The Ruins of Tonina

The ruins of Tonina lie approximately two hours from La Joya Hotel San Cristóbal, at the end of a beautiful drive through hills and pastures. Tonina offers a unique opportunity to explore Maya history quietly, and often alone, without throngs of tourists and souvenir vendors. Because the original buildings were constructed with small rocks that climb a steep hill, the ruins are not considered a true pyramid but a series of seven terraces. These terraces rise 71 meters and face south to views of rich farmlands and distant mountains. Most of Tonina’s structures are also unusual in that they are at right angles to each other. In addition to the construction, Tonina is known for its stellae that are carved in the round rather than in two-dimensions on flat rocks.

Tonina has a long history of rivalry with Palenque and you will see numerous references to conquests. In the small and attractive museum of artifacts there are several stone sculptures of bound captives. On the fourth and fifth terraces of the ruins there is a large stucco sculpture that depicts a skeletal death god carrying the head of a lord from Palenque. One of the combats between Tonina and their chief rival is enacted on stage in the play “Palenque Rojo” in San Cristóbal de las Casas. You can find out more about “Palenque Rojo” on their website.

Just a few other details to note: The museum is closed on Monday. The “queso de bola” that you can buy at the small shop before you enter the site, or in Ocosingo, is delicious on crackers. To or from Tonina you can also visit the historic Santo Tomas church in Oxchuc.

If you are not able to visit any other Maya archeological site in Chiapas, do spend the 6-8 or more hours driving through beautiful country and exploring the ruins of Tonina.

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