Is Uaxactún Worth To Visit?
If you are already planning to visit Tikal, then we think the Uaxactún ruins are absolutely worth visiting.
Even though the Tikal ruins are significantly larger and more impressive, the Uaxactún ruins provide a different atmosphere and experience that, we feel, cannot be had at Tikal.
The biggest downside of Tikal are the crowds. Every year, over 100,000 visitors crowd into these ruins. This can make visitors feel rushed, stressed, and impersonal during their visit.
But Uaxactún only receives a fraction of those visitors annually. This makes visiting the Uaxactún ruins feel much more intimate and magical. The ruins are also smaller, allowing you to take your time to explore each of the ruins and to really soak in the jungle of the Tikal National Park.
Visiting the Uaxactún village is also highlight to see and experience a bit of the daily life in a Mayan village. Watch the children play in the streets, see all the different animals wandering the village roads, and grab a delicious lunch at ‘Restaurante Uaxactún’ during your visit.
How Much Does The Uaxactún Ruins Cost?
Tickets for visiting the Uaxactún ruins cost 50Q.
And tickets for Uaxactún are conveniently sold at the same place where you can purchase your Tikal entrance ticket. Just like TIkal, you will need your passport to buy your ticket to visit Uaxactún.
How To Get To The Uaxactún Ruins?
By Private Vehicle
By far and away, the best way to visit the Uaxactún ruins is with your own vehicle, either with your own car or a rental.
With your own car, you’re able to visit Uaxactún on your own time and schedule, as opposed to depending on a tour shuttle or the public bus (called a ‘colectivo’).
To get to Uaxactún by car, simply drive to the main Tikal ticketing entrance. At this entrance the park officials also sell tickets to Uaxactún (50Q).
With A Tour Agency
Visiting Uaxactún with a tour is probably the most popular way tourists explore these northern ruins.
Most tours will combine BOTH Uaxactún and Tikal and can be easily arranged at hotels in either Flores or in Tikal.
By Public Transportation
Visiting Uaxactún by public transport is doable, but it takes time and you’ll need to be patient.
From Flores: From the main bus terminal in Santa Elena (near Flores) catch the only Pinito/Colectivo bus to Uaxactún. This bus will first pass through at Tikal at 5pm before finally arriving at Uaxactún by around 6pm.
From Tikal: Catch the same bus that left Santa Elena for Uaxactún at the Tikal bus stop, heading north, at around 5pm.
When leaving Uaxactún by public bus, the same bus to get to Uaxactún will leave the town the next day at 7am. This makes it very difficult to visit Uaxactún in only one day. You will likely need to spend two nights in Uaxactún village.
Best Ways To Visit The Uaxactún Ruins
The best way to visit the Uaxactún ruins is in conjunction with your visit to Tikal. In our case, we visited Uaxactún before Tikal and slept the night in Uaxactún village before driving back south to Tikal.
Uaxactún Ruins Layout
The Uaxactún ruins are spread out into three site groups and the modern day Uaxactún village is situated between these groups. We recommend basing yourself in Uaxactún village and walking to each of the site groups (approx. 1km away from the village).
A great way to visit the Uaxactún ruins is to visit the Group A/B ruins in the morning, then returning to Uaxactún town for lunch. Then in the afternoon head out to the Group E ruins on the opposite end of town.
Located 700m northwest from the Uaxactún village center, the Group A/B ruins are a quick 10-12 minute walk away. Of the two site groups, Group A is the more impressive set of ruins and it was hypothesized that the major stone structures here were the inspiration for Tikal’s North Acropolis.
To get to Uaxactún’s A & B ruins, find the “Restaurante Uaxactún” and start walking on the road heading northwest. The road gets steep and rough with several low hanging branches. The direction signs are poorly placed, but it is the right direction.
For the best navigation, we recommend using the ‘Maps.me’ offline map app to guide your way.
Group E - Major Astrological Significance
Group E ruins are located 800m east of the Uaxactún village center. The signs pointing you to these ruins are not very well placed, so we recommend using the Maps.me app to guide you there.
Although smaller than the main A & B groups, we actually enjoyed Group E more because of the site’s astrological significance. Several other Mayan ruins have sites with astrological significance, but we thought Uaxactún had one of the best (if not THE best) iteration.
Group E consists of three small temples and a viewing platform. During the winter solstice, equinox, and the summer solistice, you can view the sun rise behind their respective temples when you stand on the viewing platform. Though we did not visit Uaxactún during sun rise, we thought looking over the three temples from the viewing platform was still an awesome site.
Do You Need A Guide To Visit The Uaxactún Ruins?
If it’s in your budget, we usually think getting a guide is a good thing. A guide can help you to better understand the history of the Mayan civilization and each of the specific ruins that you’re looking at.
When visiting the Uaxactún ruins, however, we actually think the magic of this site is really felt when you’re able to slow down and take your time exploring the ruins within the jungle of the greater Tikal National Park.
In addition, we’ve found that the information boards placed around the Uaxactún ruins were sufficient enough to learn about the history and culture of this ancient city. Usually we find the information boards at acheological sites leave much to be desired, but not at Uaxactún.
Top Tips When Visiting Uaxactún
1. The Uaxactún Ruins Are best explored slowly
The Uaxactún ruins are considerably smaller than Tikal and if you rush through, you could tecnically “see” Uaxactún in only 2 hours.
But what Uaxactún has that Tikal doesn’t are considerably less crowds and a much more tranquil environment. We recommend to walk slowly, find a peaceful place to sit in the jungle amongst the ruins, and soak in the atmosphere.
In total, we spent about 2 hours at the Group A/B ruins and another 2 hours at the Group E ruins. We felt that that was the perfect amount of time to properly visit the Uaxactún ruins.
2. Look out for the many ruin information signs
Unlike many other Mayan ruins in Guatemala and Mexico, we actually thought the Uaxactún information signs were very well written and informative. While exploring the ruins at each of the different individual sites, keep a look out for these information signs.
3. Use Maps.me offline maps To Navigate The Uaxactún Ruins
When you are in Uaxactún village, the signs directing you to each of the site groups are abysmal. The signs are not very well placed and there is no map to guide you. There is no cell data in the village and Google maps doesn’t work well, anyway.
In our experience, the Maps.me offline map app works very well. The village roads and walking paths in the jungle are accurate to get you to each of the Uaxactún archeology group sites.
Maps.me is also very handy to find Group A when you’re at Group B because the path, in reality, is a bit tricky to find.
4. Tread carefully among the Uaxactún ruins
Unlike other Mayan ruins in the region, there are almost no signs prohibiting you from scrambling up each of the stone pyramids and structures.
While climbing ancient pyramids is fun, please treat carefully when walking along the stone walls. Weather and time have loosened many stones pieces and many are just barely hanging on to the greater ruins structure. This is important for both your safety as well as the preservation of the Uaxactún ruins.
5. Bring strong mosquito repellent
Depending on when you visit, the mosquito problem can be bad or even MUCH worse. Wearing long pants and a long sleeve shirt helps but can be uncomfortable in the heat.
Bringing along a strong mosquito repellant makes a huge difference when visiting the Uaxactún ruins. Spend time exploring and not worrying about all the mosquitoes flying around you.
6. Hitch Hike Between Tikal and Uaxactún
If you plan to travel to and from Uaxactún with public transportation, just know that there is only one bus each day that leaves and arrives. So very limited in flexibility.
If you want to move faster, try hitch hiking along the single road between Tikal and Uaxactún. There aren’t many vehicles that pass through this road on any given day, but there’s a good chance one will stop for you.
Where To Sleep In Uaxactún
Campamento El Chiclero: Just northeast of Restaurante Uaxactún, this little hotel has 10 rooms that come with decent mattresses and mosquito nets.
The town is small and locals are friendly. When in doubt about where to sleep, ask around when you get off the public bus and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
Where To Eat In Uaxactún
There are several informal eateries spread all throughout Uaxactún village. But for a proper sit down meal, we’ve found that the “Restaurante Uaxactún” is probably the best food option in town. Food is delicious and the bathroom are impeccably clean.
Restaurante Uaxactún is located on the north side of the large grassy field in the center of the village. There is also a large sign out front, so it’s difficult to miss.
History Of Uaxactún
Uaxactún’s Original Name
Did you know, Uaxactún is not the original name of this Mayan city. The original name was Siaan K’aan, which roughly translates to ‘Born In Heaven’. The name ‘Uaxactún’ was given to the site in 1916 by the American archeologist, Sylvanus Morley, who discovered the site. The name ‘Uaxactún’ means “Eight Stones” and was given this name because the earliest inscription found at this site dated back to the 8th Baktún of the Mayan Calander, which, at the time, was the earliest known Mayan date.
Uaxactún’s Defeat And Prosperity
Because of Uaxactún’s physical proximity to Tikal, the two cities were perpetually at war. And by 378 A.D, Uaxactún was completely defeated by Tikal’s greater forces.
However, instead of completely destroying Uaxactún, Tikal allowed the defeated city to grow and prosper. Uaxactún was able to maintain a certain level of autonomy from Tikal and was allowed to continue to build temples and conduct monument carving rituals.
Throughout the next few centuries, Uaxactún continued to grow in population and in the construction of new structures. At the city’s height by the early 1700s, Uaxactún had erected residential areas, plazas, and temples. Builders had even constructed a series of temples with important astronomical significance (Group E ruins).
Uaxactún’s Final Demise
But by the mid-to-late 1700s, Uaxactún began it’s steady decline into abandonment. This decline, in the Late Classic period, coincided with the demise of their neighbor, Tikal.
Our Uaxactún Ruins Itinerary
We arrived at Uaxactún village just before 11am in our camper van. We parked next to Restaurante Uaxactún, which was located right in the middle of the village and had lunch in the restaurant.
After lunch, we set out to visit the Group A & B archaeology sites located 700m northwest from the village. The path first took us to site B, which consisted of several smaller structures and a well preserved ball court. Using the Maps.me offline map, we continued to the Group A structures, which were impressively large and complicated. We were able to explore all around, on top, and in-between the structures.
In total, we spent about 2 hours at the Group A & B sites.
Afterwards, we found our way back to the village and continued to the Group E ruins on the east side of town. We spent another two hours exploring, and resting, among these astrologically significant structures. Just before sunset, we headed back to our camper van and spent the night sleeping next to the restaurant.
The next morning, we ate breakfast at the restaurant and left the village, on our way to Tikal, by 9am.