El Panchan & Palenque – Mexico – Information

Palenque - Ruins - 14

JUNE 2017:



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OVERVIEW:

We made our way from San Cristobal de las Casas to El Panchan by public transport.

In San Cris, we stayed in GRANDPAcking Standard accommodation: the Albufera Apartments.

It was a small complex with about 8 apartments.San Cristobal - Albufera - Hotel Entry

Our 1 bedroom apartment came equipped with a kitchenette / lounge (with Cable TV), bathroom (with hot water), and Bedroom (with wardrobe and Cable TV).San Cristobal - Albufera - Living AreaSan Cristobal - Albufera - KitchenetteSan Cristobal - Albufera - EntriesSan Cristobal - Albufera - Room EntrySan Cristobal - Albufera - Ensuite EntrySan Cristobal - Albufera - Bedroom EntrySan Cristobal - Albufera - Ensuite VanitySan Cristobal - Albufera - Bedroom Furniture

In Mexico, don’t bother about a TV. Unless you speak fluent Spanish it is useless. You will be lucky to get 1-2 English speaking Movie, Sport, and News channels.

You are much better off getting good wifi that allows you to stream your own movies / entertainment. The wifi was good at the Albufera.

The Albufera says that their apartments come ‘fully equipped’. Ours did not. It lacked a couple of important items but, over-all, it was perfectly OK.

It was time to move on to El Panchan …


SAN CRISTOBAL TO EL PANCHAN:

There are no direct Shuttle Buses. Tour Agents only offer day tours returning to San Cris. We were offered a one-way 4am Shuttle to Palenque via Agua Azul and Misol-Ha Waterfalls for MXP870 … we declined.San Cristobal to El Panchan Map

You can make your way from San Cris to Ocosingo by chicken bus (2 hours MXP70) and, from there, another chicken bus to Palenque (3 hours MXP75). These are slow, bendy, mountain roads.

ADO have buses to Palenque leaving at 6am, 10am, 12 noon, and 4pm for MXP340. The bus takes 8 hours and goes via Villahermosa to avoid the mountain roads. We chose the comfort of an ADO bus even though it takes 3 hours longer than a chicken bus(es). We booked in advance at the ADO Office and got our discounted tickets for MXP176. We were hoping that the bus was not full … so, we booked two window seats (so that we would each have the seat next to us free).

The ADO Office is near the main square. The ADO Bus Terminal is 6 blocks south of the main square.

We were up at 4:30am and on the road by 5:00am. From our apartment, it was a 30 minute walk to the ADO Bus Station.San Cristobal - ADO Bus Station

The bus left at 6am less than half full … the seats next to us were empty.San Cristobal - ADO Bus

We arrived in Tuxtla by 7:10am. We had a 25 minute stop. A man got on and took the seat next to me. The bus was, now, 3/4 full.

We arrived in Chontalpa at 10am. We had a 20 minute stop.

We arrived in Cardinas at 11:20am. We had a 5 minute stop.

We arrived in Villahermosa at 12:10pm. We had a 35 minute stop. We left Villahermosa almost empty … the seat next to me was free again … so, I managed to get a 1 hour sleep.San Cristobal - ADO Bus Interior

We arrived in Palenque at 3:00pm. The ADO Bus Terminal is on the main road just south of the Best Western.El Panchan & Palenque Map

We walked out of the Bus Terminal to the waiting taxis. We were quoted MXP70 for a taxi to take us 5 kms to El Panchan. The rule of thumb is that the price should be no more than MXP40. We declined.

We walked 5 meters more to the main road and flagged down a passing Colectivo. The Colectivo was, also, over-priced but it got us to El Panchan for MXP20 each. In hindsight, the taxi would have been fine – especially if you can share with another couple from the bus. Colectivos will not drop their prices under MXP20 each.

We were dropped off outside the Kin Balam hotel in the middle of the afternoon rain and had to wait 20 minutes for it to clear.

It was a short 100 meter walk from the drop off point to Don Muchos Restaurant. We parked our luggage and ordered a coffee before wandering around the 4 El Panchan hotels to find accommodation.


ABOUT PALENQUE RUINS:

Palenque was a Maya city state in southern Mexico that flourished in the 7th century. The Palenque ruins date from 226 BC to AD 799.El Panchan & Palenque Map

After its decline, it was absorbed into the jungle of cedar, mahogany, and sapodilla trees, but it has since been excavated and restored and is now a famous archaeological site attracting thousands of visitors.Palenque - Ruins - Map

Palenque is located in Chiapas, Mexico about half way between Ciudad del Carme (to the north) and San Cristobal de las Casas (to the south).

It is only 150 meters above sea level. It averages a humid 26 °C (79 °F) with roughly 2160 mm (85 in) of rain a year.

You enter the Archaeological Park at El Panchan. You pay MXP35 entry to the park. About 2.5k into the park you find the Site Museum.Palenque - Ruins - Museum

Another 1.3 km uphill from the Museum is the entrance to the Ruins. Entry is MXP70. At the entrance you will find stalls, hawkers, and guide touts.Palenque - Ruins - Entrance Shops

Opening hours are 8am to 5pm.Palenque - Ruins - 1

Palenque is a medium-sized site, much smaller than such sites as Tikal (Guatemala), Chichen Itza (Mexico), or Copán (Honduras) …Palenque - Ruins - 2

… but it contains some of the finest architecture, sculpture, roof comb and bas-relief carvings that the Mayas produced (alas most are, now, in museums – you find very few at the site itself).Palenque - Ruins - 4

Much of the history of Palenque has been reconstructed from reading the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the many monuments.Palenque - Ruins - 5

Historians now have a long sequence of the ruling dynasty of Palenque in the 5th century and extensive knowledge of the city-state’s rivalry with other states such as Calakmul and Toniná.Palenque - Ruins - 3

By 2005, the discovered area covered up to 2.5 km² (1 sq mile), but it is estimated that less than 10% of the total area of the city is explored, leaving more than a thousand structures still covered by jungle.Palenque - Ruins - 9You can easily walk around the whole site in 1 to 1.5 hours.Palenque - Ruins - 10

It doesn’t have a very big pyramid like you get at other sites like Uxmal and Coba.

But, it does have an impressive palace …Palenque - Ruins - 11 Palenque - Ruins - 12 Palenque - Ruins - 13

And a well restored temple.Palenque - Ruins - 14

One of the nice and unique things about the Palenque site is the 700 meter exit through the jungle next to a stream and a waterfall.Palenque - Ruins - 6 Palenque - Ruins - 7 Palenque - Ruins - 8


ABOUT EL PANCHAN:

Yes, of course, you can stay in Palenque Town.Palenque MapThere are plenty of hotels to choose from and plenty of restaurants and bars.

EL PANCHÁN (“Above the Sky” in ancient Maya) is located at the entrance of the National Park of Palenque 4.5kms out from Palenque town. You can get to El Panchan by taxi (MXP70) or Colectivo (MXP20 each).

El Panchan was founded in the early eighties. In those days, it was mainly backpackers sleeping in hammocks.El Panchan - Jungle Path

A few years later they built some cabins. The place kept on growing. It has evolved from a backpacker ‘magic mushroom’ destination to a mix of budget accommodation for all types of traveller. But, it is still mainly focused on the budget traveller market.

El Panchan is only a few 100 meters in size and offers about 5 different hotels / hostels and 3 restaurant / bars. The main restaurant / bar is Don Muchos which has live music every night.El Panchan - Don Muchos - Live Band


COMMUNICATIONS:

I already had the AT&T SIMcard that I purchased in Playa Del Carmen a few months before. An AT&T (IUSCELL) SIMcard remains ‘active’ even if it has no credit and remains inactive for several months.

Mine was still active when I arrived in San Cristobal.

In many locations around Mexico, the locals don’t know about AT&T … they know it under its old name IUSCELL (the company that AT&T took over).

In San Cris I purchased a 1 month Mobile Plan that included 200 Talk minutes, Texting, 1GB of Data, and 3GB of ‘social media’ data (including Facebook) for MXP300. This plan was still active in El Panchan.El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Pathway 2

In El Panchan you get poor wifi coverage. In the hotels you won’t get a signal at all.

 Chelys Restaurant and Don Muchos offer free wifi. Chelys is unreliable. Don’s works well.

I could get an AT&T signal in some places as well as at the ruins. Telcel should do the same – probably slightly better.


WHERE TO STAY:

Some cheap places can be found in and around El Panchan / Palenque town.

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find … this is for 1 night at the end of June 2017 …

HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):

BOOKING.COM:Palenque Booking 1 Palenque Booking 2
AGODA.COM:Palenque Agoda

June is low season and many hotels have already discounted their prices.

PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites sometimes display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You may have to add up to 22% to the displayed price to get the final price.

VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):

If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.

Holiday Rentals are usually rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … please note that these prices are in US$s …

TRIPADVISOR:Palenque Tripadvisor
AIRBnB:Palenque AitBnB

Vacation Rentals are, usually, displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any Security Deposit (if required). BUT, the displayed price may be EXCLUSIVE of the host site’s Service Fees (which can add as much as 16%).

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, in Mexico they are definitely worth a look.

IN SUMMARY:

All but 1 of the hotels in El Panchan (the Kin Balam) are not listed in the usual search engines. They don’t, necessarily, answer phone calls or emails either. You just turn up and take a chance.El Panchan Map

You only have to walk a few 100 meters to check out all of the El Panchan accommodation. We arrived, settled in to Don Muchos, and I went around to each hotel looking for rooms and prices. This is what I found:

The Jungle Palace: Offered me a large, basic room with 3 double beds and a private hot water bathroom. For a 1 week rental, they discounted it from MXP300 / night to MXP280 / night.El Panchan - Jungle Palace Entry

Kin Balam: Offered me a Double with private hot water bathroom. The price was MXP400 / night and they would not offer a weekly discount.

El Mono Barco: Had, what looked like, run-down Cabanas. I couldn’t see inside one because I couldn’t find their Reception!


MY ACCOMMODATION:

We returned to take the room at the Jungle Palace only to find that it had been snapped up by someone else.

So, we went to Margarita & Eds.El Panchan - Margarita & Ed Entry

Our room had 2 Double beds and a private hot water bathroom.

They quoted a low season rate of MXP340 / night but, after a bit of jousting, I got this down further to MXP320 (US$18).

You walk through jungle paths to get to the rooms.El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Pathway 1

They have a couple of different buildings.El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Building

Our room was on the ground floor.El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Room Front

The room was a reasonable size …El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Room Entry El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Room Furniture El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Bed

… and there was plenty of hot water.El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Ensuite Vanity El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Ensuite Entry

There was no wardrobe, so out came my washing line again!El Panchan - Margarita & Ed - Wardrobe

It was nice sitting outside listening to the noises of the jungle at night. Especially the howler monkeys.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:


Booking.com


TRANSPORT:

You can walk everywhere in El Panchan.

From El Panchan it is a 4km walk to the ruins down the park road. The last 1.3 kms is up hill which makes the walk seem more like 5 kms. Allow up to 45 minutes.

Alternatively, at El Panchan you can flag down a passing Colectivo. The price to the ruins should be MXP15 each.

From El Panchan you can also flag down a Colectivo to take you to Palenque town centre. The price should be MXP20 each. A taxi should cost MXP40 but be prepared to pay MXP70.


EAT:

The main place to eat is Don Muchos. But you pay inflated prices. However, there are some well priced items on the menu. You pay a compulsory 10% ‘service fee’.

You can find a couple of cheaper and more rustic eateries (like Chely’s) just around the corner near The Jungle Palace.El Panchan - Cheap Eats El Panchan - Chelys

BREAKFAST:

Chelys was offering a 50% discount on all Breakfasts, so we ate there every morning. At full price, Chelys would be bad value for money, but at half price the Breakfasts were reasonable.

As an example, you can get their Ranchero Breakfast for MXP70 (MXP35 discounted). Black coffee is MXP15. A cappuccino is MXP25. But, the coffee is weak and watery.El Panchan - Chelys Ranchero Breakfast MXP70

Or the Chely’s Big Breakfast for MXP110 (MXP55 discounted) which includes a coffee / tea / juice. It was poor value for money.El Panchan - Chelys - Big Breakfast MXP110

My favorite was the Cheese Omelette with Bacon & Rice for MXP60 (MXP30 discounted).El Panchan - Chelys - Cheese Omelette w Bacon MXP60

Alas, their coffee was weak and tasteless, so we went to Don Muchos after Breakfast for our coffee. At Don Muchos, a black coffee costs MXP12 plus 10% tip.

The 50% discount at Chely’s is a bit of a scam. The discount manages to ‘undercut’ Don Muchos prices but at full price, Chely’s would be more expensive. Here is Don’s Breakfast Menu:El Panchan - Don Mucho - Breakfast Menu 1 El Panchan - Don Mucho - Breakfast Menu 2

LUNCH:

We didn’t eat many Lunches. When we did it was something cheap and simple like a bowl of French Fries at Don Muchos (MXP35 + 10%). A Ham & Cheese sandwich is MXP30 + 10%.

DINNER:

 With the live music starting at 8pm each night, we found ourselves eating Dinner at Don Muchos most nights.El Panchan - Don Muchos - Bar

The prices on their menu range from Vegetarian Soup of the Day (MXP35 + 10%) to fancy meals for about MXP140. You can pay as much as MXP180 if you want beef.

One night we shared Guacamole & Nachos (MXP75) and a Soup of the Day (MXP35). The two cost MXP115 + 10%.El Panchan - Don Muchos - Nachos & Soup MXP115

Another night, we shared one of their cheapest pizzas: Tuna for MXP80 + 10%. The crust was under-done … I advise you to ask for yours ‘crispy’.El Panchan - Don Muchos - Tuna Pizza MXP80

As another example, I had a Chicken Soup with Tacos (MXP45 + 10%).El Panchan - Don Mucho - Chicken Soup w Tacos MXP45

IN SUMMARY:

Expect to pay an average of MXP75 for a cheap Breakfast (MXP55) with coffee (MXP20).

Expect to pay an average of MXP60 for a cheap Lunch (MXP40) with fruit drink (MXP20).

Expect to pay an average of MXP110 for a cheap Dinner (MXP80 + 10%) with fruit juice (MXP20 + 10%).


DRINK:

The typical price for a cheap local 330ml beer (like Sol, Indio, etc) is MXP25. Add 10% at Don Muchos. Don Muchos do a 700ml Modelo Especial for MXP40 + 10%. At Chely’s you can buy 1 litre bottles of ‘Superior’ for MXP40. Next to Chely’s there is a little Tienda that sells 1.2L bottles of Corona for MXP45.El Panchan - Don Muchos - Live Band

Cocktails and shorts at Don Muchos are on the pricey side. Most cocktails are MXP70. Shots of Tequilla start at MXP40.

The free live band at Don Muchos means that most people gather there at night and pay the premium.


YOUR HEALTH & SAFETY:

There is no reason to feel unsafe here. But, as always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.

The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in Central America.

You don’t get harassed in El Panchan … it is pretty ‘laid back’. But, you can expect to be touted regularly by locals selling Marijuana (MXP100 for 5 grams) and Magic Mushrooms (MXP100 for 4).

The locals don’t all seem to be able to add up accurately either. Check your bill.

The Magic Mushrooms are said to be particularly strong so, if you choose to take some, take care. 4 are said to give you a mellow buzz. 8 are said to be enough for a ‘trip’.


WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:

The main attraction is the Palenque Ruins.

ECOMUNDO PARK:

Take a 500 meter walk from El Panchan towards Palenque town, and you will find the Ecomundo Park. It is a waste of time (unless you want to walk a dog).El Panchan - Ecomundo - Entry

This seems to be a failed business venture.El Panchan - Ecomundo - Street El Panchan - Ecomundo - Road El Panchan - Ecomundo - Avenue

It is, now, being sold off in Residential Lots. A couple of nice, up-market homes have already been built there.

LOCAL TOURS:El Panchan - Tours

THE RUINS AT SUNRISE / SUNSET:

We wanted to see the sunrise from the top of the main Temple.

As they do not open until 8am, this (on paper) is not possible. We thought about ‘sneeking in’ before 8am (perhaps via the 700 meter nature walk ‘exit’) or via a secret ‘jungle trail’ … but we were told by locals that this was not possible as there are many vigilantes / guards patrolling the entrances and ruins when they are closed.


MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:

You will find all of the shopping that you would normally expect in Palenque … including a Chedraui Supermarket.

There are no Tiendas (shops) as such in El Panchan.

If you want to keep costs down, bring some groceries from Palenque.

ATMs:

There are no ATMs in El Panchan … so, bring plenty of cash. Credit Cards are not taken at the hotels nor the restaurants.

There are plenty of ATMs around Palenque town. They dispense different maximums (MXP5000-7000) at different ‘transaction’ prices.

I advise you to get your MXP at an HSBC ATM. You can withdraw up to MXP10,000 in a single transaction and you only pay a fee of MXP33.35.


WHEN TO GO:

Palenque Rainfall Graph Palenque Temperature Graph

Rainy Season is May through October.

We arrived early June. The air was very humid and it was hard to stop your things from getting damp. We aired our clothes to avoid mould. This will be a problem right through Rainy Season.

We had afternoon rains every other afternoon (for about 1 hour). We had the odd thunder storm at night.


GETTING AWAY:

From Palenque we plan to head to Flores, Guatemala.

At El Panchan there are 2 routes offered:

  • Via Tenosique and El Ceibo (MXP650) – which is the shortest and quickest route
  • Via Frontera Corozal and Tecnica (MXP550)

We went to Palenque to see whether or not we can do this ourselves and/or get a better price. In Palenque, the Shuttle via El Ceibo was MXP550 (MXP100 cheaper than at El Panchan).

From the ADO Bus Terminal in Palenque, walk 50 meters towards El Panchan and you will find a Colectivo Terminal. Here, they display Colectivo prices to about 40 destinations.

They had no direct Shuttle to Tenosique nor El Ceibo, but their price to Frontera Corozal was MXP100 each. The Shuttle leaves every 1/2 hour from 2:30am to 7:30am. From there, you still need to catch a boat across the river to Tecnica, Guatemala (the price is said to be MXP50 on the internet) or a boat to Bethel, Guatemala (the price is said to be MXP400 on the internet) … and another Shuttle from either Tecnica / Bethel to Flores (the price from either is said to be MXP130-140 on the internet).

If all online information is correct, we could ‘do it ourselves’ from El Panchan to Flores for:

  • Colectivo from El Panchan to Palenque: MXP20
  • Colectivo from Palenque to Frontera Corozal: MXP100
  • Lancha from Frontera Corozal to Tecnica: MXP50
  • Colectivo from Tecnica to Flores: MXP130

A total price of MXP300 per person. A saving of MXP250 / person. Almost half price.

I will tell you more about that in a future post.


CONCLUSION:

El Panchan’s ‘hippy’ and ‘backpacker’ days are almost over. This is not the place that it used to be.

Accommodation is reasonable quality at a reasonable price.

The jungle setting makes it a pleasant place to stay.

The locals are now ‘tapping’ the tourist market. They know that many people come here for the Magic Mushroom Jungle ‘experience’.

A week here is enough.

TTFN


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