Yaxchilan and Bonampak
A spur road from Palenque (the Carretera Fronteriza) leads 100 miles down along the Guatemalan border to an area where the majority population is still Mayan. In this area are two important sets of ruins, both of which are interesting for different reasons.
Rather than drive ourselves and work out all the different bits of transport to the two sites we decided to book a tour to Yaxchilan and Bonampak which would enable us to see both in one day and let someone else worry about the driving for a change.
It was really easy to book a tour through the reception at Mayabell and we were told to be ready to be picked up at 6am in the morning. As it turned out our minibus didn’t turn up until 6.30am but we were the last on the trip to be picked up.
As we dozed the bus drove towards the ruins but after about an hour stopped at a roadside restaurant to give us a very tasty Mexican breakfast of eggs, rice, beans and tortillas. This was a surprise as we hadn’t realised breakfast was included.
We were soon back on the road for the remaining hour to the boat dock at Frontera Corozal. The only way to get to Yaxchilan is a 30 minute boat ride down the river Usumacinta. This is one of the reasons that our trip was good value as to arrange a boat is 700 pesos if you are on your own and can’t find anyone to share with (not easy given the rarity of independent travellers in this area).
The boat was pretty rapid and delivered us down the river to a stone staircase (no dock) at Yaxchilan. There was no sign of the city from the water and all you could see was hot,humid, dense jungle.
Yaxchilan was an important city of the Classic-period and was at its height from 680 to 760 AD when its sphere of influence stretched up and down the Usumacinta river under the two kings Shield Jaguar and Bird Jaguar.
A short walk down a jungle path however and you come to a small pyramid and some dark doors. This is the entrance to the Labyrinth which is a building with a number of passages. You climb up stairs in the dark (we’d though to bring a torch which was very helpful) to emerge from a temple into the city proper.
The sounds of the jungle were all around with the cries of howler monkeys almost constant. It wasn’t long until we saw our first monkeys in the trees over our heads.
The downside of the tour was that we only had an hour and a half to explore the city and we could have easily spent another hour – particularly as you could sit and watch the jungle itself.
The boat ride back to the dock was longer than the ride out as it is up stream but we arrived back and jumped back in the minibus to be taken to a restaurant where a three course lunch was served up – very nice.
Then we drove to the entrance road to Bonampak where we had to get out and transfer to a Mayan owned minibus (the locals are called the Lacandon Maya). Even if you drive yourself you still have to use local transport to get down this road.
Bonampak itself is a small set of ruins but is remarkable for a small building with three rooms which have the most intact Mayan murals found anywhere. These rooms are very nice but the rest of the site is small and you really only need an hour to look round here.
After doing Bonampak we were back on the road for the two hour ride back to Palenque and we weren’t back until about 7pm. It had been a busy day !
The whole trip had cost us 750 pesos each. This isn’t much more than it would have cost us to do it ourselves if you count the cost of diesel too so we felt it was pretty good value. The road is in pretty good condition though so It wouldn’t be a problem to do it yourself – and there are places to stay at both Frontera Corozal and Bonampak.