Chiapas, San Cristóbal and Palenque
Rainforest jungle, pine forest highlands, rugged canyons, Maya ruins, colourful birdlife and handsome colonial cities abound in Mexico’s southernmost state, an area that seamlessly blends Spanish heritage with indigenous Indian culture, perfect for culture lovers and adventure enthusiasts looking to explore off-the-beaten-track Mexico.
Dotted with attractive Spanish colonial towns, each with an elegant church, shady plaza and local market, as well as self-governing Tzotzil Indian villages, such as San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan, scattered throughout the highlands, Chiapas provides a fascinating insight into Mexico’s vibrant cultural heritage. Add to this, some of the world’s most important Maya ruins and a chance to actively explore the jungles, rivers and waterfalls of the terrain and it’s easy to understand why Chiapas makes a great addition to any Mexican holiday.
One of the main draws of Chiapas is a chance to visit the beautiful Maya ruins of Palenque in a steamy jungle setting, alive with the sound of roaring howler monkeys and chattering parrots. One of Mexico’s national treasures, the ruins have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the 1980s. We think this vast complex of temples is best seen early in the day as it slowly emerges through the morning mists, adding to the magical atmosphere.
We’d also recommend a stay in San Cristobal de la Casas, an attractive colonial town of colourful houses, cobblestone streets, sleepy plazas and a laidback vibe. With a lively restaurant and bar scene this is a great city to explore. What’s more, there is much evidence of indigenous culture on display as the local Tzotzil Indians come into the city to sell their unique handicrafts. It is also a great base for visiting the villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan to discover more about the Tzotzil way of life.
Another highlight is a boat trip through the Sumidero Canyon, where the towering walls reach heights of up to 1,000-metres. The boats run from Chiapas de Corzo, around a one-hour drive from San Cristobal and the journey takes around three-hours, during which you will cruise past caves and rock formations admiring the herons, vultures and kingfishers you pass along the way. In fact, Chiapas is full of interesting cave systems, waterfalls and jungle, making it an ideal destination for those who enjoy adventure activities, as well as hiking and biking.
Chiapas is a one-hour 25-minute flight from Mexico City to Tuxtla Gutierrez (the state capital) airport. From here, it is a one-hour drive to San Cristobal or a five-hour drive to Palenque. Alternatively, there is an airport at Palenque with a flight time of one-hour 35-minutes to Mexico City. To see the best of Chiapas, we would recommend flying into Tuxtla Gutierrez, spending two nights in San Christobal to explore the city and Indian villages, taking a trip along the Sumidero Canyon, before transferring to Palenque for one night, to visit the Maya ruins and flying back to Mexico City from Palenque.
We think that Chiapas is a culturally interesting area of Mexico which would be enjoyed by those looking to explore country’s indigenous culture and visit some of Mexico’s most atmospheric Maya ruins.