the region and help with their conservation.
Bonampak and Yaxchilan Archeological Sites. A three hour drive from Palenque, the Bonampak and Yaxchilan are somewhat off the beaten track, but reward intrepid visitors with enormous sites that are surprisingly well-preserved.
The road to the Bonampak site was opened in 1997. Though the site is only partially excavated, visitors will marvel at the beautifully carved friezes and a central temple with a vibrant, three-room painted mural that depicts one of the city-state’s important battles. At the entrance to the site is a small but interesting museum dedicated to the culture and history of the Lacandon people. Local vendors sell necklaces, wood carvings of animals and textiles on the walk into the site. Visitors who wish to combine an exploration of remote ruins with birding will be thrilled with this easy hike into the jungle.
Another twenty miles down the road, in the town Frontera Corrazal on the Guatemala border, visitors catch boat taxis that travel 45 minutes on the Usamancinta River to the mysterious ruins of Yaxchilan, which was once the dominant city in this part of the world. The boat taxis are so plentiful that groups of 100 or more can easily be transported to the Yaxchilan site.
The trip on the river feels like a journey back in time: the few people you see along the way are fishing or washing clothes in the river; amateur ornithologists will be rewarded with sightings of a multitude of birds. When you finally disembark and climb up through jungle trails to the main complexes, you’ll marvel at the site of a vast capital city, with dozens of magnificent buildings, reclaimed by the jungle. Yaxchilan’s architecture and friezes are even more intricate than those found at Bonampak, and its ornately designed temples will be an unforgettable part of your group’s trip.