I thank my lucky stars regularly that Chiapas isn’t too far away from Yucatán. In fact, Mérida to San Cristobal by car only takes roughly 10 hours, which isn’t bad in the grand scheme of Mexican distances.
Here are my favourite places to visit in Chiapas (and there are a lot more on my bucket list!) :
San Cristobal de las Casas
Its cobbled streets, markets and colours will steal your heart. There’s nothing quite like walking down the picturesque streets of San Cristobal with the tree covered mountains in the background. The mountainous air is pure and clean and for me it made such a huge difference to the humid stickiness of my beloved Mérida.
The centre of the Zapatista movement and also the heart of one of the most indigenous areas of Mexico, San Cristobal attracts artists, political activists and tourists with its mix of ancient tradition and the modern conveniences of a city.
Its a small and easily walkable city that has beauty on every corner. If you keep walking far enough in any direction you’ll see how the city turns seamlessly into grazing livestock and pine forests.
El Canyon de Sumidero
This impressive and majestic canyon has 1000 meter high walls and is surrounded by the lush green of the national park forest. Taking a boat down the canyon offers incredible views and makes you feel so tiny. You will see lots and lots of wildlife, including crocodiles and eagles. The boat travels for about an hour until it gets to the dam where it will turn around. You can arrange this trip through one of many tour providers in San Cristobal, or just drive there yourself. Our tour took us to the pretty town of Chiapa de Corzo where we had a delicious lunch of empanadas.
This UNESCO world heritage site is home to an enchanting Mayan city, deep in the jungle. Dating back as far as 226BC, at Palenque you will discover intricate engravings and impressive temples whilst being amazed by the howler monkeys and nearby waterfalls. It is also where you will find the engravings of the famous ‘Palenque astronaut’; ancient astronaut theorists claim that this depiction of the King Pacal shows him at the hands of a rocket ship, heading for space! It is estimated that 90% of Palenque remains hidden underground, taken hostage by the jungle.
This 35 meter tall waterfall is really spectacular. You hear it before you see it and soon you’ll be paddling in the water and walking around the back of the waterfall to feel the spray on your face. Its a lovely spot to spend the day with a picnic. We visited in rainy season which is why the water is quite murky – in the dry season you’ll find it much more inviting.
San Juan Chamula
This small town really packs a punch. Home to the Tzotzil Mayans, San Juan Chamula isn’t far from San Cristobal and yet it retains its proud traditions, including the native language, a variation of Mayan. The town is colourful and vibrant. In the main square you can roam the market and buy delicious snacks and beautiful textiles, handmade by the Tzotzil people. You can also enter the church and witness the so called ‘chicken’ ceremony, an ancient ritual. We decided to make the trip to San Juan Chamula on horseback and it was definitely a fun way to arrive!
La Selva Lacandona
A little bit more difficult to access but so worth the extra effort, the small villages inside the Selva Lacandona will offer you extreme hospitality and a wealth of knowledge about the natural surroundings. We stayed in a gorgeous cabin in the village Lacanjá Chansayab, next to a small river. The village is idyllic, with dwellings scattered through the forest next to the river. Our landlady took us for a day hike into the jungle and taught us so much about the flora and fauna. We even stumbled across Mayan ruins that nobody has seemed to bother to uncover properly yet, just laying there in the middle of this dense jungle. We also bathed in this stunning waterfall…heavenly.
The Lacondá are a proud people and although the majority of them are now Presbyterian, you will still see people wearing the traditional white tunic and many of them are happy to talk to you about their traditions.