Jungle-shrouded Yaxchilán has a terrific setting above a horseshoe loop in the Río Usumacinta. The location gave it control over the river commerce, and along with a series of successful alliances and conquests, made Yaxchilán one of the most important Classic Maya cities in the Usumacinta region. Archaeologically, Yaxchilán is famed for its ornamented facades and roofcombs, and its impressive stone lintels carved with conquest and ceremonial scenes. A flashlight is helpful for exploring parts of the site.
Howler monkeys (saraguates) inhabit the tall trees here, and are an evocative highlight. You’ll almost certainly hear their visceral roars, and you stand a good chance of seeing some. Spider monkeys, and occasionally red macaws, can also be spotted here at times.
Yaxchilán peaked in power and splendor between AD 681 and 800 under the rulers Itzamnaaj B’alam II (Shield Jaguar II, 681–742), Pájaro Jaguar IV (Bird Jaguar IV, 752–68) and Itzamnaaj B’alam III (Shield Jaguar III, 769–800). The city was abandoned around AD 810. Inscriptions here tell more about its ‘Jaguar’ dynasty than is known of almost any other Maya ruling clan. The shield-and-jaguar symbol appears on many Yaxchilán buildings and steles; Pájaro Jaguar IV’s hieroglyph is a small jungle cat with feathers on its back and a bird superimposed on its head.
At the site, drinks are sold at a shack near the river landing. Most of the main monuments have information boards in three languages, including English.
Yaxchilán destination guides
Chiapas Archeological Tour from Palenque: Yaxchilan and Bonampak by Land and Water
Visit two of Chiapas’ Mayan archeological sites on this day trip from Palenque. With a knowledgeable guide, you’ll explore Yaxchilan, one of the Mayan world’s most important cities, and Bonampak, a smaller site known for its well-preserved murals.