Yaxchilán is an archaeological site in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico. At its peak, Yaxchilan was one of the largest and most powerful city-states in the Mayan realm, though today, its remote location makes it a challenging site to visit for all but the most determined explorers.
Yaxchilán is a very large site located deep within the Lacodon jungle on the Usamacinta River (the border between Mexico and Guatemala). Roads do not go all the way to the archaeological site, so you will need to take a boat to get there. The site has been well documented and explored by various archaeological expeditions, and it's a well-maintained site administered by the INAH, however, its remote location makes it one of the least popular archaeological sites for travelers to visit. Most foreign tourists prefer sites that can be easily reached by air-conditioned luxury coaches. You will see few fellow visitors at Yaxchilán.
Life was short and cheap in the Mayan world, especially in the city-states along the Usumacinta River where somebody was always fighting somebody. But wait, let's start at the beginning....
The city of Yaxchilán got its start as a jungle village just around the time that some guy named Jesus Christ was shaking up the religious world on the other side of the globe. Yaxchilan grew in size and power and by the year 359 AD had amassed enough local political clout (or chutzpah) to crown a king: Yopaat B'alam I was the first of a line of Yaxchilan kings whose dynasty would last for centuries.
A lot is made of Yaxchilán and its constant rivalry with the city-state of Piedras Negras, which lies about 32 km (20 miles) upriver but on the opposite side of the river (in what is now Guatemala). The two cities did frequently clash, but the warriors of Yaxchilán also liked to bully their smaller city-state neighbor, Bonampak. Yaxchilán also had an on-again/off-again alliance or war with the large city-state of Tikal. Maybe if the Mayan had been better team players their cities would have lasted longer, but once they ramped up to a steady state of war by about 700 AD, they were pretty much committed, and by about 1000 AD they'd pretty much killed off everyone who could raise a spear and all of the city-states of the Usamacinta region became ghost towns.
By the time Spanish conquistadors arrived to gawk at the fabulous temples and plazas of Yaxchilan, they could only be disappointed. There just weren't any Maya for them to enslave or infect with their nasty European diseases! And so they trekked back to Mexico City where civilization had invented tacos and hora feliz.
Flora and fauna
You can't drive or take a bus directly to Yaxchilán, you need to go to Frontera Corozal, and from there, take a 1-hour boat ride on the Usamacinta River to get to Yaxchilan. The river is fairly shallow and rocky in places, but the boats draw little draft and the Lacodon river guides know the waters.
Fees and permits
Rooms are available at the embarkation point where you meet the boatmen to take you upriver.
- 1 Hotel Nueva Alianza, Alfredo, Frontera Corazol (near the riverfront), ☏ +502 33003736. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. Convenient location near the beach where boatmen keep their boats. Rustic, but comfortable lodging in a cabana. Mosquito netting provided. Restaurant on site. M$1000.
- 2 Escudo Jaguar, Frontera Corazal, ☏ +52 9671019387. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. Basic, riverfront cabana. Bunks with mosquito netting, fan but no air conditioning. Next to beach where you meet the boatmen to take you to Yaxchilán. M$1000.
Camping is not permitted in the archaeological site.