As a child, I wanted to be an archaeologist. I read a lot about ancient civilizations: the Incans, the Aztecs, the Egyptians and the Mayans.
Unfortunately, archaeology was not offered as a degree in my country, but my fascination for these civilizations remained untouched. As a Salvadoreans, we are descendants of the Mayans. This distance relationship to them has brought us to places such as Chichen Itza, Tikal, Copan, and many others. This time we came to Palenque.
According to Google, the drive between San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque should take about 4 ½ hours. It took us 5½ hours, it’s a mountainous road with only one lane for each way. The views are amazing and well worth the hassle. Delicious coffee is grown in these mountains with peculiar shapes.
We left San Cristobal at noon, and got to our hotel at around 5:45 pm or so, just in time for dinner and to have a good night of sleep. The next morning we got up early and visit Palenque. Our hotel was a short drive away from Palenque, about 7 minutes. Luckily for us, Palenque wasn’t crowded. January is already low season.
Palenque is its modern name, the original Maya name was Lakamha. It was built right where the jungle and mountains start (or end, depending on your perspective). From the pictures below you can see the plains. It’s smaller than Chichen Itza or Copan, at least what they have uncovered is smaller.
At least up to last year, these were the only ruins where tombs for Mayan royalty have been found. Two to be exact: One for the king: B’aakal, who reigned for 80 years!! ( I never knew Mayans lived that long!). The second tomb was a female, it’s been assumed that this was B’aakal’s wife since they’re not related by DNA.
After Palenque was abandoned, nature swallowed back entire buildings and the city as a whole. Even when only a small part has been recovered, it’s a beautiful place.
It’s unfortunate that it was abandoned for so many years. As we walked around we noticed that many bas-reliefs have been forcibly removed from the buildings. The tour guide told us that many were stolen by foreigners (Americans and Europeans) that visited the region in the 1800s. We even saw graffiti dating back to 1860s.
One thing that I found quite interesting was that the top of the buildings in Palenque looks different from other Mayan sites. The tour guide explained that the top portion of the buildings raised for about 9.84 feet (3 meters) and it was designed to created music when the air moved through it. That means the palace were king B’aakal resided had constant music that nature itself produced. I can’t even imagine what that sounded like. Time and nature succeeded at silencing the palace, even then I feel fortunate to be able to walk in a palace where Mayan royalty once resided.
The entrance fee for Palenque also includes the entrance to the Museum, which has a lot of original artifacts and it’s worth a visit. Many of the jewels found in the queen’s tomb are on display here, and an exact replica of B’aakal’s sarcophagus is exhibited.
Archaeologists were only able to take B’aakal’s body out for exhumation, but his massive sarcophagus can not be taken out of the building. It was placed in there before the building was completed, so there’s no way to take it out.
Palenque was a wonderful experience, and I highly recommend to visit it if you’re in the area. I can happily say that it was worth driving 5 and half hours!