In February I had quite the adventure of trekking to Plan de Ayutla, a little known Mayan site that is completely off the beaten path in Chiapas, Mexico. After inquiring for hours with numerous people, no one even knew about the ruins. In fact, they all kept correcting me as if I were making a mistake and talking about something to do with the Mexican revolution. Eventually after a lot of searching, I was finally able to find a guide who knew how to get there.
I’m not really the kind of traveler who goes on excursions with guides. I love the thrill of finding out how to get around by myself on public transportation because I believe that nothing shows you more authenticity than how people are going about their daily lives on buses and other forms of transportation. But after asking around enough as to how to get towards the general vicinity of the ruins, I figured out that perhaps contracting a guide would be a logical choice because of the remote location and the private indigenous lands upon which the archeological site is located. I never really feel “unsafe” as a solo female traveler, but something about this remote location made me think that it would be best to take a male guide with me.
We left at 6:00 a.m. from Palenque, Chiapas on a long windy road that veers off toward the Mexican-Guatemala border. Eventually the road veered off and become a dirt road that passed through somewhat deforested rainforest and indigenous pueblitos. After endless kilometers and hours of driving through remote land, we finally reached a larger town named Nueva Palestina, or New Palestine, a town that I was surprised wasn’t so small and remote after all.
Eventually we came to a fork in the dirt road and a handful of young indigenous men arrived on bicycles and told us that we couldn’t go any farther without permission. Since the ruins are technically located on private indigenous land, the custom is that vistors must check in with the town leaders and acquire permission before approaching the ruins. We headed into the town and went from house to house, looking for the caretaker of the ruins. Apparently they change often because every time that we approached a house, the person informed us that they were no longer in charge. Eventually we found out the caretaker was at church and other leaders in the community let us pass on to the ruins after we paid a fee to enter the area.
After receiving permission to enter, we traveled for another twenty minutes on a bumpy road made out of dirt until we reached a windy set of stairs that ascended a hill. The stairs were makeshift and somewhat steep to climb. Although I’d consider myself to be in pretty good shape, it was tough to climb them and we had to stop a few times along the way.
When we reached the top, a unique building with somewhat of a rounded dome roof stood at the top of the hill. I have visited a lot of ruins before, but I have never seen a building in this shape before. Although the ruins of Plan de Ayutla are small, to see this unique building in person made the long trip worth the time and effort.
All of the ruins are located at the top of the small hill and are not very well restored-which made it all the more authentic to me. The site contains a few other buildings and some smaller stairs and platforms. I took a picture of my guide, Javier, at the top of the hill.
After we descended the hill, we walked along the muddy road through a tropical rainforest that was being deforested and used to grow coffee and graze cattle. We peeked through the foliage and saw some other ruins poking out over the top of the foliage. The guide informed me that he thought the ruins were from a pre-Columbian ball court, but I also recently read that archeologists have unearthed an old theater, so I am not really sure what those ruins were. It’s exciting to think that there might be tons of ruins and treasures beneath that vegetation!
Altogether, we were only there for about 45 minutes since the ruins are so small, but the adventure was worth it! On our way out of the town, I noticed three mountain looking formations in the distance, and I asked myself if they might be some additional ruins off in the jungle. My guide stated that he agreed that they looked like they were spaced apart from one another, just as many temples and pyramids are spaced, but that locals claim that they are natural small mountains. However, no one has confirmed what they are because they are too deep in the forest. Since I think that I am an amateur archeologist, I like to think that I just discovered some unknown Mayan ruins!
If you are interested in heading off the beaten path and visiting the ruins of Plan de Ayutla in Chiapas, Mexico, you will need to head from Palenque to the town of Nueva Palestina. There are a few local combis (mini vans) that head there in the morning, but the combis don’t return until the next day, so unless you want to stay the night there it’s probably advisable to get a guide. The ruins are approximately two to three hours from the town of Palenque. Once you get to Nueva Palestina, head straight on the dirt road to the town of Plan de Ayutla and ask anyone on the street for the caretaker of the ruins, although someone will probably approach you first. The community seems a little distrustful of strangers, so if you do want to get a guide, then contact me and I will put you in contact with my guide, Javier, who has been out there and made contact with the community a few times. The community will charge you to get in, and I paid 45 pesos, but prices can depend according to the caretaker.