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 visit is a special experience because it is less visited than other Maya ruins. A beautiful 45-minute trip along the Usumacinta River will take you from the town of Frontera Corozal, to the starting point of your walk around the Yaxchilan Mexico ruins. In this article I’m telling you everything you need to know about the Yaxchilan ruins in Mexico.
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 book a hotel in Frontera Corozal the night before your visit. This way you can wake up early the next day and take the first boat to the Yaxchilan Maya ruins. Don’t have the time to spend the night? It is also possible to book a tour from Palenque, including transportation and a guide. (scroll down for more information)
Yaxchilan in Mexico consists of a Gran Plaza, the higher buildings of the Great Acropolis and the Little Acropolis, that is even more higher located. 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 Maya ruins 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 town Frontera Corozal. The trip goes past banana plantations, tropical rainforest, corn fields and brings you to the Maya ruins 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 limited you won’t find any shops or restaurants. It is therefore important to bring everything you need such as water, food, sunscreen and mosquito repellent. Good hiking shoes are also recommended is you are planning to climb the buildings.
Trails to the Yaxchilan ruins
- An easy trail straight ahead, takes you from the entrance directly to the Gran Plaza. Upon arrival you first walk through the dark laberint, where you will see and hear different bats that are hiding here 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. A 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.
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.
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. An absolute highlight is the building 33, better known as 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. Pay special attention to the top. King Bird Jaguar would sit on the throne but 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 ruins. I 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 such as Shield Jaguar and Bird Jaguar. Ornaments and reliefs show a lot of everyday life and rituals. This way many things have become clear about this former dynasty. It is interesting to go with a guide and learn more about the history. Otherwise make sure you bring a travel guide to understand a bt more about the place. But even when you just have a look, you will be stunned by the detailed work of these Yaxchilan ruins.
Mini travel guide to Yaxchilan
What to bring to Yaxchilan
This is my little useful packing list with items you should bring during your Yaxchilan tour:
- 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)
How to visit Yaxchilan ruins in Mexico
The Yaxchilan ruins can be visited from Frontera Corozal, located in Chiapas in Mexico. It is best to book a hotel the night before your visit, so you can wake up early the next day and take the first boat to the Yaxchilan Maya ruins. Frontera Corozal is approximately a 190 km drive from Palenque. You will be there within 3 or 4 hour. Don’t have the time to spend the night? It is also possible to book a tour from Palenque, including transportation and a guide. This is an overview with tours from Palenque.
Where to stay around Yaxchilan
There is not much to do in Frontera Coroza. There are a few simle guesthouses such as Hotel Nueva Alianza. It is possible to book a boat and tour from here as well.
Mexico and Guatemala itineraries
Do you want to discover Guatemala after your trip through Mexico? From Frontera Corozal you can cross the Usumacinta river by boat to the Guatemalan border town Bethel. From here, it will take you 4 hours to reach Flores, your starting point for discovering Maya ruins such as Tikal, Yaxha and El Mirador. Check out my itineraries for Mexico and Guatemala, including destinations and tips for your visit.
- Mexico itinerary 3 weeks
- Guatemala itinerary 3 weeks
- 2 weeks in Guatemala
- Guatemala itinerary 10 days
- Guatemala itinerary 7 days
More about Mexico
Did you enjoy reading this guide about visiting the Yaxchilan Maya ruins in Chiapas Mexico? In the next articles you can read more of my tips for Mexico:
- 30 things to do in Mexico
- City Guide Valladolid
- Oaxaca City Guide
- Things to do in Izamal, the yellow city of Mexico
- What to do in San Cristóbal de Las Casas
- Itinerary Mexico 3 weeks
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