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Remote ruins along the Usumacinta

I traveled to the Mexican border with Guatemala this week to write a story. At the last minute, I decided to go to a border crossing called Frontera Corozal, which is about 150 kilometers southeast of Palenque, a town near famed Mayan ruins. It is in a remote area of Chiapas state.

IMG_0078 As it turns out, the village is on the Usumacinta River (River of the Sacred Monkeys) and you hear the howler monkeys everywhere. 

It also turns out that about a half-hour boat ride downriver are the Yaxchilan Mayan ruins so I took a few hours off and visited.  I can’t say I would recommend a similar visit to everyone. The security situation is somewhat dicey. But there were a few Mexican and foreign tourists.

That said, the ruins were really quite spectacular, partly because one is immersed in jungle and nothing else. The ranger there, an ethnic Chol, told me about an encounter his friend had had with a jaguar just a little further downriver. He was fishing on the bank when he heard a swooshing sound from something sliding down the embankment. Somehow the inkling arose in him that it might be a jaguar. He turned and looked about 20 yards away. The jaguar was licking his paws and alternately looking at the human before him. The fisherman, quivering no doubt, backed right into the waters of the Usumacinta and signaled to a friend in a motorized launch to get to him – FAST! The jaguar crept down the hill toward the wading fisherman but turned tail when the outboard motor roared to life on the launch. Close call.

The Usumacinta, by the way, is really beautiful. The waters were a sort of jade green and the outcroppings of limestone along side were really cool. Water levels are low at this time of year, which creates some eddies and slight whitewater. At some points, it’s only about 40 yards across. But swimming it might not be advisable. It’s said to contain crocodiles.


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Dave Palmer

Dumb joke of the day, courtesy of my daughter:

Q. What did one jaguar say to the other jaguar?

A. Jaguar you?

(Note: only makes sense if you pronounce "jaguar" the way it is pronounced in Spanish).


Amazing trip and ruins. You are a lucky guy. I once saw a black jaguar roaming the streets of a long deserted Mayan city right on the Guatemalan border. The site was plan b when we could not get to Bonapak due to weather. Only people there were a couple of archaeologists. Our guide was so excited about seeing the cat. He had not seen one in over 20 years.

sean hanny

what a cool trip...I didn't know there were howlers in Mexico!....eeerie, they are...Bonimpak is where I went...I camped in the jungle, there were 0 tourists, the nights were the blackest I have ever experienced (the only light was the fireflies), the river water was clean and clear....I am glad they didn't behead you there in the ever increasingly dangerous northern Guatemala...

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This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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