Since Julie’s been slacking off a bit of late, I decided to revisit my promise made in my original post on our trip to Chiapas to check out Palenque with a rundown of our visit to the Mayan archeological sites of Yaxchilan and Bonampak southeast of Palenque.
Yaxchilan, on the west bank of the Usumacinta River which forms the border between Mexico and Guatemala, was a large regional center and a rival of Palenque (fought in 654), among others. It seems war wasn’t its forte as I believe they were dominated pretty badly on at least a couple of occasions. Yaxchilan was at its zenith during the long reigh of King Shield Jaguar II, who lived into his 90s (unthinkable at that time) and died in 742; the city was abandoned around 810 AD. Yaxchilan is known for excellent sculpture including carved stela and narrative stone reliefs on lintels (the top of the door frame which spans temple doorways). If you visit, make sure to crouch down in the doorways and look up – some of the coolest and best-preserved carvings are on the lintels.
Getting to Yaxchilan is half the fun. First, one makes the ~2.5 hour drive (we had our own car) from Palenque to the town of Frontera Corozal, largely by way of the Carretera Fronteriza before taking a really cool 30-45 minute boat ride to the site. The road is very nice compared to others we’ve driven, though be sure to start from Palenque with a full tank or make sure you hit the one gas station we saw on they way…it’s in a small town 30-45 minutes from Palenque; I believe it’s also the location of the first military checkpoint we hit – and where I took the below photo.
Like most of Mexico, it’s inadvisable to drive at night to avoid hitting animals, people, topes (speedbumps), and lastly (and likely the smallest threat) because a handful of signs along the road proclaim that this is EZLN territory (the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a revolutionary group comprised largely of indigenous Maya folks whose 1994 uprising was quickly put down by the Mexican Army). To be clear, we felt completely safe and no one we talked to in Palenque or elsewhere offered warning, but as we joked, it’s all good until dudes with guns jump out of the jungle.
Escudo Jaguar may be the only gig in town for lodging; it offers cute, if basic bungalow-style rooms at very reasonable rates which start around $20 and go to $60 for a triple w/ 3 double beds. The grounds are very well maintained and folks are friendly. We only ate there given our one night stay; the food was fine but runs no danger of being labeled gourmet.
The river and embarcadero (boat launch) is just a couple hundred meters away, and you can arrange a boat to depart at your leisure. I HIGHLY recommend leaving at or just before sunrise; we left around 6:30 am and Escudo made us box-breakfasts for dining on-board. Watching the sun rise and fog lift from the river was magical, and there’s no gate at the site, per say, so if you get there before the caretaker you can just pay when you leave, after all, it’s one way in, one way out and a looong walk back to Escudo!