Chiapas is Mexico’s wild and wonderful southern state, and has many natural wonders and Mayan ruins to explore. From dense rainforests and misty cloud forests to cascading waterfalls and ancient Mayan ruins, Chiapas offers an unforgettable sceneries. Here are places we feel are must-sees while you visit the jungles and colonial towns of Chiapas.
San Juan Chamula
Located near San Cristóbal de las Casas, San Juan Chamula is a sleepy mountain town rich with local character. Its beautiful church hosts a combination of indigenous and Catholic rituals—shamans cure the ailments of the community under visions of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The town also holds a lively weekly market where you can buy textiles and local crafts.
A stunning example of nature’s architecture, you can check out Sumidero Canyon‘s 3,300-foot (1,000-meter) walls in a lancha (boat) for a pretty low price with a guide who will point out some of the canyon’s incredible flora, fauna, and its natural wonders. Mineralized caves, waterfalls of many shapes and sizes, and the awestruck feeling of your own tiny place in the world await you at this natural wonder
Churches of San Cristóbal
San Cristóbal de las Casas is Chiapas’s cultural center; there is so much to do there every day, including visiting art galleries, eating great food, and attending neighborhood festivals. Though the town has several churches, you should make sure you visit these six: the Santo Domingo Church, the San Cristóbal Cathedral, the Guadalupe Church, the Templo de Carmen, the San Francisco Church, and the El Cerrito Church.
The weekly markets throughout Chiapas are wonderlands of sights, smells, and cultural traditions. Make sure to check out the several markets in San Cristóbal de las Casas (they have a great municipal market if you’re in the mood for local food) and the mountain towns around the city. Zinacantán has an especially great market, though they are all fabulous.
As one of Mexico’s most impressive set of ruins, Palenque and its jungle setting are an unmissable experience on your trip to Chiapas. Scientists have learned about this Mayan city’s history through its many hieroglyphic inscriptions and it has some of the most exquisite stone work and relief art. Though the site was buried for years in a massive forest, it’s now yours to explore!
Once the home of Chiapas’s most famous indigenous fighters, the Zapatistas, the Lacandon Jungle is now home to several autonomous indigenous communities. Take a day or a few weeks to head into the jungle and get to know some of these fascinating populations and their belief systems.
Palenque’s rival city is Yaxchilán, a once powerful center of life and cultural development that sits on the Usumacinta River. Known for its detailed stone sculpture and stelae, the site is a collection of buildings and structures situated around a main plaza overlooking the river. This city, deep in the jungle heat and humidity, controlled much of the river commerce and was once one of the most important Maya cities in the area.
The Bonampak archeological site was uncovered recently in 1946 and is one of Chiapas’s true gems, with many frescos that illustrate Maya life during the late Classic period. The site isn’t huge and easily doable in a day, although getting there can be a little tricky. It sits right next to the Montes Azules Natural Park, which has plenty of endemic flora and fauna, making the site just that much more impressive.
Laguna Miramar, located inside the Montes Azules Natural Park, has been protected from development by an agreement between nearby communities aimed to preserve the lagoon’s natural beauty. Its turquoise-green waters are home to a variety of wildlife and there are opportunities to camp, take boat rides, check out cave paintings, and observe animals there. The town of Emiliano Zapata is where you should start your journey to the lagoon.
Madresal is a tourism project developed by the local fishermen of Ponte Duro. The business behind the bohemian luxury of simple palapa cabins and private access to an inviting part of the Chiapas coast also benefits the local economy and communities. Book with Madresal and you’ll also be able to take tours into the mangroves and bird watch.
The Toniná pyramid, which is even bigger than the Pyramid of the Sun outside of Mexico City, makes quite the impression on anyone who visits it. Because the city of Toniná was often at war with surrounding Mayan towns, like Palenque, it became known for its capture and decapitation of opposing rulers. Once again, this is a great site to get that off-the-beaten-path experience as it gets a much lower volume of tourism than do Palenque and Yaxchilán.
Templo de Quechula
What was once one of the area’s most beautiful colonial churches went underwater when a nearby resevoir was built. In 2002, receding waters caused the temple to reappear from its watery grave and now, you can take a boat tour to skirt around its massive stone walls and get a peak of its former glory.
Agua Azul Waterfalls
This series of breathtaking waterfalls splash and descend over limestone rocks down the Tulijá River, north of San Cristóbal. There are cabins nearby if you want to stay overnight and several waterfalls, natural pools, and rock structures for the explorer in you. Make sure you pack all the necessary items, including insect repellent!
Built during the Pre-Classic period, this mid-size archeological site is one of the lesser visited ones in Chiapas, which makes it a great stop for anyone who wants to avoid the crowds. Make sure to check out the pyramids, the famous cenote (a kind of sink well), and the Maya ball court.
Lagunas de Montebello
Fifty-nine wildly colored lakes make up the Lagunas de Montebello National Park and about 15 of them are easily reachable on foot or by car. The varying colors are dependent on each lake’s mineral content as they are believed to have been cenotes that ate away at the limestone bedrock and filled in over time. There are cabins for overnight stays and opportunities to kayak and swim in the lakes. Don’t miss the Grutas San Rafael del Arco.
A coffee route has been developed in Chiapas through the efforts of several long-standing, family-owned coffee plantations in the area. You can visit Finca Irlanda, Finca Hamburgo, Finca Argovia, and Finca La Chiripa to get a better understanding of the coffee harvest process, take tours of the haciendas, hike in the wildlife that surrounds them, and most importantly, drink coffee!
Reserva de la Biosfera La Encrucijada
This coastal biosphere is the protected home of many incredible species in Chiapas, including jaguars, spider monkeys, turtles, crocodiles, caimans, boa constrictors, and fishing eagles. You can even enjoy spectacular bird watching as the biosphere sits along the migratory path of many North American birds. The Red de Ecoturismo La Encrucijada is an organization that will take tourists out to see some of the natural beauty of the biosphere.
The humid and lush region of Soconusco was one of the birthplaces of the Mokaya and Olmec cultures and today is home to a collection of interesting small towns and beaches that get little press in Chiapas’s tourism initiatives. Make sure to try the local coffee and chocolate and visit a few of the region’s beautiful northern beaches.
When it’s not a holiday or weekend, this little coastal village is perfect for a completely relaxing beach stay. Located approximately 14 miles (23 kilometers) from Tonalá via a paved road, this area is known for its long and fine-sand beaches, which are bordered by palm trees swaying the wind. This quaint beach town is also home to one of the state’s four marine turtle sanctuaries.
Boca del Cielo
Second only to nearby Puerto Arista, Boca is one of Chiapas’s most popular beach destinations. Its name, the Mouth of Heaven, refers to a long lagoon where you can watch an incredible sunset in the evening. Most of the locals work in either tourism or fishing, so there are water sports and ocean tours of all kinds for tourists to enjoy.
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