The Buzz of Bonampak; Visiting the Mayan Sistine Chapel

We boarded the bus and left Palenque well before sunrise. We needed to travel far, not in distance per se, but the roads would take us through the jungles of inner Chiapas. Our destination: the Mayan Ruins of Bonampak, one of the must see, best Mayan sites in Chiapas.

mayan ruins of bonampak in chiapas, mexico

What’s the Buzz Inside Bonampak?

The actual buzz was loud, real loud. And it wasn’t from the coffee after our roadside breakfast at sunrise. Sure, the coffee served in this part of Chiapas seemed fresh and local (not the typical Nescafé – thankfully), but it was the bees in the grass as I walked closer to the main structures of Bonampak that buzzed loud. What would I see inside these ruins? Was this one of the best things to do in Chiapas?

Entering the mayan ruins of bonampak in chiapas, mexicomayan ruins of bonampak in chiapas, mexicoStelae inside mayan ruins of bonampak in chiapas, mexico


Inside our guide explained that this University type town for the Mayan civilization was a place Mayans came to learn. And it would be the place we can view what I was told was the “Mayan Sistine Chapel”  – the Temple of the Murals.

The Temple of the Murals at Mayan Site of Bonampak

I never like old world – new world comparisons, as when the guide explained Sistine Chapel comparison based on its beauty, I couldn’t help think of comparing this to Rome.

Years earlier when touring Tikal, a guide mentioned such branding or having actual artifacts in Europe such as a Dresden Codex, tends to create a desire for travelers to see the places their from or in this case, for people knowing the papal chapel and its beauty to appreciate these paintings in a similar light?

explaing the mayan murals of Bonampak, the Bonampak Paintings the mayan murals of Bonampak, the Bonampak Paintingsthe mayan murals of Bonampak, the Bonampak Painting

For me, I visited because the mysteries of the Mayan people intrigue me; so just calling these paintings the Mayan Murals was enough to capture my interest.

We walked to the top and our guide pulled out a scroll to highlight the three rooms; labeled Room 1, Room 2 and Room 3. He explained the battle depicted and the Mayan society it showcased from its late classic period.

Admittedly, I did think better names for the three rooms might even be a better marketing, but regardless of the names, the depiction of the society showcases a Mayan world I never knew. An amazing world and chance to see it through one of their artists. The paintings are over 1000 years old.

the Mayan ruins on Bonampak in Chiapas Mexico

The View from the Top

the the mayan ruins on Bonampak

Mexico Travel Tips for Bonampak, Chiapas

  1. A Visit to this Mayan Site should be primarily for the Mayan Murals or the Bonampak Paintings. They are arguably the best in the Mayan, if not the “New World”

“Perhaps no single artifact from the ancient New World offers as complex a view of Prehispanic society as do the Bonampak paintings. No other work features so many Maya engaged in the life of the court and rendered in such great detail, making the Bonampak murals an unparalleled resource for understanding ancient society.” –Mary Miller (Dean of Yale 2008-14)

  1. Travel here takes its time, and I’d recommend a guided tour option to both get an understanding of the murals (a must) and also two combine the trip with another activity since the site is smaller than most and is a quick visit. Ecoexperiencas took during my time at ATMEX and the Adventure of Chiapas. Afterwards we rafted (and jumped) over numerous waterfalls on the Rio Lacanja.

Stay adventurous, Craig

this is part of the #MexMarchMadness  for 2016; enjoy all the Madness at Mexican March Madness.  Special thanks to ATMEX and EcoExperencias for making this adventure possible. As always, the stories and thoughts are my own.

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  • Bill Kaliher

    Some of the best photos I have seen of Bonampak– enjoyed this greatly–it is a site I have yet to visit despite two opportunities–bill

    • craig zabransky

      Bill, it’s a smaller site for sure, but seeing the murals is certainly impressive… especially when you learn how little art of its kind exists and how historiic and informative the temple of the murals are…. pretty impressive. Stay adventurous, Craig

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