Seven miles north of Bullet Tree Falls , these jungle-choked Maya ruins are visited by only a handful of curious tourists each day; the rough approach road plus the lack of attention paid to the site by most tour operators helps make El Pilar the excellent, uncrowded day trip that it is. Entrance is US$10.
Two groupings of temple mounds, courtyards, and ball courts overlook a forested valley. Aqueducts and a causeway lead toward Guatemala, just 500 meters away. There have been some minor excavations here, including those of illegal looters, but the site is very overgrown, so the ruins retain an intriguing air of mystery. Many trees shade the site: allspice, gumbo-limbo, ramon, cohune palm, and locust. It’s a beautiful hiking area and wildlife experience as well.
Even if you book your El Pilar trip in San Ignacio , be sure to start your quest with a visit to the Amigos de El Pilar visitors center (9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily) and Be Pukte Cultural Center in Bullet Tree Falls. Here you’ll find a scale model of the ruins, some helpful booklets and maps, and guide and taxi arrangements (it’s about US$25 for a taxi to drive a group out and wait a few hours before taking them back). Or you can rent a mountain bike at Cohune Palms and make a workout of it—the road’s so bad, you’ll probably beat the cab anyway.