Top 5 Experiences in Chiapas Mexico
If you are looking for somewhere really different to visit, but close to Costa Rica, the southernmost state of Chiapas, Mexico should be top on your list. It’s a land of contrasts, from high cool pine forests, charming colonial cities and delicious food to epic natural sites and the amazing history, culture and ancient ruins of the Maya. Plus, Mexico is an easy place to travel, and prices are only about a third of what you find in Costa Rica.
There is so much to discover — a lot to fit in. But here are the best things to do when you visit Chiapas, broken into our top five groupings of experiences. Plan on at least a week to 10 days to see them all, to savor the many flavors of Chiapas.
1. Visit the Pueblo Mágicos
Mexico bestows the title of Pueblo Mágico to special towns that contain unique and ancient culture and architecture. There are several in Chiapas that you must see.
San Cristóbal de las Casas
This is the biggest tourist town and cultural center in Chiapas, a wonderful 500-year-old colonial town. Sadly, it was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake in 2017. The rebuilding and reconstruction of the ancient baroque churches continue to this day. Shops, ancient cathedrals, Mayan influence and restaurants with food beyond belief make it one of the top places in Mexico to spend a couple of days walking around through its many neighborhoods.
Chiapas de Corzo
With its 16th-century plaza and fountain built on the site of a Mayan ceremonial center, this sometimes overlooked town needs to be on your list, especially because it is more authentic — you may easily find yourself in a local celebration. It’s the gateway to the natural wonder of Sumidero Canyon.
Comitán de Domínguez
You’ll find this hidden jewel on a high plateau close to the border of Guatemala. It has a rich history of art and music, with one of the oldest theaters in Mexico. Enjoy a truly authentic experience, with a wonderful plaza alive with locals every night, and interesting restaurants that take advantage of the many milk-producing farms in the region. It is also the gateway to Lagunas de Montebello National Park.
2. Marvel at the Mayan pyramids and sites
Chiapas is home to many of the most famous and important cities and sites of the ancient Maya. Here are several not to be missed.
Palenque is the third most visited site in Mexico after Chichen Itza/Tulum and Teotihuacan. The city, rising out of the jungle and carved into the hills, is famous for its unique architecture. It’s also home to the largest tomb discovery in history. Palenque is a must-visit. Get a guide, so you can get in early to see the wildlife and birds. Crawl around in the vast unrestored areas, with macaws and howler monkeys adding to the mystical surroundings.
Deep in the southern jungle areas controlled by the local indigenous people, you are driven back to the site by native drivers, since you are not allowed to enter on your own. Bonampak is a small site but contains the biggest and best-preserved Mayan mural painting in the world. It lay hidden to the outside world until 1945. So much was learned from these paintings, still bright and vibrant to this day.
The ruins of Yachilian are near Bonampak, but only accessible by boat. A 45-minute ride at sunrise through the fog and mist sets the magical tone for your visit to the ruins of the city, on a huge meander loop in the river. When you stand at the top of the large pyramid, with the best preserved temple roof comb, you find yourself transported back through the jungle and time itself.
Tucked away in the center of Chiapas is Tonina, a little-visited, but extremely interesting Mayan city. It is known for two things: the pyramid complex, which is the tallest discovered in the Mayan world, and an inscription that carries the last discovered Mayan date. After this, no newer records or carvings or buildings exist. It’s a great place to capture the mystery of the Maya.
3 Be in awe of the amazing nature
The colonial towns and Mayan sites sometimes crowd out the natural beauty of Chiapas. Not to be overlooked are a couple of beautiful and exciting natural areas you should discover.
In Chiapas de Corzo you board fast-moving panga boats that take you through this amazing deep and narrow water gap. Unique formations and wildlife line the narrow sides as you travel through the gap, looking up over 1,000 meters to the top, ending at the hydroelectric dam on the other side. When you return, you can travel to the top of the canyon where there is a circular drive. Along that road you can stop at eight different lookouts to the river below. It’s an astonishing attraction, with little international press to attract visitors.
Lagunas de Montebello
As with the Sumidero Canyon, this is not an international tourist attraction, but draws mainly Mexican tourists. It features a lovely set of 59 lakes surrounded by pine forests, each with different colors of water due to the mineral content. Some of the lakes span across the Guatemala border. With cool air, rich forests and cool waters, it is a relaxing and reinvigorating place to spend some time.
4 Immerse yourself in the mysticism of the Maya
A little north of San Cristobal, and even further up in the mountains, is a very special area that is still extremely and truly magical — the Mayan indegenous area and pueblo magico of San Juan Chamula. The inhabitants of this region still dress in traditional shepherd clothing — black furry coats and skirts. They perform a strange, magical and secretive mixture of traditional Mayan and Roman Catholicism. A visit to the church there is a mystical experience that is hard to describe and will not easily be forgotten. (No photos are allowed.) Nearby is their traditional cemetery with its unique burial traditions.
5 Experience the people, culture and food of Mexico
No matter where you go in Mexico, you are overcome by the richness of the food, the amazing culture and the people. How rare it is to experience so much in one place: from 500-year-old churches to festivals and parades, to food that is incomparable, and people who live with one foot in the 21st century and another in the 9th.
Just sit back and savor it. Take your time, stay a while.
See this article in the magazine (click photo):