As a city, Palenque gets a bad rap in most travel books. The truth is, I’ve been here three times and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes, as the books say the town is a great jumping off point for the nearby ruins and natural attractions, but I think it offers more.
It’s true that it isn’t the most beautiful or well-designed town, in fact it’s rather dirty and the buildings are nothing to wonder at. When Xavi was here in the 70s and 80s, it was little more than a pueblo with a couple palapas and modest stucco structures. But there is a certain electricity in the air here and a certain humble jumble that I feel like even as a transient, I’m not so much of an outsider. The lack of distinct identity in this town has become a quality I enjoy here. Maybe it’s not the best example of a true Chiapas town, but it’s certainly a nice place to spend a couple comfortable days, eat some of the most delicious pollo asado al carbon and enjoy the action on the street and the town square. And if you get a place that offers rooftop access, the surrounding jungle hills are a sight to admire.
There is also El Panchán, a travelers’ village set up in the jungle just outside town. This a fun option if you’d prefer to avoid town. The prices for beds are comparable to what you can find in town, without the convenience of markets, groceries, internet or local flavor. Unless you stop by town first to pick up food and drinks, you’ll be forced to buy from the restaurants there which aren’t expensive but not quite on a tramper’s budget. But there is also a lot to be said for sleeping in cabañas in the middle of the jungle, if you have the extra money to spend.