The remote Maya ruins of Plan de Ayutla sit on an evocatively overgrown site, with buildings in various states of excavation and abandonment. From the dirt lot under a dense tree canopy, follow a winding path up the rise to the North Acropolis, one of three constructed on natural hills. Visitors can explore a maze of interconnected rooms over four levels of the former residential palace complex.
The most significant building in this acropolis is Structure 13, a dramatically vaulted structure with an exterior decorated with unique stepped apron moldings. It was here that archaeologists recently discovered an astronomical observatory with two upper rooms containing window channels aligned to view the winter solstice and the solar zenith.
Plan de Ayutla was inhabited between 150 BC and AD 1000 and is believed to have been a regional seat of power between 250 BC and AD 700. Based on its size and features (including its ball court – at 65m long the largest in the upper Río Usumacinta region), archaeologists have two theories about the site's history. One hypothesis is that it was the city of Sak T’zi' (White Dog), which battled Toniná, Yaxchilán and Piedras Negras – and whose bloody defeat by Bonampak may be depicted in that site's famed murals, or perhaps it is the ancient city of Ak'e' (Turtle), where the royalty of Bonampak originated.
By car, drive 11km into Nueva Palestina from the highway; when the paved road turns left next to a clutch of lodgings signs, continue straight onto a gravel road. After about 4.5km, follow the signed left at the junction (the right turn goes to the village of Plan de Ayutla, not the ruins) and then travel another 3km to the clearly visible site. Ejido (common landholding) representatives, if present, may charge a small fee. Arriving by combi at the Nueva Palestina highway turnoff, you can negotiate a taxi fare with waiting time.