Location: Chiapas, Mexico  2.5 hours from Palenque
5 hours from Villahermosa, 7 hours from San Cristobal de las Casas,
13 hours from Cancun by land, 9 hours from Merida by land,
4 hours from Tikal by land & boat


Bonampak is a city of the Maya Early Classic period peaking from 200 to 400 A.D. The earliest written date for this site was found in its sister city of Yaxchilan on lintel 49 giving the year 409 A.D. Bonampak´s great plaza is astounding in its sheer mass and one of the largest in the region, measuring over 100 yards. The Mayan ruins at Bonampak are not fully excavated, much still covered by rainforest. This is a beautiful site with a very unique and interesting feel.

One of the most amazing finds at Bonampak are the three rooms of murals depicting important ceremonial and political events. Here we find some of the best preserved examples of the painted art of the Maya.  These exquisite murals changed the long held notion that the Maya only sacrificed warriors in the ball games and that they were for the most part a peaceful people. The murals tell a much bloodier story.

It had long been thought that the Maya only became warlike and began capturing and sacrificing enemies when the Toltec moved in from central Mexico, bringing their savage influence. The murals at Bonampak, however, were painted before the Toltec arrived and they show a Maya king of Bonampak who is the victor of war. The captured prisoners prostrate before the king, their fate sealed in sacrifice to the gods. We see warriors descend on farmers working in the field. The paintings then show the victory celebration that ensues after this successful campaign.

The life of the king and queen of a Maya city was in all probability a stressful life. Constantly needing to show their divine connection to the gods and right to the throne entailed feats of physical, mental and emotional prowess not usual to the kingships of Europe. The Maya king and queen would be involved in self-inflicted bloodletting and long periods of fasting to communicate with the gods through visions. Everyday life for the royal family was spent walking with the gods. If a city´s crops or political situations were in question it was the king and queen who bore the burden of responsibility for making things right.

Many kings felt the need to go to war and take prisoners for sacrifice. If a king lost a war it meant his opponent had better relations with the gods and was deemed a better king. A dead king´s son, once enthroned, would prepare in ritual and assert his connection to the gods by avenging his father´s loss. A losing king once captured could face years of humiliation, even being walked on or having to sit under the throne of the winning king. One way or another it ended in the sacrifice of the loser, with the winning king absorbing the losing king´s power.

In Stele 2 at Bonampak, King Chuan Muan II appears with his mother and his wife enacting a bloodletting ceremony. On one side his mother holds the ritual bowl of paper strips to collect the let blood. On the other his wife holds the sea urchin spine which will be used to perform the piercing for the bloodletting.  About the ceremonial significance of this ritual, Linda Schele and Mary Miller, authors of ¨The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art¨, say ¨Blood was the mortar of ancient Maya ritual life. Rulers were viewed as descendants of the gods. It was considered their duty to bleed and mutilate themselves on ritual occasions (a scene depicted in the murals) to cement their divine lineage and sustain the universe.¨


What to bring when visiting Bonampak:
Your spirit of adventure
and comfortable walking shoes, sunglasses and/or sun hat, a lightweight rain poncho or collapsible umbrella (in a rainforest climates occasional showers can happen any time of year), insect repellent with DEET, and water. You can buy cold bottled purified water at the entrance to the ruins.

Maya Sites Travel Services
Excursions to Bonampak:

For tours that include Bonampak visit
our Palenque Excursions page


Classic Maya of the Rainforest Palenque & Tikal
Dec. 4-11, 2014

With Archaeologist & Maya Expert
Alfonso Morales Cleveland
Palenque, Bonampak, Yaxchilan,
La Venta Olmec Museum,
Tikal, Yaxha & more!

Carnival Festivals of the Highland Maya
February 11-19, 2015
Palenque, Bonampak, Yaxchilan,
La Venta Olmec Museum, Tonina,
San Cristobal de las Casas, San Juan
Chamula, Zincanatan & more!

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