Secluded in jungle about 113 m (183 km) southeast of Palenque along the Rio Lacanja, is the remarkably well-preserved ruins of a Mayan temple (archaeologists date it back to the 7th and 8th centuries). Called Bonampak, it means “painted walls” and it is the highly detailed frescoes —drawings telling the history of the people who lived here— painted on the inside of the walls and roofs of three buildings, which make Bonampak a true delight and major attraction for archaeologists and visitors alike. The frescoes are incredibly well preserved and the highlight of a visit to Bonampak.
This site has been hidden away in the jungle for longer than most. Not until the mid 1940s did some American explorers discover this place, supposedly after being taken there by a local from the surrounding Lacandon jungle. The exact tale is as much of a mystery as many Maya sites themselves. Bonampak stretches over 2.5 square kilometers, although all of the main attractions revolve around the group of buildings surrounding the main plaza.
The entrance to the site is some distance from the ruins themselves, and it’s necessary to take a bus (provided for large groups or during busy periods) or drive your own car. Alternatively, you can rent a mountain bike and make the 5 mile (8km) trip using pedal power upon a graveled road cutting through the jungle.
The buildings you can see today were built under the rule of Governor Chaan Muan II, who took the throne around 770 AD. It appears that Bonampak was at times ally and foe to the neighboring city of Yaxchilan. The frescoes inside the three buildings of the Templo de Pinturas (Temple of Paintings) depict courtlife and warfare: the first showing the consecration of the Governor’s Heir; the second a battle and torture and sacrifice of captives (suggesting victory in the battle); and the third, celebration with dances and headdresses predominant along with bloodletting from the tongue – an offering of thanks to the gods. Interpretations vary.
Only four people are allowed into each of the rooms at any one time because perspiration (moisture) affects the paintings in a severe way, so you may have to wait. You can take photographs of the frescoes, but flash photography is strictly prohibited and enforced by local officials watching visitors.
Getting There & Around
By Car: Bonampak and Yaxchilan are off the Frontier Highway, Highway 307 in Mexico. Important! Highway 307 must NOT be traveled after dark. Tours begin early in the morning and return to Palenque by dusk (see Tours under practical information, below); if you are traveling independently be sure you follow the same schedule and depart early and return before dark. Also see additional information about Driving in Mexico and Mexico’s Toll Roads on Mexperience.
By Bus: You can take a three-hour bus ride from Palenque. The bus will drop you near the ruins but not at the park entrance. You will need to take another local bus or hike the last 2 miles (3 km) to the entrance. If you book a tour, the operator will provide a tour bus from a designated location.
Car Rental: To explore the local area around Bonampak, consider renting a car locally. Having your own car will give you more flexibility than using public transport options and, in some cases, offer you access to places which are otherwise difficult to visit without the use of a car. Read our guide to Car Rental in Mexico to learn what you need to know about car rental in Mexico and connect to the Mexperience Travel Center to reserve your Rental Car.
Opening Days & Times: 7 Days a week; 8 am to 5 pm. The site charges admission. Consult a local tour operator for the lasted admission policies.
Local Tours: Due to their highly remote locations, Bonampak and Yaxchilan are best visited as part of an organized tour. Tours and activities are organized and run by well-established, professional and fully-insured operators.
Photography & Video: A permit is required if you want to use a tripod to take photographs at the archaeological site. A small fee is made for the use of hand-held video equipment. Read the section on Mexperience Mexico Essentials about Video & Photography at archaeological sites in Mexico.
Ideal Clothing & Footwear: You’ll need a good, comfortable pair of walking or hiking shoes with a non-slip sole; expect to do a fair amount of walking. Wear light clothes, take plenty of water and wear a sunhat – it gets very hot and humid here. Insect repellent is essential as this site is located in the jungle. See Local Climate, below.
Travel Insurance: We recommend that you are adequately covered with travel medical insurance and/or travel assistance insurance when you are visiting Mexico. Read the Mexperience guide to Travel Insurance in Mexico for full details and links to specialist insurance suppliers.
Driving in Chiapas – Safety Advice
If you are driving independently in this region, using a rental car or your own vehicle, its important that you heed some special advice.
It’s best to keep off all highways after dark, unless you know them well and have good local knowledge.
The highway from San Cristobal to Palenque (Highway 199) must NOT be traveled on after dark. It is generally regarded as safe during daylight hours. This road cuts through some extremely remote territory including, in the latter stages, sweltering jungle. If you are traveling independently it is essential that you have a good, reliable, vehicle, plenty of fuel and drinking water.
The above also applies to Highway 307 between Palenque and Bonampak / Yaxchilan archaeology sites. Most travelers join others and see these places as part of an organized tour, but there are advantages to driving yourself, and if you do, you must take these additional precautions for your safety.
Military Checkpoints: Expect to pass through at least one, but probably several of these on your road trip through Chiapas. Don’t be alarmed, the soldiers may or may not check your car’s trunk; they are polite, respectful and can even provide local advice and directions if you need them.
Nearby Places & Attractions
Major Cities: Mexico City (Closest)
Colonial Cities: Comitan, Tuxtla Gutierrez, San Cristobal de las Casas, Villahermosa, Oaxaca
Nearest Beaches/ Resorts: Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres
Other Archaeological Sites Nearby: Palenque, Tenam Puente, Yaxchilan, Chinkultic
The local climate is the same as that for Palenque, which is extremely hot and humid jungle weather. Dress with light clothes that enable your skin to breathe. Bring sun screen, insect repellent and a hat. Carry plenty of water and stay well hydrated at all times.
Weather & Climates in Mexico
Learn more about the weather and climates through the seasons and regions by connecting to the Mexperience guide about Weather and Climates in Mexico
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