Yaxchilán: “Place of Green Stones”
Far from the crowds that swarm Tulum and Chichén Itzá, Yaxchilán is one of Mexico’s most intriguing Maya ruins. Throughout the extensive site, howler monkeys scream warnings and love songs from the branches of enormous kapok and mahogany trees; yellow and white butterflies dip and hover above lush green meadows. Intricately carved lintels grace ruined palaces, recording the lineage of kings and queens. Lying and standing among the remains of these limestone edifices, stelae of equally elaborate decoration give archaeologists clues to the rise and fall of this magnificent, ancient city.
Located on a deep bend of the Usumacinta River (across from which is Guatemala), Yaxchilán was settled around 300 BC. The first permanent structures were built around AD 250, but the city’s golden age of architecture was 600 through 810. Like Palenque and other important Maya metropoles, Yaxchilán was abandoned for unknown reasons soon after this growth spurt and cultural climax.
Some 120 structures in the main part of the city grace three great complexes: La Gran Plaza, La Gran Acrópolis, and la Pequeña Acrópolis. Visitors enter the site through El Laberinto (“the Labyrinth,” also called Building 19). Like others at this Late Classic site, this limestone edifice was originally faced with molded and painted stucco panels, and topped with decorative cresterías, or roof combs.
Facing Building 19, La Gran Plaza (“the Great Plaza”) forms the axis of the city. Here, more than a thousand years ago, the Maya visited marketplaces, sweat houses, and a ball court, the latter dated 742--746. La Pequeña Acrópolis (“the Little Acropolis”), on top of a terraced hill, was probably for the elite class only, with important buildings organized around great plazas and patios.
Although not far from other Chiapas sites as the crow flies, the site is accessible only by boat, small plane, or helicopter. This keeps away all but the most enthusiastic of tourists, and enhances the site’s feeling of isolation and mystery. “The Place of Green Stones” is found within the Selva Lacandona, one of the last significant stretches of primary rainforest in Mesoamerica.
Although not terribly remote, the site is accessible only by boat, small plane, or helicopter. This keeps away all but the most enthusiastic of tourists, and enhances the site’s feeling of isolation and mystery. “The Place of Green Stones” is found within the Selva Lacandona, one of the last significant stretches of primary rainforest in Mesoamerica.
Yaxchilán is about 170 km (102 miles) southeast of Palenque via Highway 307. Most people arrange a tour from Palenque, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, or San Cristóbal de las Casas, combined with a visit to nearby Bonampak. Unless you’re flying in, Yaxchilán is accessed by boat from Frontera Corozal, where you’ll find comfortable cabins and a restaurant administered by the local people.
The site is open daily 8--4:30; entrance fee around 40 pesos, plus approximately 150 pesos (round trip) per person for the 40-minute boat ride.