The remote site of Uaxactún lies just 23 kilometers north of Tikal on an unpaved road through the jungle passable by 4WD vehicle. The Wrigley Company once had a busy chicle extraction operation here, complete with an airstrip. Today the airstrip lies in disuse, with the ruins and small community built around it. Many of Uaxactún’s residents make their living from gathering forest products such as chicle, allspice and xate palm leaves.
Uaxactún in 2012
The Maya calendar places great significance on the year 2012 and countries throughout the Mundo Maya are planning a yearlong uplifting of Maya culture with events and ceremonies at various Maya archaeological sites.
To learn about what is planned for 2012 at Uaxactún, please visit the Uaxactún in 2012 page from our Maya 2012 travel guide.
In 2000, Guatemala’s Protected Areas Council (CONAP) granted the community a sustainable forestry concession to selectively harvest timber from surrounding multiple-use zones of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. While it’s yet to be seen how sustainable it is in practice, the logging concession has already been partially nullified in areas approaching the subsequently created Mirador Basin archaeological zone and could be completely eliminated with the eventual creation of a proposed Mirador Basin National Park. There are many stakeholders in the Mirador Basin Project and negotiations are ongoing.
Locals also guide visits from here to remote sites such as Río Azul and Biotopo El Zotz–San Miguel la Palotada, which may be their best hope for earning income without harming the fragile tropical forest ecosystem they inhabit.
The ruins themselves might seem a bit unimpressive after a visit to their better-known neighbor to the south, as they are smaller and not nearly as well preserved, though Uaxactún’s main claim to fame is the presence of a fairly elaborate astronomical observatory. Sylvanus G. Morley is credited with rediscovering Uaxactún in 1916.
Its original name has subsequently been deciphered as Siaan K’aan (Born in Heaven), though Morley is said to have chosen the name Uaxatún (Eight Stone) as a reference to a stone dating to the 8th baktun in the Mayan calendar, then the earliest-known Mayan inscription. It is also speculated that his choice of name was a play on words for “Washington,” the U.S. capital and home of the Carnegie Institute that funded his explorations.
The most impressive set of ruins lies a 15-minute walk southeast of the airstrip and is called Group E. A series of small, partially restored temples, Structures E-I, E-II, and E-III, are arranged side by side, going north to south, and designed as an astronomical observatory. The structures are arranged in such a manner as to coincide with the sunrise on key dates. When viewed from the top of nearby Temple E-VII-Sub, the sun rises over E-1 on the summer solstice and over the southernmost E-III on the winter solstice. Temple E-VII-Sub’s foundations date to about 2,000 B.C. and there are some much-deteriorated jaguar and snake heads flanking the temple’s side.
Northeast of the airstrip are Groups A and B, which were less carefully excavated but include several altars and stelae found mostly fallen among the remains of the larger temple palaces.
Accommodations and Food
Lodging and dining options in Uaxactún are extremely basic, as it is a remote forest community literally in the middle of nowhere. The settlement’s best accommodations are at Campamento El Chiclero (tel. 7926-1095) on the north end of the airstrip with 10 basic rooms with shared bath and mosquito-netted windows for $7 per person. You can also camp or string a hammock here for $3. The restaurant here serves large portions of good, basic food ($5 per meal) and there is a small on-site museum (free admission) with local artifacts. The friendly owners can arrange trips to some of the more remote places in the biosphere reserve, including El Zotz, Río Azul, Naachtun, and El Mirador.
A less expensive alternative is Aldana’s Lodge, just off the street leading to Groups A and B, where simple thatched-roof cabanas are $4 per person, or you can camp for $2 per person. Aldana’s can also arrange visits to area sites.
You can eat at your choice of three simple comedores in town: Comedor Uaxactún, Comedor La Bendición, and Comedor Imperial Okanarin.
Getting to Uaxactún
A Pinita bus leaves Santa Elena at 1 p.m. daily, stopping in Tikal at about 3 p.m. From there it’s about 1.5 hours to Uaxactún. These times are not set in stone, as with most schedules in Guatemala, and the bus can arrive in Uaxactún as late as 6 p.m. sometimes.
The return trip to Santa Elena leaves Uaxactún at 6 a.m. (There is sometimes a minivan leaving Uaxactún for Tikal at 8 a.m. with the inbound minivan from Tikal arriving at 6 p.m., but it’s sporadic and wasn’t operating in early 2010.)
If you’re driving, be aware that the road is passable only in a 4WD vehicle at any time of year. If you’re unable to fill your gas tank in Flores, the last gas station en route is at Ixlú, south of El Remate.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com