The Mayan Ruins in Current Day Chiapas

My next stop in my gap year journeys was Palenque. In various of my cegep classes, we had studied different Mayan cultures and sites. I loved seeing images of this civilization’s remaining cities, and so when finally on site, I jumped on the opportunity to go and see them.

Here are some in Chiapas.

Toniná

The ruins peaking through the jungle

In between San Cristobal and Palenque, there is a city called Ocosingo. Very far from the regular tourist trail, few visitors stop in this town. I decided to do a quick stop as I had heard and read good things about these off-the-beaten path ruins.

Getting to Ocosingo was a bit complicated. From having difficulty finding various bus stations, to being offered overpriced fares and having to wait for others to shop up, I arrived 6 hours later to Toniná. With my arrival at 2:55, the guardsman told me the site was closing at 3 pm. That barred me from entering. So after leaving San Cristobal at 9 am, I had to do another three hours on a bus to arrive in Palenque where I had already booked my accommodation for the night.

In my hostel’s kitchen, I met Google Street View drivers who were filming across Mexico’s streets. Turns out they were headed to Ocosingo the next day, and after deciding they were decent guys, got a lift from them the very next morning. I was therefore back to Ocosingo the very next day.

I went back to the same place in town to catch the bus to Toniná and finally arrived around 12 at the ruins. The ruins are quite small, but reviews online had mentioned they were worth visiting as we could climb up the pyramid and explore that building more than in Palenque for example. Sadly, as Covid has changed everything across the world, the ruins were locked off for reparations. I stayed 15 minutes to take pictures and left town an hour later.

Ocosingo gets very few visitors. The ruins aren’t very well known so I was the only stranger there. Walking through town, I was looked at from a distance. I felt like an alien. People were talking in an Indigenous language mostly so I didn’t know what they were saying. Most still spoke Spanish so I got around fine and got decent food (although pretty sure I got sick because of the street food I ate on the second day). I felt as though I wasn’t even in Mexico! It is the most uncomfortable I have felt being in a new place simply because it was so different from what I know and how it was so different from the rest of Mexico. I know I was never in danger as it was the middle of the day and Ocosingo isn’t a dangerous place. The people I did talk to were nice, gave good directions and service. I’m glad I did go even if the ruins weren’t what I was expecting and the whole experience was pushing my comfort limits. Some say we learn a lot from going past them, it was certainly true this time around!

Palenque

These very famous ruins were great! The complex is big and we therefore get a sense of a few of the city’s leaders, and elements of Mayan mythology. I appreciated the path in the jungle which allowed me to wander around a see more of what the site has to offer and also what it probably looked like before restoration efforts.

Yaxchilán

My favourite ruins of all! To get here, we had to arrive by a 45-minute boat ride on the river separating Guatemala and Mexico. The remoteness, the quality and the grandeur of the buildings make the site into something quite special to see.

After seeing Yaxchilán, I was off with my tour to see the next Mayan ruins!

Bonampak

I have a very vivid memory of seeing pictures of this site back in cegep. Knowing how incredibly rare the presence of coloured fresques in archaeological sites made it even more special to finally seeing them in person. The site itself is small, but well worth it.

Yaxchilán and Bonampak were part of a two-day tour that I took from Palenque. As the day closed to an end, we made our way to a small Mayan village were I would be staying for the night. My guides left me at the entry of the campsite and wished me good luck as I would be having a jungle your the next morning. To read about that story (cause it was VERY particular but insightful) stay tuned for the next post!

Thanks for reading along. -Bee

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