Visitors to the Mayan ruins of Palenque in Mexico almost always end up staying in the town of Palenque because they wrongly assume they are one and the same. Upon arrival they discover that the town is some 15 minutes away from the ruins, requiring a ride in a taxi or a shared van called a “colectivo” to get to the entrance. Fortunately, I discovered a lesser known but much better option. The tiny village of El Panchan, comprised of a few dozen private homes, a handful of accommodations, two restaurants, and several on-site tour operators that can arrange trips to nearby waterfalls and lesser ruin, abuts Palenque National Park and is within easy walking distance of the entrance.
Of the accommodations available in El Panchan, I chose Margarita and Ed’s Cabanas, where I rented a cabana with twin beds and a private, ensuite bathroom for about $15 per night. The room was exceptionally clean and well-furnished, there was round-the-clock hot water, and it was just steps from Don Muchos Restaurant, an amazing open-air Italian restaurant that offers everything from from wood oven pizzas to fresh seafood. Best of all, my cozy green cabana was literally carved out of the surrounding jungle. By day I wandered narrow pathways that wound through the dense vegetation, marveling at homes that suddenly emerged out of the greenery. By night I was lulled to sleep by rhythmic drumming from the restaurant entertainment, joined by chirrups of tree frogs and screams of howler monkeys.
When it was time to visit the Palenque Ruins, I walked a few hundred feet to the park’s front entrance on the main highway, where I hopped on a shuttle bus that carried me up the hill to the trailhead. From here, the trail wound back down the hill past the various ruins, ending at the museum, which was again just steps away from El Panchan. On the days I chose to go into town to use the Internet or try a different restaurant, I again walked back to the highway and hailed a colectivo van for $10 pesos – less than $1 U.S.
Margarita and Ed’s is run by Margarita and her sons, who live on site in the middle of the complex. In addition to the cabanas, which are not air conditioned, they also have a two-story hotel unit that offers air conditioned rooms, and the family is in the process of adding a second building even deeper in the jungle. Margarita and her sons all speak English and during my stay they bent over backwards to make sure I was comfortable and assist me with information about the area. Unfortunately, they have no web site, so it is not possible to make advance reservations, so you must just show up and cross your fingers that there is space available.