“Bonampak” is the modern Mayan word for “painted walls,” which perfectly describes this rare, ancient ruin in the rainforest of Chiapas. Three rooms within the main structure at the archaeological site are covered with colorful, vivid murals from top to bottom, including on the arched ceilings. These frescoes are considered the most elaborate, sophisticated, and well-preserved murals of the Maya civilization.
Still mainly unknown and hidden in the Lacandon jungle of Chiapas, Bonampak is not easy to get to, but this masterful Maya artwork makes the trip well worthwhile. Dating to around 790, these paintings tell stories of courtly customs during the Classic Maya period, depicting peace and celebrations, war and sacrifice, music, and rituals. They offer an unmatched window into royal life under the last rulers of the ancient city.
The rooms with the murals sit on top of a large pyramid platform at the Bonampak site, dubbed the Temple of Murals (Templo de las Pinturas). The outside walls of the rooms are also elaborately decorated, though much of the paint is gone from them. The murals were discovered in 1946, and have deteriorated since being opened to the public. Now, archaeologists and art historians are working on their preservation and reconstruction. The 1,000-year-old artwork is kept locked behind closed doors, and visitors must stand on a wooden ramp inside the doorway to get a peek at these colorful treasures.
Know Before You Go
About 2.5 hours from Palenque, the narrow road goes through a few towns; be aware of topes, the Mexican road bumps, as many of them come up last minute and are hard to anticipate. You can not drive your own car into the ruins, but leave it at a parking lot before the last stretch of the road, which is a dirt path in the middle of the jungle. Hire a taxi or a tour at the crossroads; they are available. Tours are also available from Palenque.