Tonina Mayan Ruins in Chiapas Mexico Revisited

Tonina and a sign anouncing that it's in EZLN or Zapatista country. The Zapatistas offer horseback rides into the site from the parking area. As always, click on any photo to enlarge it.

The Mayan ruins at Tonina in Chiapas Mexico are about half way between San Cristobal de las Casas and the Mayan ruins of Palenque, just south of the small city of Ocosingo. Driving from San Cristobal de las Casas you will reach the statue of a Mayan warrior at the entrance to Ocosingo. If you turn right off of the highway at the statue and drive about 15 minutes south you will reach the left hand turn-off for the road that leads to the incredible and deeply under visited Mayan site of Tonina.

Excavation in the Mayan ball court at Tonina where 2 Mayan warrior captive statues were found.


Archaeologists excavating the Mayan ball court at the Tonina site recently unearthed a pair of sculptures depicting captives awaiting execution. I was visiting Tonina with a friend about 2 months ago and saw them working on the ball court. I went back with my wife Kelly last week to see the newly uncovered statues, but was disappointed to discover they were covered with a plastic tarp in the cordoned off ball court, unavailable for public viewing. Even though the newly found captive statues were covered, we still had a wonderful day of exploring the site and the very good museum connected to it.

Tonina sits at the edge of a large valley that sweeps through part of southern Chiapas and heads down towards Guatemala. Instead of typical Mayan ruins that have different temples and structures spread out over a large area, Tonina (at least the excavated and viewable part) is one huge sacred mountain covered with terraces containing different temples and structures on each terrace as it goes ever upwards.

A view from the middle level of Tonina out towards Ocosingo.


The view from the top of the ruins looking forward is filled with fields and trees fading into the mountains on the other side of the valley. Looking to the rear you see green tree covered hills, which Kelly and I are convinced are themselves more temples awaiting excavation. The air was clear and clean, which is to say that it was rainy season. In the non rainy season months, October-ish through April-ish, the practice of agricultural burning is wide spread. The air of the valley can get a bit smokey at times, but a little smoke in the air shouldn’t stop you from visiting the site regardless of the time of year.

A Mayan sculpture made from plaster being preserved at Tonina.


In many of the ruins around the Yucatan and Chiapas all of the sculptural work that was done out of plaster and stone has been taken away to museums or has eroded into nothingness over the centuries. One of the great things about Tonina is that there are a reasonable amount of sculptured plaster figures and icons to be seen in different places around the ruins. They have also unearthed some rooms and sculptures that still show signs of 1100 plus year old red and blue Mayan paints.

Over 1100 years later and you can still see paint on what were large plaster friezes.


If you really want to take your time and explore all of the passageways and structures on each level of the Tonina ruins, it could easily take you three to five hours, though I once ran (no running!) from the bottom to the very top and back down in under 20 minutes. Bring plenty of water and wear comfortable hiking shoes or sneakers, the narrow steps and passageways can be very dangerous if you don’t have a good footing. Don’t wear flip flops and don’t let your teenagers do it either. I advise that for ALL ruins if you are going to be climbing around and exploring.

A small sample of some of the excellent Mayan carvings in the museaum at Tonina. The captives depicted in the two carvings on the right resemble the newly found statues at the Mayan ball court of Tonina.


The museum at the entrance of the site is a good place to stop and look at some truly great works of Mayan art before getting back into the car or bus. The museum has two separate levels, I suspect quite a few people just see the one lower room without realizing that if they climb the set of stairs outside heading up to the restrooms, they will come to a whole other room full of sculptures and other ancient wonders.

Some of the finds from the Mayan ball court excavation at Tonina. From what the folks in the museum told me, the two newly found statues are wrapped in those tarps.


When I asked the folks working in the museum about the new discoveries at the Mayan ball court of Tonina, the docents told me they were covered in plastic, still in the ball court. They also said that when the archaeologists are done examining the sculpted captives, they will be displayed at the museum on the site. Why you need to use plastic covers on stone sculptures that were exposed to the elements then buried for 1200 or more years, before they get removed to a museum in a few weeks, is beyond me. Couldn’t they just have put some sort of umbrella over them so Mayan geeks like me could see the new discoveries in situ?

A very nice group of students from a college near Tuxtla Gutierrez.

The first time I visited Tonina this summer I met a school group from outside of Tuxtla Gutierrez. As I understood them, they were essentially in what would be considered junior college. They were very friendly and curious about the United States and my travels. They were both pleased and surprised when I told them that I thought Chiapas was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen.

They told me that several of them wanted to some day move to the states, to which I responded that they should stay in this amazing place and help build the future of Chiapas. The teacher smiled big and gave the students an, “I told you so” look. They said that they would earn much more money in the USA, to which I responded that you could have all the money in the world and it still wouldn’t buy you love or happiness. To my great surprise they all, including the teacher, spontaneously applauded and cheered what I had said. They had never thought that an American was capable of thinking that way.

I have to say that every interaction I have ever had with a teen or young adult in this country has been a positive one. The teens here tend to be friendly, smart and curious. Even kids with spiky hair and anarchy T-shirts are quick with a smile and generally polite in conversation, though I have noticed that here in Chiapas, this is true of just about everyone.

Great big warped wide angle lens shot of Tonina.

There is an excellent article about the newly discovered statues on the blog Mayan Decipherment.

Here’s a link to the first blog post I did about Tonina Mayan ruins with more photos.


La Viña de Bacco ~ An Italian Wine Bar in San Cristobal de las Casas Mexico

My favorite place to hang out in San Cristobal de las Casas is a wine bar called La Viña de Bacco. This little bar is just a half block up from the Parque Central on the Andador de Guadalupe. The andador is a walking street blocked off to cars, which makes this bar a perfect place to sit and watch all kinds of people from all over the world walk by.

La Viña de Bacco is owned by two Italian guys who have a real passion for wine. They have a huge selection of wines from all over the world. They are particularly proud of their selection of premium Mexican wines. I had always known that there are some reasonable Mexican table wines, but I had no idea that Mexico could produce complex and full flavored premium wines. Ricci and Carlo have shown me that not only can Mexico produce good wines, it produces some great ones.

This place not only has a great selection of wine, they also carry a full range of liquor and Mexican beers. With every drink you order, you receive a free tapa. The Tapas they serve are sliced baguettes topped with anything from cheeses or sausage and deli meats to pate. If you order a bottle of wine you get a nice big assortment plate of these delicious treats. They also have pastas and really great focaccia bread sandwiches.

If you find yourself missing good wine after traveling through Central America and Mexico, La Vina de Bacco is the place to go.

Lagartero Mayan Ruins and Wetlands on the Edge of Mexico

If you drive about an hour south of Comitan de Dominguez towards the Guatemalan border crossing at La Mesilla, you will come across a left turn off for the Lagos de Colon, take it.

Panorama photo of ruins at Lagartero

The central plaza of Lagartero Mayan ruins in southern Chiapas Mexico. As always, click on any photo to enlarge it.

Kelly and I had to do some business at the border regarding the registration of our Mayan Tripmobile, so we decided to take some time and explore someplace new. After finishing our business we headed to the turn off for Lagos de Colon and the Mayan ruins of Lagartero.

Road in southern Mexico near Lagartero

A beautiful place between the mountains of Guatemala and the highlands of Chiapas.


The drive in to the site of Lagartero was through agricultural fields being tended to by local farmers, in a broad valley between the mountainy border of Guatemala and the highlands of Chiapas Mexico. After driving about 7 miles we came across a man sitting on the side of the road, near the entrance to a small town, who was collecting the 10 peso per person entrance fee to the Lagos de Colon and Lagartero ruins.

Shortly after paying the fee we came to a large community swimming pool type place and parking lot, we determined they were not the Lagos or the ruins, we kept driving. After passing through the small pueblo of Cristobal Colon we came on a right turn with an old sign for the ruins.

Lagartero Cristobal Colon lagos

The first of the rushing water we had to drive through. This was shot on the way out.

The road from here was all dirt. We passed by some small inviting cabanas for rent, we were told they are 400 pesos per night. Then we had to drive through a foot deep and fairly fast running section of river which had covered the road. At this point we could have parked and walked in over plank bridges, but it was still close to a mile into the site. Our trusty Tripmobile made it through with no problems at all.

The dirt road continued on through a beautiful corn field that had been planted recently. Then we drove into some trees and through another shallower river crossing. Shortly after that the road came to an end and we parked in the shade of the trees. The rest of the way in we had to cross several plank bridges over amazingly clear streams and inviting pools. The path continued and split a few times, we kept following the more center of the trails that seemed to be most used.

After parking we continued into Lagartero on a series of plank bridges over amazing pools and streams.

After a few hundred yards we came out into a clearing for the central complex of the Lagartero Mayan ruins. The ruins consist of 4 main temples surrounding a central plaza. There was an excavated, but not fully reconstructed, ball court and a few other structures. The beauty of this place was not in the grandeur of the temples, it was in their location between lakes and streams on an island surrounded by nature. In the sky white cranes flew by, while butterflies and dragon flies flew through the trees and grasses.


A view of the ruins over one of the Lagos de Colon. Supposedly there are crocodiles, but we saw none.


The stepped pyramids of the temple complex at Lagartero seemed quite old and of more primitive design than their neighbors in Chinkultic or Tenam Puente. From the research I’ve done the site was mostly used during the late and terminal classic era of the Mayan world, 700 – 1100 c.e. approximately.

The sacred old Ceiba tree standing watch over the ruins of Lagartero.


One of the most impressive things on the site was a giant Ceiba tree growing up out of a mound not far from the back of the largest temple. The cieba trees are sacred to the Mayans and judging by some charcoal near the tree, I believe that one is still the center of religious rituals.

A view looking out over Lagartero ruins towards the entrance.


Me standing on the altar of Lagartero with the largest temple behind me and the ancient Ceiba tree on the right.


We spent about and hour and a half wandering around the ruins and trails along the wetlands and lagoons. We could have spent all day just enjoying the amazing natural and ancient world surrounding us. We plan on returning for a night and exploring the waterfalls nearby, but that will be for another post.

Wetlands around Lagartero island and ruins. We were there in July during the rainy season, I have read it's more of a swamp during dry times.