The Yaxchilán ruins are located on the border of Mexico and Guatemala, deep in the Lacandon jungle. It is the most remote Maya complex of the country, due to its difficult accessibility. The site can only be reached by boat. A beautiful 45-minute trip along the Usumacinta River will take you from the town of Corozal, to the starting point of your walk around the Yaxchilan Mexico ruins. A visit is a special experience. In this article I’m telling you everything you need to know about this beautiful archaeological site.
Yaxchilan ruins in Mexico
“Yaxchilán” means green stones in the Maya language. The 560 km long “Usumacinta” river stands for “the howler monkey spot”. And that is for a reason! The area is dominated by rainforest, lots of greenery, a mysterious fog, different monkeys, toucans and beautiful ceiba trees. Especially in the early morning you have the complex almost entirely to yourself. The best way is to stay the night before in Corozal. This way you can wake up early the next day and take the first boat to the Yaxchilan Maya ruins (see below for more practical information)
Yaxchilan Mexico consists of a Gran Plaza, the higher buildings of the Great Acropolis and the even more higher located, Little Acropolis. The site is known for the remains of beautiful decorations, ornaments and hieroglyphics. Because of its isolated location, you are really able to feel the magical vibes of the former Mayan empire. Yaxchilán is one of the most important remote sites of Mexico.
History & background information
Yaxchilán was constructed before DC and no more than a small village in 250 AD. The city began to flourish under the kingdom of kings Shield Jaguar II, Bird Jaguar and Shield Jaguar III, around the end of the 7th century AD. Between 681 and 768 AD, the city even belonged to one of the most important cities in the region and was just as powerful as Palenque and Tikal, in Guatemala. Yaxchilán, like many other Maya cities, was abandoned around 810 AD for still unclear reasons. Nowadays the Yaxchilan ruins complex is open to visitors.
Your visit to the Yaxchilan ruins Mexico
Boats are leaving from the village of Corozal. The ride goes past banana plantations, tropical rainforest, corn fields and brings you to the site within 45 minutes. Along the way you see local people, from the surrounding communities, working and enjoying themselves in the river.
Upon arrival, you climb a set of stairs and walk towards a small office, where you register. Because the number of visitors is minimal, you won’t find any shops or restaurants, so bring anything you need like water, something to eat, sunscreen and mosquito repellent. Good hiking shoes are also recommended is you are planning to climb the buildings.
There are two ways to access the Yaxchilan ruins Mexico
- An easy trail straight ahead, takes you directly to the Gran Plaza. Upon arrival you first walk through the dark “laberinto” where you will see and hear different bats, hiding during the day. Take a flashlight with you if you want to explore a bit more in the laberinto. On the Gran Plaza, you will find the most important buildings, altar stones and stelaes. If you walk up a bit to the left of the laberinto, you have a nice view of the Gran Plaza. Great place for pictures!
- If you want a little more challenge, follow the sign up the mountain, located halfway the main trail towards the Gran Plaza, on the right. You will find a jungle trail leading to the buildings of the Little Acropolis. The trail ends at the back of the Great Acropolis. From here you easily walk to the central part of the site, the Gran Plaza.
The Gran Plaza and el Palacio del Rey
Once you find yourself on the Gran Plaza, it is nice to walk up to the right to the buildings of the Great Acropolis. Absolute highlight is the building 33, also called Palacio del Rey, built by Bird Jaguar. Here you can see the beautiful ornaments and decorations of the rulers, that the Yaxchilan ruins are so famous for. King Bird Jaguar would sit on the throne but then beheaded wich leads to many different theories. Was it because evil spirits were able to escape the body in this way? Or would it be a sign for the end of times? Something the Pre-Columbian cultures strongly believed in. There is still no proven explanation.
I have always been interested in the stories behind the Maya sites. I always try to imagine what such a bustling city must have looked like in the past. If you look closely at the reliefs, you can still see the remains of the most important kings, Shield Jaguar and Bird Jaguar. Ornaments and reliefs show a lot of everyday life and rituals. This way much has become clear about this former dynasty. You probably do need a travel book or guide to really dive into it. But even when you just have a look, you will be stunned by the detailed work of these Yaxchilan ruins.
Interested in reading more about ruins in Mexico? Mexico is the country of ancient temples and pyramids, each of them located in a different part of the country. In the jungle, the savanna, on a hilltop, in the rainforest and at the beach. This is a list with the best ruins you want to visit during your trip through Mexico.
Useful information about the Yaxchilan ruins Mexico
- Corozal is your starting point and approximately a 190 km drive from Palenque. You will be there within 3 or 4 hours if you arrange private transportation. With a local bus it will take you a bit longer.
- You have to buy your entrance tickets in Corozal at your hotel or at the Yaxchilan ruins visitors centre.
- Escudo Jaguar is a simple accommodation at the river and an ideal starting point to visit Yaxchilán Mexico. They also offer boat services.
What to bring?
- mosquito repellent
- water and something to eat
- good hiking shoes (if you are planning to climb the buildings)
- flashlight (for your stroll through the laberinto)
More about Mexico
Mexico is a country that inspires in every sense. Each state in Mexico has its own character, atmosphere and highlights. In the next article you’ll find my best travel tips for what to do in Mexico. Discover scenic and cultural destinations, art, beaches, culinary experiences, archaeological highlights and information about safety, best travel time and transportation. Looking for more tips and inspiration? Also check out the Mexico archive for articles about the best things to do in Oaxaca, a guide for the yellow city of Mexico, Izamal, the best things to do in Valladolid in Mexico, what to do in San Criostobal de Las Casas and tips for a Mexico itinerary 3 weeks. Interested in archaeology? You can read my article about a visit to Monte Alban and an overview of the best ruins to visit in Mexico.