Yaxchilan – Champa, Mexico - Atlas Obscura
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Champa, Mexico

Yaxchilan

The ruins of an ancient Mayan city, beautifully preserved and only accessible by boat. 

Serious fans of the film Raiders of the Lost Ark can fulfill every unmet fantasy of reenacting the opening scene here at Yaxchilan.

Set along the Usumacinta River with Guatemala just on the other side, this archaic city will ignite the dullest of imaginations. The site itself is not huge, but it’s everything you could ask for; dense jungle, towering trees, incessant calls of howler monkeys and cavernous ruins ripe for exploring.

The fact that this site is only accessible by boat makes getting there half the fun, and once you arrive at the boat dock, you know you’re somewhere special. After paying entry, you’re free to roam the well-preserved sculptured stone lintels and extensive hieroglyphics. There are several well preserved structures you can explore, their interiors dark and filled with an eerie silence. You might suddenly feel the urge to dash across the grassy, shaded courtyard and pretend you’re being chased by blow dart wielding, loincloth wearing tribesmen.

A grueling schlep to the top of the site’s largest structure, Structure 33, will reward you with a dizzying sense of aloneness. It is possible to be the only visitor at the site at any given time, something that cannot be said of tourist saturated Chichen Itza.

All adventure archaeologist fantasies aside, Yaxchilan is an impressive site. The numerous and wonderfully preserved carved lintels and stelae found here contributed greatly to the deciphering of Mayan hieroglyphs. Carved scenes depicting ritual self-sacrifice and blood-letting helped archaeologists to understand the intricacies of ancestor worship.