Vamos Expeditions Adventure

Discover hidden Maya ruins in the jungle of Palenque

The archeological site of Palenque represents only 3 percent of the total Mayan city that was functioning until the 9th century. During a jungle walk close to this site you will get an idea of the undiscovered treasures that are waiting to be uncovered.   

The archeological Maya site of Palenque in Yucatan, South-Mexico.
Text and Pictures by Ellen Weber: The Archeological Maya site of Palenque, Mexico.

Only 3 percent of the Maya city of Palenque has been excavated,  the rest is still covered by the jungle. Our local guide Francisco Anaya Lembeck shows on the map how big the area is, where Maya people were living till the 9th century. Francisco: ‘New technologies like lidar, where laser imaging detection and ranging is used, make it possible to see the ruins that are still covered by the jungle. But there’s a lack of money to dig everything out and a lack of capacity to take care of the maintenance. Otherwise, plants and trees will cover the ruins again; everything grows fast in this tropical climate.’  

Because of the heat and humidity, we start our jungle walk early in the morning. At the time the first crowds visit the archeological site of Palenque, we are already walking the quiet jungle trail. It’s only us and sound of the birds. Soon our guide leaves the path, to cross a river by stepping stones. On the other side Francisco shows shells in different states. Some of them have already turned into fossils.

Picture: Fossils of shells.

Howler monkey
On our walk he finds medicinal plants that cure skin problems. A huge ficus tree has the company of a strangler fig: a hug that will finally kill the tree. On the move, Francisco has found a snack: ants that taste like carrots. While everyone is putting a tiny ant on his tongue, a hard noise is coming closer. A howler monkey has noticed us. And he’s not alone. Soon we find more monkeys, up in the trees.

Picture: The endangered Yucatan black howler monkeys that live near Palenque are the loudest of all monkeys. They are highly sociable and loud. Their roar is equivalent to the sounds of a passing subway train and their morning and evening howling sessions can last for an hour. It’s kind of cool to be woken up by this sound in the distance.

In a cave our guide shows where bats are taking a rest. Francisco: ‘Mayas believe that, by entering a cave, you step into the underworld. Bats are the only animals that are able to contact the underworld, the world of the death people.’

Maya swimming pool
Soon we’ll go underground again. Francisco shows us an aqueduct, that is not entirely covered anymore, but still working. He goes downstairs. The next fifteen meters of our walking tour is in the aqueduct. Fortunately there are huge stones to keep our feet dry. Francisco: ‘Watch your head, don’t bump into the sleeping bats!’ Close to the aqueduct there’s a Maya swimming pool. Discovered two years ago, but dating from centuries before Christ. Francisco laughs: ‘The needs of the upper class have always been the same: rich people want a swimming pool, with comfortable stairs to walk into the water.’

Palenque: Maya swimming pool

At the end of the walk we climb a steep hill. On top of it we enter the ruins of a temple. Actually, this is not just a hill, we are standing on a Maya pyramid!

Picture: Walking up ‘a steep hill’ in the jungle that has actually a Maya pyramid underneath.

Picture: We entered the hidden temple on the upper part of the pyramid still covered by the jungle.

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