The relative lack of inscribed monuments found at Yaxhá has made tracking its history a bit of a challenge, though it appears it was a major player during the Classic period. It is believed Yaxhá was locked into an ongoing power struggle during much of this time with its smaller neighbor, Naranjo, about 20 kilometers northeast. Naranjo eventually overran Yaxhá in A.D. 799.
Spanish friars passed through here in 1618, and Austrian explorer Teobert Maler visited in 1904. Much of the site remained unexcavated until recently. A German- Guatemalan effort is conducting the site’s ongoing excavation and restoration.
The Yaxhá Ruins
Yaxhá’s highest structure is Structure 216, offering wonderful views of the lagoons and forests from its summit. Watchers of Survivor Guatemala will probably recognize the temple from numerous aerial shots shown during the program’s run. It features a broad central staircase and rises to a height of about 100 feet. Access is via a wooden staircase built into the temple’s side.
The temples at Yaxhá appear constructed from a very light-colored limestone markedly different from the stones used elsewhere in the Mayan world, giving the ruins a very different feel. You’ll find the ruins spread out over nine plazas with 500 mapped structures, including temples, ball courts, and palaces.
Other highlights include the recently restored North Acropolis, surrounded by three temples, two of which are fairly large. A path known as Calzada Blom leads almost one kilometer north from here to the Maler Group, a complex featuring twin temples facing each other across a plaza similar to the setup at Tikal. A number of weathered stelae and the broken remains of a large circular altar further adorn the complex.
Another great location affording wonderful views closer to the heart of the ruined city is the top of an unnamed astronomical observation pyramid between Plaza F and Structure 116.
You can camp for free at Campamento Yaxhá, a designated lakeside campsite below the ruins proper.
A more comfortable option is the friendly Campamento Ecológico El Sombrero (tel. 7861-1687/8, www.ecosombrero.com), about 200 meters from the main road before you come to the park entry post. Its 13 comfortable rooms are housed in thatched-roof bungalows fronting the lake. There’s a dock, but it’s not recommended for swimming because of the crocodiles. A restaurant serves adequate food, with the variety of menu items on offer heavily dependent on whether or not there’s a group staying at the lodge. The lodge arranges boat trips to Topoxté and guided tours of Yaxhá.
Getting to Yaxhá
A series of roads leads to Yaxhá. About 31 kilometers east of Ixlú, on the road toward the Belize border, a well-marked turnoff leads a further 11 kilometers north to the Yaxhá guardpost, where you pay admission and sign in to the park. It’s another three kilometers from here to the actual ruins of Yaxhá. The road is in good condition, even during the rainy season.
If traveling by bus, you can get off at the junction to Yaxhá and hitch a ride with an occasional passing pickup truck or fellow travelers.
Several of the Flores guide companies now do Yaxhá with certain frequency. You can also get a minivan from El Remate to the site, but expect to pay about $60 round-trip. Try to find people to share the ride.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com