I think it was a combination of both tour operators in San Cristobal and earlier readings in our guidebook that piqued our interest in the ruins of Yaxchilán.
A quick search on Google confirmed that the place indeed looked impressive, whilst the means to reach it, it requires visitors to travel there by river, sounded an adventure in itself. The internet also confirmed that the place looked far easier to reach from Palenque, so it was here that we seriously investigated it as an option.
Our Palenque hostel looked able to arrange tours, however we shopped around, trying several tour agents (all offering what appeared the identical tour, a joint ruins adventure to both Yaxchilán and Bonampak), searching for the best price.
We eventually settled on one, paid what was necessary, and were up nice and early the following day for our 06:00 morning pickup.
Our worries that we may be missed (worries that were heightened when by 06:15 there was still no sign of our driver) due to difficulties in reaching our hostel, what with all of the roadworks going on, proved unfounded, and it was in a full minivan that were now headed towards the Guatemalan border in pre-dawn darkness.
With the van so full, we were unable to sit together, which allowed me to become close friends with an older French couple who spent the whole journey sleeping on either side of me, the woman obviously very comfortable given how often her head would roll onto my shoulder…
The journey was broken by a buffet breakfast, although we were not all that hungry having prepared ourselves something just prior to our 6am pickup.
After several hours, we were ready to board a vessel, and make our way up a rather sunny river (I was grateful for the boats canopy) to the ruins.
The journey was smooth, and relatively uneventful, but for the near incessant chatter of a guide that several of the Spanish speakers in our group had acquired the services of.
Eventually, a crumbling stone tower appeared on the jungle covered river bank, and we had reached our destination.
This place immediately quelled any fears we’d had after yesterdays visit to Palenque that we were suffering from ruin fatigue, as the first impressions were simply, WOW!
Now all of a sudden, I really did feel like Indiana Jones, a feeling/dream (come on, what kid didn’t want to be Indy?) that didn’t show any signs of dissipating as we continued further in.
The path lead us through a narrow stone entrance that channeled us into a low archway where it felt at first pitch black having just been bathed in bright sunshine.
Eyes slowly adjusting, we realised we were in a narrow passageway which we began to carefully follow, climbing the odd flight of stairs and noting bats hanging from the ceiling.
We soon emerged amongst one of the most impressive ruin sites we’ve seen in all of Mexico!
All manner of insects and birds could be heard in the surrounding jungle, adding to the wild, untamed feel, and whilst they’d been missing at Palenque a day earlier, ever present here was the unearthly growl of the (hopefully) distant Howler Monkeys!
We began to wander, having been given two and a half hours before our launch would head back down river, and quickly discovered that not only were monkeys of the Howler variety present, but climbing above our very heads were also plenty of Spider Monkeys!
At first, as impressive as the site was, it felt quite compact, so we wondered how we would actually fill the allotted time.
But the further we explored, the more we discovered about this very cool site.
Tucked behind an overgrown structure, we found a small path, so small in fact that Sarah questioned if we were actually supposed to travel along it.
We persevered, finding ourselves at the back of a palace we’d already seen, nothing too exciting.
Travelling back the way we came, we noticed however, an even smaller path branching off that we’d missed from the other direction (along the journey, this too came to a fork).
The intrepid explorers that we are, feet well protected as usual by our trusty flip-flops, we soldiered on, eventually coming to two fairly elevated, seemingly rarely visited areas of the site.
These additional hikes, actually consumed all of our allowed time at Yaxchilan, so it was back down the river, where we were sat down for a pretty delicious lunch of chicken and salad (with several glasses of ice cold Jamaica).
Lunch complete, it was back on the bus as Bonampak beckoned, not famous as a grand site by any means, but this place has something pretty unique just the same.
What it lacks in scale or scope, this place makes up the difference in three small rooms.
It is within these that can be found, some of the most colourful and best preserved murals from any of the ancient, Mesoamerican sites.
We returned to Palenque extremely satisfied, are probably one of the best value and most rewarding tours we have ever done, anywhere in the world!
* By shopping around, we saved ourselves a significant amount of pesos. Our tour through Na Chan Kan (18 Hidalgo Ave) cost us only $600.00 pesos per person (sneaking a look at others receipts on our same tour, I saw prices of $800.00 per person).
* This tour included all entrance fees, travel to and from Palenque, as well as breakfast and lunch. Pretty good value!