Its name in Tzeltal Mayan means Casa Grande de Piedras ("Big House of Stones"). Constructed on a limestone hill overlooking the Ocosingo valley, it afforded a well-defensible location. In the area the principal economic products are corn, beans, coffee, and cattle.
Most of the site's important structures are of the Late Classic era; Toniná rose to the height of its power around the 10th century, about the time the neighboring kingdom of Palenque was abandoned.
Toniná's principal structure is a seven-story building called el Edificio de Siete Pisos. Over more than a thousand years, subsequent rulers added palaces, administrative rooms, and more than a dozen temples to this massive structure, one of the largest in the Maya world. On the main floor is the labyrinthine Palacio del Inframundo (Palace of the Underworld), above which are stacked living quarters and the remains of an aqueduct. Later rulers added el Palacio de las Grecas (Palace of the Greek Frets), named for the geometric motif on facing stones. On the sixth level is the well-preserved Mural de los Cuatro Soles (Mural of the Four Suns). Visitors can ascend narrow, crumbling stairs all the way to the Temple of the Smoky Mirror at the top of the building.
Spread over two square kilometers, Toniná receives just about 100 visitors on a busy day. In addition to the remains of a ball court and several other structures, the site offers some large trees and is a nice place for a picnic.
How and When
Visit the archaeological site (tel. 919/670-4114) daily between 9 and 5 p.m. You can usually hire a Spanish-speaking tour guide on site, but in our case, although friendly and fun, the fellow had little concrete knowledge about Toniná's history. The site museum (closed Mondays) is included in the price of admission (about US$3) and well worth a visit, with signage in Spanish and English and a few excellent sculptures.
Located about halfway between San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque, the archaeological site is near the small mestizo city of Ocosingo. From Palenque it's 100 km (60 mi) and the trip takes about 2.5 to 3 hours through windy roads that ascend from the steamy lowlands into the temperate hills at about 900 meters (2,952 feet) above sea level. If you're traveling by bus, there are regular trips to Ocosingo from San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque (as well as other towns and cities in Chiapas). From Ocosingo, drive or take a taxi to the ruins, about 13 km (8 mi) away.