The small but intriguing Chinkultik ruins (8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, US$3.50 admission plus toll of US$0.50 pp and US$2 per vehicle) is built atop a bluff with great views, and makes for a nice stop headed to or from nearby Lagunas de Montebello National Park . In theory, that is: The site is closed more often than not, owing to a long-running dispute between the local community and government archaeological officials. Ask in Comitán  for the latest, or at the control booth near the highway turnoff.
Though never a major power, the ancient city of Chinkultik thrived between the 3rd and 9th centuries A.D., with the bulk of its major structures built after A.D. 590. The city declined in the 9th century, but not nearly as dramatically as lowland powers like Palenque  and Yaxchilán  did; in fact, modest highland sites like this one, and nearby Tenam Puente , survived well into the second millennium. The city was abandoned for good in the 13th century for unknown reasons; the first organized archaeological study of Chinkultik was conducted in the 1960s.
Many of the 200-plus structures here remain unexcavated, but the site’s dramatic location makes it worthwhile all the same. The main structure, the Acrópolis, is built atop a prominent bluff, with panoramic views of the lake-dotted countryside. On one side, a steep embankment drops some 50 meters to a cenote below, where archaeologists recovered numerous jade, ceramic, and obsidian artifacts in its deep clear waters, probably thrown there as part of religious ceremonies.
Near the entrance and across a small stream is the Plaza Hundida (Sunken Plaza), a spacious plaza enclosed on all four sides by low stone stairways. Several large pyramids face the plaza, but remain cloaked in brush and low trees, awaiting excavation. A ball court and second plaza are located down a side path, left of the entrance.
Chinkultik is often closed, unfortunately, due to a longstanding dispute between local residents and state and federal agencies over its operation. Despite years of on and off negotiations, the conflict has only gotten worse: In September 2008, local residents occupied the ruins, arguing that admission fees should better benefit the communities there, which are among the state’s poorest.
When police came to evict them, the protesters managed to detain and disarm nearly 80 officers. That provoked swift reaction from the state, and on October 3, police with riot gear and automatic weapons stormed the ruins and nearby village in trucks and on horseback. Six protesters were killed in the ensuing melee, and many more wounded or arrested. Prosecutors opened an investigation into the incident, including allegations of execution-style killings, but as this guide went to print a report had yet to be issued, and the site remained closed indefinitely to visitors.
By far the fanciest place to stay in the Lakes Region is the Parador-Museo Santa María (Carr. Trinitaria–Lagunas de Montebello Km. 22, tel. 963/632-5116, www.paradorsantamaria.com.mx , US$167 s/d), a beautifully renovated 19th-century hacienda. The lush and well-maintained grounds include a small religious-art gallery (US$2, free for hotel guests or diners), a pleasant outdoor restaurant (8 a.m.–7 p.m. daily, US$7–14), and a welcoming pool. Rooms themselves are comfortable and well appointed with period antiques and oil paintings; however, they’re somewhat sparse and feel more like museum exhibits than hotel rooms. Leave the door to your room open—the green fields and mountain view give the place some much-needed life.
The only way to get to the Parador-Museo Santa María without breaking a sweat is to drive yourself or to hire a cab. That said, if you don’t mind walking 1.5 kilometers (0.9 mile) down a county road, jump on any combi from Comitán  that’s headed to the Lagunas de Montebello ; ask the driver to drop you at the turnoff.
Chinkultik is located about 45 kilometers east of Comitán  and just a few kilometers west of the entrance to Lagunas de Montebello National Park . The ruins are north of the highway, two kilometers down a paved access road.
From Comitán, combis headed to Lagunas de Montebello can drop you at the turnoff, where it’s a hot but not unpleasant walk through agricultural fields to the site entrance. Combis leave from 2a Avenida Sur Poniente near 2a Calle Sur Poniente in Comitán, every 10 minutes 3 a.m.–6 p.m. (US$1.75, 40 mins). Taxi service here is almost nonexistent.