8 Reasons to Visit Chiapas, Mexico
Chiapas is the final frontier in Mexico. It’s the country’s southernmost state, where dense jungles form the border with Guatemala - a place far removed from the beaches of Cancun or the streets of Mexico City. Chiapas is fiercely independent, and local indigenous cultures, closely related to the Mayans, are very much in command here. Indigenous languages are still spoken in the villages, and even in the main city of San Cristobal de las Casas, a high altitude, colonial mountain settlement, you’ll hear local languages and see local traditions everywhere.
It’s a fascinating place, where you can discover lost Mayan cities shrouded in mist, delve into intriguing indigenous religions, and marvel at crashing waterfalls and spectacular canyons. It’s one of the best places to visit in Mexico, and to inspire your trip, here are eight reasons to visit Chiapas.
The Ruins of Palenque
Forget Chichen Itza, and forget the Aztec temples of Mexico City, because it’s the ruins of Palenque that will really send you back to another time. These almost mystical ruins were lost for centuries in the jungles of Chiapas, but before it was abandoned over a thousand years ago, this was a city that ruled over a vast Mayan kingdom that stretched through Central America.
Palenque was only rediscovered in the 18th century when Spanish explorers found the lost city, overgrown and empty in Chiapas. There’s still much that’s hidden by the jungle, and travelling to Palenque and visiting the ruins will give you the intrepid feeling that you’re venturing into the depths of an Indiana Jones film, as the temples and palaces are shrouded by fog and mist, and the bricks and stones are covered in vines and tree roots.
San Cristobal de las Casas
San Cristobal de las Casas - or simply San Cristo, as it’s known to locals - is not the largest city or even the capital of Chiapas, but it is the most culturally important destination in the state. San Cristo is found high in the mountains, at an altitude of at least 2200 metres, and this isolation and remoteness from Mexico City, which is found far to the north, led the colonial town to be influenced by the local indigenous cultures in a way that few other cities in Mexico were.
The city makes a great base for exploring Chiapas, and you’ll find quirky accommodation, bars spilling out onto the cobblestone pavements as well as excellent restaurants serving up a blend of Mexican, Spanish and Mayan cuisine.
San Juan Chamula
If you’re interested in seeing more of the local indigenous culture in Chiapas, then head to San Juan Chamula, which is just 10 kilometres away from San Cristo, but remains one of the most traditional towns in the region. San Juan Chamula is home to a local Tzotzil community, and Spanish has never been the first language here. Ancient Mayan dialects flourish, and the town was never truly colonised.
In the church, you’ll find a curious mix of Catholicism and indigenous religious customs, and worshippers will drink coca-cola or get drunk on homebrew spirits while they sit on the pine needles that cover the pewless floors, before letting off fireworks in the town plaza as part of their ceremonies.
Chiapas is a land of extreme natural beauty, as well as resilient local culture, and close to San Cristo, here you will find one of Mexico's most untouched, yet spectacular outdoor attractions. The Sumidero Canyon is a vast gorge with high walls that reach staggering heights of up to 1000 metres. It’s a dramatic place to visit, and you can take a boat cruise along the river to be immersed in this lost world.
It’s a great place for wildlife watching too; you can spot crocodiles in the water, while the trees will be filled with monkeys and if you’re lucky, you may even see a jaguar on the shoreline.
El Chiflon is another of the spectacular natural sights found in Chiapas, and it’s one of the must-visit destinations in southern Mexico. El Chiflon is a towering, cascading set of waterfalls that are found to the south of San Cristo.
The main waterfall is 120 metres high, dropping thunderously from a high clifftop into the forest below. You can hike through the surrounding national park, following the turquoise watercourses and rivers to discover swimming pools and smaller waterfalls, while the whole area is becoming an increasingly popular adventure playground with the addition of ziplines.
Lagunas de Montebello
Not far from El Chiflon, you can find the equally spectacular sight of the Lagunas de Montebello. This enormous collection of lakes is fringed by striking jungle scenery and green forests, while the water shimmers different shades of blue and turquoise in the sun. In total, there are 59 different lakes of varying size to explore, so you can join boat cruises or go kayaking to really explore this epic water world in Chiapas.
If waterfalls are your thing, then you’ve definitely come to the right place. Halfway between the ruins of Palenque and San Cristobal de las Casas, you can find the hidden cascades of Agua Azul. Agua Azul means ‘Blue Water’ and this waterfall is found in the forest, stretching across a wide river. It’s not the tallest waterfall, but the width of the cascades and the layering effect of the rocks combine with the mineral-rich, blue-green waters to create a beautiful sight.
Mexico is revered across the world for its culinary offerings, and in Chiapas, you’ll find some of the best dishes in the country. Not only can you spend your days gorging on mouth-watering tacos or huge tortas dripping with sauce, you can also chow down on an array of local specialties too.
Chiapas’ food takes inspiration from indigenous culture, as well as Spanish, so you’ll find tapas-style food and cured meats in San Cristo, while in the villages you can try Tamales - corn-based wraps filled with all sorts of delicious fillings.
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