Once a powerful seat of Mayan civilization, the jungles and lakelands of modern-day Chiapas harbor a wealth of impressive Mayan ruins, some so remote that they weren’t discovered until the 1940s and others renowned for their unique mix of Mexican and Guatemalan architectural styles. The most important archaeological site in Chiapas is Palenque, a 15-square kilometer site dating back to between 300 and 900 AD and dramatically situated in the Tumbalá mountains, encircled by rainforest. A UNESCO World Heritage site and National Park, Palenque’s highlights are its exquisitely preserved temples and pyramid tombs, most notably the Temples of the Crosses and the Temple of the Inscriptions, which includes the grand burial chamber of King Pakal.
In the south of the state, close to the Guatemalan border, the Mayan sites of Bonampak and Yaxchilán lie in equally organic surroundings, with rainforest trails weaving between the ruins and howler monkeys swinging overhead. Often visited together on a day tour, each site has its own distinctive appeal. Yaxchilán, perched on the banks of the Usumacinta River, is reachable only by boat and is known for its ornamental roof combs and elaborate stuccos, whereas the smaller site of Bonampak is famous for its colorful murals.
A number of smaller Mayan sites also abound in the Chiapas region and are best explored with the help of a local guide. The partially excavated site of Toniná is a series of terraced residences found on route to Palenque; the hilltop city of Tenam Puente and the burial mounds of Lagartero both make easy side trips from Comitán; and additional ruins can be found at Comalcalco, Lacanja and Izapa.