A steep path leads up from the boat pier to Yaxchilán’s ticket booth. Entering the site, the main path leads to the Main Plaza, with the Great Acropolis a long steep flight of stairs above. But instead of following the main path, consider taking the small path that cuts to your right up the hill to the Little Acropolis. It’s a steep climb, but once there, the rest of your visit is downhill. The most important structure in this complex is Structure 44, which was built by Shield Jaguar in celebration of his military successes.
Continue on the path to reach the Great Acropolis from the backside. It’s a pleasant walk, and you may spot howler monkeys in the trees along the way. Around front, you’ll be at the top of a long flight of stone stairs and in front of one of Yaxchilán’s most notable structures, Structure 33, with its intricate facade and soaring roof comb. Built by Bird Jaguar to celebrate himself—who else?—it includes incredibly fine lintels and panels depicting the ruler’s accomplishments, including summoning his deceased ancestors in the midst of a ball game.
Descending the stairs you’ll reach the Main Plaza, a long rectangular plaza built alongside the river bank, framed by numerous structures and dotted with large stelae. Structure 20 and Structure 21 are to the right of the staircase as you reach the bottom; built by Shield Jaguar and Bird Jaguar respectively, both have lintels portraying rituals related to the birth of heirs.
On the other side of the staircase, Structure 23 is the famous temple built by Shield Jaguar and dedicated to Lady Xoc. This is where archaeologists discovered exquisitely carved panels portraying the noblewoman performing rituals, including drawing a thorny twine through her tongue.
At the west end of the main plaza is a complex called El Laberinto (The Labyrinth), so named for its maze of vaulted passageways and chambers; it likely served as residential quarters. On the other side, the main path leads back through the trees to the boat landing.
The archaeological zone is open 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily; admission is US$4.50.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition