Palenque is a Mayan city state dating from 100 BC to 800 AD. The peak of its power and grandeur was achieved in the 7th Century. It was abandoned around 800 AD and gradually absorbed into the jungle. Today about 1 square mile of the site has been excavated and restored. This area is estimated to cover less than 10% of the total area that the city once covered. It is believed that there are still thousands of structures yet to be excavated and restored. Much of the ruins that we now see are largely attributed to K’inich Janaab’ Pakal or Pacal The Great. Pacal The Great ruled Palenque from 615 to 683 AD. He is best known for the Temple Of The Inscriptions which contain his tomb.
Near to the Temple Of The Inscriptions is El Palacio or The Palace. The Palace is actually a complex of several buildings and courtyards. It was constructed over several generations and contains bas-reliefs and sculptures along with a 4 story tower.
A short distance away from The Palace is the Temple Of The Cross Group. Contained within this group are the Temple Of The Cross, Temple Of The Foliated Cross, and Temple Of The Sun. The names were given by early explorers and are somewhat misleading. The temples are built on the top of step pyramids.
In the northern part of the site are the Ball Court, The Northern Group and also the Temple Of The Count. The Temple Of The Count is named after Jean Frederic Waldeck who was known for embellishing the truth of his life story and his depictions of Palenque.
The archaeological site is about 6 km from the town of Palenque. Minibuses run between the town and ruins every 10 to 15 minutes during the day. For a more interesting, primitive, and unique experience a lot of backpackers choose to stay in El Panchan in the jungle closer to the ruins. If you choose to stay in El Panchan you can flag down a colectivo on the main road to the ruins. I would say on average most tourists could see the majority of the ruins within a half day. The site opens at 8am and by arriving at this time you can escape some of the heat of mid-day. While you could walk around the site in flip-flops if necessary I would recommend shoes more conducive to walking and to navigating potentially slippery surfaces.