Bonampak is a Mayan archaeological site in the southern state of Chiapas in Mexico. It is located deep within the Lacadon jungle near a tributary of the Usumacinta River. The most important feature of the site is Temple 1 - Templo de las Pinturas, or the Temple of Murals, which contain three rooms with spectacularly colorful murals painted on its ceilings and walls. The murals are the best preserved Mayan murals ever found. Temple 1 is a relatively small structure on the site's Acropolis.
Bonampak is a fairly small archaeological site, and it is assumed that the city was small compared to other Maya cities at the time.
The murals are the star attraction of Bonampak. Across the three temple rooms, they depict scenes from the Maya courts with stories of daily life in the cities, wars between rival city-states, and elaborate ceremonies regarded as the most elegant and sophisticated murals of pre-hispanic America. The paintings provide a unique perspective on Maya civilization while bearing testament to the Mayans mastery of fresco painting techniques.
A replica of the temple rooms can be seen at the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City. Scientists often study the replicas because the originals have faded and degraded somewhat due to oxygen and water getting into the temple rooms.
The oldest relics excavated from Bonampak date from about 100 AD. The known structures excavated to date are from 450 AD and later. The major structure at the site is Temple 1, which was dedicated on November 15, 791 AD. It is the newest major structure at the site, however, much of Bonampak remains unexplored.
The modern history of Bonampak starts with tales heard from the Lacadon about cities buried in the jungle. It was not until 1947 that the photographer Giles Healey persuaded one of those Lacadon to lead him into Bonampak. Healey was awestruck by the brilliant colors of the murals. He took photos and commissioned artists to copy the works.
Archaeological expeditions followed and with it, damage to the site that has continuously degraded the murals. Water seepage and heat generated from clearing the jungle canopy conspired to create hostile conditions for the preservation of art works. An expedition by the Carnegie Institution further damaged the murals by applying kerosene to them in order to bring out the colors.
During the 1960s and 1970s it was difficult to reach Bonampak. Open canoes were used until the mid 1960s when the grass airstrip was cleared, enabling small aircraft to land. The road to Bonampak was built in the 1980s. Expeditions though have been relatively few, though, in the 1990s, an expedition from Yale University filmed the murals in infrared, revealing hidden images, layered behind the bright murals. In the 2000s, an expedition of the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico City excavated an area of small temples near the Acropolis and found several tombs.
The murals are a progression, like a story unfolding as you walk through the temple. Room 1 tells the story of royal lineage and succession. King Chan Muan is establishing his son's bona fides and laying down his right to rule. Room 2 is about war raging between Bonampak and neighboring groups. Bonampak opens up a huge can of whoop-ass, and is most triumphant. Victory parties commence. Captives are enslaved and suffer most egregiously. The victory celebrations continue in Room 3 where the king's sons parade in and 10 women have their tongues pierced as musicians entertain the crowds.
The site is dense jungle.
Flora and faunaEdit
In the dense jungle there are jaguars, monkeys, parrots, snakes, and of course, spiders.
It's a jungle, so hot and humid is today's weather forecast.
Getting to Bonampak can be a challenge. It just might be the only place in Mexico you can't get to by bus.
It can still be an easy daytrip if you go to Palenque first and then take a van tour to both Yaxchilan and Bonampak. This is the recommended way to go for all but the most intrepid adventurers.
If you have a rental car, it is a fairly straightforward 150-km drive from Palenque to Bonampak. From Palenque, drive southeast on MEX 307 until you reach the village of Lacanja. This is the closest source of food or lodging to Bonampak. Take the turnoff for Carreterra Zona Arquelogico Bonampak (or more precisely, don't turn off into the village) and continue about 10km to the archaelogical site. This is a narrow, rural dirt backroad, with potholes galore. Progress will be slow and painful. You must pay a fee to enter the ejido lands of the Lacondon people. Uou will also have to use a local taxi or van operated by the Lacondon to proceed to the site. Total fees will be about M$400 to enter Bonampak.
Fees and permitsEdit
The official INAH fee to enter an archaeological site is M$85, but costs are substantially higher at Bonampak because the site is surrounded by ejido lands of the Lacondon people (a Mayan indigenous group). A fee is charged to enter ejido lands, and the Lacadon require that only vehicles driven by their people (i.e., a taxi or van to get you there) can use the road to the archaeological site, and there's a hefty fee for that "service" as well. Total costs to enter Bonampak are about M$400 (in 2022).
Walk. When you're ready to leave the site, go to the taxi stand and the Lacondon will pick you up and take you back to your car or tour bus.
- Templo las Pinturas - the famous Temple 1 with its three rooms of spectacular murals
- The Queen - Building 15 is at the northwest corner of the plaza (see site map). There's a roof covering a door. Open the door and go down into the platform base. You'll see a large statue called the Queen (discovered in 1994).
- Stelae - There are several stelae around the site, but one in the center of the plaza shows a depiction of Chan Muan, last ruler of Bonampak, standing proud with his shield and spear.
- Frey Group - Ruins of a 2-room temple and a semi-restored platform.
- Grupo Quemado - Two small temples and evidence of a destructive fire. Take the path at west of airstrip 100 meters.
No food is available at the site. Food can be purchased in the village of Lacanja.
No drinks are available at the site. Drinks can be purchased in the village of Lacanja. Bring water.
There are several places to stay within the Lacadon territory, mostly near the village of Lacanja. Most are rustic lodges or campsites.
- 1 Campamento Río Lacanjá, Bonampak, Chiapas (13 km/8 mi from the archaelogical site), ☏ +52 9676317498. Check-out: 12:00. Rustic lodge and camping area, isolated area inside the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve.
- Campamento Chanaj - Margarito, Lacanja, Chiapas (on Carreterra Zona Archaeologico Bonampak), ☏ +52 9676783909.
- Bring plenty of water
- Use sunscreen
- Wear long pants
- Wear sturdy shoes
- Wear a hat
Chiapas has a lot of archaeological sites. Two you don't want to miss are: