Colourful paintings of Bonampak ruins in Lacandon jungle
I still remember when I was sitting in a van from colourful Bonampak ruins back to Palenque, kind of jumping through Lacandon jungle because of the holes on the road and trying to write this post. Not easy. But I still remember it as if it was yesterday. I had an amazing experience in Mexico I will never forget, something you should know about. So let’s start from the beginning of the story.
After I visited Palenque, I took a 2 day trip to the jungle – la selva LACANDONA (Lacandon jungle in English) in the South of Mexican state Chiapas. They collected us at the hotel at 6am and we started the adventure.
After one hour of many topes and curves, I saw the nicest sunrise ever with the Sun absolutely round and red getting up the forest. Such a nice contrast with the green trees and the blue sky. Seeing the sunrise was enough for me to wake up and be in a good mood, even after almost no sleep.
When the Sun changed the colour to orange, we got to a restaurant on the road for some traditional Mexican breakfast. As usual, a buffet, so eat how much you want means for me until we have to go. I mean, seriously until we leave. So I had 3 times that much as I usually have for breakfast as in Mexico you never know when you can get some food I could call ‘normal’ again. And even less in the jungle. The buffet had fruit, cereals, milk, bread, coffee, tea, different kind of eggs, beans and some more.
Then we continued to Bonampak, one of the archeological sites of Chiapas and one of more than 14 pyramid sites I visited in Mexico.
There used to be three ways to get to BONAMPAK: by boat through the river, by little plane because there is 900 m long space without trees for landing, and by land. Nowadays it is used mostly the third one used, by cars or buses, but you have to leave them at a parking lot and then get a van from Bonampak people to get to the ruins. Only their cars can get in the area so it is easier to protect it. Before you enter BONAMPAK, next to the ticket desk, go to the toilets as there are none inside.
Everywhere around you, you will see native men dressed in long white tunic with long hair who work there as tour guides. All of them are of Maya tribe and speak perfect Spanish, some English, too. On the way to the ruins you can get some souvenirs, mostly little statues of jaguars and jewelry made by local women. All the jewelry is unique because it is made from the beans and fruit found in the area of Bonampak, and the collars sold here are naturally coloured, mostly orange and black beans, very original!
Bonampak is located around 30 km from another Maya archaeological site Yaxchilan and the Guatemalan border. Built between 580 – 800 AD was rediscovered by a non-Maya first in 1946. Not big in size (like Chichén Itzá or Teotihuacán) as just a few percent of the whole Bonampak have been saved and excavated so far.
However, what Bonampak ruins are very important for and really special are its murals that still nowadays remain colourful almost like hundreds of years ago. They are the best visible at the Structure 1, so called Temple of the Murals. Situated on top of a pyramid, it is a long narrow building with 3 rooms with all the interior walls painted with colours. The paintings are one of very few of Maya tribe, mostly found only as some fragments and at pottery, hence their importance.
The colour of the paintings remained visible since 790 AD when the Temple of the Murals was painted due to two things: first it was an accident/a miracle when the rainwater got inside the temple and left a layer of transparent calcium carbonate. Then in the late 1940’s when Giles Healey photographed Bonampak, an expedition was sent over there and the painted walls were repainted with transparent kerosene/paraffin to keep their natural colour. Afterwards, everything was photographed and duplicate paintings were made. Nowadays, the perfectly coloured reproduction of the paintings of all the three rooms can be seen in National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
The three painted rooms of the Temple of the Murals realistically show the victory of a single battle. While in the first room we can see how a child became a noble heir, an orchestra playing and preparing for the battle, the second room shows the war itself, with the prisoners taken and probably getting ready for the human sacrifice with the governor Chaan Muwaan II (sometimes spelled as Chan Moan). The last third room shows a ceremony with dancers wearing masks of Gods; and a ritual – the governor and his wife taking blood from the tongues. We know the names of the painted people and the date from the hieroglyphs there.
Nowadays, the Bonampak paintings represent one of the most precious remained paintings about Maya and their life. They show how Maya settlements were able fight to dominate other. They were made as frescos in three steps, with the red stucco first, then the flat spaces covered up with blue, purple, yellow and green paints of mineral origins. And the last step was using the black colour around the figures.
More tourists started visiting both Bonampak ruins and Yaxchilan since the Border Highway was constructed in the 1990’s. To protect the colourful paintings, no flash photos are allowed inside the Temple of the Murals in Bonampak, together with no glasses/hats on your head, nor any bags, just nothing that could somehow scratch the paintings and destroy them.
Bonampak is a unique place, not just in Chiapas, but in Mexico in general. When you visit it, take a chance to go to Yaxchilan, too. It is very close but totally different to Bonampak.
My trip to the colourful paintings of Bonampak ruins in Lacandon jungle was a press trip done by NICHIM TOURS. Check out their second website Chiapas tours y expediciones to experience the jungle and the ruins in Chiapas. However, all the opinions in the post are honest and just mine.