The ruins of Yaxchilán along the border of Guatemala are probably John’s favorite. We felt like explorers arriving by a 45 minute boat ride down the Usumacinta River,  passing crocodiles and giant Ceiba trees along the way. We were alone nearly the entire time in the ruins site, climbing up and down steep forest trails and peeking inside excavated ruins.

We camped at the riverside in a park near the boat launch across from the Escudo Jaguar boat cooperative and inn. The hotel made a surprisingly delicious arrachera (skirt steak) and we spent as long as we could staying cool under the ceiling fans. That night we invited a couple of other travelers to share a boat with us in the morning. The next day we were up and ready to go around 8 am and they were nowhere in sight. We became impatient as the temperature rose. We struck a deal for 500 pesos (the normal price is 700 for 2 people) and ended up with a private boat to the ruins. For another 100 pesos, our new amigo agreed to wait an extra hour for us. We always take more time than the standard allotted, first because we take a lot of photos and second because we rest a lot.

Yaxchilán has well-shaded trails compared to other ruins sites that we’ve visited, but it’s still extremely hot and humid. Swarms of mosquitoes inhabit the area along with plenty of other wildlife including monkeys, bats resting inside buildings, skittish lizards, butterflies, giant blue hornet-like bugs and grotesquely fat caterpillars. Yaxchilán is unique for its several large stelas (free-standing, carved reliefs with historical references) as well as some enormous and beautiful trees within the ruins. Since visiting I’ve read that the site is also unique for its depiction of important females in Mayan history. Apart from the stelas, we found most of the artwork here to be on the underside of the door beams (lintels) – the only pieces that prior looters couldn’t carry away.

When visiting these sites I always try to imagine all of the excavation work it took to bring it to the form that we get to see. At Yaxchilán, much remains unexcavated and that is part of the magic of the place. One of the stelas we saw laid horizontally instead of vertical. We learned that it had actually been removed from one of the temples up the hill and a failed attempt was made to bring it down to the river for transport.

After visiting Yaxchilán, we had officially hit the furthest point south in MesoAmerica that we would visit on this trip. If you make it this far and have not yet had your fill of ruins, once you’re in the Yaxchilán area it is easy to find guides who will take you across the border to the Tikal ruins in Guatemala. If anyone has visited Tikal, we’d love to hear about it. We passed up the opportunity to make the trip, and I’m now left wondering what we missed.

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  1. Angela said,

    August 28, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Hi Amy,
    Love your pictures and description of Yaxchilán. About three years ago, Drew and I explored several of the Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula (Coba, Kabah, Chichen Itza, Tulum, Tohcok and Uxmal), and loved it! Tikal is definitely worth a visit as well. I went there in 1999, after a study abroad trip to Belize. Keep on exploring and posting your stories! It’s a virtual vacation for me!

  2. Renee said,

    September 10, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    These pictures are serene, restful and heart-breaking beautiful.

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