Yaxchilan – The Hidden Jewel in the Mayan Crown


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Yaxchilan is one the premier Mayan sites. But the crowds are avoiding this place because it takes a bit of effort to get there. Some guidebooks claim the best way to get there is to charter a light aircraft, others say travel is via a dangerous rough road and others just say it is only for the extremely adventurous. Truth is, it is not that difficult to get there, but keep this place quite. It might just be the most amazing place in all of Mexico.

Travel by boat to Yaxchilan

I arrived late in the afternoon and needed to organise a 45 minute long boat ride to take me to Yaxchilan. For a solo traveler the 1200 pesos (US$60) they wanted was an extortion. The price are set and the price drops as more people join the group. I waited at the entrance near the boat guides waiting for an unsuspecting tour group to arrive. Several Americans living in the Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende arrived. I pounced. My trip was now affordable. I paid my 65 peso (US$3) entry and 300 peso (US$15) fee for the boat transport. With a larger group it could have been a lot cheaper but as fate would have it, nobody else arrived on the day I was there.

It was after 2pm when we set off on the river. Our little motorboat had its 65 horsepower outboard humming downstream. The Usumacinta river is the natural border between Guatemala and Mexico. On both sides of the river the locals would use the river to bathe, wash laundry and wash their motorcycles or vehicles. It was said to be home to the passive species of Morelet’s Crocodile which are not considered dangerous to humans, although there have been fatal attacks in the past. There certainly were a lot of people in the water.


Yaxchilan has been on my must see list of places since I started to plan this trip many years ago. I took the first steps off the boat and up to the jungle via a set of well weathered stairs. For the first 10 minutes or so I tagged along with the tour group that I had joined. They led me into the first temple. The dark cavernous interior was filled with bats clinging to the roof and spiders clinging to the walls.

Spider Monkeys and Howler Monkeys

I split from the tour group when I heard rustling in the treetops nearby. I searched for movement. Spider Monkeys were feeding and moving about in the trees above me. A combination of poor light and dense forest made it hard to photograph them so I was content to just observe. Ocassionally they would move into an open section of trees for me to get a better view.

In the distant jungle I could hear the call of the aptly named Howler Monkeys. This loud deep roar sounds more like it would come from a Jaguar or Lion than a monkey. I made a plan to head in the direction of the Howler Monkey calls after completing a circuit of all the temples.

The Temples

I set off alone to explore the temples hidden in the jungle. It made me feel a little like a modern day Indiana Jones exploring the site. I climbed to the temple high on the hill and observed some of the intricate carved stories in stone.

Each carving tells a story that for the most part has been translated. I will not go into any details of the stories. I am reading The Maya (Ninth edition) (Ancient Peoples and Places) a book which details everything Mayan in an easy to read format for interested people like me. Anybody interested should check it out, so far so good.

The jungle is doing it’s best to engulf the place. I arrived at the spot where the howler monkeys had been calling from earlier. I stopped and listened. They moved around me in a great big circuit down to the rivers edge where I had just been. Unfortunately for me, I missed them.

It was getting late when I arrived back to the boat to take me back to my bicycle. I secured my bicycle inside the riverboat ticket office. The staff promised to look after it for me. On route up river into the setting sun I spotted a rather large crocodile in front of the boat. As soon as I saw it the croc dived underwater. It was between 2 -3 meters long. Certainly big enough to do some serious damage to a human. Still the locals bathed on the river banks.

Campsite at the resort

It was sunset as I cycled to the nearby resort to ask about camping options. 80 pesos (US$4) got me a much needed shower, electricity, wifi and a spot to camp under some shelter. Within the hour there was a light sprinkling of rain. In the distance the Howler Monkeys let out their call of displeasure about the rain. Thus ended one of the most special days of my trip to date. Yaxchilan is a special place. It has created a desire in me to explore Mayan ruins. Tomorrow I will try to cycle to Bonompak, another set of ruins nearby, stay tuned.

Monumento Natural Yaxchilan
In case you are wondering, yes it is.
Yaxchilan Temple
The first ruin near the entrance of Yaxchilan had a network of dark rooms
Bats in the temples
Bats inside the temple
Spider inside one of the temples
That is one strange Spider
Yaxchilan Temple
A temple through the hole in a rainforest leaf
More hillside temples
More hillside temples
Yaxchilan Temple
Yaxchilan Temple
Spider Monkey
Spider Monkeys are common around the ruins
Spider Monkey
I caught this Spider Monkey mid air as it jumped from one tree to another
Inscriptions with Mayan writing which has now been deciphered. I haven't learned the language yet.
Inscriptions with Mayan writing which has now been deciphered. I haven’t learned the language yet.
Yaxchilan Temple
Another Temple
Yaxchilan plaza
It’s great to visit a place like Yaxchilan and feel like I am the only person here. Why is this place not crowded. Not that I am complaining
The boat to Yaxchilan
The boat trip along the river. To the left is Guatemala, on the right is Mexico
Camping near Yaxchilan at the resort
I set up camp under one of the shelters at a resort. I was the only guest, if that is a fitting description for me.

Next : Bonompak – The Little visited Mayan site

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About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Chile.

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10 thoughts on “Yaxchilan – The Hidden Jewel in the Mayan Crown”

  1. Wow! Another fantastic post. Thank you so much for sharing the stories and beautiful photographs of your adventures. Keep ’em coming!

  2. Mixco Viejo is worth visiting in Guate. Hope you also make it to Lake Atitlan. Fun to spend the day taking the little ferries around the lake to all the small “towns.” You can also walk between them, but the lakeside trail is much too narrow to bike. We stayed at Casa del Mundo with a great mix of folks from around the world. If you make it to Honduras, be sure to visit the Mayan ruins at Copan. And while on your way there stop at Cafe Ixchel in Copan Ruinas for possibly the best coffee in Central America. Tell owner Katia I (Jessica and John from US State Dept’s mom) sent you. If you’ve a mind to, reach out to Katia beforehand to inquire about the possibility of visiting her (very old school) coffee plantation and participating in a traditional Mayan sweat lodge ceremony performed by her Mayan mother. Can you tell how much I love this region?

    • Hi Mary, I will be in Guatemala very soon. I plan on a couple of weeks in the northern state of Petén exploring some remote Mayan ruins, then Belize and further onward into Yucatan . Later in the year after hiking the Appalachian Trail I will return for the rest of Guatemala and onward to Honduras. I have some grand plans for exploring the area. Please remind me again later in the year when I am down that part of Guatemala. I am so looking forward to exploring the area. Best coffee in Central America, I’m in. I shall keep Mixco Viejo in mind when I’m down that way. Thank you.


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