The Best Maya sites to visit, #8: Mysterious Yaxhá


While hundreds, or even thousands of tourists visit Tikal every day, few people ever go to nearby Yaxhá. A beautiful Maya site, still shrouded in mystery.

It’s for that reason, it occupies #7 on My Personal #15 of Maya-sites.

One of the temples admired during our visit to the Maya-site of Yaxhá in Guatemala
Yaxhá, Petén, Guatemala.

The Maya site of Yaxhá combines history with beautiful natural surroundings. It’s located midway the Petén lake and the Guatemala-Belize border at Melchor de Mencos.

The city was strategically built on a hill between two lakes – Laguna Yaxhá & Laguna Sacnab.

A little history

When you walk its grounds, it soon becomes obvious, Yaxhá in its time was a big and important city.

Although blooming in the Classic period (250-600 AD), the first traces of Yaxha lead us back to the PreClassic Period. To about 700-600 BC.

Yaxha’s importance in the Mundo Maya had much to do with its location on the mayor trade routs. But also, the close connection with Tikal & indirectly with Teotihuacán in Central Mexico.

  • In 378 AD, Tikal’s government was taken over by Teotihuacan. An event which not only started Tikal’s growth in power & prestige, but also influenced events in the region. As for example, in Yaxhá.
  • Yaxhá was rediscovered for the outside world by the Austrian Teobert Maler in 1904.

From the 1980s, experts are working hard to uncover Yaxha’s history day by day.

Yaxhá is most probably the original name of the city and means “blue-green water”.

Yaxhá, Guatemala.
Yaxhá, Guatemala.

Tips for your visit to the Maya-site of Yaxhá

I’ve visited Yaxhá three times. Every time I went there, I met only few other visitors. (Almost) alone exploring the temples. Only watched over by tropical birds & animals.

Yaxhá was one of the bigger places – in size, I mean – so take your time. In a few hours you can visit the mayor buildings, climb the East Acropolis for views all around, visit the Laguna Yaxhá & walk the main causeways or sacbés.

View of the surrounding area and Lake Yaxhá from temple or Structure 216 of the Maya-site Yaxhá, Petén, Guatemala.
View of the surrounding area, including Lake Yaxhá from Structure 216 – East Acropolis,
Yaxhá, Guatemala.

Unfortunately Yaxhá doesn’t have a site museum (yet).

Natural surroundings

While walking around, enjoy the natural surroundings. Tropical jungle full of wildlife. Always certain to spot some tropical birds, like toucans. But also monkeys.

I once even spotted a Jaguarundí (at the entrance to the site). Too fast to take a picture, but to get an idea…

A Jaguarundi

Last time I encountered a family of Howler Monkeys, following me on my way to the Plaza de las Sombras or Maler Group. This time, I had a chance to take some pictures:

Howler monkey in the trees around the Maya-temples of Yaxhá, Guatemala. Looks like the male leader.
Howler monkey in the trees around the Maya-temples of Yaxhá, Guatemala. Looks like the male leader.

There’s no store nearby, so bring enough to eat and – more importantly – to drink (because of the heat & humidity).

If you’re in no hurry, it’s possible to stay nearby (including a free camping area) & visit sites like Nakum and El Naranjo. All three located within the boundaries of a National Park, that borders the Parque Nacional Tikal.

Besides that, on in island in the Laguna Yaxhá you can find a minor, but also impressive site, Topoxté, which can be reached by boat.

Structure 216, Yaxhá, Guatemala. My wife, daughter and park ranger on the highest steps, enjoying the view of the surrounding Petén-jungle.
Beautiful views all around, Yaxhá, Guatemala.

In conclusion, if planning to visit Tikal try to include Yaxhá & other sites nearby. Easily reached by car, taxi, or a tour from Flores.

In all, another magical Maya place.

Yaxhá, in the middle of the Petén jungle of Guatemala.
Yaxhá, in the middle of the Petén jungle of Guatemala.

Reading about Yaxhá

There probably are some specific scientific works (books & articles) published about Yaxhá, but to get a good introduction to the Mundo Maya, I’d recommend reading some general books. Like The Ancient Maya, written by Robert J. Sharer & Loa P. Traxler, 2006.

For an overview of my personal favourites, go to: Top #15 Maya-sites

For an overview of all travel posts of my blog, go to: the Home Page.

  • Final message, for fellow travel writers & bloggers: TravelPayOuts is a global integrated affiliate program focused exclusively on travel offers. If it works for me, it will probably work for you too: TravelPayOuts.
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