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Chiapas Is the Key to Understanding Mexico's Rich Indigenous Heritage

Steeped in Mayan heritage, the country’s southernmost state is Mexico at its most unexpected.

Since 1971, Travel + Leisure editors have followed one mission: to inform, inspire, and guide travelers to have deeper, more meaningful experiences. T+L's editors have traveled to countries all over the world, having flown, sailed, road tripped, and taken the train countless miles. They've visited small towns and big cities, hidden gems and popular destinations, beaches and mountains, and everything in between. With a breadth of knowledge about destinations around the globe, air travel, cruises, hotels, food and drinks, outdoor adventure, and more, they are able to take their real-world experience and provide readers with tried-and-tested trip ideas, in-depth intel, and inspiration at every point of a journey.

As I stood outside the Iglesia de San Juan de Bautista in the village of San Juan Chamula in Chiapas, Mexico, I marveled at the artistry of the traditional dress worn by the congregants filing in. Women of every age showed off ornately embroidered black sheepskin skirts and sashes and blouses the color of Easter eggs. It was a reminder of Chamula's status as a stronghold of ancient Tzotzil and Tzeltal Mayan culture — and the resilience of its native communities , which were exploited and displaced after the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.

Shyly, I poked my head inside the church. The haze of copal incense smoke, flickering candlelight, and the low hum of prayer drew me in. At first, the religious cues felt familiar enough. Worshippers knelt amid thousands of candles as rays of morning light streaked through windows into the cavernous space. But as my eyes adjusted to the dim glow, I realized everything else was unfamiliar. There were no pews, no formal mass, no crucifixes. Instead, saints with the iconographic power of Mayan deities lined the walls. Sewn onto their clothing were mirrors, which are thought to reflect the sins of onlookers and to serve as gateways to the spirit world for true believers.

Like most Indigenous groups in the largely agrarian southern state of Chiapas, the Chamulans believe they live at the center of the earth. Their religion, Mexican syncretism, worships the forces of nature, the animals of the jungle, and the planets in the sky. It's combined with a form of Catholicism that places John the Baptist above Christ. From my position at the back of the church, I watched a middle-aged shaman attend to a young boy whose head was wrapped in white gauze. Rocking back and forth, she took his pulse as his parents hovered, their eyes closed in prayer.

Chiapas is almost entirely forested, rising gently, and then precipitously, from the Pacific coastal jungles to the central highlands, before reaching 13,850 feet at the peak of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas. More than 25 percent of the state's roughly four million inhabitants are Indigenous, and most of its 12 ethnic groups trace their roots to pre-Columbian Mayan peoples.

Following Mexico's independence in 1821, a small landowning elite replaced the colonial rulers, and most of the farmers (except those who joined farming collectives) transitioned from slavery to serfdom. Linked with Guatemala during the colonial era, Chiapas only became part of Mexico in 1824 and never attracted the kind of investment in industry and infrastructure of other, more mineral-rich states.

Today Chiapas is, on paper, the country's poorest state, and yet I didn't come across a single panhandler — only a handful of vendors who asked for a "donation" when they hadn't succeeded in closing a sale. Nor did I encounter a single unreturned smile. Unlike in densely populated cities to the north, I saw an almost familial sense of community everywhere I looked.

For travelers, Chiapas' isolation and rugged landscape are both a gift and a curse (there are no direct flights from the U.S., so most visitors connect through Mexico City ). There's also a lingering wariness due to the legacy of the Zapatista anti-globalization uprising that paralyzed the Mexican government in 1994, for which the region has become synonymous.

But now, with more travelers interested in understanding Mexico's Indigenous heritage (and thanks to a few truly excellent hotels and restaurants), the region is being recognized for its cultural and creative offerings. In Chiapas, travelers will find a bewitching mix of ancient and modern culture that's distinct from any other in the country.

Planning a Trip

If it's your first time in Chiapas, you'll need five to seven days to cover the region's dizzying trifecta of craftsmanship, nature, and archaeology — and have enough hang time in dreamy San Cristóbal de Las Casas, the state's third-largest (and arguably most beautiful) city. Plan to spend the first three or four nights in the San Cristóbal highlands, where you can take half and full-day trips to visit weavers, ceramists, and markets. You can also witness ceremonies in the Indigenous municipalities of Zinacantán, Chamula, and Tenejapa.

San Cristóbal's historic center, meanwhile, offers abundant shopping, eating, and cultural experiences. It can also be a base for day trips to national parks and natural attractions like El Chiflón waterfall, where the main cascade drops 393 feet. It's hard to wrap your head around the region's extreme microclimates: on the same day, you might need a puffer jacket in the morning as you set out from the San Cristóbal highlands and end up sweating through a tank top in the afternoon as you hike through the waterfall mist in El Arcotete National Park. You'll also want to make pilgrimages to the spectacular archaeological sites of Toniná and Palenque.

Though I had fantasies of renting a car and crisscrossing the region on my own , I quickly realized there was too much ground to cover. Even if you speak Spanish and trust your navigational skills, you will want the political, cultural, and historic context a skilled guide can offer. That's why I enlisted the tour operator Journey Mexico , both for the deep knowledge of their seasoned local guides and for their help with logistics. Here's my suggested itinerary, broken down into regions.

Tuxtla Gutiérrez

You will likely connect through Mexico City by plane to Chiapas's state capital, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, but will probably want to stay in the region's de facto cultural capital, San Cristóbal de Las Casas (about an hour's drive away). Take an early flight so you can hit the awe-inspiring — if touristy — Sumidero Canyon en route to San Cristóbal. Formed 35 million years ago by cracks in the earth's crust and erosion by the Grijalva River, Sumidero is a showstopper on a par with Yosemite's El Capitan. If you have the energy after your flight, you can even hire a boat for a two-hour ride from Chiapa de Corzo along the Grijalva — the waters of which reach eerie depths of up to 860 feet — to the Chicoasen Dam and back. A welcome reprieve from the heat, the boat trip takes you within arm's length of waterfalls, spider monkeys, ocelots, and crocodiles sunning themselves along the riverbanks.

Chiapa de Corzo, about 30 minutes east of Tuxtla, is an iconic Spanish colonial town that's also worth a quick lap. The colonnaded square centers on a 459-year-old fountain that's dedicated to a group of Indigenous resistance fighters who are said to have jumped to their deaths in Sumidero Canyon rather than surrender to the invading Spanish army.

San Cristóbal de las Casas

The city, which was a Spanish stronghold against Mayan freedom fighters in 1528, is quickly nipping at Oaxaca 's heels as Mexico's artisan capital. With a growing number of stylish boutique hotels and destination restaurants, the place has graduated from a backpacker haven to a destination for the creative arts. Its colonial-style buildings, with their wooden colonnades and red-tiled roofs, as well as its cobblestoned pedestrian streets, have also helped to draw its growing community of artistic expats (as well as its left-leaning politics). In Chiapas, there's nowhere else like it.

San Cristóbal is easily navigated on foot, and I ducked in and out of museums, stores, and cafes without much planning. At night, the streets, bars, and restaurants came to life with locals and tourists. It felt like a college town, only for grown-ups, with its mix of tradition, political charge, and sense of optimism.

On my second day, I met Margarita Cantu while she was replenishing some pieces from her clothing line at the beautiful boutique inside Hotel Bo . The 40-year-old Monterrey, Mexico-born artist and designer works with some 150 weavers from nearby communities for her women's clothing and home goods line, Omorika. After starting her career in fashion in New York City, she arrived in San Cristóbal 12 years ago for a month-long stint to learn traditional weaving techniques — and never left. She told me it was "the mix of conflicts and traditions that make every day interesting" that kept her in town.

Amatenango del Valle and Zinacantán

About an hour's drive south of San Cristóbal I visited the small town of Amatenango del Valle. It's where Juana "Juanita" Gómez Ramírez has her studio showroom, Taller y Galería Artesanal. She is something of a celebrity ceramist, known for her intricately painted sculptures of jaguars and fish, and her operation is a big source of employment in the community.

And in Zinacantán the next day, I visited the home of Catalina Pérez Hernández, who weaves textiles using the traditional backstrap loom (appointments with her are offered exclusively through Journey Mexico). Her shop has an impressive selection of embroidered textiles from the area, and for 100 pesos (about $5), she will invite you back for lunch in her kitchen, where her sister makes the most delicious corn tortillas I have ever eaten. She serves them with bowls of black beans, salsa, and raw onions, and each one is covered with embroidered linen. As in most places in the region, tortillas are made in the traditional manner, a laborious process that involves drying the maize on the husk and then cooking it overnight in lime water.

Toniná and Palenque

One of my favorite parts of this trip was the drive from San Cristóbal to Toniná en route to Palenque. As I was winding my way down from evergreen forests to sultry jungles, the pine trees competed with banana trees for position along the road, the temperature rose, and every once in a while, I was left stunned by the dramatic views.

The truly spectacular Toniná is an archaeological site etched into a hillside. The stepped pyramid presides over the lush Ocosingo Valley; inside, the ceremonial core features a labyrinth used in religious rituals.

Palenque, meanwhile, is a magnificent Mayan city of the Late Classic Period (around A.D. 600–900) that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. Its temples and palaces were abandoned after the ninth century. You'll see the delicate craftsmanship that went into the mythological reliefs in the Temple of Inscriptions; the building ingenuity of the elaborate civic, religious, and residential complex; and the architectural innovation of the palace's pointed vaults.

After you've walked the site for a couple of hours, head to the parking lot. You can hire a guide to take you deeper into the jungle, where smaller, lesser-known temples are hidden among the flora. Seeing the sophisticated relics of Mayan civilization emerge from these wild, impossibly verdant surroundings is enough to take your breath away.

Exploring Chiapas

Bookmark these favorite places across Chiapas, from San Cristóbal de las Casa to Palenque, to plan your own trip through this beautiful Mexican state. You will find our favorite restaurants, hotels, and must-see things to do.

  • Casa Lum : This hotel's restaurant is worth a visit for the octopus with cauliflower and chorizo.
  • Centro Cultural de los Altos : Occupying an old convent, the city's main museum traces regional history from the pre-Hispanic era to the evangelization of the Indigenous people.
  • Eklektik : This shop has a nicely curated selection of local pottery and textiles, including women's and men's shirts, scarves, shawls, and bags.
  • El Tacoleto : Locals consider this the best taqueria in town. It's ideal for a quick lunch of tacos al pastor.
  • Hotel Bo : With its handmade furniture and local textiles, this hotel is one of those gems that puts a city on the map.
  • Hotel Guayaba Inn : This tastefully appointed property feels traditionally Mexican, with its timbered ceilings and stucco construction, four-poster beds, and tile-lined bathrooms.
  • Maho Japones : In the historic center, you'll find the Esquina San Agustín, a food-hall-style collection of stylish restaurants and bars, including this outstanding sushi spot.
  • Museo Jtatik Samuel : In addition to celebrating the life of Samuel Ruiz, the bishop of the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, who championed land and human rights of Indigenous people, this museum houses some of the finest examples of textiles from the Oxchuc region of Chiapas.
  • Nostalgia : Go for a Michelada — prepared with a homemade tamarind mixture — at cocktail hour on the patio overlooking the public library.
  • Tarumba ; A small menu from chef Jorge Gordillo — who comes from a neighboring village — is served at Hotel Sombra del Agua .
  • Tierra y Cielo : Chef Marta Zepeda gives her elevated spin on the classics, such as quesadilla de tinga, in a chic dining room.
  • Xut El Restaurante : Casual Chiapan dishes like chile relleno and chicharrón de queso are served with flair, as is a regional take on a tuna tartare.

Amatenango del Valle

  • Taller y Galería Artesanal: Juana Gómez Ramírez and her team of artisans produce some of the best ceramics in the country. They are known for their depictions of jaguars, which still populate the jungles of Chiapas.
  • El Huachinango Feliz : Seafood is made into phenomenal ceviche and soup and served in an airy dining room.
  • Quinta Chanabnal : Run by an Italian-German scholar of Mayan hieroglyphics, this hotel gets high marks for its warm service and excellent food. Doubles from $139.

How to Book

This trip was planned by Journey Mexico , which has a network of expert local guides and can arrange all the logistics for a customized itinerary. five-day trips from $2,000 per person.

Andrea Moreno | 11 October 2017

5 reasons to visit chiapas, southern mexico's best-kept secret.

From Mayan ruins to colourful bird life and whitewater adrenaline rushes, Andrea Moreno discovers there’s plenty in Mexico’s southernmost state to reward adventurous travellers...

1: Discover Mayan magic

why visit chiapas

In the same neck of the woods as Guatemala and the Yucatán, it’s no surprise that Chiapas, in south-east México, ranks as one of the top destinations for travellers wanting to explore the ancient Mayan world. The massive, sparsely populated region has temples as big as hills, many still unexplored and yet to be excavated.

Palenque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most important Mayan sites in the world, a huge complex of pyramids and temples immersed in the jungle. An adventure to explore, it’s famous for former ruler Pakal´s tomb, which sits next to the vivid Red Queen´s tomb. Admiring the dedicated carvings on the tops of the temples while listening to the rumbling river passing by is worth the steep hike.

It’s also worth waking up early in the morning (although the noisy howler monkeys might have made sure of that already) in order to witness the main temples and massive ceiba trees appearing out of nowhere when the morning fog clears.

The Bonampak Ruins, known for the excellently preserved colourful frescoes, and Toniná are just two other key archaeological sites worth a visit for anyone curious about this ancient civilisation.

If they don’t quench your thirst for adventure, head for Yaxchilán, an archaeological zone on the banks of the river Usumacinta. Previously a rival city to Palenque, it’s submerged in thick jungle and was hidden from the world until the 19th century. Getting there involves going up the Usumacinta River that divides Guatemala and Mexico by motorised canoe, spotting open-jawed crocodiles along the way.

2: Get your binoculars ready for world class bird watching

why visit chiapas

Chiapas’s diverse ecosystems are full of life. It’s worth keeping your eyes open to spot anything from monkeys to jaguars, as well as turtles in the Turtle Sanctuary in Puerto Arista at the Pacific coast.

But it’s the colourful bird life that is really putting Chiapas on the map. In the mornings, hike around the Lacandón area, where it’s possible to spot toucans, white-crowned parrots, green parakeets and, if more time's invested, white hawks or bat falcons enjoying their breakfast. Striking quetzals are also found in Chiapas' highlands.

Las Guacamayas is an area rapidly gaining fame, as they’ve been reintroducing Scarlet Macaws. It’s now the best place in Mexico to see this magnificent, vibrant bird.

Nature-lovers should also head to Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, an area of around 300,000 acres, filled with lakes, rivers and lagoons, with towering ceiba and cedar trees reaching 60 metres in height. Explore with a local guide who’ll point out birds and other creatures, as well as some of the 4,300 species of flowers found here.

3: Get active in the jungle and on the rivers

why visit chiapas

Chiapas is becoming increasingly popular with travellers seeking active adventures, from surfing off the coast at Boca del Cielo beach to kayaking and whitewater rafting on rushing rivers immersed in the lush jungle of Lacanjá or hiking the 4100-metre active Tacaná volcano. 

Visiting the numerous waterfalls around the archaeological zone of Palenque is fun and surprisingly inexpensive. It’s worth taking a local ‘collectivo’ (public van) from point to point for heartbeat-quickening activities, including ziplining across the waterfall systems or waterfall-jumping, which is carefully instructed by local kids.

Another good way to spend a day is to get on a boat to admire the walls of the Sumidero Canyon that reach heights of more than 900 metres. Feel the spray on your face along the way. 

For those who prefer to stay dry, there’s some excellent mountain biking to be had in the surroundings of San Cristobal de las Casas, with intriguing stops possible, including a visit to humongous, recently discovered cave systems, like Las Grutas El Mamut, or El Arcotete, a cave system that can be enjoyed with rock climbing or more ziplining.

4: Soak up the local culture

why visit chiapas

Contemporary Mayan cultures, found across Guatemala, Belize and southern states of México, have inherited the ideas and ‘cosmovision’ of the civilization that blossomed 1500 years ago. In Chiapas alone, there are 12 ethnic groups that still speak Mayan, each with small variations. These groups have their own system of rules for government and religious rituals, as well as characteristic textiles that define them, which are carefully woven and shown with pride at markets, churches and plazas.

Visiting the varied territories where these groups live allows travellers a glimpse of how Mayan heritage today reflects their ancient heritage along with elements of colonial Spanish culture and beyond. For example, take a guided tour around the town of San Juan Chamula, inhabited by the Tzotziles, and you might be shown how modern items have been incorporated into traditional rituals, including Coca Cola, which is believed to help expel ‘evil’ from the body while burping.

In San Juan Chamula church, instead of seats, they have pine leaves and beautiful coloured candles spread all over the floor. There's no priest giving mass here, just statues of saints that have mirrors hanging from their necks as a form of protection. The saints receive offerings of Pox (a local alcoholic drink made from fermented corn) from local people.

Alex and Raul Tours offer tours of San Juan Chamula and other towns, such as Zinacantan, to help travellers learn more about local cultures.

It’s also always wise to keep an eye or ear open for news of festivals and local events too. In Chiapas, it’s easy to stumble upon colourful parades and loud firework displays.

5: Kick back in San Cristobal de las Casas

why visit chiapas

With foggy mornings and cobblestone streets that pass through colourful houses, the colonial town of San Cris (as the locals call it) is one of the big reasons to visit Chiapas.

Picture a Catholic church sharing the same plaza with a Mayan cross, both cultures cohabitating in harmony, then throw into the scene galleries selling colourful modern art by locals and expats who fell in love with the area and now call it home. In these artist’s workrooms, you’ll often find art that pays tribute to some of the traditional weaving designs and ways of living among the ethnic groups.

The exaltation of EZLN (Ejército Zapatista Liberación Nacional) values, an autonomous local ‘army’ dedicated to defending the rights and land of the indigenous groups, means you’ll see restaurants and cafés that exclusively use products grown and created by local cooperatives, giving back to the communities a fair trade. All of this is framed with beautiful sunsets, delicious street food and a laidback feel.

In San Cris, perhaps the best thing to do is to sit down in one of the local cafés to enjoy a good cup of fresh coffee and the morning sunshine, while watching people pass by. It’s likely you’ll have a little chat with the indigenous women who might try to sell some of their weavings or the popular hand-made stuffed animals, or you might get to listen to a local instrument being played on the street.

For those who´ve spent time in Chiapas hiking through the jungle, paddling down whitewater rivers or searching for colourful birds, San Cris is definitely the place to take it easy.

Andrea Moreno is a travel writer and photographer, based in Mexico. Follow her on Instagram at  www.instagram.com/tripsandcolors/ . 

Virgin Atlantic ( virginatlantic.com ) fly regularly from London to Cancun, with onwards flights to Tuxtla Gutiérrez in Chiapas bookable with Aeromexico ( aeromexico.com ) .

Main image: Colourful quetzal (Dreamstime)

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LocalAdventures

10 Reasons Why Chiapas is The Best Place for Tourists

why visit chiapas

If you are planning to visit Mexico and looking for an ideal place to explore, then you should consider visiting Chiapas. This beautiful state has plenty of attractions and it is also home to some of the friendliest people in the country. There are many places that are tourist-friendly in the world but when it comes to exploring natural beauty, few can rival the state of Chiapas. Its lush green rainforests and pristine rivers offer great scope for adventurous travelers, who want to explore nature at its finest. If you are also planning a trip here, here are 10 reasons why Chiapas is the best place for tourists:

The Mayan culture is on display

The Mayan civilization has had a huge impact on Mexican history. The ruins of the ancient Mayan cities are spread around the country. However, the best place to see these ruins is in the state of Chiapas. The most famous of these is Palenque, which was once the seat of power of the Mayan rulers of the area. The remains of the city are spread over a vast area, making it one of the largest Mayan sites. The most striking feature of the place is the Temple of the Inscriptions, which has a stairway that leads directly to the tomb of the ancient ruler Pacal.

You can enjoy the beauty of nature

The lush rainforests of this place are truly a sight to behold. The state is home to a number of protected areas, which are great places to explore the natural beauty of the region. The Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra de Lacandón is one of the most popular destinations in Chiapas. Located in the south of the state, this protected area has a rich cultural history and is home to some of the rarest animals in the country. El Toral Ecological Park is another beautiful place to visit in Chiapas. The park is known for its waterfalls, caves, and dense forests.

Breathtaking sceneries

Chiapas has some of the most spectacular sceneries in the country. The lush green rainforests, the roaring rivers, and the rising peaks make this place a must-visit for nature lovers. The Laguna Coronil, an azure lagoon that is surrounded by tall peaks, is one of the most breathtaking places to visit in Chiapas. The nearby town of San Cristóbal de las Casas is home to the largest lake in the region, Laguna de la Esperanza. The lake is surrounded by lush rainforests and is a great place to go kayaking or canoeing.

You can go hiking in the cloud forest

The cloud forests in Chiapas are a great place to go hiking. The area is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna that make the experience even more interesting. The best time to visit the forest is between May and October. During this period, the entire cloud forest turns into a blooming garden, making the view even more spectacular.

Zip-lining is available for adventure lovers

Adrenaline junkies can enjoy a ride on the zip-lines in Chiapas. The best place for this is the Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra de Lacandón. This protected area is home to a number of waterfalls and several zip-line courses that are great for adventure lovers. You can enjoy a ride in a harness along a series of cables that go over a river.

You can see beautiful wildlife up close

Chiapas is home to a number of diverse species of wildlife. The best places to see these animals up close are the El Toral Ecological Park and the Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra de Lacandón. You can easily spot a wide variety of birds here, including toucans and parrots. There are many species of reptiles and amphibians as well, including iguanas and tree frogs. Endangered species like the jaguar, ocelot, and wild boar can also be found in the region.

The state has many cultural events and activities for visitors to enjoy.

One of the biggest events that take place in Chiapas every year is the Festival Internacional de las Floras y las Culturas. This is an important cultural event in Chiapas, which is held to promote tourism. The festival attracts visitors from all over the world and is a great way to experience the rich culture of the people in Chiapas. You can enjoy various performances, exhibitions, and competitions during the festival.

Chiapas` unique food and drinks that are worth trying.

You can try a range of delicious food and drinks in Chiapas. A traditional meal from this region is the molasses-coated bread, called pan de yucatan. The region is also famous for its chocolate, which is a must-try for every chocolate lover. Many drinks made from tropical fruits can also be found in Chiapas.

How to get to Chiapas from Mexico City ?

The best way to get to Chiapas from Mexico City is by air. You can choose from various flights that are available between the two cities. After reaching Chiapas, you can hire a car or take a bus to explore the various tourist destinations in the state.

You have also options like a guided tour, if you want to know more about it, click on this link.

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LocalAdventures co-founder and CTO. I really love to run, climb, scuba dive and reach some summits. Generally speaking, I like to hack life.

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A Traveler's Overview of Chiapas, Mexico

why visit chiapas

Chiapas is Mexico's southernmost state and although it is one of the poorest states, it offers great biodiversity and remarkable landscapes as well as interesting cultural expression. In Chiapas, you will find lovely colonial towns, important archaeological sites, scenic beaches, tropical rainforest, lakes and high mountains, an active volcano, as well as a large Maya indigenous population.

Quick Facts about Chiapas

  • Capital: Tuxtla Gutiérrez
  • Area: 45 810 miles² (73 724 km²), 3.8 % of the national territory
  • Population: 4.3 million
  • Topography: volcanic mountain ranges, tropical rainforest, and coastal lowlands. The highest elevation is Tacaná volcano at 13 484 feet above sea level (4 110 m) in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas.
  • Climate: subtropical with average temperatures between 68 and 84°F (20 to 29°C) in the lowlands; cool to warm with higher rainfall in summer in the mountain areas
  • Flora: mangroves, pastures, rainforest and pine trees in the mountains
  • Fauna: porcupines, agoutis, jaguars, ocelots, monkeys, anteaters, crocodiles, turtles and a great variety of birds
  • Major Festivals: Fiesta de Enero (January Festival) in Chiapa de Corzo from January 8 to 23 
  • Archaeological Sites: Palenque, Toniná, Yaxchilán, Bonampak

Tuxtla Gutierrez

The capital of Chiapas state, Tuxtla Gutierrez has a population of approximately half a million inhabitants. It is a busy modern city with a reputable zoo and an excellent archaeological museum. Close by, the Cañon del Sumidero (Sumidero Canyon) is a must-see. This is a 25 mile-long river canyon with cliffs over 3000 feet in height and abundant wildlife, that can best be explored on a two and a half hour boat trip from Chiapa de Corzo or Embarcadero Cahuare.

San Cristobal de Las Casas

One of Chiapas' most charming cities, San Cristobal, was founded in 1528. A colonial city with narrow streets and colorful one-story houses with tiled roofs that enclose lovely courtyards, San Cristobal offers the visitor not only a journey back in time with its many churches and museums but also a contemporary bohemian ambiance of art galleries, bars and sophisticated restaurants catering to an international crowd of travelers and expats. Colorfully dressed indigenous people from the surrounding villages sell handicrafts in the market and streets, rounding out the city's very lively atmosphere. Read more about San Cristobal de las Casas and the best day trips from San Cristobal.

Palenque Town and Archaeological Site

The small town of Palenque is the bustling hub for excursions to one of the most important and beautiful prehispanic sites in Mesoamerica, surrounded by rainforest, and originally called La Kam Ha (the place of much water) before the Spanish renamed it Palenque. The on-site museum is a recommended stop for information about the site and Maya culture at the end of the ruins visit (closed Mondays). On the way to Palenque from San Cristobal de las Casas, don’t miss a visit to the stunning waterfalls of Misol-Ha and Agua Azul.

More Archaeological Sites

For those who would like to immerse themselves more in the history of Mesoamerica, there are more amazing archaeological sites in Chiapas that can be visited from Palenque: Toniná and Bonampak with its unique wall paintings as well as Yaxchilán, right on the banks of the Rio Usumacinta , Mexico's largest river. The latter two are situated in the middle of the Selva Lacandona that forms part of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve.

Chiapas Adventure Tourism

Heading to the southwest of the state, you can follow the Ruta del Café (coffee route), hike Tacaná Volcano or simply head off for some leisure to the Pacific coast with its mostly grey-black beaches at Puerto Arista, Boca del Cielo, Riberas de la Costa Azul or Barra de Zacapulco. 

Also in Chiapas: Sima de las Cotorras - thousands of green parakeets make their home in this huge sinkhole.

Revolutionary Activity and Safety Concerns

The Zapatista (EZLN) uprising took place in Chiapas in the 1990s. This indigenous peasant revolt was launched on January 1, 1993, when NAFTA came into effect. Although the EZLN is still active and maintains a few strongholds in Chiapas, things are relatively peaceful and there is no threat to tourists. Travelers are advised to respect any roadblocks they may come across in rural areas.

How to Get There

There are international airports in Tuxtla Gutierrez (TGZ) and Tapachula, on the border with Guatemala .

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Off Path Travels

The Ultimate Chiapas Travel Guide

What to Know Before You Go

Chiapas is a hidden gem and bucket list adventure that offers a truly immersive and authentic travel experience for visitors looking to get off the beaten path. It’s an enchanting land with acres of pristine wilderness, over a dozen prehispanic cultures and languages, and some of the most iconic archeological sites in Mexico.

From the colonial streets of San Cristobal de las Casas to the hidden jungle ruins of Bonampak, Chiapas is the ideal destination for culture enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, and history buffs.

I’m Mexican and Chiapas is one of my favorite states to visit in Mexico. I just can’t get enough of its captivating landscapes, unique cultures, and impressive ruins. I’m sharing all of my best insider tips to help you plan an unforgettable trip to Chiapas!

In this Ultimate Chiapas Travel Guide, we’re covering all of the state’s must-see destinations, the best things to do, regional foods to try, and everything else you need to know before you visit. 

Ready?  Vamos a Chiapas!

Chiapas State: At a Glance 

  • Where is Chiapas, Mexico Located?

What is Chiapas Known For?

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  • Top Destinations : San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque
  • Known For:  Indigenous cultures, archeological sites, natural beauty, and outdoor recreation
  • Currency:  Mexican peso (MXN)
  • Capital City:  Tuxtla Gutierrez
  • Airport:  Tuxtla Gutierrez International Airport (TGZ)
  • Languages:  Spanish and 12 indigenous languages

🇲🇽 Check out the 60 Best Mexico Travel Tips for more insider advice from a Mexican.

why visit chiapas

Where is Chiapas, Mexico Located ?

The  state of Chiapas  is located in Southern Mexico in North America. As Mexico’s southernmost state, Chiapas shares its eastern border with the country of Guatemala. It’s nestled between Oaxaca to the west, Tabasco to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the south. 

Chiapas is one of 32 states in Mexico and covers an area of approximately 74,415 square kilometers (28,732 square miles). 

The capital and largest city in Chiapas is Tuxtla Gutiérrez, which is also home to the state’s only major airport.

From the pine-filled Highlands to the beaches along the Pacific, the state of Chiapas boasts a variety of geographic regions and climates. Its unique location features diverse landscapes and stunning natural beauty, including lush jungles, high-elevation mountain ranges, towering waterfalls, brilliant blue rivers, active volcanoes, deep canyons, and beautiful beaches. 

Chiapas is a popular destination for backpackers crossing the border to or from Guatemala and adventure travelers seeking lesser-known natural attractions, national parks, outdoor activities, and authentic cultural experiences.

Chiapas Map

Here’s a helpful map of where Chiapas is located in Southern Mexico.

Chiapas is hands down one of the best places to visit in Mexico and the best part is that many people don’t even know it exists. 

Chiapas, Mexico is an often overlooked destination known for its magical mix of breathtaking wilderness, archeological ruins, and thriving indigenous communities. Since this captivating state is off the main tourist track, visitors can enjoy a plethora of outdoor and cultural experiences unlike anywhere else in Mexico.

From the dense rainforests of the Lacandon Jungle to the miles-long gorge at Sumidero Canyon National Park to the serene alpine lakes at Lagunas de Montebello , the state is a haven for nature lovers. Opportunities for outdoor adventure abound, including rafting, hiking, caving, camping, mountain biking, kayaking, horseback riding, and more.

One of the highlights of visiting Chiapas is seeing its renowned ancient Mayan ruins at impressive sites like the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palenque, and the Bonampak and Yaxchilan ruins. Exploring these ruins nestled deep in the jungle is sure to unleash your inner Indiana Jones.

Travelers looking to learn more about the local indigenous cultures visit Chiapas to experience their traditional way of life. Communities such as the Tzotzil, Tzeltal, and Lacandon Maya survived the Spanish conquest and proudly preserve their traditions, language, and crafts. 

Tourists can visit indigenous villages like San Juan Chamula to explore lively markets, witness colorful festivals, and gain a greater understanding of their rich cultural heritage and prehispanic customs.

So is Chiapas worth visiting? Absolutely! If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure in Mexico, Chiapas is the place for you. 

With its breathtaking natural wonders, mesmerizing ancient ruins, and authentic cultural experiences, Chiapas is one of Mexico’s best states to visit.

Street art in San Cristobal de las Casas

The best time to visit Chiapas is during the dry season and when it’s cooler from November to April. The pleasant weather in the winter months attracts more tourists, so even though Chiapas is much less touristy than other states like Yucatan, you can still expect bigger crowds and higher prices.

It’s important to check the weather before your trip for the specific area you plan on visiting because the temperatures vary so much between the tropical, rainforest, and mountainous zones.

The weather in high-elevation locations, like San Cristóbal de las Casas (located 7,218 feet above sea level), can get especially cold in December and January. Meanwhile, jungle destinations, like Palenque and Bonampak, stay warm and humid throughout the winter.

Visitors during the low tourist season from May through October can expect lower prices, fewer people, hot weather, daily showers, and intense humidity. Bring an umbrella and be prepared for plenty of mud!

🧤 Visiting San Cristobal in the winter? Pack lots of layers, a puffy jacket , a warm hat, wool socks, and gloves. The first time I visited in December, I made the huge mistake of not bringing enough warm layers and I was freezing. Thankfully, our beautiful colonial-style hotel had a fireplace in the room that kept us nice and toasty at night.

The under-the-radar Mexican state of Chiapas is an adventure traveler’s dream destination. It offers the perfect blend of breathtaking wilderness, cultural experiences, and less-visited attractions. 

There are plenty of adventurous things to do in Chiapas, like hiking the Tacana volcano, white water rafting, camping by the pristine Laguna Miramar , and rappelling down Sima de las Cotorras .

Those looking for a more tranquil Chiapas vacation can spend the day exploring the iconic Palenque archeological ruins , immersing themselves in indigenous culture in the town of San Juan Chamula , or simply wandering the streets of Comitan de Dominguez .

Whether you’re admiring the stunning landscapes, climbing ancient ruins, savoring the regional cuisine, or learning about the local traditions, Chiapas has something for everyone. 

Top Things to Do in Chiapas

Take a look at the bucket list experiences below or check out this Best Things to Do in Chiapas article.

Ultimate Guide to San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.

San Cristobal de las Casas

Explore the Palenque Ruins in Chiapas, Mexico

San Juan Chamula

Parque Central Comitan Chiapas Mexico

Comitan de Dominguez

Cascada Misol-Ha Day Trip

Misol-Ha & Agua Azul Waterfalls

why visit chiapas

Montebello Lakes

Pila De Chiapa De Corzo: Main fountai in Chiapas, Mexico

Sumidero Canyon & Chiapa de Corzo

Bonampak Mural Room 3

Bonampak & Yaxchilan Ruins

One of the many waterfalls at Cascadas El Chiflon

El Chiflon Waterfalls

Although not as well known as the ones above, here are a few more less-visited, yet worthwhile activities in Chiapas:

  • Explore the Caves at El Arcotete Ecotourism Park
  • See the Melting Ruins and Teal Lakes at Lagos de Colon
  • Tenam Bridge Ruins: Exploring Off The Beaten Path
  • Las Nubes Waterfalls and Las Guacamayas Eco-Retreat Tour

Chiapas Tours

Booking guided day tours in Chiapas is a great way to explore the major sights without having to deal with booking transportation, figuring out entrance fees, or finding your own way around.

Plus, you’ll learn much more about the area and history from the knowledgeable tour guides.

From the lively plaza in Comitán to the colorful streets of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas has a handful of picturesque cities and destinations to explore when visiting this incredible state. 

Tuxtla Gutierrez

Although Tuxtla Gutierrez is the Chiapas capital, it’s a busy metropolis that doesn’t appeal to most travelers. But since it has the state’s only major airport, the majority of visitors arrive in Chiapas through Tuxtla.

Some spend a night or two at a hotel in Tuxtla before moving on to the more charming town of San Cristobal de las Casas.

If you’re planning on renting a car in Mexico for your trip to Chiapas, the city of Tuxtla is the place to book it. Tuxtla has the cheapest car rental deals in the state and you can pick up your rental at the airport.

Mexican papel picado lines the streets in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

The enchanting town of San Cristobal de las Casas is the cultural gem of Chiapas and the best place to stay. It’s a high-elevation colonial town surrounded by pine forests and scattered with smoking chimneys. 

Known simply as “San Cris” or “San Cristobal” by locals, it’s the perfect home base for exploring the state’s best attractions like Chiapa de Corzo, Sumidero Canyon , Zinacantan, and San Juan Chamula . You can even take a full-day tour to see the Palenque ruins and Misol-Ha waterfall from San Cris.

Since it’s a major tourist hub, there’s a variety of accommodations in San Cristobal . They range from budget backpacker hostels to stunning boutique hotels with traditional colonial architecture.

It’s also an extremely walkable city. Visitors can spend the days wandering the cobblestone streets, taking in the crisp mountain air, and dining at some of the top restaurants in Chiapas.

Observatory at Palenque Ruins in Chiapas, Mexico

Palenque (pronounced pah-LEN-keh) is a town nestled deep in the Lacandon Jungle. It’s a magical destination that is best known for its famous Palenque ruins , but there’s so much more to see nearby.

This haven in the middle of the jungle is the ideal place to stay for exploring northern Chiapas and its natural wonders. Adventure seekers will love heading out on a jungle excursion to see the hidden ruins of Bonampak and Yaxchilan (a once-in-a-lifetime adventure!), while waterfall chasers will enjoy swimming in the serene pools underneath Agua Azul Waterfalls and Misol-Ha Waterfall .

Palenque accommodations range from budget cabins surrounded by lush vegetation and monkeys to high-end hotels with gorgeous manicured gardens and pools. 

why visit chiapas

Comitan de Dominguez is a small, yet lively and authentic Mexican town, located only 2 hours south of San Cristobal. It’s a hidden treasure full of local culture, unique architecture, interesting history, and delicious food. 

Visitors looking to get away from San Cristobal’s rapidly-growing tourist scene should head to Comitan for a few days. Wander around the local market, try the unique cuisine, visit the many museums, and enjoy an afternoon marimba concert at the picturesque plaza.

Comitan is the underrated gateway to many of the must-see attractions in southern Chiapas. From here, you can take day trips to Montebello Lakes , El Chiflon Waterfalls , Colon Lakes , and the Tenam Puente Ruins .

Ranging from low-priced posadas to colonial-style hotels, accommodations in Comitan offer great value and are cheaper than in San Cristobal.

Mercado 1 de Mayo, Comitan, Chiapas, Mexico

The traditional cuisine in Chiapas features prehispanic flavors with a strong Spanish influence. The region’s cuisine is influenced by indigenous ingredients blended with traditional colonial-era dishes from Spain, resulting in a unique culinary experience. 

Explore the local markets, grab a bite at a street food stall, sip on an authentic agua fresca , or dine at one of the many delicious restaurants to immerse yourself in Chiapas’ gastronomic delights.

Here are just a few of the best Chiapas foods and regional specialties to try:

  • Sopa de Chipilin:  a comforting soup made with a native herb called  chipilín , chicken broth, and vegetables such as corn or squash
  • Chalupas:  tiny fried tortillas topped with beans, shredded pork, shredded beets, carrots, and a sprinkle of local aged cheese
  • Asado coleto:  San Cristóbal style pork ribs
  • Pan coleto:  San Cristóbal style sweet bread
  • Tamales de momo:  corn tamales made with a sacred local herb and wrapped in banana leaves
  • Pox:  popular local liquor made from corn and wheat (pronounced  pohsh )
  • Pozol:  a prehispanic drink made from fermented  masa  (corn dough) mixed with water and sometimes flavored with cacao or peanuts

🌮 For a hands-on culinary adventure,  book this Chiapas cooking class . You’ll visit a local market, learn about traditional Chiapaneco ingredients, and prepare regional San Cristobal de las Casas specialties.

The best way to get to Chiapas is to find a cheap flight to the Tuxtla Gutierrez Airport (TGZ), also called Ángel Albino Corzo International Airport.

There are no direct flights from the US to Chiapas. You need to catch a connecting domestic flight to Tuxtla Gutiérrez from an international airport in Mexico, like Mexico City or Cancun.

From the Tuxtla Airport, reserve a private airport transfer  or b o o k a r ental car for the 1-hour drive to San Cristobal de las Casas (the most popular place to stay in Chiapas). Budget travelers can catch the ADO bus from  Tuxtla to San Cristobal  instead.

Another great option for traveling to Chiapas is to take a comfortable first-class ADO bus from a neighboring tourist destination like Oaxaca City , Bacalar, Campeche, or Merida.

Insider Tip: There used to be a small airport in the city of Palenque but it is currently closed. The fastest way to get to the Palenque ruins is to fly into Villahermosa in the state of Tabasco. Then, rent a car and drive 2 hours to Palenque.

Don't play on this rickety bridge in Arcotete Park in Chiapas, Mexico.

There are several ways to get around the state of Chiapas: rent a car in Mexico, hop on the first-class buses, or book guided day tours.

Within the Chiapas cities, you can take taxis (there are no Ubers), hire a private driver for the day, or just walk around.  

If you’re on a tight budget, you can travel like the locals on  colectivos . These shared transport vans are common throughout Mexico and travel along major highways and roads. They’re inexpensive but take much longer due to frequent stops to pick up passengers along the way.

Renting a car in Mexico is one of the best ways to explore the state at your own pace, immerse yourself in the local culture, and get even more off the beaten path. 

For the best car rental prices in Chiapas, we recommend using Discover Cars . They search through dozens of rental car offers from reputable companies, like Hertz and Alamo, to find you the best deal possible. When you reserve a car through Discover Cars, you get no hidden fees, a 24-hour price guarantee, 24/7 customer support, and free cancellations.

🚗 Read this Renting a Car in Mexico article for everything you need to know before you book, including essential insurance info and driving tips from a local.

First-Class Bus

Many tourists rely on Mexico’s robust and reliable system of first-class ADO passenger buses to get from one destination to another. 

As the country’s largest bus company, ADO buses offer a safe, convenient, comfortable, and affordable way to travel around Chiapas for everyone from budget backpackers to solo female travelers.

The easiest way to buy ADO bus tickets online in English is with Bookaway . It’s an online booking platform that lets you compare bus routes and schedules in English with prices in USD.

Popular ADO Bus Routes in Chiapas

  • Tuxtla to San Cristobal
  • San Cristobal to Palenque
  • San Cristobal to Comitan

Guided Tours

Outside of the major tourist destinations, most of Chiapas is extremely rural and lacks tourist infrastructure, including hotels. 

That’s why so many visitors prefer to explore the state’s top attractions on guided tours. Booking Chiapas tours with transportation included is a hassle-free and relatively inexpensive way to safely reach the remote areas where many of the top things to do are located.

We recommend using Viator or Get Your Guide to book Chiapas tours online. Reserving your tours online with a reliable tour booking platform makes it easy to access their 24/7 customer support and free cancellation options.

Michael standing in front of one of the melting pyramids at Lagartero archelogical ruins in Chiapas, Mexico.

Regarding Chiapas, Mexico safety, it is widely considered a safe place for tourists to visit. Especially when traveling to Chiapas’ top tourist destinations such as San Cristobal de las Casas, San Juan Chamula, Palenque, and Comitan de Dominguez.

Many people wonder about Chiapas safety because of the state’s  Zapatista political uprisings  a few decades ago. But nowadays, Chiapas is actually the third safest state in Mexico!

We spent over a month traveling throughout Chiapas and never had a single issue. We ran into welcoming smiles and friendly people everywhere we went. 

We followed all of our usual tried-and-tested Mexico safety tips , like staying vigilant, not being flashy, and only walking in well-lit areas at night.

✅ Check out these 60 Best Mexico Travel Tips for insider tips from a local on everything from safety to tipping.

Chiapas Travel Insurance

Of course, you don’t want to think about everything that can go wrong on your Chiapas trip, but it’s always best to be prepared.

Mexico travel insurance policies vary, but they may cover things like lost luggage, trip cancellation, travel delays, and emergency medical care. 

Having travel insurance coverage can give you peace of mind and help you travel confidently on your trip to Chiapas.

These are the companies we recommend for Mexico travel insurance:

  • Safety Wing offers general travel and medical incident insurance for Mexico, including coverage for digital nomads.
  • TravelInsurance.com makes it easy to compare and buy travel insurance from reputable insurers for the best prices.

How many days do you need in Chiapas?

You need at the very least 5 to 7 days to even get a taste of Chiapas’ incredible natural beauty, vibrant culture, and ancient archeological ruins. If you have a week, plan on staying in San Cristobal de las Casas and taking multiple day trips to the nearby attractions like San Juan Chamula, Comitan, Lagunas de Montebello , Cañon del Sumidero , and the Palenque ruins. There are so many wonderful places to see and exciting things to do that it can be hard to limit yourself to a shorter trip. But if that’s all you have, then Chiapas is definitely worth a visit, even if just for a few days. We spent over a month in Chiapas and we feel like we barely nicked the surface of everything this amazing state has to offer.

Is Chiapas expensive?

No, Chiapas is very inexpensive. As one of the lowest-income states in Mexico, the prices are generally very affordable.  Overall, you can expect to pay much less for food, transportation, and other tourist-related activities when compared to places like Cancun or Cabo.

Can you drink tap water in Chiapas?

You cannot drink tap water in Chiapas and you should avoid drinking tap water in Mexico as a whole. Most Mexicans drink only purified water and never directly from the tap. The best way to have guaranteed access to clean drinking water is to pack a water purifier travel bottle for your trip to Mexico.  With this water purifier bottle , you can fill up on water from the hotel sink or a nearby natural water source like a river or lake. You can purify water from anywhere and make sketchy water clean to drink with one press. It removes all pathogens (viruses, bacteria, and protozoa) and it filters out sediment, microplastics, VOCs, PFAS, chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, flavors, and odors.

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One of the many waterfalls at Cascadas El Chiflon

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The Top 10 Things to See and Do in Chiapas, Mexico

View from the water of Cañon Del Sumidero, Chiapas

Chiapas is typically known as Mexico’s most southern, most impoverished and most mysterious state. Full of jungle ruins, wildlife, strange regional specialities and a mix of cultures, we’ve got the best of the region’s can’t-miss activities for your next trip to Mexico .

Discover secret Mayan ruins, cruise through towering canyons and visit indigenous Tzotzil towns on our five-day Mini Trip in Chiapas .

The southern Mexican state of Chiapas has a lot to offer curious adventurers

The archeological ruins of Palenque are the remains of one of the Mayan people’s most important cities. Surrounded by thick, lush vegetation, the ruins are a great place for visitors to hike through and practice bird watching. Particularly famous are the structures of the Templo de las Inscripciones, the Gran Palacio, the Templo XI and the temples of la Cruz Foliada, de Sol and del Conde, as well as a Mayan ball court .

San Cristóbal de las Casas is Chiapas’ most visited and loved mountain town where you will find a variety of attractions for every kind of tourist. Take some time to wander through the town’s main plaza, visit its hilltop churches and see the sprawling municipal market selling local fruits, vegetables and regional cuisine. It’ll be best to plan on staying for a few days to enjoy all the eating, art, culture and music in one of Mexico’s most beautiful towns.

people cheering on a mountain

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why visit chiapas

Chinkultic ruins

One of Chiapas’ less frequented archaeological sites, the Chinkultic ruins once made up a Mayan city from the 3rd to 9th centuries. The site is now known for its stelae carvings of the town’s rulers, a ball court and a large cenote (natural well) into which the city’s people used to throw offerings. The ambiance at Chinkultic is extremely serene because of the humid forest surrounding the ruins—it’s not a widely known place and you might just find yourself exploring it alone.

why visit chiapas

Cascadas de Agua Azul

For a luxurious and relaxing time, head to the Cascadas de Agua Azul located a four-hour drive from San Cristóbal. The waterfalls and naturally-made swimming pools are a product of the series of limestone beds on the Xanil River and the water’s intense blue color is due to the amount of limestone and other minerals in the river, which are most visible during the dry season. In the surrounding area, you’ll find cabins, restaurants and hiking opportunities which you can take on with or without a guide.

Cañón del Sumidero

A boat of Mexican tourists in Sumidero Canyon, a deep natural canyon in Chiapas state, Mexico

Make sure to check out the Sumidero Canyon near both Tuxtla and Chiapa de Corzo. The 25-kilometre (16-mile) reservoir is best seen by boats that leave from either Chiapa or Embarcadero Cahuaré, which is only 5 kilometres (3 miles) north of Chiapa along the road to Tuxtla. There is much flora and fauna to appreciate, from monkeys, crocodiles and birds to the breathtaking waterfalls and oddly shaped rock formations.

Zinacantán is a fascinating indigenous region in the Los Altos area of Chiapas. The Tzotzil Mayan people from the area are particularly know for their colorful and intricately embroidered huipils (a kind of tunic) and the longer, colored tunics adorned by tassels that are worn by the men of the communty. An open air market held every Sunday focuses on these fashions and the region’s latest in textiles.

Laguna Miramar

One of Mexico’s most beautiful lagoons, Laguna Miramar is full of activities and nature-filled adventures like kayaking, mountain biking, bird-watching and exploring the nearby caves to marvel at ancient drawings. There are restaurants and cabins for rent in nearby communities—the area surrounding the lake has been left undeveloped for the most part, making it even more attractive for tourists who want to take a break in nature.

Chiapa de Corzo

Chiapa de Corzo is an enchanting colonial town just 12 kilometres (8 miles) from Tuxtla Guitérrez and was the state’s first capital. You’ll enjoy a mellow, small town vibe as you drink a cup of delicious Chiapan coffee on the town’s main plaza or wander through the halls of the Santo Domingo de Guzmán ex-convent, which is now a cultural centre. The town is also a great departure point for exploring the Sumidero Canyon and the Chiapa de Corzo archeological site.

The most urban place on this list, Tuxtla is where you need to go when you start feeling overwhelmed by nature and want a dose of city and nightlife. Make sure to try some of Chiapas’ exotic specialities like snails and bee larvae, or regional specialities like carnes parrilladas (a platter of grilled meats) and ground beef tartare. You also won’t want to miss strolling through the Parque de la Marimba one evening as the entire city comes out to sway to music.

Volcán Tacaná

The Tacaná Volcano is Central America’s second highest volcanic peak (second to Volcán Tajumulco in Guatemala) and sits on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. Though the volcano last erupted in 1986, it is still considered to be active, though this doesn’t stop hundreds of tourists from visiting it each year or the local people from living on its green slopes in many little villages. Two villages in particular, Santo Domingo and Unión Juárez, draw visitors with their cool weather and local color. Holy Week in the spring is a time when many hikers make the trek up to the summit, so you’ll either want to avoid those days or book your trip for that week, depending on how you feel about crowds.

landscape with balloons floating in the air

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12 Best Places to Visit in Chiapas (with Photos and Itinerary)

why visit chiapas

Paddling, zip-lining, rock-climbing, waterfall sighting, and exploring ancient cities. Diverse Mexican cuisine, thousands of years of history, and cultural heritage. That’s Chiapas . Dive into our detailed guide and find out what are the best activities to do in Chiapas. At the end, you’ll find a sample itinerary to enjoy your vacation easily and without hours of planning. 

First, we’ll show you the must-do activities in Chiapas. Then, we’ll move on to the most beautiful waterfalls and ancient ruins. And we’ll close the list with the best cities in Chiapas.

You might also be interested in reading:

  • Yucatán Itinerary—2 Weeks Full of the Best Places to Visit
  • Safety in Mexico—Is It Safe to Travel There?
  • The Best Food in Mexico: 11 Things You Should Try + 3 You Shouldn’t
  • 7 Best Aztec Ruins in Mexico
  • 33 Mexico Travel Tips from Our Own Experience

Best Chiapas Activities 

Adventure lovers, read on! These are the best Chiapas activities you can do: 

1. Take a boat trip in Sumidero Canyon

Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas

Sumidero Canyon, Chiapas  

Fancy a boat trip? And what about a boat trip to the most beautiful place in Mexico? Read our Guide to Sumidero Canyon . It's a national park in Chiapas , consisting of the Grijalva river surrounded by 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) tall cliffs. You can see it all from the deck of a boat.  

The boats embark in Chiapa de Corzo, and will take you all the way through the canyon to the Chicoasén dam and back. Break out from the rut and experience the indescribable. Occasional crocodiles and jaguars will perk up your trip. 

  • Opening hours: The boats set off between 8 AM and 3 PM 
  • Price: cca. 500 pesos (25 US dollars) 
  • Address of the embark point: Capitán Vicente López 7, San Jacinto, 29160 Chiapa de Corzo, Chis., Mexico 

Hotel tip for Tuxtla Gutiérrez: We enjoyed our stay at Mariott Tuxtla Gutiérrez Hotel . Great location, nice personnel, gym, pool, and tasty breakfast—what else could you wish for? Prices start at 55 USD for 2 people.

Mariott Tuxtla Gutiérrez Hotel in Mexico

Mariott Tuxtla Gutiérez Hotel : The most beautiful atrium I’ve ever seen!

Just so you know, if you book a hotel (any hotel) using our booking.com affiliate links sprinkled throughout this article, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It keeps our blog free and shows us you love us, so thank you! 

2. Paddle on a raft in Lagunas de Montebello

Lagunas de Montebello in Chiapas (system of lakes)

Lagunas de Montebello, Chiapas  

Lagunas de Montebello is a national park with a system of crystal-clear lakes connected through underground rivers . It offers truly enchanting views: limestone rocks, special red moss, and underwater caves which can be seen clearly thanks to the purity of the water. 

But what would a Chiapas activity be without adventure? Take the road less traveled and explore the lakes from a balsa raft ! Your childhood dreams awakened by Row, row, row your boat will finally come true. You can rent a raft or a kayak and paddle around for approximately 600 pesos (30 US dollars). 

Travel tip: Lakes don’t go without mosquitos. Bring a repellent if you don’t want to be eaten alive.

paddling a raft as a Chiapas activity

Paddling a raft in Chiapas was fun!  

Even if you don’t want to paddle, the Lagoons of Montebello are still one of the top 10 best places to visit in Mexico . The admission is rather cheap, and a number of guides are waiting by the entrance. (Some of them even speak English.) I suggest taking one, because the signage in the park is really, really poor. You can also opt for a two-hour hike through the jungle . The rainforest is safe and the locals are friendly. 

Travel tip: Withdraw money from an ATM in advance. It would be very hard to do so on the spot.  

  • Opening hours: open 24 hours 
  • Price: 25 pesos (1.25 US dollars) for the entrance to the park + 600 pesos (30 US dollars) for the raft 

3. Try rock climbing in El Arcotete

A cave in El Arcotete, Chiapas, Mexico

View from a cave in El Arcotete  

It’s easy to observe rocks from the ground, but will you dare to climb them? Just a 20-minute drive from San Cristóbal , El Arcotete is a complex of caves. 40 climbing routes are at your disposal in the park, including various lengths and difficulties. 

If you prefer to stay on the ground , you can choose from other activities El Arcotete has to offer: picnicking, horse riding, cave exploring… An irresistible half-day trip, isn’t it? 

  • Opening hours: 8 AM – 5 PM 
  • Price: 10 Mexican pesos (0.5 US dollar) as the entrance fee + 15 Mexican pesos (0.75 US dollars) to visit the caves 
  • Address: Carretera Rumbo a Tenejapa km 8 Ejido Río, Del Arcotete N, Rìo Arcotete, 29200 San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chis., Mexico 

Places to visit in Chiapas: the most wonderful waterfalls 

Waterfalls splash through Chiapas and overwhelm tourists with their beauty and force. These are three Chiapas’ most wonderful waterfalls that will ignite your wanderlust: 

1. El Chiflón

Chiflón Waterfall in Chiapas, Mexico

Karin and El Chiflón Waterfall  

If your staying anywhere close to San Cristóbal , you can't miss the Cascada el Chiflón . It's a series of waterfalls , roaring and spraying you with water as you stand nearby. A path winds along the riverbank and gradually shows you the cascades, each better than the previous one. 

After several smaller cascades, the path will finally lead you to Cascada Velo de Novia which is a powerful reminder of nature’s force, as it comes crashing down 80 meters (260 feet) into a turquoise-colored pool. You can test your limits and climb up to see the waterfall even from above. This trip belongs to the 10 best hikes in Mexico . 

Travel tip: No window of time is too large for Chiflón. Reserve at least five hours to visit both banks of the river and see the waterfalls from both sides, and maybe even try zip-lining above the river! 

  • Opening hours: 7:30 AM – 5 PM daily (visit it in the morning to avoid the crowds) 
  • Price: 50 Mexican pesos (2.5 US dollars) 
  • Address: Ejido, San Cristobalito, 30100 Tzimol, Chis., Mexico 

Hotel tip: We stayed at Comitán and, in my opinion, the best accommodation option is the City Express Comitán. It’s basically a motel in a very good location. Super clean and convenient. Prices start at 100 USD for 2 people.

Room in City Ecpress Comitán

One of the rooms in City Express Comitán  

2. Cascada El Aguacero

El Aguacero Waterfall in Chiapas, Mexico

Me and El Aguacero Waterfall  

A hike + bathing in the river + wild waterfall = the perfect thing to do in Chiapas! Located an hour´s drive from Tuxtla Gutiérrez , Cañón Río La Venta hides the El Aguacero waterfall. You’ll have to drive on a poor, bumpy road , and then climb a steep slope in the jungle to get into the canyon. But it’s worth it a hundred times.  

The trip starts at the tourist center under the hill. You can grab a bite of Mexican food to gain some strength before the climb, or buy a souvenir. Which I highly recommend, by the way, as the staff is truly friendly and kind, and you’ll help them by buying something.  

Then the hike is ahead of you, consisting of at least a bazillion stairs . After the hardship you come through, a beautiful scenery will open in front of you: a warm river, surrounded by walls, and leading to the waterfall. Sounds tempting? Here are other top 10 hikes in Mexico .

Travel tip: If you’re not sure whether the climb is in your power, try the street view in Google Maps. I know, it sounds weird. But it will show you the path and help you decide.

Map: How to get to El Aguacero (Chiapas, Mexico)

This is how you get to El Aguacero, Chiapas. You can find the trail on alltrails  

  • Opening hours: 9 AM – 5 PM daily  
  • Price: 50 pesos (2.5 US dollars) 
  • Address: Centro Turístico El Aguacero, Chiapas, Mexico 

3. Agua Azul

Agua Azul Waterfalls in Chiapas, Mexico

Magical Agua Azul Waterfalls  

If Chichén Itzá is the New Wonder of the World, then Agua Azul should be the Water Wonder of Mexico. The name of the cascades literally means Blue Water . The bright colors, banana trees and palms all around, and small islands in the middle of the river make the place look like paradise.  

The path along the cascades is lined with shops , selling souvenirs as well as Mexican food and beverages .

Agua Azul Waterfalls in Chiapas, Mexico

Agua Azul loses its bright color in the rainy season  

Agua Azul Waterfalls lie in a land far, far away . First, they really are like a fairy tale. Second, they’re 160 kilometers (99.4 miles) from San Cristóbal, and 214 kilometers (133 miles) from Tuxtla Gutiérrez. So consider carefully whether the cascades are worth your time or not. 

Travel tip: You can swim in some of the pools below waterfalls. However, always read the signs with instructions! Invisible underwater currents could be deadly for you if you don’t obey the rules and swim where you shouldn’t.  Read more about useful Mexico travel tips .

  • Opening hours: 8 AM – 8 PM daily  

Ancient ruins in Chiapas 

Mexico is the land of ancient gods, worships, and pyramids. These are the best ancient ruins to visit in Chiapas: 

1. Palenque

Ancient ruins in Palenque, a Mayan city in Chiapas

Ancient ruins in Palenque  

Located in the middle of the jungle , Palenque is undoubtedly a hidden treasure among the best Mayan cities in Mexico . The numerous carvings and hieroglyphs found on the interior walls make the complex a unique archeological site. 

A UNESCO site today, a rich city back in the day. Palenque was inhabited between the 3 rd and 8 th centuries, when it prospered as a trade center and agricultural site. In the 8 th century, it was abandoned and left at the mercy of the jungle. Most of the city remains unseen till today—it’s supposed that only 10% of the ruins are discovered. 

  • Opening hours: 8 AM – 4:30 PM daily 
  • Price: 35 Mexican pesos (1.75 US dollars) for the entrance to the national park, and further 75 pesos (3.75 US dollars) for the entrance to the ruins 
  • Address (parking lot) : Carretera a Palenque- Zona Archaeologica Km. 8, 29960 Palenque, Chis., Mexico 

2. Bonampak

Ancient ruins in Bonampak, a Mayan city in Chiapas

Ancient ruins in Bonampak  

Bonampak is a Mayan city complex close to the border with Guatemala, best known for murals on its walls. Originally, historians thought the Maya was a peaceful culture. It was the murals in Bonampak that showed them they were wrong. The pictures clearly depict war and human sacrifice. Read more about Aztec culture in the 12 facts about Mexico article .

Murals in Bonampak, a Mayan city in Chiapas

Murals in Bonampak  

Travel tip: It’s not allowed to go to the ruins by car—you will have to pay some 75 Mexican pesos (3.75 US dollars) for a tourist van to get you there. 

  • Opening hours: 8 AM – 5 PM daily 

3. Yaxchilán

Ancient ruins in Yaxchilán, Chiapas

Ruins in Yaxchilán  

The archeological site of Yaxchilán lies on a piece of Mexico surrounded by Guatemala. Literally. Look at the map.

Yaxchilán on the map

Check the Yaxchilán route on alltrails !  

The history of Yaxchilán started in the 4th century, and continued with a rather long series of wars, as local cities were fighting for power . Yaxchilán used to be the dominant center of the region, and was rivals with both Palenque and Bonampak. Thanks to its position on the curve of the river, the city was naturally protected from enemies.  

Today, the site contains numerous ruins of temples, palaces, and terraces, and is best known for its sculpture structures . Yaxchilán is strewn with carved lintels, altars, and bas-relief carvings which all narrate the story of the city. 

How to get to Yaxchilán, Chiapas 

The trip to Yaxchilán is a slightly difficult one, as the ruins are surrounded only by rainforest and no roads. So first, you need to get to Frontera Corozal and pay 30 pesos (1.5 US dollars) for the entrance to the town. Boats set off from Frontera Corozal and will take you to Yaxchilán, where they will wait two hours for you to get you back again. The price is around 1,300 pesos (65 US dollars) per boat—the more people go, the less you pay per person. When you get to Yaxchilán, you will pay additional 90 pesos (4.5 US dollars) for the entrance to the ruins.

Note that the accommodation options in Frontera Corozal are quite modest. Hotel Nueva Alianza is by far the best option.

  • Price: 30 pesos (1.5 US dollars) per person for the entrance to Frontera Corozal, 1,300 pesos (65 US dollars) per boat, and 90 pesos (4.5 US dollars) per person for the entrance to the ruins 
  • Address (embark point) : 29935 Frontera Corozal, Chiapas, Mexico 

Cities in Chiapas 

Busy streets, restaurants, cafés, cathedrals, and other tourist attractions. If you’re keen to dive into the hustle of a city , here are three Chiapas cities you shouldn’t miss: 

1. San Cristóbal

A colorful street in San Cristóbal (Chiapas, Mexico)

Walking through the beautiful streets in San Cristóbal  

San Cristóbal de las Casas is one of the most promoted cities in Mexico, being on the list of the Magical Towns . In the city, it’s impossible not to stumble upon a café or a restaurant every two minutes. San Cristóbal is alive—not only with good food, but also with culture and history . 

But if you ask me—San Cristóbal may be one of the best cities in Chiapas, but it’s definitely not one of the best cities in Mexico. If you have the option, it’s much better to visit Puebla or Oaxaca instead . They’re bigger, more interesting, and less crowded. 

Hotel tips: I’d recommend spending the night in San Cristóbal’s Hotel Bo. Its cool design (inside and out!) is complemented by its wonderful staff and a great on-site restaurant that serves Mexican and international dishes. Prices start at USD 230 for 2 people.

Hotel Bo, San Cristóbal, Chiapas

Luxurious Hotel Bo , San Cristóbal de Las Casas  

2. Tuxtla Gutiérrez

A view of Tuxtla Gutiérrez city (Chiapas, Mexico)

A view of Tuxtla Gutiérrez city  

A two-day stay in Tuxtla is a perfect mix of museums in the city, and nature nearby. First, you can visit the awesome Canyon Sumidero and Aguacero Waterfalls, both sites within an hour’s drive from Tuxtla. Then, you can clear your head and rest a bit in Tuxtla’s museums , such as the Museum of Coffee, the Museum of Marimba, or Faustino Miranda Botanical Garden. 

Tuxtla Gutiérrez is a good place for your vacation especially thanks to its location, and the international airport 30 minutes by car from the city center.  Here are the 16 things you need to know about driving in Mexico .  

A church in Comitán (Chiapas, Mexico)

The Comitán Church  

Comitán, the fourth largest city in Chiapas, is the place to stay if you want to explore the attractions near the border with Guatemala . Like Tuxtla, the city is interesting especially thanks to the tourist sites nearby. 

You won’t stay hungry in Comitán, as it’s full of nice restaurants serving true Mexican food. We visited Ta Bonitio , and were really satisfied. 

Do you want to see it all? This is how you’ll make it  

Do you want to see all I mentioned in this article? For your own sake, I hope you have a ton of time. This is a sample itinerary for your trip to Chiapas (you’ll find a shorter version below). You might also find this article about traveling in Mexico during COVID-19 or our 33 Mexico travel tips useful.

Chiapas itinerary: longer version  

Day 1: Tuxtla Gutiérrez + El Aguacero  

  • Morning: drive from Tuxtla Gutiérrez International Airport to Tuxtla, check-in at a hotel  
  • Around noon: walk around the city, visit museums and the botanical garden 
  • Afternoon : visit El Aguacero Waterfall  
  • Night: in Tuxtla Gutiérrez
  • Hotel tip: Mariott Tuxtla Gutiérrez Hotel

Chiapas itinerary: map (day 1)

Map of the route of Chiapas itinerary day 1 here!  

Day 2: Canyon Sumidero + San Cristóbal + El Arcotete  

  • Morning: visit Canyon Sumidero 
  • Around noon: visit San Cristóbal, check-in at a hotel 
  • Afternoon: try rock-climbing in El Arcotete 
  • Night: in San Cristóbal 
  • Hotel tip: Hotel Bo

Chiapas itinerary: map (day 2)

Map of the route of Chiapas itinerary day 2 here!  

Day 3: Lagunas de Montebello  

  • Morning: drive from San Cristóbal to Lagunas de Montebello (3 hours) 
  • Around noon: paddle on a raft in Lagunas de Montebello 
  • Afternoon: drive to Frontera Corozal (5.5 hours) and check-in at a hotel 
  • Night: in Frontera Corozal
  • Hotel tip: Hotel Nueva Alianza

Chiapas itinerary: map (day 3)

Map of the route of Chiapas itinerary day 3 here!  

Day 4: Yaxchilán + Bonampak + Palenque  

  • Morning: take a trip to Yaxchilán 
  • Around noon: visit Bonampak 
  • Afternoon: drive to Palenque (3 hours), check-in at a hotel, and visit the ruins 
  • Night: in Palenque
  • Hotel tip : Hotel Boutique Quinta Chanabnal

Chiapas itinerary: map (day 4)

Map of the route of Chiapas itinerary day 4 here!  

Day 5: Agua Azul + Chiflón  

  • Morning: visit Agua Azul 
  • Around noon: drive to Chiflón (5 hours), visit the cascades 
  • Afternoon: check-in at a hotel in Comitán 
  • Night: in Comitán
  • Hotel tip : City Express Comitán

Chiapas itinerary: map (day 5)

Map of the route of Chiapas itinerary day 5 here!  

Day 6: Departure  

  • Morning: drive back to the Tuxtla Gutiérrez International Airport 

Chiapas itinerary: shorter version 

Maybe you’ve noticed that the drives sometimes take 5+ hours . And maybe you don’t like that. In that case, we have a shorter version of the itinerary for you, without the tedious distances: 

  • Night: in Tuxtla Gutiérrez 

Day 2: Canyon Sumidero + San Cristóbal + El Arcotete + Comitán  

  • Around noon: visit San Cristóbal 
  • Afternoon: visit El Arcotete, drive to Comitán and check-in at a hotel 
  • Night: in Comitán 

Day 3: Lagunas de Montebello + Chiflón + Departure  

  • Morning: visit Lagunas de Montebello 
  • Afternoon: visit Chiflón 
  • Night: drive back to the Tuxtla Gutiérrez International Airpor

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Hi! I’m Jan. I live in Prague, Czech Republic. I try to experience the best the world has to offer, and I don’t cease to be impressed. But if I’m not, I’m sure going to tell you! You can count on my full honesty and real opinions here. No bullcrap. I own and run several companies, which gives me great (but not unlimited) freedom to roam the world.  

I was first inspired to start this blog by my own experience of researching for upcoming trips—I often struggle with a lack of good information, accuracy, and authenticity of resources. You wouldn’t believe how many “travel bloggers” don’t even visit the destinations they write about! 

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colorful flags leading to a church with viewpoint, one of the best things to do in chiapas mexico

11 Cool Things to Do in Chiapas, Mexico

There were a lot of things that we were expecting from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas: fun things to do, low prices, a colorful city in San Cristobal, and mountain views.

What we weren’t expecting was to discover a destination that appears to be designed for outdoor lovers like us.

If you love waterfalls, wildlife, and bargains, here are are the best things to do in Chiapas–and why you need to visit immediately!

2 Weeks in Mexico Itinerary, El Chiflon, Chiapas

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The Best Things to Do in Chiapas

Stare in wonder at el chiflon..

Rainbow Falls at El Chiflon became our new favorite waterfall the second that we laid eyes on it.

Enormous and cascading into a beautiful turquoise pool, one of our favorite aspects of the Rainbow Falls is that rather than falling in one giant bucket of water, it falls along the cliff it runs over–the effect is beautiful.

Some of the smaller waterfalls at the park were also beautiful, and reminded me forcibly of the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia.

Hike to El Chilfon and don’t want to head back down?

Don’t worry: as long as you didn’t go up the “wrong” (left) side like us, you can zipline most of the way back down!

Our wrong turn worked to our benefit, however–looking at where the viewing platform is on the opposite side of the waterfall, I think that we got the better view.

When we head back to this area at some point in the future, visiting El Chilfon again will be one of our first things to do in Chiapas, Mexico.

Things to do in Chiapas: El Chiflon, Chiapas, Mexico

Enjoy the beauty of the Lagos de Montebello.

I never expected to find a view that reminded me of the karst cliffs of Thailand while in Mexico–but the Lagos de Montebello fit the bill.

These lakes are said to often be covered in mist, which held true for when we visited, but they were still beautiful (even if we didn’t feel up for the kayaking, which is one of the most popular Chiapas travel experiences there).

purple flowers in the foreground of the Lagos de Montebello, Chiapas, Mexico

Go horseback riding in the countryside.

I have always loved to ride horses and took several years of lessons as a teenager, and Chiapas is the perfect place to explore on horseback.

Our three-hour tour took us through farmland, forest, and small villages–and most notably, the Templo de San Juan (more on that below).

Both a plus and a minus: the guides were very hands-off, and let us essentially do what we want, including trotting and cantering at will.

As an experienced rider, I adored the experience, but as many of our group members had never been on a horse before, I also found it fairly risky.

Make sure that you stay safe and know your own limits because you’ll need to set them yourself.

Things to Do in Chiapas: Chiapas, Mexico

Visit the unforgettable Templo de San Juan.

Enormous amounts of incense. Chanting in a language that was not Spanish or Latin (it’s Tzotzil, the local indigenous language).

No pews. Straw all over the floor.

Hundreds of candles burning directly onto the ground, no candle holders in sight. A chicken in a box, waiting to be sacrificed at the end of a ritual.

No priests. Very few crucifixes. Plenty of statues of saints. One small Jesus statue off to the side of the altar.

Is this a Catholic church?

That’s what the Templo de San Juan, considers itself, but it is, without a doubt, the most unique house of worship that I’ve ever entered.

The church, which is located in the village of Chamula, strictly bans all photography inside and was vehement about enforcing it–and yet I have never wanted to take photos so badly in my life.

Things to Do in Chiapas: Templo de San Juan, Chiapas, Mexico

Climb the ruins of Palenque.

Not all of the incredible ruins in Mexico are available to climb anymore, including the famous pyramids at Chichen Itza.

That is for the best– Angkor Wat is a great example of a world-class site that is being damaged by its numerous visitors.

That being said… it’s still incredibly fun to climb ruins, and when you find sites (usually lesser-known ones) that let you scramble over them, it’s a blast.

Palenque is a perfect example of this–the best views of the city are from sitting on top of some of its buildings.

Admiring this view was one of our favorite things to do in Chiapas!

Things to Do in Chiapas: Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

Discover the colors of San Cristobal.

It’s easy to overlook the city of San Cristobal in all of the nature that surrounds it, but there are plenty of things to do in San Cristobal , and the city itself is also worthy of some attention.

San Cristobal makes a perfect base for travelerss visiting Chiapas, Mexico.

The city is reasonably priced has plenty of transportation and tourism companies available to arrange excursions, there are tons of food and dining options.

This is where ee had our first Pad Thai since Asia–definitely not as good as on Koh Tao, but still great!

Most strikingly, San Cristobal de las Casas is so colorful , making it a joy to explore.

Things to Do in Chiapas: San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico

Climb behind beautiful Misol-Ha.

Sitting at the base of Misol-Ha is like sitting at the bottom of a cavern: there’s so much beauty above you.

Want to explore an actual cave?

For 10 pesos, you can explore the cave situated behind Misol-Ha–just be prepared to get very wet on your way there!

Things to Do in Chiapas: Misol-Ha, Chiapas, Mexico

Take a boat ride through Sumidero Canyon.

I love canyons–they’re a great reminder of how enormous the Earth really is.

The walls of Sumidero Canyon reach over a kilometer high in some points, and there’s nothing more relaxing than enjoying a slow boat ride through it.

… As long as you’re not scared of alligators, that is!

We spotted a couple of adults and one baby sunning themselves during our cruise through the most famous canyon in Chiapas.

Things to Do in Chiapas: Sumidero Canyon, Chiapas, Mexico

Get underground at the Grutas de Rancho Nuevo.

This striking cavern is beautiful enough for the first 350 meters–but if you want to have an unforgettable (if potentially terrifying) adventure, you can continue into the cave further than the light will follow you.

That’s right: armed with a flashlight and helmet, you can continue a bit further into the cavern to experience absolute darkness.

If you’ve never experienced the absolute complete darkness that a cave offers before, it’s definitely a memorable experience!

interior of caves in chiapas mexico, chiapas travel guide

Visit El Arcotete Eco Park.

Whether you want to explore caves, try your hand at ziplining, or even go rock climbing or rappelling, you can find it at El Arcotete Eco Park, which is located an easy 15-20 minute ride from San Cristobal.

Go swimming at Agua Azul.

Just like the smaller waterfalls at El Chiflon, Agua Azul gave me Croatia flashbacks–this time to Krka National Park , complete with the option to swim at the bottom of the falls.

Keep in mind that you can’t swim just anywhere: some areas are much more dangerous than others, so be sure to follow the signs!

Things to Do in Chiapas: Agua Azul, Chiapas, Mexico

How much does it cost to visit Chiapas, Mexico?

Chiapas is one of the most affordable states in Mexico for travelers hoping to backpack Mexico on a budget .

Three-hour horseback riding tour? $10 USD.

A full-day trip to El Chiflon and Lagos de Montebello, including entrance fees? $16 USD.

Tour of the Sumidero Canyon, including transportation there and back? $15 USD.

The prices here are so low that with a moderate budget, you can easily do an excursion a day without breaking a sweat.

Things to Do in Chiapas: Agua Azul, Chiapas, Mexico

Don’t start checking off the best things to do in Chiapas without travel insurance! We use and recommend Safety Wing for their affordability, ease of purchasing & the clarity of their contract!

photo of el chiflon, one of the best things to do in chiapas mexico

About Kate Storm

Image of the author, Kate Storm

In May 2016, I left my suburban life in the USA and became a full-time traveler. Since then, I have visited 50+ countries on 5 continents and lived in Portugal, developing a special love of traveling in Europe (especially Italy) along the way. Today, along with my husband Jeremy and dog Ranger, I’m working toward my eventual goal of splitting my life between Europe and the USA.

23 thoughts on “11 Cool Things to Do in Chiapas, Mexico”

Grandpa enjoyed looking at your pictures on his new IPad. Have a lot to learn using the new toy.

Oh, we’re so glad to hear that! We love you and miss you. Looking forward to calling as soon as we can get strong enough Wifi.

I loved this blog post! found it on pinterest when I typed in Chiapas. Where all did yall stay during your trip?

Thanks, Calle! We stayed in an Airbnb in San Cristobal de las Casas. I definitely recommend San Cristobal–it’s the perfect place for exploring Chiapas, and a great city in its own right.

I was wondering the same thing – good to know! Pretty easy and affordable taking taxis around to all of your destinations?

Very! We used a combination of taxis and group tours in shuttle buses/vans to get around. All were easy to use and very affordable.

Hi, great post…I will be reading a lot more of your blog…I am planning a 3 week trip to Mexico in August, and 4-5 days in Chiapas (do you think it’s enough to explore Chiapas?). Are the tour prices really that cheap? I can see you’ve been there just this year? What is the best way to get there from Mexico city? Are the buses ok, or is it better to fly? Thanks, Everton

Hey Everton! 4-5 days is definitely enough to get a solid taste of the area, though you’ll be leaving some things undone–all the more reason to come back later!

Yes, the tour prices really are that cheap, at least as of January 2017.

We took a bus from Puerto Escondido to San Cristobal, so didn’t come directly from Mexico City. ADO buses should be able to get you between the two points fairly easily (though it’s a long ride!). We had nothing but good experiences with ADO buses–they were all clean, modern, and efficient, included a/c and some even had charging stations in the seats. I don’t see any reason to fly unless you are very worried about time.

Hope you have an awesome time!

That’s great Kate, thanks for the tips. One more thing. Do you know if the tours from San Cristobal to Palenque allow you to take your luggage? I was thinking to do a tour to Palenque, but then stay in Palenque instead of returning to San Cristobal, which means we’ll have to take the lugagges. I couldn’t find any info on this on the internet…Thanks

Anytime, Everton!

Our tour guide let us bring our luggage and didn’t even bat an eye when we asked, and I imagine most others will react similarly. We were in a sedan, and they just through our bags in the trunk. Chiapas is a pretty casual place–if you tell the tour company what you’re looking for, I’d say the odds of them turning your money away are very slim!

Thats awesome to know, my plans should work then…Thanks Kate

Happy to help, Everton!

where did you stay ? thank you !

Hi Paul! We stayed in this Airbnb: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/13079917

The layout was a bit odd–half of it was separated by a private outdoor space–but we liked it well enough. 🙂

what company did you use for your horseback riding tour

Honestly, I have no idea! We just booked from one of the many tourist agencies in town. The people in our group came from several different agencies/hotels/hostels–essentially, they just combined us into one tour. Not sure if the horseback riding team had an official company name or not.

Jeremy and Kate ..I am a Scotsman who lives in Chiriqui Panama, was thinking of a trip to Chiapas and other places in Mexico ..I’m a seasoned traveller and use hostels etc

My question is when you done the trip to Panama did you use the TICA BUS , THEY GO FROM Panama to Chiapas ..if you did how did you find it, there web site is quite good and I like the idea that you can plan some time in other countries as well ,they seem quite flexable.

Thanks in Advance Donald

Nope, I’m not familiar with Tica Bus. We used local buses in some areas and booked shuttles through tourist agencies on the ground in others, but we booked everything as we went!

Hi, thanks for your post. My husband, daughters (11 & 13) and I are spending two weeks in Chiapas in July. We’re planning on spending a few days each, in about 4 or 5 cities, and visiting many of the places you listed. I’m not sure when you were there last, but I was wondering whether the Central American migrants are impacting traffic (e.g. walking on the highways) or whether you encountered blockades? We’ll have rental car. I speak Spanish and have driven in Mexico City and other cities in Mexico, but I’m a little anxious about the state of the roads (narrow? pot-hole ridden?). It seems to make more sense for us to rent a car (cost and flexibility) vs. taking a bus everywhere. Did you make it to Frontera Corozal or Yaxchilan? Thanks!

Hi Norma! We were in Chiapas in early 2017, so I’m not sure if there are any incredibly recent issues, but I suspect the odds of running into an issue with travelers on foot/blockades in Chiapas is minimal. I’d recommend asking a local before you arrive (maybe at your hotel or your Airbnb host?) and seeing if they know of anything recent.

Best I can remember, the roads weren’t incredibly well maintained (LOTS of speed bumps, and yes narrow in places), and there weren’t street lights everywhere, so things got very, very dark on the road. If you’re used to driving in Mexico I wouldn’t rule out driving as a possibility, but just go in with caution.

We didn’t make it to Frontera Corozal or Yaxchilan on our last trip, but maybe next time! We’d love to return to Chiapas.

It’s probably too late for your own trip, I was back in Chiapas around 2008, Commandante Zero was running for president in a balaclava. There were blockades of a sort, Mostly stop and searches on the buses. But the agents kept well away from me, in a way that was almost awkward. Near the border, taxi cab drivers fought over taking north, because the minute the immigration agents see a white person in the taxi, they’ll leave it alone. Many local Mestizo Mexicans HATE immigrants from Guatemala and further south. I had a conversation in Spanish with a local man who complained that the “Indios guatemaltecos” didn’t know Spanish (many only speak dialects of Mayan and other indigenous people) and didn’t want to learn, they were only there to take their jobs! Sound familiar? When migrants on the trains go through towns in Guatemala, children throw candies, when they pass the border, children throw rocks at them. You will not run into immigrants on the roads, because they rightfully fear the locals and the federales. It gets much worse, I was naive and thought Mestizos could not be racist against the indigenous people. I was very wrong. Maybe things have changed, but I doubt it. Be prepared to encounter barefoot children offering to shine your shoes. Heartbreaking.

Thanks for this informative blog post! Do you remember the tour company you used for the horseback riding to the indigenous villages & San Juan Chamula church?

Not only do I not remember, but I’m also pretty sure I never got a name in the first place! We booked it through an agency in town (not sure which one), but like in many places around the world, our actual tour group was composed of people who had booked at different places around town.

I have no doubt you’ll be able to find plenty of agencies in town offering the tour. We definitely recommend taking it! 🙂

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Mexico

24 Best Things to Do in Chiapas Mexico: 2024 Local’s Guide

There are plenty of things to do in Chiapas, Mexico to warrant spending at least a week here. However, Mexico’s southernmost state is often overlooked from most people’s Mexico itineraries. 

Word about Chiapas has only started getting out in recent years and most people that take the time to venture here only do so to experience the majestic ruins of Palenque or the colonial architecture of San Cristobal de Las Casas. For the most part, Chiapas remains largely untapped. 

That isnt necessarily a bad thing though, as Chiapas, steeped in Mayan history, indigenous cultures, and gorgeous nature, offers a more authentic Mexico travel experience than you could ever obtain in places like Cancun or Tulum. 

This guide to the best things to do in Chiapas has been written by a British Travel Writer based in the Yucatan. (Me!) I have explored Chiapas extensively over several visits to the state and have used my knowledge to create the most comprehensive Chiapas travel information you can find anywhere online. 

Rest assured, you are in good hands here 😉 

Things to do in Chiapas Mexico

Table of Contents

24 Best Things to Do in Chiapas Mexico

Chiapas is a unique destination, quite unlike anywhere else in Mexico. After you have spent a while in Mexico, you will start to note that each of the country’s 32 states is like a little independent nation in itself, each with its own distinctive cultures, regional cuisine, etc. 

Chiapas sits in the south of Mexico. It shares its borders with Guatemala to the south, the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Veracruz to its west, and Tabasco to the north. Chiapas is perhaps best known for its indigenous populations which help give the region a distinctly different culture than what you will find elsewhere. 

There are 68 different indigenous groups in Mexico, that speak more than 350 different languages and dialects. More than 25% of Chiapas´ four-million-strong population belongs to an indigenous group, and there are 12 different ethnic groups that live in the state. (With the  Tzotzil and Tzeltal Mayan being the largest and perhaps best known). 

Chiapas is one of the poorest states in Mexico, but you shouldn’t let that concern you. Chiapas is safe for the most part , and the people here are among the friendliest in Mexico, eager to show travelers the beauty of their homeland. 

Things to do in Chiapas Mexico: Visit the pueblo magico of Chiapa de Corzo

Visit the Pueblo Magico of Chiapa de Corzo 

The charming little town of Chiapa de Corzo is one of four Pueblo Magicos in the state of Chiapas. Pueblo Magicos are Mexican towns and settlements that have been recognized for their unique beauty, charm, culture, and gastronomy. Generally speaking, when you see that somewhere has been designated as a Pueblo Magico, you know that it is a worthwhile place to visit. Most people overlook Chiapa de Corzo when they are traveling through Chiapas, or they only stop by briefly as part of a day trip to the Sumidero Canyon. 

However, the little town is well deserved of a day or two´s exploration in itself. This is one of the oldest towns in the Americas.

It dates back to 1528 and was one of the first places that the Spanish colonizers settled when they arrived in Chiapas. They later realized that the intense desert heat was too much for them and moved their main settlement to San Cristobal. However, they left many beautiful churches and structures in their wake. 

Start your day in the Zocalo – the charming central square of Chiapa de Corzo surrounded by porticoed buildings and quaint cafes. The piece de resistance of the square is ¨La Pila¨ – a diamond-shaped fountain in its center.

An exploration of the unsuspecting side streets leads you to magnificent, centuries-old churches and thought-provoking street art. Stop for breakfast at Jardines de Chiapa Restaurant (Francisco I. Madero 395, San Jacinto, 29160) and stroll along the riverfront.

The hilltop ruins of the Templo de San Sebastian are not to be missed. From up here, you can enjoy spectacular panoramas of the town and wider Chiapas below.

A street lined with colorful houses in Chiapas de Corzo in the southern Mexico state of Chiapas

Best Chiapa de Corzo tours

If you are traveling to Mexico in January , your time in Chiapa de Corzo will be particularly special. Every year, the Fiesta Grande is hosted here in honor of three Catholic saints.

The festival is famous for its Parachico dancers that wear traditional clothing and painted wooden masks as they dance their way through the town. This dance is so culturally important that it has even been recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Throughout the year, you may enjoy exploring Chiapa de Corzo with the aid of a guide who can give you more in-depth information about the town and its various districts. Several reputable Chiapa de Corzo tours are detailed below for your information.

  • Chiapa de Corzo & Sumidero Canyon day tour from Tuxtla Gutierrez
  • Sumidero Canyon, Chiapa de Corzo and San Cristobal tour
  • Sumidero Canyon & Chiapa de Corzo tour from San Cristobal

Best things to do in Chiapas, Mexico: Visit the colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas

Spend a long weekend in San Cristobal de Las Casas 

San Cristobal de Las Casas is the main raison d’etre that most people decide to visit Chiapas. The town was founded in 1528 and named ¨Villa Real de Chiapa¨ Its name has changed various times over the centuries before being given its current name in 1848.

Spending three to four days here allows you enough time to explore the town itself, but you may want to base yourself here for as long as a week. San Cristobal is a convenient base for taking day trips out to other parts of Chiapas.

The free walking tour is a good way to get your bearings in the city. It departs at 10 am daily from the wooden cross in front of the cathedral in the Plaza de la Paz.

There are many gorgeous catholic churches scattered throughout San Cristobal which will take your breath away, even if you are not remotely religious. A fun way to explore the town is to mark different churches on your map and enjoy exploring the offbeat neighborhoods that they lead you through.

The beautiful white and yellow Iglesia del Cerro de Guadalupe is a charming 19th-century church perched on top of a hill. If you ascend the 79 steps to the church at the top, you will be rewarded with spectacular panoramas over the town.

Equally worthy of your attention is the Iglesia de San Cristobalito. The views from up here are unparalleled. However, conquering the hundreds of steps to the top is no mean feat.

Best things to do in Chiapas Mexico: The mysterious white and green San Juan Chamula church where unique religious practices are followed

Learn about the religious practices at San Juan Chamula Church

The San Juan Chamula Church is one of the most unique churches in the world. From the outside, it looks no different from any other Mexican catholic church.

Its crisp white facade is decorated with green fixtures and detailing, and colorful, intricate azulejo tiles. It is when you step inside the church that things get interesting.

Chiapas locals visit the San Juan Chamula church when they or their loved ones become sick. They light candles and pray to a saint of their choosing in the hope that their loved ones become better.

Generally, the more candles a person uses, the sicker they are. A lot of people here cannot afford access to modern medicine or they are suspicious of it. So, they turn to religion instead.

A blend of Catholic and indigenous practices is used during rituals here. Many indigenous people believe that they get sick as a result of people looking at them with envy or sending negative energy their way.

So, they sit and drink bottles upon bottles of fizzy drinks such as Coca-Cola as they pray and force themselves to burp as they believe that burping expels evil. Sometimes chickens are sacrificed in exchange for the person becoming better.

Best Chamula tours to take in 2023

You can take a Colectivo (shared minivan) from San Cristobal to Chamula. However, for the best experience, you should visit with a tour guide.

A number of reputable Chamula tours are detailed below for your consideration. It is advisable to reserve your spot online in advance as places do sell out! Most combine a trip to Chamula with a visit to nearby Zinacantan.

  • Chamula & Zinacantan day trip from San Cristobal
  • Indigenous villages of Chiapas day trip

An old man pays his respects in a local church in Zinacantan Chiapas

Experience indigenous cultures in Zinacantan

Zinacantan is one of the best places to visit in Chiapas, particularly if you are interested in learning about indigenous cultures. The little town is home to around 45,000 inhabitants, many of whom are Tzotzil.

The town’s original name was ¨Tzinacantlān¨ which is of Nahuatl origin and means “land of bats”. However, it was modified to Zinacantan as the Spanish colonizers could not pronounce its original name.

Today, Zinacantan is home to several beautiful churches that use a blend of Catholic and indigenous practices in their worship. Stop by the Iglesia de San Lorenzo and the Capilla El Señor de Esquipulas.

This region is famous for growing flowers. Whenever you step inside any of the churches of Zinacantan, you will be met with the fragrant aroma of hundreds of colorful flowers and garlands that decorate every wall and ceiling.

Many stunning, vibrant textiles are also produced here. You may be interested in stopping by the indigenous women’s textile cooperative on the outskirts of town.

More than 60 women work together to create unique garments and the existence of this cooperative has helped to massively improve the lives of the residents of the village. They donate a portion of their earnings to fund the education of the younger generations.

why visit chiapas

Recommended Zinacantan tours

why visit chiapas

Take a boat tour of the magnificent Sumidero Canyon

Chiapas is home to some of the most diverse and beautiful natural scenery in Mexico. The Sumidero Canyon, set inside the national park of the same name, is a dramatic gorge that was formed more than 35 million years ago.

Start by taking a boat tour along the Río Grijalva where you will pass through areas surrounded by towering 1km high cliffs. It takes approximately 2 hours to sail along the 64km length of the river.

Many endangered species call the canyon home, along with crocodiles, spider monkeys, and many exotic, colorful birds. If you are lucky, you will see them as you sail around the canyon. There are also numerous hiking trails that weave around the scenery here and offer spectacular panoramas over the canyon, with Chiapa de Corzo and Tuxtla Gutierrez shimmering in the distance.

Recommended Sumidero Canyon Tours

It is very difficult to tour Sumidero Canyon independently. One of the best things to do in Chiapas is to take a Sumidero Canyon tour that starts in Chiapa de Corzo, Tuxtla Gutierrez, or San Cristobal.

Many tours include pick-up and drop-off from/to your hotel. This takes a lot of stress out of managing the logistics of how to get from A to B.

A number of reputable Sumidero Canyon tours are detailed below for your consideration. Book online in advance to secure your place.

  • Sumidero Canyon full day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas
  • Sumidero Canyon and San Cristobal de las Casas day trip from Tuxtla Gutierrez
  • Tour of Sumidero Canyon, Chiapa de Corzo and San Cristobal de las Casas
  • Sumidero Canyon and Chiapa de Corzo day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas

why visit chiapas

Visit a coffee plantation

An interesting fact about Mexico that you may not be aware of is that the country is the world’s largest producer of organic coffee. In general, Mexico is one of the largest coffee producers in the world.

Chiapas, along with Veracruz and Oaxaca, is one of the country’s largest coffee-growing regions. Mexican Chiapas coffee tends to have a strong, distinct taste and while it may be relatively unknown internationally, you will note that many cafes and restaurants across Mexico stock and serve it.

If you are a major coffee aficionado, one of the best things to do in Chiapas is to visit one of the coffee plantations in the area. Many plantations offer tours and tastings.

They often also have tourist accommodations on site where you can stay in gorgeous rural cabins in the mountains overlooking the plantations. Most Chiapas plantations are concentrated around Ocosingo and near the Sierra Madre mountains in the southern part of the state.

The Hamburgo plantation is a good choice, although it is tricky to reach unless you are renting a car in Mexico. It is located high in the Sierra Madre mountains, close to the town of Huixtla.

The plantation was founded in 1888 by German Arthur Edelman. It has been passed down through his family for more than 100 years and is currently managed by the fifth generation. There is also a spa and restaurant on-site.

Marvel at the spectacular Arco del Tiempo 

The Arco del Tiempo del Río La Venta ” (Arch of Time of La Venta River )is a spectacular natural stone arch 180 meters high that is one of the tallest arches in the world. The arch is currently on the ¨tentative¨ list for UNESCO, to potentially be added as a natural wonder of the world. The breathtaking natural archway sits in the lush, dense jungles of the Reserva de la Biosfera Selva El Ocote in Northern Chiapas. It is about as off the beaten path as you can get in Chiapas, with less than a handful of tourists visiting the area each month. 

The archway wasn’t even designated as a tourist destination at all until 2010, when a group of Italian travelers that had stumbled across the Arco del Tiempo and fell in love with the surrounding biosphere reserve, convinced the locals to build huts to promote ecotourism. The archway is more than 80 million years old and was formed by limestone dissolution and erosion by rain and wind. Petroglyphs (ancient wall carvings) created by the indigenous Zoque communities that lived here approximately 5,000 years ago can be found along the arch. 

Getting to the Arco del Tiempo is no easy feat – doing so requires a 4-hour trek through the jungle with the help of a local guide. Rappelling, swimming, and kayaking are among the activities that you can enjoy when you arrive. Rather than heading back the same day, you can choose to camp in the grounds of the archway or in the jungle just above it. 

Swim in the crystalline waters of Cenote de Chukumaltik 

Most travelers to Mexico have never heard of Chukumaltik cenote and their trips often center around the ¨Instagram famous¨ cenotes in the Yucatan, such as Cenote Suytan and Cenote Ik Kil. But ask any Chiapas resident where the most beautiful place to go swimming is and chances are they will all give you the same answer: Cenote de Chukumaltik. 

Cenote de Chukumaltik translates to mean ¨hidden beauty¨. This is a fitting title as this natural sinkhole awaits in the middle of nowhere, escaping the eyes and attention of most tourists. 

The open cenote has a diameter of approximately 200 meters and a depth of 70 meters. You could easily spend a day swimming and snorkeling in its refreshing crystalline waters which are backed by the luscious green jungles of Chiapas. Chukumaltik awaits approximately 36 minutes (27km) south of the city of Comitan de Dominguez, not too far from the Mexico-Guatemala border. Not only is the cenote beautiful in itself, but even more treasures await beneath the surface of its warm waters – including a petrified forest, sulfur chimneys, and a submerged statue of the Virgen de los Dolores with her hands together in prayer. If you do not have access to a vehicle, the best way to get to Chukumaltik is to organize a taxi ride from Comitan. You can take the bus headed to Cascadas de Chiflón and get off at Chucumaltik junction but it is quite a ways from the cenote and you will have to wait by the side of the road for a while (which can be almost unbearable when it’s hot) and hitchhike or wait for a ride. 

Explore the Toniná Ruins

The Toniná Ruins (meaning ¨House of Stone¨ in Tzeltel Maya is a pre-Colombian city that was built by the Ancient Mayans in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Although small, it is filled with impressive and well-preserved temples and pyramids and is believed to have been a rival city of Palenque. 

Archeologists believe that Toniná originally went by the name of ¨Po¨. The Acropolis here is one of the tallest Mayan structures in Latin America and at a height of 241 feet, it is significantly higher than the famous ¨El Torre¨ at the ruins of Ek Balam , and the Ixmoja pyramid at the Coba Mayan ruins in the Yucatan. 

Tonina/Po thrived during the Classic Period (400-900 CE). Notable structures to look out for here include the Pok-ta-Pok ball court at the Great Plaza, which contains ornately carved structures of Mayan lords that were captured by the city leaders, the Altar of Sacrifices, various tombs, and an ¨Altar of the Underworld¨.

The ¨Altar of the Underworld¨ contains a labyrinth that is extremely rare to find in Mayan cities. (There is one more at Oxkintok in the southern part of the Yucatan state ). 

The entrance fee for visiting the Toniná Ruins is 70 MXN pesos and the site entrance includes admission to the Toniná museum which contains artifacts and statues recovered from the city and helps you to put the things you see here in more context. 

Street art in Tuxtla Gutierrez Chiapas

Spend an afternoon in Tuxtla Gutiérrez

Tuxtla Gutiérrez is the bustling capital city of Chiapas and while it is no great beauty, it is worth stopping by here briefly on your way to/from Chiapas’ Ángel Albino International Airport if your schedule allows. 

The Cristo de Copoya is a 62m high Catholic cross with an image of Jesus Christ carved out of its center. It sits on the top of Mactumactzá Hill in the southern part of the city, and you can enjoy sweeping vistas of Tuxtla and the wider region from the top. 

As you make your way around the city, you will see it peeping out above the various structures. There is some great street art scattered around Tuxtla, even in the most unsuspecting industrial and residential neighborhoods and much of it is politically motivated and thought-provoking. 

Stroll down Calzada de la Revolución, one of the city’s oldest streets, and stop at the Regional Museum of Anthropology and History of Chiapas to learn more about how Southern Mexico has developed through the decades. Traditional markets like the Mercado Juan Sabines or the Municipal Public Market are great places to people-watch, witness signs of traditional daily life, and sample Mexican cuisine. When the sunsets, you can head to the Parque de la Marimba to watch or join in with older Chiapas residents as they dance to traditional music played on the marimba. The marimba is often referred to as being ¨the ancestral voice of Chiapas¨.

You will no doubt hear it played over the radio in various taxis, restaurants, and coffee shops. If you want to learn more about the instrument and how it fits into local culture, you can stop by the Museo de la Marimba (Calle Novena Pte. Sur S/N, El Cerrito). 

Boca del Cielo, Chiapas

Sink your toes into the golden sands of Chiapas beaches 

A lot of visitors to Chiapas aren’t even aware of the fact that the southernmost state offers dozens of beaches to choose from. The sheer mention of Chiapas is so synonymous with rugged outdoor adventures, waterfalls, and ruins that few people realize there are any beaches here at all!

In reality, the western coast of Chiapas features over 250km of undisturbed natural coastline, and gorgeous beaches and coves that boast soft, powdery-white sand, and clear cerulean waters. Puerto Arista Beach is one of the most popular. 

It is backed by picturesque palm trees and mangroves and is considered one of the most critical places in Chiapas for the conservation of sea turtles. There are plenty of restaurants, cafes, and palapa-style huts here where you can sample the regional cuisine, fresh seafood dishes prepared with fish caught earlier the same day, or ice-cold micheladas. 

If you prefer something a little quieter and more secluded, you will love Boca del Cielo (¨mouth of heaven¨ beach). This sleepy little fishing village is well worth the effort to get to and few people take the time to venture here. 

It is backed by the clear blue waters of La Jolla Lake on one side and the endless horizons of the Pacific Ocean on the other. A trip here is more about relaxation than anything else, and having the opportunity to laze around on the beach in a hammock, watching gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and simply admiring the view. 

Palenque Chiapas

Explore the ruins at Palenque

The Palenque ruins are undoubtedly among the best Mayan ruins in Mexico. The site dates back to the Early Classic period (A.D. 200-600) and was also known as ¨Lakamha¨ in the Ancient Itza language. It flourished during the 7th century under the rule of Pakal.

Palenque sits in the heart of the Tumbalá mountains. You can climb the ruins here and for your efforts, you are rewarded with spectacular views of the jungle below.

The site is expansive and worthy of 2-3 hours of your time. Palenque is one of the world’s most studied Mayan ruins and it was just as important as Chichen Itza, Edzna , and Mayapan .

Recommended Palenque tours

Palenque is relatively remote and somewhat tricky to get to. It is advisable to visit the site on a tour.

Many reputable local tour operators offer day trips from San Cristobal de Las Casas to Palenque. They usually combine a trip to the ruins with a visit to some nearby waterfalls.

A selection of the best Palenque tours is detailed below for your consideration.

  • From San Cristobal: Agua Azul and Palenque day trip
  • From San Cristobal: Palenque, Agua Azul and Misol-Ha day trip

Yaxchilan ruins

Take a boat out to the Yaxchilan ruins

Visiting the ruins at Palenque can feel like a bit of an effort. At first glance, it seems like there is little else of interest in the area nearby. Palenque town is not a tourist destination in itself, although it is home to several hotels and restaurants.

If you opt to stay overnight in Palenque, you can then consider taking a day trip out to Yaxchilan and Bonampak ruins. The Yaxchilan ruins are some of the most difficult to reach but they are well worth the effort.

To get here, you need to board a boat and ride along the Usumacinta River. Much of Yaxchilan has been reclaimed by the jungle and is massively overgrown. It looks just as you would expect a site that has been abandoned for thousands of years to look. Yaxchilan sees just a fraction of the tourists seen by the likes of Palenque and Chichen Itza.

This is, in part, because the ruins require so much effort to get to. Only a small handful of tourists pass through here every day.

Yaxchilan was occupied between 250 AD and 900 AD. Its location right on the river made it an important city for trade and commerce.

Recommended Yaxchilan and Bonampak tours

It would be very difficult to try and get to Yaxchilan independently. Your best bet is to travel with a tour guide.

Several reputable tour options are detailed below. Most tours combine a trip to Yaxchilan with the nearby ruins of Bonampak.

  • Yaxchilan and Bonampak ruins and Lacandon jungle tour from Palenque

Yaxchilan and Bonampak can be visited on a tour from Palenque

Stop by the Bonampak archeological site

The Bonampak archeological site is small, and at first glimpse, it may not seem as impressive as Palenque or Yaxchilan but don’t be fooled. The most fascinating thing about this site is that it is home to several extremely well-preserved, colorful painted murals.

In fact, ¨Bonampak¨ is Mayan for ¨painted walls¨. In one of the main structures here, nestled deep in the heart of the jungle, are three rooms that are painted from floor to ceiling.

These are the best-preserved Mayan murals in the world and Mayan paintings like these are extremely rare. The murals depict scenes from everyday life in a Mayan civilization – celebrations, sacrifices, and religious ceremonies.

It is better to visit Bonampak as part of a tour. Most companies combine a trip to the ruin with a trip to Yaxchilan.

A Chiapescan man walks beneath fluttering papel picado flags in the colorful Chiapas city of Comitan

Venture off the beaten path to the city of Comitan

The city of Comitan de Dominguez is a pueblo magico in the southernmost part of Chiapas state. It sits right beside the Guatemalan border and a visit here is one of the best things to do in Chiapas if you want to venture far off the beaten track and experience local life.

Comitan’s pre-Hispanic name was Balún Canán meaning “Nine Stars”. The settlement was founded in a swamp by a large group of Tzeltal Indians.

In 1486 it was subdued by the Aztecs who changed the name to “Comitlan” derived from a Nahuatl word meaning “Place of potters”. Spanish colonizers changed the name to Comitan, which was easier for them to pronounce.

The ¨de Dominguez¨ aspect of the name was added in 1915 in honor of Dr. Belisario Dominguez, a beloved doctor, and politician. Comitan does not offer a huge amount in terms of things to see and do; You could easily explore most of the town on foot in half a day.

However, it makes a great base for exploring many of the southernmost ruins, lakes, and parks in Chiapas. If you base yourself in Comitan rather than San Cristobal, your journey time to the likes of Montebello Lakes and the El Chiflon waterfalls is much shorter.

Howler monkeys and other animals can be found in the Lacandon jungle

Trek through the Lacandon Jungle

The Lacandon Jungle is an area of rainforest that is easily accessible from Palenque. It stretches from Chiapas, Mexico, all the way down to Guatemala.

You will pass through a section of the jungle if you want to travel to the ruins of Yaxchilan and Bonampak. However, if you want to delve deeper into the wilderness and learn about the indigenous Lacandon Maya tribe that inhabits the jungle, as well as have the chance to view its endemic flora, fauna, and animals, you can book a jungle trek.

Many local companies offer Lacandon Jungle trekking tours. Some are led by members of the Lacandon tribes and others include an overnight say at a jungle camp.

A mask recovered from Tenam Puente on display at a museum in the Comitan archeological museum

Visit the ruins at Tenam Puente

A visit to the ruins at Tenam Puente is one of the best things to do in Chiapas if you have a keen interest in Mayan history. The Mayan city is just 11.6km south of Comitan and is accessible via Colectivo.

Tenam Puente comes from the Nahuatl word  tenamitl  meaning fortification. The site dates back to the early post-classic period (900-1200 AD) until it was eventually abandoned. Like many Mayan cities, nobody is certain about the reasons why it was abandoned.

Many artifacts that have been recovered from Tenam Puente are on display in the small Museo Arqueológico de Comitán in the Comitan city center. This is well worth visiting if you have time.

Unfortunately, the museum information is only displayed in Spanish so if you cannot speak/read Spanish, it doesn’t give a huge amount of context. However, some of the old Mayan masks and artifacts recovered from Tenam Puente are so ornate and intricate, that it would be a shame to miss the chance to view them.

Best things to do in Chiapas Mexico: Visit the Mayan ruins of Chinkultic

Head out to the forgotten ruins of Chinkultic

The ruins at Chinkultic are located 45.5km south of Comitan, close to the Guatemalan border. Unless you are driving in Mexico , they are difficult to get to independently.

The site dates back to 600 AD and contains several temples and pyramids that you can climb. From their peaks, you have incredible views across Southern Chiapas, with Guatemala in the distance.

The Chinkultic ruins are small. You only need an hour or two to explore them so a visit here is best combined with a trip to the nearby Montebello lakes.

For the time being, very few tours run to the region. If you do not have a vehicle, your best bet to reach the site is to go by taxi.

Ask your hotel reception/accommodation host to provide you with the details of a taxi driver that they trust. Then, you can negotiate a price with the driver for them to wait for you while you explore the site and then drive you back to Comitan.

There is a colectivo that you can take. However, it does not run all the way to Chinkultic. Instead, you need to go to Mobtelello Lakes and then try and hitch a ride from there.

El Chiflon waterfalls are one of Chiapas states most popular natural attractions

Take a day trip to El Chiflon Waterfalls

The El Chiflon waterfalls are among the most popular day trips that you can do from San Cristobal de Las Casas. This collection of tiered waterfalls awaits in the southern part of the state, close to Comitan.

There are five waterfalls here. The most famous is called the Cascada de Vela Novia (the bridal veil) because its crystal clear water cascades over the edge of a cliff, giving the appearance of a bride’s veil.

You cannot swim in the waterfalls. However, there is a river nearby where you can swim so be sure to bring your swimsuit to make the most of the falls on a hot, humid day. There are also several hiking trails that lead you through the breathtaking natural scenery of the area.

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Recommended El Chiflon tours

  • San Cristobal: El Chiflon waterfalls and Montebello day tour
  • Tuxtla Gutierrez: El Chiflon waterfalls and Montebello day tour

Spend a day at Montebello Lakes

The Lagos de Montebello (Montebello Lakes) is a complex of 59 natural lakes situated at the Mexico-Guatemala border. Some fall on the Mexican side of the border, others await in Guatemala.

This is one of the best places to visit in Chiapas if you enjoy the great outdoors and getting back to nature. You can take a boat ride on some of the larger lakes and many hiking trails weave throughout the area.

Many local tour companies include a trip to Montebello lakes with their El Chiflon tours. However, the lakes are also very easy (and cheap!) to get to independently.

You can take a Colectivo from Comitan to the lakes for just 20 pesos ($1 USD!) Pack some snacks or some Mexican street food and have a picnic on the banks of one of the lakes.

Sundays at the lake provide a great people-watching opportunity. Most Mexicans have the day off work and you will see lots of local families having picnics, camping, and swimming in the lakes.

Marvel at the Agua Azul waterfalls

There are several spectacular waterfalls that you will likely pass on your way to Palenque. Namely, Agua Azul, Misol-Ha, and Roberto Barrios.

If you are participating in a Palenque tour that departs from San Cristobal, they will typically include a brief stop at one or multiple of these sites. The Las Cascadas de Agua Azul is the most popular of the falls.

As the name suggests, the clear water here is a fabulous shade of turquoise blue. This ethereal shade is due to a combination of carbonated salts that exist in the water.

Fortunately, the salts do not affect or harm your skin in any way so you can safely and comfortably enjoy swimming in the pools at the base of the falls. Many tour buses stop at Agua Azul each day and unfortunately, the site is becoming increasingly crowded which can somewhat detract from the magic of visiting the site.

If you are touring Chiapas independently, you may prefer to visit the lesser-known cascado Roberto Barrios. The falls are an hour’s drive from Palenque and are accessible via Colectivo.

Visit the Sima de las Cotorras sinkhole 

The Sima de las Cotorras sinkhole (chasm of the parakeets) is a Chiapas cenote that sits in the El Ocote Biosphere Reserve in Western Chiapas. As the name suggests, the huge sinkhole is home to thousands of colorful birds but its most famous residents are its bright green parakeets (cotorras). Every morning at around 4.30 or 5 am, the sinkholes’ resident birds wake up with the sunrise and take flight, fluttering out of the caverns and decorating the sky with hundreds of different colors. Not only is Sima de las Cotorras located in the very heart of the Chiapescan jungle, but there is a separate jungle located at the base level inside of it. Many of the trees and flowers here are native to Mexico and some of them are not found anywhere else – they are exclusive to this unique sinkhole. The only way to go inside the sinkhole is by rappelling down it. 

Various tour companies offer fully-supervised rappelling tours from Tuxtla and San Cristobal. If you are afraid of heights or nervous about the safety of rappelling, it is reassuring to know that you are with professionals that will watch and guide you the entire time. 

The Sima de las Cotorras is open from 7 am until 5 pm daily, but many tour companies will get you to the site before that so that you can watch the sunrise, see the birds coming out of the chasm, and enjoy a traditional Mexican breakfast before you start rappelling. 

Part way down the rim, you can find hundreds of cave paintings (petroglyphs) that were likely created by the local Zoque communities some 10,000 years ago. The sinkhole is 520 feet wide and 460 feet deep. 

Trek to the Aguacero Waterfalls 

Although El Chiflon Falls may be the most popular waterfalls in Chiapas, they are not the only worthwhile cascadas in the state. The Aguacero Falls could easily give them a run for their money, and this spectacular, underrated gem is nestled in the heart of the Ocote jungle. 

The falls are approximately an hour away from Tuxtla Gutierrez. Once you arrive at the site, it’s a short trek down 749 stone steps to the Cañón Río La Venta (La Venta River Canon). From there, you need to wade through the knee-deep waters of the river as you make your way to the falls. If you ever wanted to feel like a real-life Indiana Jones, the Aguacero Falls are your opportunity to do just that. While the Falls themselves are beautiful (even if they do not have the same ethereal-looking turquoise pools of water that El Chiflon and Agua Azul have), the jungle that encompasses them is equally fascinating and filled with caves and tunnels to explore, natural rock pools to bathe in, and mossy rocks to sit on while you revel in the view. 

Fall in love with the Reserva de la Biosfera La Encrucijada

La Encrucijada is a series of mangrove forests and estuaries that have been recognized as a biosphere reserve since 1995. The mangroves here are among the best in Mexico, with some of the trees reaching heights of up to 35km tall – making them among the tallest in Latin America. 

Sailing through the mangroves with local fishermen and admiring the flora, fauna and wildlife here is the best way to experience the biosphere reserve. (It is similar in some ways to Celestun or Rio Lagartos in the Yucatan ). 

Many of the plants that are found here are endangered and on the bird of extinction. Various migratory birds pass through the reserve each year, notably the waterfowl from Canada and the north of the United States. 

Nearby, on the coast of Barra Zacapulco, turtles come ashore onto the beaches to lay their eggs during the hatching season which takes place every year between August and October.  

Tapachula 

If Comitan de Dominguez is overlooked, the border town of Tapachula is even more so. Most travelers to Chiapas only see passing through the settlement as a necessary evil on the journey across the border into neighboring Guatemala. 

However, Tapachula is home to a population of 353,706 inhabitants and provides some great opportunities to immerse yourself in Mexican traditions and culture. Mexico’s southernmost city is known as the ‘Pearl of the Soconusco´and is an important place for the production and trade of flowers and fresh produce. 

The Miguel Hidalgo Central Park is a nice place to walk around while the Museo de Tapachula gives insight into the region’s history. (Although the exhibits are mostly in Spanish).

From here, you can also take day trips out to the Izapa ruins or the Tajumulco volcano. 

Impressive street art in Chiapa de Corzo

Final thoughts on the best things to do in Chiapas in 2024

Have you been to Chiapas, Mexico? Do you have any additional suggestions in terms of the best things to do in Chiapas Mexico? 

If you are visiting Mexico for the first time, you may enjoy reading this list of Mexico travel tips to know before you go . Safe travels! Buen Viaje! Melissa xo

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Melissa Douglas

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10 Best Places to Visit in Chiapas, Mexico

Last updated on October 3, 2023 by Alex Schultz - Leave a Comment

The southernmost state in Mexico, Chiapas is a beautiful land of contrasts. Crumbling Mayan ruins lie next to charming colonial cities, and steamy, rainforest-coated mountains give way to epic natural sights such as the glimmering Laguna Miramar and the death-defying drops of Sumidero Canyon.

There is much to discover, and the region’s rich indigenous heritage and culture shines forth wherever you go. Whether it’s the incredible archaeological sites of Palenque and Yaxchilan or the astounding nature on show in Lagunas de Montebello National Park and at Cascadas de Agua Azul, Chiapas certainly won’t disappoint. There’s a lot to fit in, but here are the best places to visit in Chiapas.

Map of Chiapas, Mexico

chiapas mexico map

10. Laguna Miramar [SEE MAP]

Laguna Miramar

Tucked away deep in the confines of Montes Azules National Park, the sparkling blue waters of Laguna Miramar stand out delightfully against the vivid greens of the rainforest that hems it in on all sides.

A biodiversity hotspot, the lake and its surroundings are home to around 20 percent of the different species of fauna and flora to be found in the country, while lots of wildlife such as crocodiles and howler monkeys are also on show.

Due to its secluded nature, Laguna Miramar is a very peaceful place, and camping or staying the night in one of its eco-friendly shelters is a fantastic experience. In addition to horseback riding around the forest, swimming in the lake, and taking a boat trip around its waters, guests can also explore the unexcavated and unspoiled Mayan ruins that lie coated in the jungle alongside part of the lakeshore.

9. Tonina [SEE MAP]

Tonina

Boasting one of the largest pyramids in the country and a host of impressive stone-carved monuments, the archaeological site of Tonina is fascinating to explore, with lots of crumbling temples, ball courts, and palaces to discover.

Although the site dates back to much earlier, the ancient Mayan city flourished between 600 and 900 AD. It was during this epoch that many of its most eye-catching monuments and buildings were built.

These include the magnificent Temple of Cosmic War, the remarkable Mural of the Four Eras and the towering Temple of the Smoking Mirror. Despite the wealth of beautifully carved sculptures and stuccoes, surprisingly few tourists visit Tonina. As such, you’ll be able to explore the spectacular archaeological site at your leisure with barely another soul in sight.

8. Lagunas de Montebello National Park [SEE MAP]

Lagunas de Montebello

Located just a stone’s throw away from the border with Guatemala , Lagunas de Montebello National Park is a nature lover’s dream, with its 59 glittering lakes shimmering among the endless pine forests.

As the mineral content of the lakes varies quite considerably, they each have a different color; some appear emerald and turquoise while others take on a darkish ruddy hue.

Outdoor enthusiasts will rejoice at what the national park has to offer up; you can go hiking or horseback riding through the forests or swimming, kayaking, and canoeing in the lakes. In addition, there are also hundreds of half-excavated Mayan ruins for you to check out; seeing them appear before you from amid the dense vegetation is a mesmerizing experience that will make you feel like Indiana Jones.

7. Canon del Sumidero [SEE MAP]

Canon del Sumidero

One of the most popular tourist attractions in the state, Sumidero Canyon is simply spectacular to behold; in some places, its steep, almost vertical walls tower up to a kilometer in height. Taking an exhilarating boat trip along the Grijalva River that runs along the bottom of the canyon is a must as you shoot beneath the cliffs and alongside the rainforest-coated banks of the river.

Nestled away in the national park of the same name, Sumidero Canyon was formed millions of years ago. A number of waterfalls, rapids, and beaches can be found along the canyon, which stretches for 13 kilometers. While the scenery is stunning, the canyon also attracts many outdoor enthusiasts and extreme sports lovers, who go rock climbing, rappelling, and mountain biking within the park.

6. Chiapa de Corzo [SEE MAP]

Chiapa de Corzo

Lying just a short distance away from Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapa de Corzo is a very charming town that has a wonderful relaxed and laidback feel to it. With its lovely central plaza, beautiful riverside waterfront, and impressive colonial-era churches, Chiapa de Corzo has more than enough for you to see and do for a few days, with some excellent street art and lively markets also on offer.

As it is mostly overlooked by foreign tourists, it is a great place to head to if you want to see the authentic side of Mexico. In addition to this, some interesting pre-Columbian ruins of the same name are located not far from the town – as is the spectacular Canon del Sumidero.

5. Yaxchilan [SEE MAP]

Yaxchilan

Once one of the most important and powerful Mayan cities in the region, Yaxchilan is now home to some of the most impressive ruins in the country, and just reaching the archaeological site is a memorable experience in itself.

Surrounded by dense jungle and perched atop a hill overlooking the Usumacinta River, Yaxchilan is only accessible by boat. Shooting along the river to see its ruined palaces and temples is an incredible feeling which is only magnified by the calls of the howler monkeys as you approach.

Exploring the secluded site is just as magical. Its well-preserved buildings with their intricately decorated facades and sculptures fully convey the power and prestige of the ancient Maya who once lived here. After wandering around Yaxchilan’s many ruins, retreating to the riverfront and taking the boat back feels as if you are resurfacing from a dream as you leave the mysterious ruins in the steamy jungle behind you.

4. Cascadas de Agua Azul [SEE MAP]

Cascadas de Agua Azul

Twinkling in the sunlight, the Blue Water Cascades – as they are known in English – are a sight to behold; the vivid blues stand out starkly against the rocks and trees around them. Due to the high mineral content, gleaming white limestone is deposited in the stream’s wake, and this only adds to the beauty of the scene.

Coursing down a series of cataracts and cascades, the waterfalls are a popular place to visit with both locals and tourists alike, as the fresh water is so reinvigorating to bathe in. A peaceful and relaxing place to spend an afternoon, Cascadas de Agua Azul is well worth checking out if you have the chance.

3. Bonampak [SEE MAP]

Bonampak

Due to its remote location amongst endless swathes of dense jungle, Bonampak was only rediscovered by the outside world in 1946 – and what a discovery it was. With its magnificent murals and frescoes that display epic and eerie scenes of war and human sacrifice, the ancient Mayan archaeological site is fascinating to explore, with lots of well-preserved buildings and temples.

While it takes quite a while to get to the site, visitors will be well-rewarded for their effort, as they’ll likely have the incredible ruins of Bonampak almost to themselves.

2. San Cristobal de las Casas [SEE MAP]

San Cristobal de las Casas

Full of incredible colonial architecture, cobbled streets, and lively street markets, the charming San Cristobal de las Casas is a lovely city to visit. Its beautiful setting in a valley surrounded by hills only adds to its picturesque look and feel.

While its many beautiful churches and plazas are certainly worth checking out, many people come to San Cristobal to learn more about the rich indigenous cultures and traditions that continue to shape the city’s identity.

San Cristobal lies at the heart of many traditional villages that are scattered amongst the hills. For people interested in experiencing the authentic, traditional, and indigenous side of Mexico, taking a trip out to some of them is well worth the effort. Offering the perfect balance of history and culture, city and countryside, San Cristobal de las Casas really is a treat to explore.

1. Palenque [SEE MAP]

Places to Visit in Chiapas, Mexico

Home to some of the finest examples of Mayan carvings, sculptures, and architecture, the Palenque archaeological site is mesmerizing to explore, and it is not without reason that it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state.

Rising from the dense jungle, the crumbling temples and pyramids look absolutely stunning. Wandering among the huge buildings that tower over you really does make you feel like you have stepped back in time.

Thanks to the beautiful carvings that can still be seen etched in stone, much is known about the site, so it is well worth hiring a tour guide to take you around. With the cries of howler monkeys echoing in the rainforest and brightly colored parrots flying overhead, visiting Palenque and exploring the Mayan ruins promises to be a memory that will stick with you a lifetime.

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7 Adventurous Things to Do in Chiapas, Mexico

Home » Blog » Mexico » 7 Adventurous Things to Do in Chiapas, Mexico

With endless outdoor adventures and a rich cultural heritage, Chiapas is a place in Mexico that we consider a hidden gem among tourists. After visiting this unique corner of Mexico, we put together a list of the best things to do in Chiapas. In this article, you’ll find all sorts of insider tips to help you plan and prepare for your visit. 

Palenque Ruins Chiapas Mexico

Chiapas is the southernmost state in Mexico that shares the majority of the Mexico/Guatemala border. While most people think Mexico is all white sand beaches and margaritas, Chiapas is actually quite the opposite. The region’s mountainous highlands and dense rainforests are home to the largest number of indigenous peoples in Mexico.

We fell in love with this still mostly undiscovered gem of a region while backpacking through Mexico . It’s diverse nature means you can trek through the jungle discovering hidden waterfalls and explore cozy colonial mountain towns in the same day. 

The unique cultural practices passed down through the indigenous communities means this is a great place to learn more about the pre-Spanish history of Mexico as well. 

Whether you’re making a quick stop in San Cristóbal for a few days, or you’re able to spend more time exploring the entire state, we have a list of the top things to do in Chiapas, Mexico that’ll satisfy any type of traveler. 

Tip: One of the easiest ways to get around Mexico is by driving a rental car. You get to explore on your own, the roads are usually pretty decent, and rental cars are crazy cheap. We use Discover Cars to search for the best deals on rental cars around the world and we even have an entire  guide to getting a rental car in Mexico  including tips for driving and safety. 

A note about safety in Chiapas

While San Cristóbal and the other destinations we recommend in this article are all safe places for tourists to visit, we felt it important to share a light warning about the safety around the state of Chiapas. 

Being the poorest state in Mexico, some of the residents of Chiapas have a history of clashing with the Mexican government. Oftentimes the only disturbance to your travel may be from protests that shut down roads, or blocades from unofficial ‘authority’ asking for tolls to pass, but we’ve heard stories of more violence in some areas. 

We read a few times that it was unwise to travel by rental car through the city of Ocosingo (which is between Palenque and San Cristóbal) as this area has a history of unrest. Instead, if you are driving a rental car, it is recommended to take the highway from Villahermosa to San Cristóbal via Tuxtla-Gutierez. 

We hope this does not deter you from traveling to what is easily one of the most beautiful regions of the country filled with plenty of kind and welcoming people, but rather reminds you to be more aware of your surroundings and do your own research to see what you are comfortable with. 

Things to Do in Chiapas Mexico | Two Wandering Soles

1. Explore the ruins in Palenque

Palenque Ruins Chiapas Mexico

Ancient ruins can really start to blend together once you’ve seen many, but some stand out as really special. Palenque is our favorite archeological site we’ve visited in Mexico.

Situated in the jungle near the border of Mexico and Guatemala, getting there can be a lengthy journey, so it is far less crowded than the likes of Chichen Itza and Teotihuacán. Instead of being caught up in a crowd of sweaty tourists clutching selfie sticks, you’ll hear howler monkeys screeching and spot exotic birds flying overhead.

While the grounds are significantly smaller than Tikal in Guatemala , it has a similar feel and is well worth a visit if you are seeking a truly unique and off the beaten path ruins experience. 

How to get there: 

If you are staying in Palenque, the ruins are an easy 15 minute drive from the center of town. Taking a cab will bring you right to the ticket office, which is about 1.5 km from the entrance to the ruins. There are 2 queues for 2 separate tickets: One for the National Park and one to enter the ruins. They may tell you you need both, but if you just want to see the ruins, you will only need the ticket for the ruins and not the national park. (The national park is a separate area where you can walk through the jungle and see more ruins.) 

Tip: If you are in a rental car, you may get stopped about 3 km from the entrance by people trying to sell you tickets and guide services. Just say no thank you and if they give you a hassle, tell them you already have your tickets. 

Palenque Ruins Chiapas Mexico

Entrance Fees:

  • Palenque Ruins tickets: 80 MXN per person
  • National Park wristbands: 90 MXN per person

If you’re staying in San Cristóbal, it’s possible to organize a day trip to Palenque. Beware that it is a full day starting at 4 a.m. and you’ll return to town at 9 or 10 at night. In addition to a 2-hour stop at the ruins, you’ll also spend time at Agua Azul and Misol Há waterfalls. The price for this full-day tour is 450 pesos per person, and does not include meals or guides.

Tip: Bring your own snacks. The meal stops on this trip are at rather overpriced restaurants. They are a fine last resort, but we wished we had been prepared with our own food.

You can also get to Palenque independently via the bus from San Cristóbal. This journey takes roughly 8-9 hours and does not stop at the waterfalls. The normal bus during the day costs around 324 MXN per person, and there is an overnight bus that’s a good option if you’d like to get to Palenque in the morning.

We chose to go with the tour to expedite the travel time and so we could see Agua Azul, which was surprisingly similar to El Chiflon and more touristy.

Where to stay in Palenque 

If you are planning to travel to Guatemala or to the Yucatan, you can spend the night in Palenque and continue on your journey the next morning. 

Cabanas Kin Balam Palenque | Image source: Booking

Budget Stay: We spent the night at Kin Balam’s Bungalows in Palenque, which was nice and had a pool. We then crossed the border to Flores, Guatemala via a private shuttle the next morning at 10 a.m.

Hotel Maya Tulipanes Palenque | Image source: Booking

Couples/Mid-range Stay: Our Editor Amanda and her mom took a trip to Chiapas and stayed at the Hotel Maya Tulipanes in Palenque. The hotel was clean and comfortable and the pool was a great place to cool off after a long day or exploring the ruins. Plus the onsite breakfast made for an easy morning before check out.  

Hotel Boutique Quinta Chanabnal Palenque | Image source: Booking

Luxury Stay: Palenque doesn’t have much in the way of luxury hotel accommodation, but there are a few highly rated 5-star properties in the area. We’d recommend the Boutique Hotel Quinta Chanabnal for its excellent reviews on Booking.com.

2. Swim in Agua Azul and Misol Há waterfalls

Agua Azul Waterfalls in Chiapas Mexico

About an hour and a half south of the town of Palenque, through winding mountain roads showcasing magnificent vistas, you’ll find the beautiful turquoise cascading waters of Agua Azul and it’s lesser-known neighbor Misol Há. 

Agua Azul reminded us a bit of Krka National Park in Croatia , especially because you are allowed to swim amongst the falls! Whereas Misol-Há consists of one single cascade dropping 35 m over the edge of a lush green cliff. 

Agua Azul swimming area in Chiapas Mexico

How to get there: There are two ways to get to the waterfalls from Palenque: by tour or independently. A tour to Agua Azul and Misol Há will likely take about half the day and include transportation from Palenque. 

However, the benefit of visiting the falls on your own is having the flexibility to arrive early, before 10 a.m. when all the tourists descend on the area. 

Entrance Fee: 50 MXN per person for Agua Azul; 20 MXN per person for Misol Há 

3. Fall in love with San Cristóbal de las Casas

San Cristóbal de las Casas

San Cristóbal de las Casas has a way of making those traveling through fall in love and often stay longer than expected. Packed with culture, cute cafes, amazing textiles, nearby nature and a laid back vibe, it’s easy to see why.

This colorful town in the Mexican state of Chiapas reminded us a bit of one of our favorite towns in Colombia: Salento , and we knew right away we would have a hard time leaving.

In fact, there are so many fun things to do in San Cristóbal de las Casas , we decided it needed it’s own article.

4. Visit the Indigenous villages of Chamula and Zinacantán

Chamula Indigenous Village Chiapas Mexico

The most prominent of the indigenous groups in the state of Chiapas, Mexico are the Tzotzil and Tzetzal peoples. These communities are located just a 15-20 minute drive from San Cristóbal in the villages of Chamula and Zinacantán. 

The communities are autonomous from the Mexican government, meaning the people there follow their own laws. They practice a blend of ancient Mayan rituals mixed with Catholic beliefs, and wear traditional clothing specific to their village.

Alex y Raul Tours is a culturally responsible local tour company that offers visits to the villages of Chamula and Zinacantán. We learned so much on our tour and were able to experience so much more than we would have on our own, like going inside the home of one of the village leaders as well as a family of artisans. We cannot recommend this tour enough, it was even one of our favorite things to do in Mexico .

The tours run daily from 9:30 a.m. and you’ll be returned to San Cristóbal by about 2:30 p.m. You can fill out the contact form on their website to make a reservation ahead of time and they will pick you up directly from your accommodation in San Cristóbal. 

The tour costs 300 MXN per person, which is significantly more than you’d pay for a collectivo to the town (around 30-40 pesos each way). But trust us when we say this tour is well worth your time and money. However, there are no meals included so we’d highly advise you to bring your own snacks!

San Juan Chamula church Chiapas Mexico

The town itself is incredibly interesting, but the main draw here is the San Juan Chamula Church.

It might seem strange to list a church as one of the top things to do in Chiapas, but trust us, it’s well worth it. From the outside, San Juan Chamula Church looks like any other church in Latin America, but inside you’ll be transported to another world.

Pine needles cover the floor, thousands of candles flicker, women kneel and pray dramatically to different saints. You may see chickens being sacrificed, and you’ll definitely see people drinking what looks like water, but what is actually pox (a local liquor).

While it is possible to visit this village and see the church on your own, we would highly, highly recommend taking a tour. We were planning to go on our own, but after talking to several people at our hostel, they all had the same consensus: You will not understand anything that is going on if you enter on your own.

Zinacantán Indigenous Village Chiapas Mexico

A vibrant town just 10 minutes up the road from Chamula, Zinacantán is also home to the Tzotzil Maya indigenous people, but their practices are notably different. The name Zinacantán directly translates to ‘land of bats’ and you will see their official mascot all over the village. 

One of the most notable differences, aside from the traditional dress, is the religious practices. The people here still practice a unique blend of Mayan ritual and Christianity, however their Churches will look more familiar to traditional Catholic sanctuaries. 

The village people are also expert gardeners and using vast networks of greenhouses, they produce the majority of flowers exported to the Yucatán peninsula.    

4. Discover the Magic of El Chiflon Waterfalls

El Chiflon Waterfalls Chiapas Mexico

We love waterfalls, but we’ve been spoiled by our travels in Laos, Indonesia , Croatia and Iceland , so we weren’t sure if it would be worthwhile to make the 3-hour journey to El Chiflon Waterfalls. But after talking to a few people at our hostel in San Cristóbal, we realized it was something we just shouldn’t miss! And we’re so glad we listened.

With stunning aqua pools you can swim in, tree-lined paths, picnic spots and impressive falls, El Chiflon is a gem and definitely worth a visit if you have the time.

You can either get to El Chiflon via tour or public transportation. Typically the tour also includes a stop at Montebello Lakes and they run daily from 8 a.m. and return around 7 p.m.  

We heard from several people that the lakes were not worthwhile and they wished they had more time at the falls instead. For this reason, we opted to skip the tour and go to the falls on our own, and it was not all that difficult. We wrote an entire article about our experience visiting El Chiflon without a tour to help you plan your travels. 

5. Venture to Lagunas de Montebello National Park

Even further past El Chiflon, very near to the Guatemala border, is  Lagunas de Montebello National Park. Known for its multi-hued lakes, there are 59 of them to be exact, that glisten in the sunlight with bright blues and greens and are surrounded by pine forests. 

Part of the national park is a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve, plus there are plenty of things to do in the area like hiking, kayaking, cave exploration and even cenotes (which are less common this far south).  

This national park makes a great day trip from San Cristóbal as it’s about a 3-hour drive, and if you really want to be adventurous, you can do both El Chiflon and Lagunas de Montebello in the same day.

6. Cruise past crocs in the Sumidero Canyon

Sumidero Canyon boat tour Chiapas, Mexico

We heard mixed reviews about this canyon tour that includes a boat ride where you’ll likely spot spider monkeys and crocodiles. Most people seemed to think it was cool, but they always followed it up with “if you don’t have time, it’s okay to skip”.

We opted to pass on this tour, since there is so much to do in this area and 4 days just isn’t enough to do it all!

That said, our Editor Amanda visited Chiapas most recently in 2021 and had a great experience on the Sumidero Canyon tour. We asked her to give us some insight into the experience…  

Crocodiles in Sumidero Canyon

I opted to do the Sumidero Canyon tour the way the locals do instead of signing up for a guided tour and had an absolute blast (albeit I could only understand about 10% of what the guide was explaining in Spanish). 

The easiest and most affordable way to see the canyon is to roll up (in your rental car or taxi) to the Embarcadero Bella Cahuaré and buy tickets on-site for a guided boat tour. Boats leave as soon as they are full — we went on a Sunday and didn’t have to wait more than 10 minutes. 

The views were spectacular! The tour was in Spanish, but you don’t need to understand the language to enjoy the ride and spot the animals everyone is pointing out. We saw plenty of crocodiles lounging on the river banks and the driver would stop the boat to allow for better photos. We also saw monkeys, interesting birds and a waterfall straight out of a fairytale. 

The ride lasts about 2 hours and you’ll cruise through the entire Sumidero Canyon and other parts of the Rio Grijalva. Tickets cost 200 MXN for the boat tour + 50 MXN for the National Park wristband. Be sure to bring sun protection and a water bottle as it gets very hot without shade in many parts of the river. 

6. Marvel at the fountain in Chiapa de Corzo

Chiapa de Corzo Chiapas Mexico

The quaint little town of Chiapa de Corzo was the first colonial city in the state of Chiapas, founded by the Spanish in 1528. Many travelers visit Chiapas on a day trip from San Cristóbal and spend time wandering the cobbled streets and marveling at the Fountain La Pila in the town’s main square. 

The Moorish-style fountain was constructed in 1562, built from bricks in the unique octagonal form featuring 8 arches with a cylindrical tower. The fountain, which according to some historians is attributed to the Dominican churchman, Father Rodrigo de León, was completed by the Spaniards.

What was once used as a watchtower, today serves as a gathering place in the center of town for tourists and locals alike.

Sample Itinerary for Chiapas, Mexico

Trying to figure out how you can fit all these sights into one trip?? You could easily spend weeks in this beautiful part of the country and not see everything there is to see. However, if you want to experience all the adventurous things to do in Chiapas on our list, we’d recommend spending 6 days exploring. You can follow this itinerary exactly or make adjustments to it to fit your travel style.

Editor’s Note: This is the exact itinerary I followed for my Chiapas trip. However, due to the safety concerns of self-driving between Palenque and San Cristóbal, we took the safer route, doubling back from Palenque to Villahermosa and taking the highway down to San Cristóbal. This route took us about 9 hours total in the car. Instead of all this driving, I’d recommend taking the bus from Palenque to San Cristóbal, or cutting out Palenque entirely and flying into and out of Tuxtla Gutiérrez to visit just the sights near San Cristóbal.
  • Fly into Villahermosa Airport (VSA) and either rent a car or take the bus to Palenque.
  • Explore the Palenque ruins
  • Visit Agua Azul and Misol-Há Falls in the morning
  • Make your way down to San Cristóbal

Catedral de San Cristóbal de las Casas

  • Free walking tour of San Cristóbal
  • Explore the other things to do in San Cristóbal

Chamula Indigenous Village Market

  • Indigenous villages tour with Alex y Raul Tours in the morning
  • Visit Sumidero Canyon in the afternoon

El Chiflon Waterfalls Chiapas Mexico

  • Spend the day at El Chiflon Waterfalls
  • Optional: Go even further to Lagos de Montebello before returning to San Cristóbal
  • Spend your last morning in San Cristóbal at one of their cute cafes
  • Make your way to the airport to fly out of Tuxtla Gutiérrez (TGZ)

Be sure to download our  complete packing list for Mexico !  It’s packed with good suggestions and  insider tips  to help plan your Mexico vacation. And it’s completely  FREE , so why not!?

why visit chiapas

Are you planning a trip to Mexico?

We have lots more resources on travel in Mexico and destinations throughout the country. Check out our  Ultimate Mexico Travel Guide  for all the important travel information, or read some of our favorite articles below.

  • Fun Things to Do in San Cristóbal de las Casas
  • How to Go to El Chiflon Waterfalls Without a Tour
  • Incredible Things to Do in Mexico (that aren’t beaches!)
  • Best Time to Visit Mexico: When to Go & When to Avoid!

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Things to Do in Chiapas Mexico | Two Wandering Soles

We want to hear from you!

Which of these adventurous things to do in Chiapas are you most excited about? Are you planning a trip to Chiapas, Mexico and still have questions? Comment below and we’ll do our best to get back to you!

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So much inspiration in this guide – thank you!

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Live, Wander, Play

Best places to visit in Chiapas, Mexico: a 1 week itinerary

Chiapas is a naturally and culturally stunning region of Mexico. It has seven distinct geographical regions ranging from the Pacific coastal region, arid plains, high altitude forests, jungle, as well as the Gulf Coast region. In addition to a fascinating geography, Chiapas also has the largest population of indigenous people in Mexico, and is home to very significant Mayan ruins such as including Palenque, Yaxchilan, and Bonampak. I visited Chiapas in the Spring of 2022 during my sabbatical year after travelling around Colombia . This post will highlight what I think are the best places to visit in Chiapas, Mexico on a 1 week itinerary.

  • San Cristobal de las Casas
  • Transportation
  • Where to stay in San Cristobal de las Casas
  • Learn about local indigenous groups in Chiapas
  • Visit the Sumidero Canyon and Chiapas de Corzo
  • Visit Cascadas el Chiflon and Lagunas del Montebello
  • Sima Cotorra and Cascada El Aguacero
  • Trip costs for 7 days and 6 nights in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
  • Final thoughts on best places to visit in Chiapas Mexico in 1 week

This post includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, I may receive a small percentage at no extra cost to you.

San Cristobal de las Casas:

why visit chiapas

I decided to base my adventures in Chiapas out of the charming colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas. While increasingly popular on the Mexican tourist trail, San Cristobal was embroiled in the heart of the Zapatistas movement – when the town was taken over in the 1994 on the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented – by Zapatista rebels using the town as a base to launch their revolution.

While the Zapatista rebels were driven out of the town by the government into the fringes of the Lacandon jungle within a few days; killings and violence escalated throughout Chiapas throughout the 90s. Tensions have de-escalated since 2016, when the Zapatistas put forward a candidate for the 2018 election – which effectively ended 20 years of the Zapatistas rejection of conventional Mexican politics.

With its cobbled streets, colorful colonial architecture and myriad of artisan markets; San Cristobal de las Casa is undeniably charming, and is has been rightfully designated as a “Pueblo Magico” by the Mexican government for being one of the most beautiful cities of the country. San Cristobal is rapidly gaining attention on the Mexican tourist track and has become magnet for travelers visiting for a short while – and increasingly – a haven for digital nomads.

best places to visit chiapas mexico - Cathedrale de guadaloupe

The artistry of local and indigenous artisans can be seen in many of the local markets in San Cristobal de las Casas. I could not help but go a little overboard in purchasing beautiful hand-woven scarves, pillow cases, and local amber jewelry at the many local markets in San Cristobal.

San Cristobal de las Casa is the base for many day trips and excursions that take you to stunning natural and culturally significant sites around Chiapas. Note that while all day tours will indicate they have bilingual service – my experience is that the tour is typically carried out almost exclusively in Spanish. For those who do not speak Spanish, either be prepared for a crash-course in the language, or there is always bilingual individuals on the tour who can help translate.

why visit chiapas

Transportation:

The closest airport to San Cristobal de las Casas is in Tuxla Gutierrez (TGZ), which is about a 2 hour bus ride away from the town. There are several ADO bus services from the TGZ airport directly to San Cristobal de las Casas (approximately $12USD) – but note that the services are limited to a few times daily – so you may want to time your flight accordingly, or be prepared to take a bus first to the bus station in Tuxla Gutierrez, and then another bus from Tuxla Gutierrez to San Cristobal de las Casas.

Where to stay in San Cristobal de las Casas:

I stayed at La Abuelita Hostel , and loved it. The property was very clean, cozy, and very inexpensive only 815 MXN ($41USD) for 7 nights – less than $6USD a night for a dorm bed, and included free coffee and drinking water, as well as very well-stocked kitchen with a wall of free spices and seasonings if you’re cooking. La Abuelita also has a sister property Posada del Abuelito which I’m told is similarly amazing.

best places to visit chiapas mexico - La Abuelita Hostel

Learn about local indigenous groups in Chiapas:

A popular day tour to the indigenous towns of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan was one of the highlights of my visit to Chiapas. The guided tours leave daily from San Cristobal de las Casas, and take you to the two villages, and tell you more about quite vastly different cultural practices of the two groups who live just a stone throw away from each other just outside of San Cristobal de las Casas.

best places to visit chiapas mexico - Iglesia San Juan Chamula

The people of both towns have incorporated elements of indigenous beliefs to the Catholicism that they encountered during the colonial era. As a result they have created their own unique religious practices. In the famous Iglesia de San Juan, chickens are sacrificed inside the church along with offerings of Coca-Cola and hundreds of candles burned as “tortillas” to feed the Saints. Taking photos is strictly prohibited inside the church, but the memory of seeing the hundreds upon hundreds of candles burning row upon endless row next to families sitting peacefully with their offerings on floors covered with pine needles was a truly amazing sight that I will not soon forget.

why visit chiapas

In Zinacantan, theres is typically a visit to an indigenous household where you can see first-hand how the beautiful patterned fabric that the village is famous for is painstakingly woven thread by thread, and have the opportunity to purchase these handicrafts directly from the indigenous artisans themselves.

Visit the Sumidero Canyon:

The Canyon de Sumidero can be visited on a day tour, and features several viewpoints of the impressive canyon and river below, along with a 1.5 hour boat cruise along the bottom of the canyon. The boat cruise will drop you off at Chiapas de Corzo for a few hours to explore another one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos, before taking you back to your land transport that will drop you off back in the center of the city.

best places to visit chiapas mexico - Canyon de Sumidero

Visit the Casacadas el Chiflon and Lagunas de Montebello:

The Cascadas El Chiflon are some of the most stunning waterfalls I have seen anywhere in the world. The glowing aquamarine waters flow as a calm river linking stunning sets of waterfalls one after the other until you get to the largest waterfall – Cascada del Chiflon. The visit to Cascadas el Chiflon is usually done as a day tour along with a visit to Lagunas de Montebello .

best places to visit chiapas mexico - Cascada del Chiflon

The Lagunas de Montebello are a stunning set of lagoons next to the Guatemalan border. You’re given time to visit the Lagoons, as well as cross the border on foot on a little “cul-de-sac” of little shops and souvenir stores that dips into Guatamala. No passport checks, the cul-de-sac leads right back to Mexico, and I imagine it was built with the sole purpose of tourism in mind. Worth the cross border jaunt if you want to quickly check another country off your list with a little 10 minute walk into and out of Guatamala.

best places to visit chiapas mexico - Lagunas Montebello

Sima de las Cotorras Rappelling Adventure and visit to Cascada Aguacero:

This rappelling and ziplining adventure to the Sima Corterra – a 150 meter deep sinkhole that is now home to thousands of parrots and other bird species – starts early in the morning with a 4am pick-up from San Cristobal de las Casas. The drive will take approximately 2.5 – 3 hours to Sima Corterra. The driver will take a break mid-way through at a gas station to fill up, and also for you to take a washroom break and buy snacks.

The rappelling adventure includes a 50 meter rappel about 1/3 of the way into the sinkhole, followed by a harnessed walk along the walls of the sinkhole. The adventure ends with a zipline across the sinkhole back to the start point.

Best things to do in Chiapas - Sima Cotorra

No experience or equipment required – everything you need will be provided to you. It would be a good idea to wear running shoes or trainers – flip flops would be a very bad idea.

You’ll complete your visit at Sima Corterra around midday, and the tour will then continue with a visit to Cascada El Aguacero, a stunning waterfall that takes about 45 minutes to hike down to from where your driver drops you off. Not to worry the trail is easy and well-marked. If it is a hot day, make sure to bring ample water, and some snacks, as there are no vendors down by the waterfall.

why visit chiapas

Trip costs for 7 days and 6 nights in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas:

Accommodations: $29.45USD

Flights from Santa Marta (SMR) to Tuxla Guiterrez (TGZ) Airport: $281.50USD

Mexico prepaid-SIM card with 2GB (Valid for 15 days*) $6.43USD

SIM card refill at OXXO additional 5GB valid for 30 days* $14.90USD

Souvenirs and gifts $75.50USD

Food and drinks: $65.77USD

Transportation: $12.02USD

Excursions: $106.55USD

Total: $592.12USD

*Note that you can refill SIM cards very easily in most OXXO and 7-11 convenience stores located all over Mexico. Usually refilling the SIM will create another 30 days of validity. Just make sure to take a photo of the card information that comes with the SIM card blister so you know your phone number and PIN unlock code

Final thoughts on best places to visit in Chiapas Mexico in 1 week:

Chiapas completely blew my mind with its beautiful natural landscapes, rich cultural heritage and affordability. I had originally only planned to stay in Chiapas for 1 week, but ended up continuing my travels for an extra week in Palenque which I will cover in a separate post. If you take off the cost of the flights and my spending on souvenirs and gifts, my time in Chiapas only cost $33.59USD per day – and that includes the cost of excursions and eating like a queen for a week. A wonderful and highly recommended trip for sure!

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A Chiapas Road Trip: The Ultimate Itinerary

Many people who visit Mexico have probably never heard of Chiapas. I hadn’t until I visited nearby Oaxaca and started planning our onward journey. Just what is there to do in Chiapas? After a little digging, it became clear that Chiapas is known for two things. Fantastic waterfalls and incredible Mayan ruins. It also became clear that to truly experience everything this diverse state had to offer a road trip of Chiapas was in order.

So we set out on our Chiapas road trip adventure to see if Chiapas was everything it was cracked up to be. We were not disappointed. A stunning state overflowing with waterfalls, deep cenotes, soaring mountains, stunning gorges, and lush green jungles. Hidden amongst this spectacular backdrop are crocodiles, spider monkeys, exotic birds, and the ruins of an ancient and powerful Mayan civilization. Grab your whip and your fedora and let’s get cracking on your own Chiapas road trip.

Helpful Resources We Trust and Love

Accommodation – Booking.com Transport – Bookaway Car Rental – Discover Cars Travel Insurance – World Nomads / SafetyWing Global Health Insurance – SafetyWing Experiences – Tripadvisor

Is Driving in Chiapas Safe?

Before you set out on your own Chiapas road trip, you are probably wondering if it is safe to drive in Chiapas. Well, it can be.

Driving in Chiapas is perfectly safe as long as you take the necessary precautions. While many areas of Chiapas are perfectly safe to travel through there are some parts of Chiapas that are “self-governed”. There is an ongoing “war” between the indigenous population and the government. Currently, there is no military action but the police nor the military are active in these areas.

In these areas, you will often time see children with ropes over the road requesting money or in one case a whole community with nails hammered into a board requesting money. If you were to drive through the rope and injure anyone, it is possible for the local government to detain you using their own customs. If this were to happen, the Mexican government would not intercede.

These types of activities are most frequently encountered on the road between Palenque and San Cristobal de las Casas. If you do plan to drive this way, it is advisable to only drive during the day and take plenty of change to give to children and communities along the way. We also recommend buying a bag of candy to hand out to the children as an incentive for them to drop the rope and let you continue. A small price to pay for your freedom.

By taking these necessary precautions, driving in Chiapas is perfectly safe. We spent a month driving through the jungles of Chiapas and never once felt unsafe while driving.

The Two-Week Chiapas Road Trip Itinerary

Exploring Chiapas is no easy feat, with rugged mountainous terrain covered in thick jungle, and often large distances between the sights and attractions. Therefore, driving this state is the perfect way to enjoy it at your own pace, without the expense or rigidity of organized tours. Whether you rent a car in Tuxtla or bring your own (like us).

To properly explore Chiapas by car you need at least two weeks. We spent a month in Chiapas and felt like we only scratched the surface. The distances in between cities and attractions may seem short initially, but when you factor in topes (Mexican speed bumps), the occasional police check, and winding mountain roads, the time spent driving is not commensurate with the kilometers.

Here is our Chiapas two-week itinerary for exploring this natural paradise. A list of all of the best places to visit in Chiapas, what to do in Chiapas, and other tips and tricks that we learned on this road trip of Chiapas.

Day 1- 3: Tuxtla Gutiérrez and Chiapa de Corzo

The starting point for your Chiapas road trip will most likely be the capital city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez as it boasts the state’s only international airport. As we made the drive from Oaxaca, this was also our first stopping point.

READ MORE: The Best Beaches in Oaxaca: A Vanlife Guid e

While Tuxtla Gutiérrez is a large, bustling capital city, there are plenty of outdoor adventures to be had nearby if you choose to make this your home base for a few days. Here are a few options for what to do in Tuxtla.

Cascada El Aguacero

Start your nature adventure off with Cascada El Aguacero, an hour’s drive west of the city. This federally protected waterfall is located in the El Ocote Biosphere Reserve. To reach the waterfall, you must make your way down the 700-step, concrete staircase which is suitable for all travelers. The journey down should take approximately 20 minutes until you reach the beautiful cascading falls. The return journey is a bit more grueling as you climb back up to the top of the falls. Take snacks or lunch and spend the day soaking up the Mexican sun before heading back to Tuxtla for the evening.

Useful Information

  • Entrance Fee: $36 pesos per person
  • Distance: 56 kilometers (~ 1h) from Tuxtla Gutiérrez

The Sumidero Canyon

The Sumidero Canyon can be visited in two different ways, and we recommend taking advantage of both.

The Mirador

If you have your own wheels, grab breakfast to take with you and enjoy it at the final mirador overlooking the stunning Sumidero Canyon. If you go just as the gates open there will be few (if any) tourists imposing on your viewing space.

After breakfast, head back down the winding road and stop at the remaining five miradors. The cost to enter is $37 pesos and there are toilets available at the last view point or “mirador”.

Pro-tip: The views over the Sumidero Canyon will make you want to use your drone for some great aerial footage. Be careful if you do this as drones are illegal for tourists in Mexico. While we did not see any police nearby, we have seen tourists stopped in Mexico for the use of a drone.

After enjoying the vantage point of the Sumidero Canyon, take a boat ride to further explore this monumental canyon. Boat rides depart from Chiapas de Corzo throughout the day and cost $230 pesos. Take advantage of the discount on the boat ride when you show proof of payment from your previous entrance at the mirador (must be the same day).

From this vantage point, you will be able to marvel at the 1,000-meter-high walls, spot wildlife such as the American crocodile and the elusive spider monkey, and visit small caves and rock formations. The return trip should take approximately two (2) hours. Make sure to bring plenty of sun protection. The boats are uncovered and can be exposed to the sun depending on the time of day.

  • Mirador: $36 pesos
  • Canyon: $236 pesos ($200 pesos if you show a same-day entrance ticket for mirador)
  • Mirador: Al Sumidero, Las Granjas
  • Cañón Del Sumidero

Chiapa de Corzo

  • Mirador: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm, closed Tuesdays
  • Canon Del Sumidero: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Cahuare: 8:00 am – 4:00 pm
  • Chiapa de Corzo: 9:00 am – 4:30 pm

Known as the heart of Chiapa, the town of Chiapa de Corzo is culturally significant not only because it is the starting point for visits to the Sumidero Canyon, but also because it holds one of Mexico’s most lauded festivals. While the city is charming in its own right, visiting during the Fiesta Grande in January is a remarkable experience. The streets come alive with vendors and performers leaving a festive experience not to be missed.

  • Distance: 14 kilometers (~20 min) from Tuxtla Gutiérrez

READ MORE: 5 Things to Know About the Fiesta Grande Chiapa de Corzo

El Chorreadero Falls (Cascada de Chorreadero)

Make your last outdoor adventure near Tuxtla Gutiérrez a visit to El Chorreadero Falls. When we visited, the waterfall was just a drizzle, but I can imagine during the rainy season it would be impressive.

The waterfall is fed through an underwater river that descends into a series of pools from a cave. Tours can be arranged to take you deep into the heart of the cave and include adventure activities like rappelling, jumping, scrambling, and more.

The cost to enter is $25 pesos per person. We asked to camp at the gates of the falls (only in a parking lot) and were allowed with no problems or additional payments.

  • Entrance Fee: $25 pesos per person
  • Address: Carretera Federal Libre a San Cristorbal Km 24+600 Juan de Grijalva
  • Hours of Operation: 8:00 am – 6:30 pm
  • Distance: 12 kilometers (~ 20m) from Chiapa de Corzo

Day 3 – 4: El Chiflon and the Cenotes of Chiapas

El chiflon waterfall (cascada).

The next stop on your road trip in Chiapas is one of our favorite experiences in Chiapas. And, what we think is the most impressive waterfall in Chiapas (and maybe all of Mexico). El Chiflon is a series of waterfalls culminating at the Velo de Novia (Bride’s Veil) which reaches a height of 120 meters. These waterfalls are not only impressive because of their height and thunder, but also because of the turquoise blue color of the San Vincent River. This personally was my favorite part of visiting these falls. The watercolor is so mesmerizing that it almost looks fake. Like someone dropped a whole lot of water coloring into the river! Soak up the sun, take a dip in the stunning river, and enjoy one of Chiapas’ greatest gifts.

The cost to enter is $50 pesos per person. You can also camp in the parking lot overnight for an additional $70 pesos per car. Plus, it allows you to be the first to enter the falls beating the crowds and busloads of tourists.

  • Entrance Fee: $50 pesos per person
  • Camping Fee: $70 pesos per car
  • From El Chorreadero Falls: 140 kilometers (~ 2h 45m)
  • From Tuxtla Gutiérrez: 130 kilometers (~ 2h 30m)

READ MORE: The Best Waterfalls in Chiapas

Cenote Chucumaltik

With the rest of your afternoon, head over to Cenote Chucumaltik just thirty minutes down the way. If you don’t know what a cenote (pronounced say-NO-tay) is, you are not the only one. I had to look this one up too. A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Cenote Chucumaltik, in particular, reaches depths of 60 meters and is a stunning blue color. Plus if you time it right, there will be no one around to bother you.

Entrance to the cenote is $30 pesos but you can stay as long as you want. Remember to bring plenty of water as there are no vendors or restaurants here. We also recommend grabbing some lunch and enjoying a picnic at Cenote Chucumaltik. Lastly, make sure to pack your snorkel gear as the scenery under the water is equally as impressive.

  • Entrance Fee: $30 pesos per person
  • Distance: 22 kilometers (~30m) from El Chiflon

Pit Stop: Uninajab

If you have more time, further down the road from Cenote Chucumaltik is Uninajab. Uninajab is a community with a series of freshwater pools overlooking the valley and La Angostura. It is a great place to visit if time permits. The cost to enter is $25 pesos per person, but you can stay here overnight for no additional fees.

End the day in the charming town of Comitan to rest up and explore the next day. Walk the old town streets, explore the lively main town square, and take in the traditional Mexican culture. We recommend dining at Ta Bonitio for the best meal in the city! Or, if you are looking for something more authentic head, over to El Puerquito for delicious carnitas tacos!

  • Distance: 30 kilometers (~40m) from Cenote Chucumaltik

Tenam Puente

The Tenam Puente ruins are small in comparison to some of the other ruins located throughout Mexico but are just as fascinating. The overgrowth from trees and vegetation that provide a canopy over the ruins is unique. Like a bygone era, these ruins that were once forgotten now have a renewed sense of beauty.

We were not charged the entrance fee but be prepared to pay $40 pesos per person for entry which gives you access to the ruins and a small museum.

  • Entrance Fee: $40 pesos per person (or free if you are luckily like us)
  • Address: A13Km al Suroeste de Comitan Carretera Federal Km190 rumbo a La Trinitaria
  • Hours of Operation: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Distance: 15 kilometers (~30m) from Comitan

Day 5: Chiapas’ Freshwater Lagoons

Lagos de colon.

Lagos de Colon is a hidden gem of Comitan, along the Chiapas road trip adventure. Located close to the Guatemalan border, Lagos de Colon is definitely not to be missed. The series of small waterways are filled with crystal blue water surrounded by lush, green jungle. You won’t find many (if any) international tourists here as Lagos de Colon caters primarily to the rural communities and nearby towns. This is evidenced by the flocks of locals that descend upon the lakes to enjoy the cool, refreshing water for family picnics and gatherings.

Follow the road towards the El Lagartero Ruins to explore not only the ruins but the labyrinth of water bodies hidden beneath the tree canopies. This is also an excellent location to camp overnight as the locals leave at 5:00 pm and the parking area under the trees is quiet during the evening.

The entrance fee is $25 pesos per person which includes entry into the El Lagartero Ruins. Palapas can be rented for an additional $100 pesos per day and there are restaurants and tiendas for purchasing food and beverage. Toilets are also available for $5 pesos.

  • Entrance Fee: $25 pesos
  • Address: 30160 La Trinitaria
  • Distance: 66 kilometers (~ 1h 15m) from Tenam Puente

Day 6 – 7: Lakes and Rivers

The next stop on your Chiapas road trip should be the Lakes of Montebello and Las Nubes.

Lagos de Montebello (Lakes of Montebello)

The Lakes of Montebello are a series of 59 different lakes near the Guatemalan border. These lakes are famous for their striking colors ranging from blue to emerald and the impressive forestry surrounding the lakes making them untainted by commercialization and tourism. Entry into the National Park is $36 pesos (January 2020) and then an additional $25 pesos to enter the lakes. Camping is available on the shores of Lake Tziscaco, however, a guard might ask for an additional $25 pesos per person if he is there when you leave in the morning.

  • National Park Fee: $36 pesos per person
  • Lagos de Montebello Fee: $25 pesos per person
  • Distance: 94 kilometers (~1h 40m) from Lagos de Colon to Lago Montebello

Continuing further you will find Las Nubes. The thundering waterfall of Las Nubes along the Santo Domingo Las Nubes is known for its power and breadth. An ecotourism center protects and maintains the falls which are in impeccable condition. Entry is $30 pesos to visit the waterfall for the full day and includes access to toilet and shower facilities. For an additional $100 pesos you can spend the night in your campervan or cabins are available for $1,400 pesos.

We spent the afternoon relaxing by the falls, reading books, and enjoying the peace and quiet of the ecotourism center. If you dare to get in the gorgeous water be prepared as can be chilly!

  • Address: Ejido Las Nubes S/N, Las Nubes
  • Distance: and 72 kilometers (~1h 40m) from Lago Montebello

Day 8: The Labyrinth of Yaxchilán

How to get to yaxchilán.

It is important to head out early as you start day 8 of your Chiapas road trip as today will be one of the longest driving days on the trip. To reach Yaxchilán, you will need to take a boat from the nearby town of Frontera Corozal which is a four-and-a-half-hour journey from Las Nubes. The drive itself, however, is impressive passing through tiny pueblos with rolling mountains in the background from Guatemala.

Once you reach Frontera Corozal, you will need to pay an entry fee of $30 pesos per person to enter. This act of paying a town levy is customary in Chiapas as the communities take the opportunity to capitalize on international tourists. Once in Frontera Corozal, you will then need to take a boat to the ruins. The boat only leaves when the boat is full (10 people) to share the cost of the boat or wear the entire boat ride (~$1,000 – $1,500 pesos). It seems like a lot to do to get there, so is it worth it? We think yes!

The Yaxchilán Ruins

As you can probably gather Yaxchilán is located on the Usumacinta River making it a dominating power in the Mayan culture. Standard in Chiapa, the ruins are encased by the lush Chiapan jungle which is home to howler monkeys.

What makes Yaxchilán unique is the labyrinth. The labyrinth is the first structure that you will come to once you enter Yaxchilán. Legend is told that the Mayans used the labyrinth to test individuals who wanted to compete on the ball field. Mayans would be sent into the labyrinth after taking a hallucinogenic and if you made it out alive you were deemed fit.

If you are a cultural or ruin aficionado then making a stop at Yaxchilán is a must before heading onwards to one of the most visited ruins in all of Mexico.

  • Frontera Corozal: $30 pesos per person
  • Boat Ride: $1,000 – $1,500 pesos per boat (can be shared)
  • Ruins: $65 pesos per person
  • Address: 29935 Frontera Corozal
  • Hours of Operation: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm (last boat is at 3:30 pm)
  • Distance: 250 kilometers (~4h 30m) from Las Nubes

Pro-tip: Camping is allowed in the embarcadero without facilities free of charge.

Day 9: The Ancient Murals of Bonampak

How to get to bonampak.

A day in Chiapas without visiting a waterfall or ruin would be disappointing. Luckily, the next destination is the nearby Bonampak ruins.

As with Yaxchilán, a fee of $35 pesos per person is collected to enter the village of Lancado. This, unfortunately, is not the last payment that will need to be paid before entering the ruins or even getting there. Along the road leading to the ruins, locals set up a roadblock. The roadblock is to stop you from driving to the ruins with your own car and requiring you to take their transportation and of course for a price. The additional transportation will set you back between $100 – $150 pesos per person for round-trip transportation.

The Bonampak Ruins

Bonampak which means “painted wall” in modern-day Mayan is known not for its architecture or size, but for its unique mural paintings. These paintings are displayed within the three rooms of Structure 1. These murals depict the history of the Mayan people who lived at Bonampak. Do not miss the opportunity to visit these unique murals!

  • Lancado : $35 pesos per person
  • Transportation: $100 – $150 per person
  • Ruins: $70 pesos per person
  • Distance: 45 kilometers (~1h 15m) from Yaxchilán

Day 10: Chiapas’ Most Impressive Ruins, Palenque

The city of Palenque is less than charming. The main square is nothing special and there are a handful of restaurants or bars. The ruins, however, are worth a visit. The jungle of Chiapas’ rainforest engulfs the ruins of Palenque. Unlike other ruins in Mexico found on windswept hills or desolate fields, this one makes you feel as if you are in an Indiana Jones film. The rays of sunlight peeking through the jungle canopy make you stop and realize just how lucky you are to be able to explore such amazing sites.

The one downside to Palenque, however, is the souvenir vendors that set up shop IN the ruins. No, I’m not talking about outside, I’m talking about ALL over the walkways throughout the ruins. We went just as the ruins opened, so the hawkers were not yet spruiking their wares. They were too busy setting up shop for the busloads of tourists that would arrive later in the morning. Our advice, get there early to avoid the salespeople and the busloads of tourists.

  • National Park: $37 pesos per person
  • Ruins: $80 pesos per person
  • Address: Carretera a Palenque- Zona Archaeologica Km. 8
  • Hours of Operation: 8:00 am – 4:30 pm
  • Distance: 152 kilometers (~3h) from Bonampak

Pro Tip: For those intending to overland in Palenque be careful. We parked on the streets of Palenque and were woken up to a burglar IN our car. Be smart about where you park and if you can afford it maybe spring for paid accommodation. Luckily the bandit only made out with a camera lens and a raincoat, but it gave us quite the scare!

Day 11: Waterfalls of Chiapas

Today is all about visiting the amazing waterfalls in Chiapas and is one of the most popular things to do in Chiapas. The drive from Palenque to Misol Ha and Agua Azul will take you across the beautiful scenery of the Chiapan mountains and jungle. It will also take you through at least one possible road blockade.

Communities gather at certain points along the road with a wooden board boasting nails protruding upwards to puncture your tires barring your onward journey unless you pay a fine to the community. We managed to get by with only paying $20 pesos, but have heard of people being charged upwards of $200 pesos. Ultimately you have no way of getting around the blockade without driving significantly out of the way as there is only one road leading from Palenque to San Cristobal de las Casas through the mountains. Either way, it is a small price to pay for being able to explore the impressive natural wonders that Chiapas has to offer.

Update: Please exercise extreme caution when traveling the journey between Palenque and San Cristobal. The incident we mentioned above is not isolated. Many people have been victimized by the locals along this route especially those traveling by bicycle.

The second last stop on your nature adventure is Misol Ha. Misol-Ha is just thirty minutes south of Palenque. While the falls of Misol Ha do not have the stunning turquoise blue waters of other waterfalls in Chiapas, Misol Ha is still impressive. When we visited water thunderously cascaded down the thirty-five-meter drop into a deep pool surrounded by lush, green forest. Make sure to bring your swimsuit here to enjoy the cool depths of the waterfall pool.

A concrete walkway has been constructed behind the falls allowing you to get up close.

  • Address: Camino a Cascada de Misol-Ha
  • Hours of Operation: 6:45 am – 7:45 pm
  • Distance: 21 kilometers (~30m) from Palenque

Agua Azul Chiapas

Next, make the hour-long drive down to Agua Azul. It is hard not to be impressed with Agua Azul. Thousands upon thousands of liters of stunning turquoise water surge over a series of sprawling waterfalls. The only drawback is the food stalls, souvenir shops, and tour guides vying for your business and your money. While the overly commercialized aspect detracts some from the natural beauty of Agua Azul, we still recommend making it a stop on your way down to San Cristobal de las Casas.

We were charged an entrance fee of $25 pesos each at the top of the hill before we entered the national park, only to find out that this was a “road usage fee” (despite being provided a ticket stating Cascada entrada). We were asked to pay another $45 pesos each at the falls. While the overall cost is not so significant, the idea of getting scammed at every point (this double-dipping is common through Chiapas) makes you feel like a target and a sap.

  • Road Usage (Perhaps Scam): $25 pesos per person
  • Waterfalls: $45 pesos per person
  • Address: 7V4M+RW Arroyo Agua Azul
  • Distance: 44 kilometers (~1h) from Misol Ha

Pit stop: If you have not gotten your waterfall fix yet in Chiapas, the drive to Tonina passes two more small waterfalls that are worth a visit. Find out more in our article The Best Waterfalls in Chiapas .

Day 12: Discover the Ruins of Tonina

Complete your Chiapan adventure with one last visit to a Mayan ruin. The Tonina ruins are located approximately 30 minutes outside of Ocosingo. These ruins, in my opinion, rival the ruins in Palenque probably due to the lack of an oversaturated tourism industry.

The centerpiece of the Tonina ruins is the acropolis which extends over 71 meters tall and provides sweeping views over Chiapas’ countryside. The climb to the top of the vista is worth the visit alone. There is also a labyrinth similar to the one in Yaxchilán if your Chiapas road trip didn’t take you all the way there.

Make sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection as the climb up to the top can be slow going on the narrow facade of the acropolis.

The entrance fee is $65 pesos per person available at the kiosk prior to entering the ruins. Guides are also available on-site to learn more about the history of Tonina including its rivalry with nearby Palenque.

  • Entrance Fee: $65 pesos per person
  • Distance: 77 kilometers (~2h) from Agua Azul

Day 13 – 14: San Cristobal de las Casas

After visiting all of the natural wonders Chiapas has to offer, end your Chiapas road trip in San Cristobal de las Casas . This mountain town is slowly making a name for itself amongst travelers as being a culinary and coffee destination. While you can find traditional Mexican cuisine, the San Cristobal de las Casas specializes in international flavors. Korean to Argentine steak houses, and Indian to Spanish, the booming international food scene in San Cristobal de las Casas is a surprise revelation.

Spend your final days indulging and pampering yourself after long days exploring ruins and waterfalls throughout Chiapas.

Read more on what to do in The Ultimate Guide to San Cristobal De las Casas .

  • Distance: 107 kilometers (~2h 40m) from Tonina

Useful Tips for a Road Trip in Chiapas

Before you set out on your road trip of Chiapas, make sure you go over these dos and don’ts.

When Is the Best Time to Road Trip Chiapas?

The best time to visit Chiapas is during the dry season which runs from November to May each year. The weather is a little cooler and less humid during this time as well as making nights more enjoyable.

Do always bring your raincoat when traveling abroad.

Don’t let the weather spoil your holiday!

What Are the Driving Conditions in Chiapas?

Like most of Mexico, driving in Chiapas can be hectic. Mexicans typically do not adhere to passing rules, speed bumps (topes) appear out of nowhere, and impromptu toll booths by communities can make driving stressful at times.

Do keep your speed in check.

Don’t drive at night as the roads are not well lit and topes appear out of nowhere.

Do stop for impromptu toll booths.

Don’t forget your fake wallet with small bills.

Can I Find Gas in Chiapas?

One thing to always be mindful of while on a road trip in Chiapas is running out of gas. One rule of thumb we live by is to keep the tank above one-quarter and to keep a gas can in case of emergency. Gas stations are easy to come by in cities throughout Mexico but are few and far between in more remote parts of the country (like the Chiapan countryside). Gas is often sold in plastic coke bottles from roadside vendors in a pinch.

Do fill up your tank in the city before heading out into nature’s playground.

Don’t find yourself stranded in the jungle of Chiapas without gas or cell service.

Do pay by card at gas stations as they are the one reliable place to use credit cards and bank rewards points!

Don’t forget to tip the attendant for filling your tank.

Is It Safe to Drink the Water in Chiapas?

Water in Mexico is non-potable. We recommend bringing a Platypus water filter to filter your own water. Additionally, carry jerry cans to purchase water at water purifying facilities for cents.

Do ask the gas stations to fill your unfiltered water tank to be filtered later.

Don’t mistake this for clean water and drink it.

Is Chiapas Safe?

We frequently are asked about safety and whether we feel safe overlanding in Mexico. We find that speaking with locals is a great way to make us feel comfortable with our camping spot and to make the locals feel comfortable with a stranger setting up camp nearby.

Do check in with the locals and make sure it is safe to park there.

Don’t park in unlit spots where burglars might be lurking.

Are There ATMs in Chiapas?

Mexico uses the Mexican peso (MXN not to be confused with the old Mexican peso MXP). There are ATMs in most medium-sized cities and most will charge a small fee for each transaction depending on the bank. We found the fee can be as little as $15 pesos to as much as $60 pesos. Specifically in Chiapas, there are no ATMs at the waterfalls and lakes, so make sure you visit one before leaving Tuxtla, Comitan, Palenque, or San Cristobal de las Casas .

Do carry cash in Mexico as most local restaurants and shops are cash only.

Don’t tip the locals off to you being a tourist and try to pay in your home country currency. (I’m looking at you Mom!)

Is the Mobile Internet Reliable in Chiapas?

In this day and age, we all depend on our cell phones, tablets, and laptops. We need the internet to navigate roads and if you are like us to work on the go. The mobile signal in Chiapas varies significantly depending on where you are located. Expect there to be no cell coverage in between cities especially on the drive from Las Nubes to Palenque and then further on to San Cristobal de las Casas.

Do download offline versions of maps.me or Google Maps.

Don’t rely solely on the internet as the locals usually have the best scoop.

We hope you enjoy your road trip in Chiapas! Thanks for wandering with us!

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From a small town in the USA, I had my first taste of travel when I was 17. Since then, I have traveled to over 80 countries and every continent bar Antarctica. I love to experience new places, cultures, and food. While you may occasionally find me in popular tourist destinations, I tend to gravitate to up-and-coming destinations, hidden gems waiting to be uncovered.

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20 Comments

I am planning to visit this year during semana santa (first week of April) Solo female traveller. Will have about 5 full days. Debating about whether to hire a car or pay the $$$ for the tours. Cascada Aguacero, El Chilflon, Palenque the ruints (misol ha and agua azul) area

What do you think? I thought this was 2022 but I saw some people’s comments from 2020! haha

Thanks for reading.

It will be an awesome adventure.

Normally we say swerve the tour and go it alone, BUT Chiapas was not the safest state to travel in Mexico. As we mentioned in the article we had problems with roadblocks, scams, and worst of all we had our car broken into while we were inside in Palenque. While these instances didn’t make us afraid of traveling in the state, they did shake us up a little, and if we were on our own, probably would have ruined the experience. If it were me I would probably shell out for the tour, just for the peace of mind.

Let us know if you have any other questions.

With regard to the date published, thanks for bringing that to our attention, whenever we update something the published date is automatically changed, we will change that to show a published date and a last updated date.

Do not travel the Ruta Maya. Go around. 1000 topes and get extorted by force at least 3 times for passage by local criminals. That’s from San Cristobal to Palenque. I have scars to prove it.Do not bicycle it. Bicyclist have been murdered on this road. By locals. Stay near Palenque. There’s 4 star hotels $40 per night and gorgeous with pools and messages. Go around!

That sounds horrible. We were scammed once and heard of other people being scammed once, but nothing this bad! I will update the article so that other people are aware. Thanks for sharing this valuable information.

I had never heard of this but it looks so beautiful! Now I need to go!!

Yes, add it to your bucket list! Thanks for reading!

This area looks amazing. I’ve never heard of it, but it looks so interesting and beautiful.

It truly is special! Thanks for reading!

What an amazing itinerary! Mexico is one of my favorite countries and even though I want to visit a lot of places there, Chiapas is my dream destination. Plus, I have been to all major Mayan sites except Palenque. I hope to visit soon.

Chiapas is beautiful! Hope you make it soon!

I spent a week in San Cristobal de las Casas a few years back and loved it! We took a lot of trips out, but it looks like there’s a lot more we could do! I’m hoping to revisit in the next year or so.

There is soooooo much to do in Chiapas and all of Mexico!!

I, honestly, had never heard of Chiapas but it looks like some place that I would love to visit someday!

It is such a great place! Definitely add it to your bucketlist!

Wow how beautiful is this place and after reading this I can say you totally sold me on this place. Going into. bucketlist.

Glad you enjoyed! You won’t be disappointed if you visit!

Wow! This is an incredibly informative post and your pictures are just beautiful. Thank you!

Thanks! We really enjoyed our time in Chiapas!

Amazing! You must have had a great adventure!

Yes, you should definitely put Chiapas on your bucket list!

Every Steph

13 Unmissable Things To Do in Chiapas, Mexico

By: Author Stefania Guglielmi

Posted on Last updated: January 1, 2023

Categories Mexico , North America

Looking to visit Chiapas, Mexico? This state in the South of Mexico is incredible! Check out the best things to do in Chiapas + useful travel tips.

Chiapas is the southernmost state in the country of Mexico and is still quite a hidden gem. If you’re looking to escape the crowds of Yucatan, you’ll find Chiapas way more authentic and less touristy. Not only is Chiapas home to a number of ancient Mayan ruins, it also contains Mexico’s largest population of indigenous people.

Chiapas in Mexico is one of the only places in the world where you can explore old ruins and colorful colonial towns in the same day. Chiapas also contains several natural wonders such as the Canyon del Sumidero and the Sima de Las Cotorras. So, are you curious? Let’s take a closer look at what this incredible Mexican state has to offer!

Table of Contents

Wander Around San Cristobal de Las Casas

why visit chiapas

San Cristobal de Las Casas is widely considered to be the cultural capital of Chiapas and is one of the state’s most popular tourist destinations. The reason why it’s so popular is because it still retains the appearance of an old, colonial Spanish village with red-tiled roofs and cobblestone streets which reminded me a bit of the streets in Puebla .

It also has a very strong indigenous population, with many of its people retaining clothes and customs from Pre-Columbian times. Because of this, visiting San Cristobal is much like taking a step back in time. There are also a number of markets to be found in San Cristobal, making it the perfect place to go shopping while you’re in Chiapas.

READ ALSO :  The Best Things to Do in San Cristobal de Las Casas

Climb Pyramids at the Palenque Ruins

why visit chiapas

Image by Raphael Zoren, Journey Wonders

If you really want to see some history, you have to visit the Palenque Ruins . This is an ancient Mayan city that still stands in near perfect condition. It’s one of the most thoroughly investigated Mayan sites today and is considered to contain some of the best examples of Mayan sculpture and architecture in the world.

READ ALSO: A Day Trip to Palenque from San Cristobal de las Casas

In Palenque there are many gorgeous temples and palaces that you must see for yourself…. and the best part of all is that you can climb these pyramids, unlike most other Mayan ruins in Mexico . If you’ve ever wanted to catch a glimpse of how the ancient Mayans lived, this is your chance. Check out HERE how to get to Palenque, Mexico + other useful info for your visit.

⇒ BOOK HERE the same full-day tour I took from San Cristobal to Palenque ruins and some beautiful waterfalls in Chiapas (keep reading for info about those). It’s a very long day, the tour lasts about 18 hours, but in my opinion is worth it! At less than $40, the tour is also very affordable.

Feel Small at the Canyon del Sumidero

why visit chiapas

The Sumidero Canyon is a massive canyon located near Chiapa de Corzo. This natural attraction is as old the Grand Canyon in the United States and a popular tourism spot in Chiapas. While you’re there, you can take a boat tour of the canyon in which you’ll see waterfalls, caves, and animals such as crocodiles and spider monkeys, and canyon walls that are over a thousand meters high.

The canyon is also surrounded by a national park which is a popular spot for extreme sports such as rappelling, spelunking, and mountain biking.

⇒  Check out this tour of Sumidero Canyon from San Cristobal de Las Casas. It’s the same tour I did, and it includes the boat ride at the canyon + transportation from/to San Cristobal. It also includes a visit to the colonial town of Chiapa del Corzo.

Visit Misol-Ha Waterfall and Agua Azul

why visit chiapas

Two of Chiapas’s most impressive natural wonders are the Misol Ha waterfall and Agua Azul waterfalls . Agua Azul is a series of cascades while Misol-Ha is a single waterfall with a height of 35 meters, and you can’t miss them when you visit Chiapas!

Both sites are only an hour away from each other and can be visited on the same day either from Palenque or San Cristobal de Las Casas. They both feature clear, blue waters and pools that you can swim in. 

READ ALSO:  Misol Ha, Agua Azul, and Palenque Ruins: a Day Trip from San Cristobal de Las Casas

⇒ BOOK HERE the full day trip to the waterfalls + Palenque ruins from San Cristobal.

Horseback Riding To Chamula

why visit chiapas

Chamula is another indigenous town near San Cristobal with its own language and customs. The town is surrounded by beautiful forests and hills, and what better way to explore this countryside than by going on a horseback riding tour? On this tour, you’ll be greeted with many views of the spectacular Chiapas countryside .

The ride itself lasts for about an hour and a half and doesn’t require any previous horseback riding experience…. although if you have some, you probably won’t hurt like me the next day! Afterwards, you’ll be able to experience the unique culture of Chamula, which leads to the next point.

Witness the Religious Rituals in San Juan Chamula

why visit chiapas

Visiting Chamula is much like seeing a country within a country. This municipality enjoys autonomous status within the country of Mexico and visiting it is one of the best ways to see how indigenous people live today. It’s an entirely unique culture with its own language, clothes, and architecture.

The people here also have fascinating religious beliefs that are influenced by both Catholicism and Paganism. This is best exemplified by the Templo de San Juan , a colonial style church in which people kneel and pray on hay, while offering to their Gods a variety of goods such as Coke bottles and chickens, while surrounded by hundreds of tea light candles. Witnessing one of the rituals here is truly a magical sight to behold and something you can’t afford to miss.

A  reminder: you are not allowed to take photos or videos inside the temple. Please respect the rule!

⇒ If the horse riding isn’t for you, check out the  Chamula and Zinacantán Day Trip from San Cristóbal , where you’ll be able to visit the indigenous towns and learn about the tradition and culture of the Tzotzil Maya people. BOOK IT HERE

Rappel Down the Sima de Las Cotorras

why visit chiapas

Sima de Las Cotorras is a huge sinkhole located in Chiapas, but unlike the cenotes, this isn’t filled with water but with a forest. Along with being an incredible natural wonder in its own right, it’s also home to thousands of Mexican parrots. Every morning, you can see these parrots fly out of the sinkhole at once, which is a sight unlike any other. This makes Sima de Las Cotorras a popular destination for bird watchers around the world.

It’s also a great spot for rappeling if you’d like to try something adventurous… I tried and it was tons of fun but a little scary, especially if you are afraid of heights! On top of all this, the sinkhole also contains a number of wall paintings from the ancient Zoque culture.

Unless you rent a car and are prepared to drive through the countryside (and some sketchy areas), I would recommend coming here with a tour. Rappel down this incredible spot for an adrenaline rush and some incredible views.  ⇒ BOOK IT HERE

Swim at Cenote Chukumaltik

If you follow this blog, you’ll know I’m probably the biggest fan of cenotes, so I couldn’t leave this one out of this guide. Chiapas isn’t famous for cenotes like Yucatan, but you can find a beautiful one here.

Cenote Chukumaltik is a giant sinkhole filled with crystal clear waters. It’s a perfect place for swimming, and it’s also a popular spot for scuba divers. There are many interesting sights to be seen under the water such as petrified trees, stalagmites of seaweed, and an altar of the Virgin Dolorosa. It’s a great spot for beginners if you’ve never tried scuba diving before.

Cenote Chukumaltik is still somewhat unknown compared to some of the other attractions, so you’ll most probably have the place to yourself when you visit.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 6 Unmissable Cenotes in Tulum 11 Cenotes You Need to Visit Near Valladolid 11 Incredible Cenotes in Playa del Carmen

Soak Up the Views at El Chiflon Waterfall

why visit chiapas

If you love nature, then this is something you don’t want to miss. El Chiflon is a chain of five waterfalls that can be found in the municipality of Tzimol. The tallest of these waterfalls is 120 meters high. Also, if you hike to the top of the aptly named Rainbow Waterfalls, you’ll be greeted with a beautiful view of a rainbow below.

Many people who’ve visited Cascada El Chiflon describe it as one of the most beautiful natural wonders they’ve ever seen. Along with simply enjoying the sight itself, there are several other activities you can participate in. These include hiking, swimming, and even zip-lining.

⇒ BOOK HERE the Chiflon Waterfalls & Montebello Tour from San Cristobal. This 12-hour tour will bring you to discover the remote Chiflon Waterfall (where you’ll be able to swim), then you’ll cross one of the lakes at Montebello Lakes National Park on a raft.

Take a Tour To the Coffee Plantations

why visit chiapas

This is something that coffee lovers like me are sure to appreciate! Chiapas is famous for its fragrant coffee, and there’s a number of tours available in Chiapas where you can explore the plantations that make your favorite coffee.

On these tours, you’ll get to learn more about how the coffee is made, how the people who make it live on a day to day basis, and how coffee production is important to the local economy. In addition to this, you’ll also spend several hours hiking through the gorgeous highlands of Chiapas. And of course, you’ll also get to sample some delicious coffee along the way.

⇒ If you have some extra time, check out this 3-day tour Encrucijada Biosphere reserve in Chiapas and to the coffee route (Ruta del Cafe) at some local fincas. It looks incredible, I wish had gone on this tour!

Take a Day Trip To the Lagos de Montebello

why visit chiapas

Image via Flickr by Rod Waddington

Lagos de Montebello (Montebello Lakes National Park) is a national park near the Guatemalan border that consists of 59 beautiful lakes . The colors of these lakes are quite striking due to their unique mineral contents. The waters you’ll find here are various shades of green and turquoise; some of them are even purple or reddish black. Many of the Lagunas Montebello are suitable for swimming and kayaking.

The park also features ancient Mayan ruins from the Pre-Colombian era. Stand at the top of its main pyramid to get an incredible view of the lakes below.

⇒ CHECK OUT HERE the Chiflon Waterfalls & Montebello Tour from San Cristobal. This full day tour will let you soak up the beauty of Chiflon Waterfall (where you’ll be able to swim), then you’ll enjoy crossing one of the lakes at Montebello Lakes National Park on a raft.

Hike Up Volcán Tacaná

why visit chiapas

Image via Flickr by eduardorobles

Volcán Tacaná is an active volcano that can be found on the border of Mexico and Guatemala, and it’s one of the highest peaks in Central America. There are two different paths to the summit, one starting in Mexico and one in Guatemala. The Mexican path is not only easier to get to, it’s also considered to be one of the best hiking experiences in Central America.

This hike will take you through several different landscapes, including small villages, jungles, and volcanic forests. If you enjoy hiking, then this is something you must try for yourself.

Volunteer in Chiapas 

Have you ever wanted to volunteer somewhere in Mexico but you had no idea where to start from? It’s not always easy to look for good volunteer opportunities in Mexico on your own, and agencies can charge even thousands of dollars to find you a volunteer placement.

On Worldpackers, however, there are plenty of opportunities when it comes to volunteering in Chiapas. You can help a local NGO, teach music to children, or work at a hostel in San Cristobal de Las Casas.

READ ALSO: A Complete List of Volunteering Opportunities in Mexico

You simply have to pay a yearly membership that gives you access to thousands of volunteer opportunities all over the world, and it’s very affordable. The yearly membership usually costs $49, but use this link for $10 off the membership .

Where to Stay in San Cristobal de Las Casas

When staying in Chiapas, Mexico, it’s recommended that you use San Cristobal as a base. Not only is it an amazing cultural experience in its own right, it’s also relatively close to the other sites on this list. Book your accommodation by using the map below ⬇

Of all the hotels available in San Cristobal, none are better than Villas Casa Morada . This hotel comes with a number of great amenities including a restaurant, a cafe, a bar, cable TV, and free WiFi. The rooms also come equipped with fireplaces and kitchenettes with microwaves and refrigerators, and some of them are on two levels.

My favorite part was the fireplace that they kindly helped us light. After over a month on the road, there was nothing better than ordering pizza and beer and have a night of Netflix and chill in front of the fireplace! San Cristobal de Las Casas can get very chilly at night, so it’s certainly appreciated.

why visit chiapas

The hotel is also located near many of San Cristobal’s attractions. The Na Bolom Museum is only a five minutes’ walk away, and the Santo Domingo Temple is only fifteen minutes away. All these things make it a great mid-budget option for your stay in Chiapas, Mexico.

Check out RATES & AVAILABILITY for Villas Casa Morada

Other Mexico Articles To Check Out

8 Top Things To Do in Oaxaca

The One and Only 3 Days in Mexico City Itinerary

Isla Holbox, Mexico: The Complete Guide To This Island Paradise

Stefania Guglielmi

Stefania Guglielmi is the founder of Every Steph. Originally from Bologna, Italy, she's been traveling full-time since 2016 and has visited over 50 countries across 6 continents. She believes sustainable travel and luxury travel can go hand in hand and has been advocating for responsible tourism since 2014. Stefania's advice and travel experiences have been featured in important publications such as Business Insider, Refinery29, and Yahoo Money.

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19 Most Beautiful Cities in Mexico - Every Steph

Thursday 8th of December 2022

[…] are tons of natural attractions in Chiapas too such as Canyon del Sumidero, and it’s also a good base to explore the famous Palenque […]

Thursday 4th of November 2021

Hi Julien! When I wrote this article they weren't selling the activity on the Internet, just in a local travel agency, but this one is the exact tour I went on: https://www.civitatis.com/en/san-cristobal-de-las-casas/indigenas-communities-horse-ride/?aid=8495

Wednesday 3rd of November 2021

Hi Steph, loving all this info, you didn't provide a link to book to horseback ride to Chamula, any chance you remember what tour/service you used for that? thanks!

Aundrea Grieco

Saturday 4th of September 2021

Thank you for this article Steph! Really appreciate it! :) Learned a lot.

Monday 6th of September 2021

So glad it was useful!! :)

Ramiro Covarrubias

Friday 23rd of April 2021

it was awesome, I would like your permission for using your pics promoting Chiapas my email is: [email protected]

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    Stephen Woodman 03 February 2021 Chiapas is the perfect destination for travelers looking beyond the tourist trap beach resorts that line Mexico's coasts. With its stunning natural beauty, long-preserved indigenous heritage and picturesque colonial towns, Chiapas truly is a must-visit state.

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    Though not as well known as some other Mexico travel destinations, those in the know flock to Chiapas to escape the crowds, enjoy the beautiful nature and Mayan Ruins, stroll the colorful colonial streets, eat delicious foods and drink the famed Chiapas coffees. Chiapas travel guide Chiapas Mexico: Know before you go

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    Breathtaking sceneries Chiapas has some of the most spectacular sceneries in the country. The lush green rainforests, the roaring rivers, and the rising peaks make this place a must-visit for nature lovers. The Laguna Coronil, an azure lagoon that is surrounded by tall peaks, is one of the most breathtaking places to visit in Chiapas.

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    Laguna Miramar One of Mexico's most beautiful lagoons, Laguna Miramar is full of activities and nature-filled adventures like kayaking, mountain biking, bird-watching and exploring the nearby caves to marvel at ancient drawings.

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    Mexico is the land of ancient gods, worships, and pyramids. These are the best ancient ruins to visit in Chiapas: 1. Palenque. Ancient ruins in Palenque. Located in the middle of the jungle, Palenque is undoubtedly a hidden treasure among the best Mayan cities in Mexico.

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    13 Out-Of-This-World Things to Do in Oaxaca These lakes are said to often be covered in mist, which held true for when we visited, but they were still beautiful (even if we didn't feel up for the kayaking, which is one of the most popular Chiapas travel experiences there). Go horseback riding in the countryside.

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    Best things to do in Chiapas, Mexico Spend a long weekend in San Cristobal de Las Casas . San Cristobal de Las Casas is the main raison d'etre that most people decide to visit Chiapas. The town was founded in 1528 and named ¨Villa Real de Chiapa¨ Its name has changed various times over the centuries before being given its current name in 1848.

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    1. Palenque. Home to some of the finest examples of Mayan carvings, sculptures, and architecture, the Palenque archaeological site is mesmerizing to explore, and it is not without reason that it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state. Rising from the dense jungle, the crumbling temples and pyramids look absolutely stunning.

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    1. Get Lost in San Cristóbal De Las Casas. Founded in 1528, San Cristóbal de las Casas is the oldest Spanish town in the state of Chiapas. Nestled within the mountains, the city has kept its charming colonial flair, and features narrow streets and iron window grilles on elegant multi-coloured facades.

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