The three-hour van ride down a rutted, two-lane highway through the remote Lacandon region of Chiapas leads to the riverside. We board a long boat and head down a river of muddy, red water for another hour. Disembarking at a horseshoe bend, a brief hike through the jungle, to the sounds of monkey cries, ends in a sudden clearing: the Late Classic Mayan ruins at Yaxchilán.
Situated along the river bank on two sides of a long, open plaza, Yaxchilán is known for the fine stelae and lintels that adorned its buildings. In the main plaza, the buildings are mostly crumbled single-story structures, along with a ball court and displays of stelae. But climb up the steep hills on the edge of the jungle, and more impressive buildings with well-preserved roof combs await.
Another van ride and a short climb up a steep, dirt road lead to the smaller ruins of Bonampak. Bonampak is known for its brilliant paintings of Mayan court life in the Templo de las Murales. The temple is under renovation, its exterior covered in scaffolding. Only two of the three chambers are open while workers restore the paintings. My glimpse is brief, but what I viewed is a just reward for the long journey.