Tenam Puente Archaeological Zone
Built on a series of tree-covered hills and ever-climbing terraces, Tenam Puente (8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, US$3) is larger than it may first appear, and is the sort of site whose appeal lies as much in exploring and discovering its many facets as in the structures themselves. Fifteen kilometers (9.3 miles) south of Comitán, it’s a popular stop for tour groups from San Cristóbal, though it rarely feels crowded. Budget about 1.5–2 hours to visit the entire site and the small museum.
Like nearby Chinkultik, Tenam Puente was a modest power on the western highland fringe of the Maya world, peaking around A.D. 600–900. The notorious collapse of Maya centers in the 9th century was far more damaging to large lowland powers like Palenque and Yaxchilán than smaller highland centers like Tenam Puente. In fact, highland cities that survived the collapse’s initial shock may have even benefited from the abrupt humbling of their lowland competitors. Tenam Puente, like nearby Chinkultik, appears to have survived until around A.D. 1200 before finally being abandoned. Like many highland sites, Tenam Puente is notable for the lack of ornamental embellishments found elsewhere, such as corbelled arches and roof combs. Likewise, only one dated stela has been found here (from A.D. 790), now housed in the archaeological museum in Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
Today, Tenam Puente is the focus of a yearly pilgrimage to celebrate the Day of the Holy Cross (May 3).
Visiting Tenam Puente
Entering the site, you first encounter a large grassy plaza with a ball court on one side—one of three ball courts found here. From the long northeast side of the plaza, the Acrópolis rises in a series of broad consecutive terraces, its impressive upper pyramids all but invisible from below, but affording dramatic views of the surrounding countryside from their summits. A carving of a decapitated captive can be seen at the base of Structure 17. The Acrópolis covers some four hectares in all, and most of its notable structures were originally covered in plaster and painted in rich colors.
Across from the ticket booth is a one-room museum (8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily) with detailed information on the history of the ruins as well as descriptions of the excavated structures. It’s worth a stop, even a quick one, to get an overview of the archaeological site. Signage is in English and Spanish.
Getting to Tenam Puente
From Comitán, Transporte Ejidal Tenam Puente (3a Av. Sur Pte. near 1a Calle Sur Pte.) runs combis to and from the ruins every 30 minutes from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (45 mins, US$1). Be sure to let the driver know that you’re headed to the ruins, otherwise he’ll let you off at the last stop, two kilometers below the entrance. The last combi heads back to town at 4:30 p.m.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition