My Summer Vacation 2017 Part II - Yaxchilan and Bonampak

Written by Rob Mukai on Sep. 25, 2017

Tags: Mayan Ruins Road Trip Summer Vacation 2017 Yaxchilan Bonampak

Small Acropolis at Yaxchilan


The Usumacinta River. That's Guatemala on the right.

So in part II of the drive, we head to Palenque, which is one of the more famous Mayan ruins in Mexico. It is one of the longest inhabited and they estimate there are over 1,400 buildings in the area. Only a small fraction of them are restored. Most are still buried under the jungle. The original plan was to get to Palenque early enough in the afternoon to take in the ruins that day. Harvey made the drive take a lot longer than expected and when we arrived it was dumping rain which put a damper on that. What we did do is sign up for a tour of the ruins at Yaxchilan and Bonampak the next day.

Crocodile on the bank


Detailed sculpture and bas relief at Yaxchilan

From the town of Palenque, Yaxchilan is about an hour by bus plus another 45 minute boat ride up the Usumacinta River, that is the border between Mexico and Guatemala. We all climbed into a Sprinter Van at 6:00 AM to head to the ruins. We stopped at a number of hotels in Palenque and were full by the time we headed out. The bus ride was uneventful, but the ride up the river was very cool. The boats were long and skinny and reminded me a little of the long tail boats in Thailand. The Usumacinta river is very large, and because of the rains from Harvey, was high and looked like chocolate milk. Pulling up to Yaxchilan, you walk up some stairs right into the jungle.

Ruins in the jungle

This ruin really feels like the set of an Indiana Jones movie. Unlike the ruins in the Yucatan, where the land is completely flat, the Mayans built large complexes on hilltops with several hundred feet of vertical. The trails are not particularly large or well marked and as you are walking you can hear howler monkeys complaining about your presence. There is a lot of climbing on this ruin, but it is well worth it. You are in deep jungle, climbing and climbing until you reach the top where you have large buildings and incredible views of the surrounding jungle.

Trail through the jungle

On the boat ride back, there was a small group of young howler monkeys in a tree overhanging the river. They let the boat get incredibly close so we could take some pictures. We also saw a crocodile that was probably 7 or 8 ft long on the bank as well.

Howler Monkey


The pyramid at Bonampak

Bonampak is a much smaller ruin. But it is famous for its Mayan paintings that are original and in full color. They were protected in a building that was excavated. It shows how the Mayan temples were probably incredibly colorful in their heyday.

Side panel original Mayan art

If you are going to Palenque definitely plan to spend a day doing the Yaxchilan/Bonampak tour. It was $1,200 Pesos, or about $68 USD, but well worth it. The boat ride alone made the trip.

Ceiling panel

Although it is very far from Xcalak, it is definitely worth the trip if you get the opportunity.

Detail on the ceiling of a doorway

If you missed the first part of this report you can get to it here:

My Summer Vacation 2017 Part I - Isla Holbox