What to visit in this southern region of Mexico
? One has too much to choose from...... hiking in the jungle, in
the National Parks and reserves, visiting typical cities such as
San Cristóbal, Maya villages and archaeological sites such
as Palenque, Bonampak
This is a favorite in Mexico,
a special world inside the country. To tell the truth, it is more
a piece of Guatemala and it is the reason why it delights the travelers.
If you were disappointed because of the disappearance of the traditions
in Mexico, you will find them again here.
Where does this incomparable charm come from ? Maybe because the
village of San Cristóbal de las Casas corresponds to the
image we had of Mexico : a colonial atmosphere
mixed with an Indian population
that remains authentic. We are in the center of Chiapas, a wonderful
mountain area covered with always green forest and red soil. There,
the roads are rare. In these mountains, the Tzotzils and the Telltals,
two Maya groups related to the Guatemalan Indians succeeded in surviving
while keeping their identity. Within a 60 km (37 miles) radius around
San Cristóbal de las Casas, there are at least 200,000 Indians.
It is one of the rare regions where the Indians are more numerous
than the Latinos. The traditional city of San Cristóbal de
las Casas belongs to the Indians. These people walk down the hills
everyday to go to the market. They still wear traditional clothes.
Each village has its own clothes colors and designs.
picture : Arriving at the San Juan market
Nice 6 minute video about
It is a village with 60,000 inhabitants famous for its craft. It
is a typical village with a red and white colonial church and restaurants
on the river bank. It is also the departure point for boat excursions
in the Cañon del Sumidero. It is located at the east of the
capital, 15 km (9 miles) on the road to San Cristóbal. It
is the first city where the Spanish settled in Chiapas. It was built
in 1528 and occupied by Indigenous tribes. You can visit the Convent
San Dominguo, edifice dating from the sixteenth century converted
into a Cultural Center, the museum of la Laca which displays lacquered
wood objects (the specialty of the village), the octagonal fountain
of Moorish style (it looks like the crown of Spain; it is located
on the main plaza; it was finished in 1562) and the former Convent
Dominico de Tecpatán, edifice dating also from the sixteenth
: Celebration with parachicos
One block from the main plaza, there is a pier,
departure point for excursions to the Cañon del Sumidero.
The 2h-ride in a lancha (boat) is really worth it because of the
splendor of the canyon and the flora and fauna surrounding it. Look
for crocodiles, spider-monkeys, egrets, etc...
The boat goes to the dam and comes back. The Chicoasén Dam
allows sailing up the gorges on 35 km (22 miles), 1000 m (3280 ft)
below the observation towers. You can admire the famous Arbol de
Navidad (Christmas tree), a rock wall eroded by an 800 m (2625 ft)
waterfall, covered by moss. The negative point of this ride is the
noise of the motor boat! This excursion fits everyone. It runs daily
from 7 AM to 5 PM ($95).
Parachicos in the traditional January feast of Chiapa de Corzo
Inscribed in 2010 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
The traditional Great Feast takes place from 4 to 23 January every year in Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico. This celebration of music, dance, handicrafts, gastronomy, religious ceremonies and feasting takes place in honour of three Catholic saints: Saint Anthony Abbot, Our Lord of Esquipulas and, most importantly, Saint Sebastian. The dances of the Parachicos – the word refers both to the dancers and to the dance – are considered a communal offering to these saints. They start in the morning and conclude at night, as the dancers carry statues of saints throughout the city, visiting places of worship. Each dancer wears a carved wooden mask with headdress, serape, embroidered shawl and multicoloured ribbons, and plays chinchines(maracas). The dancers are led by the severely-masked Patron, who carries a guitar and whip, while playing a flute accompanied by one or two drummers. As they dance, he intones praises to which the Parachicos respond with cheers. The dance is transmitted and learned simultaneous with its performance, with young children taking part, imitating the adult dancers. The technique of mask-making is passed from generation to generation, including cutting of the wood, drying, carving and decorating. The dance of the Parachicos during the Great Feast embraces all spheres of local life, promoting mutual respect among communities, groups and individuals.
Extract from Unesco website. See slidewhow and video on the website.
Map of national park of Cañon del Sumidero :
Cristóbal de las Casas
road from Tuxtla (550m
or 1804 ft of altitude) to San Cristóbal de las Casas (2100
m or 6900 ft of altitude) winds up in a dark pines forest. San Cristóbal
de las Casas called "pueblo
mágico" contrasts a lot with Tuxtla.
This haughty Royal City, located 68 km (42 miles) from Tuxtla,
was the Spanish Governor’s headquarter. It was founded in
1528 and became the State capital from 1824 to 1892. It was named
after the Patron Saint, Christopher and its protector, Dominican
Bartolomé de las Casas. This last named was the first bishop
in 1545 and protected the Indians against the excess of the colonists.
: market of San Cristóbal
The city of 245,000 inhabitants looks to be filled up with churches.
A dozen of them are worth the visit: the solid Santo Domingo Church
is located at the northern end of the city. The white and glorious
Templo de San Cristóbal stands on the south-eastern hill
overlooking the city. You need to walk up 100 high steps to reach
it. Santo Domingo Church is particularly interesting because it
is the witness of a very rigorous devotion. It was built in the
sixteenth century. Its baroque salomonique façade, with mortar
ornaments on the stone, was created by Indigenous. The carved pulpit
is magnificent. There is also a collection of eight baroque altar
pieces made from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century.
Behind the church, there is a building that once housed the Convento
de Santo Domingo. You can visit the regional Museum called
Museo de los Altos de Chiapas (open 10 AM-3 PM, Tue-Sun,
$41). It displays expositions about the history and culture of the
region. The work of a Tzotzil and Tzeltal tribes cooperative are
sold in San Jolobil (Weaving House). The Tzotzil and Tzeltal are
distant descendants of the Mayas). The very colorful fabrics and
the clothes are slightly more expensive here than in the open market
in the church atrium where women display their merchandise on blankets
to sell it to the passerby.
The Zócalo, officially called Plaza 31 de Marzo, is lined
with stores set under archways and old houses restored and converted
into restaurants, bars, hotels and shops. On the west side, look
at the neo-classical Municipal palace. On the north, you can visit
the cathedral, built in the sixteenth century, with a yellow façade.
This baroque façade is ornate with plant shaped designs made
of mortar. The cathedral has a noticeable pulpit, baroque altars,
baroque salomonique altar pieces and beautiful religious paintings.
It is very often photographed by tourists because the unusual façade
makes an interesting background.
At the north of the cathedral, there is San Nicolás Church,
one of the first churches built by Indigenous in the city. The plain
façade is flanked by a bell tower that rose between two round
towers topped with thick tips.
You can also visit la Merced Church and the Museum of Amber. The
church was the first convent built in the city. Look at the façade
and the austere neo-classical interior. It houses the Museum of
Amber that displays 350 pieces, brut or carved in precious stones.
Magnifiers allow observing fossilized insects dating from millions
years (open daily 10 AM-2 PM and 5-8 PM, $20). There are documents
in different languages about amber for public use.
: the cathedral by night
You can’t leave San Cristóbal de las Casas without
visiting these three museums : Museo de la Medicina Maya, Museo
Na-Bolom and Museo Sergio Castro e Hijos.
The Museo de la Medicina Maya is associated to a consultations center
managed by the Organization of the Indigenous Doctors of Chiapas.
The rooms of the museum display the techniques of traditional care
used in the villages by the healers. A garden shows the different
medicinal plants used by these healers. You can consult on the premises.
This museum is located at the north of the municipal market, Salomon
Gonzalez Blanco Avenue # 10. It is open from 10 AM to 6 PM, from
Tuesday to Friday, $20.
The Museo Na-Bolom "The House of Jaguar" is the former
house of archaeologist-explorator Frans Blom. He was Danish and
married to Swiss Gertrude Duby Blom (Trudy). He devoted his life
to the excavations in the region. His wife, anthropologist and photographer
(she outlives him for 30 years), devoted herself to the Maya communities.
She is famous for fighting for the conservation of the tropical
humid forest and the protection of the Lacandóns
Indians. You can see Frans Blom’s office with many books
about the Indigenas and the region. You can also see, in Gertrude
Bloom’s room, hundreds of photos taken during her numerous
hikes in the forest. There is also a small neo-classical chapel
dating from the nineteenth century. This museum is open daily from
8 AM to 6 PM ($25 or $45 with guide). It has a library with more than 9,000 books.
It is also a Bed and Breakfast and restaurant (av.Vicente Guerrero
#33). Since the disappearance of this couple, an association continues
their work to help the Lacandon
community. Artisanal products for sale in the garden of the
museum : .
: Museo Na-Bolom
The Museo Sergio Castro e Hijos (Castro and Sons) has a
collection of music instruments, made and used by the natives of
"los Altos de Chiapas". They still use them nowadays.
The museum displays traditional attire from the different Indigenous
groups. It is located Guadalupe Victoria # 61.
The daily market of San Cristóbal de las Casas : It is not
to be missed. It is a fascinating and colorful typical market. You
mix with Chamulas, dressed with loose bottom pants and a long white
tunic. (The black tunics are reserved to the notables). The women
often wear black hair braided embellished with colorful ribbons
that show their statute of married women. You also mix with the
more sophisticated Zinantecs, who wear bright red/pink ponchos.
Every nearby village has its own traditional attire. That‘s
what make this village charming.
Left picture : market of huipiles in
Many travel agencies offer tours of the Maya village.
You can get information at the tourist office.
Map of San Cristóbal :
Juan Chamula : It is located 11 km (6 miles) from San Cristóbal
de las Casas. Once a year, this village celebrates the
"Carnival Chamula". Everyone dance during four days preceding
Ashes Wednesday. It is very busy and colorful. The community of
forms a large and relatively prosper Tzotzil speaking group. Their
language is tzotzil. The men wear white or black wool sarapes, tied
with a leather belt. Some wear shorts. The village chefs wear dark
sombreros with blue ribbons to show their statute. The ceremonies
and clothes are part of their everyday routine. They are clung to
the customs of their Maya ancestors and they believe more in the
powers of their shaman (the religious authority) than in the powers
of the catholic bishop. During the celebrations, especially on January
20th for Sebastian Day, red, yellow and violet banners are hung
on the arrows of the façade of the white church standing
on the Zócalo. The men drink poosh, sugar cane fermented
juice, in small soda bottles, stagger and dance at the sound of
improvised trumpets, drums, guitars and banjos. This drink is supposed
to be "spit out" to evacuate the evil spirits. In view
of the drunkenness of some of the men, it is hard to believe it
! Since a few years, this drink has been replaced by coke ! The
fact of burping is a way to eradicate the evil !
Left picture : Tzotzil
Indian in front of San Juan Chamula Church
Avoid the pictures : Chamulas hate the cameras. It goes against
their religious belief.
On the southern side, there is a tourist office where foreign people
can buy cheap tickets to visit the church. The Temple of San Juan
is very special. It has no bench, no Christ, only a “Saint
John”. The ceremonies are organized by healers on the ground
covered in fresh pine needles to absorb the bad waves! The candles
whose colors are chosen by the healer fill the church with smoke.
Pictures are not allowed inside the church and on the square in
case of ceremony. June, 24th is the only day of the year when the
priest is authorized to celebrate Saint John Baptist and baptize
: church of San Juan Chamula
You can’t leave the village without glancing at the cemetery,
truly garden with colored crosses. The Tzotzils worship the crosses
that they associate not to the Christ, but to the "tree of
life" of the ancient Mayas.
The Tzotzils live more on the high lands and are managed by council
Visit the village preferably on Sunday, market day.
Visit the communal museum of "Sna Jsotzl Lebetik", called
the house of the balds which describes the cultural wealth of the
region (open daily- 0830AM to 5PM for 10 pesos).
Photos : celebration in San Juan Chamula to honor the President
of the community
on San Cristóbal, San Juan Chamula, their markets,
Agua Azul, Misol-Ha and the archaeological sites.
3 minute Video
: Located 13 km (9 miles) from San Cristóbal de las Casas
or 7 km (4 miles) from San Juan Chamula, this village is famous
because of the Tzotzil inhabitants, skilled horticulturists. They
grow carnations, gladiolus, roses, lilies and chrysanthemums for
sale on the Sunday market and also in wholesale through the country.The
Tzotzils wear bright red/pink ponchos. Men and women wear straw
hats with red and violet ribbons.
The women wear white embroidered huipiles ornate with flowers. The
whitewashed Temple of San Lorenzo is worth the detour even if it
is less spectacular than the temple of de San Juan Chamula. You
might be lucky in attending a procession such as in San Juan Chamula.
It is interesting to watch the women weave in a traditional way.
Here too, people drink poosh and let off steam ! Left picture
: community of Zinacantán
Andrès Larraínzar : The agreements between
the EZLN and the government were signed here in 1996. This village
is not part of the classical tours and it is a pity ! This village
of 20,000 inhabitants is a lot more authenticable than the neighboring
San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán. You really need to attend
the cult at the Temple. The attire of the women is fascinating.
The smoke emitted by the incense of copal bewitches the church.
del Valle : it is located 40 km (24 miles) south-east from
San Cristóbal de las Casas on the road to Tapachula.
The colonial church overlooks the traditional village and the vegetable
gardens of this Tzeltal community famous for its pottery :
: fabrication of clay potteries by the Tzeltal women
: This Tzeltal village is located 27 km (16 miles) north-east from
San Cristóbal de las Casas. San Ildefonso Church, the elegant
fountain dating from the nineteenth century and the ruins of San
Sebastian church are part of its cultural heritage.
The Sunday market is one of the most noticeable ones in the region
because of local craft, embroidery and the enredos (embroidered
tunics), proper to this village.
Left picture : arriving on
the market of Tenejapa
on the Pan-American road 190 to Montebello Lakes
The city of Comitán is the next stop of our excursion to
the lakes of Montebello. This small hilly town is not known to international
tourism, but it is an excellent departure point for excursions to
"Parque Nacional Lagunas de Montebello”, 50 km (41 miles)
ahead. It is also one of the roads leading to Guatemala. You can
visit the "Casa-museo Belisario Dominguez". This doctor,
born in 1863, was the first to denounce the poverty of the Indians
of Chiapas. He was murdered by the dictator in power, Huerta, in
1913. His house, office and pharmacy were converted into a museum
(Av.Central Sur # 35).
Just before reaching the Park, you can visit and old Maya city,
Chinkultic, abandoned several years after it reached its zenith
(from 600 to 900). This Maya site was built on a set of limestone
hills at the center of three water reservoirs. The most important
of these reservoirs is "Cenote Azul". This site is very
interesting : there are numerous steles, some of them representing
richly dressed up people. There is also a Ball game. There are few
restored edifices. Some objects such as the bas- relief of the Ball
game were transferred to the National Museum of Anthropology of
Mexico. The view from the main edifice, the Acropolis, is spectacular.
Enjoy a bath in "Cenote Azul". The site is open daily
from 8 AM to 5 PM ($30).
picture : Montebello Lakes
Next stop : the National Park
It is one of the most beautiful natural sites in Mexico. The 59
lakes are old natural wells gradually united by the corrosion of
the limestone and the screes. The colors of the lakes are different
because of the effect of the sun and the level of oxide in the water.
You have a pallet from turquoise to emerald, dark green, steel grey,
blue-green and even violet. You should travel in the morning with
nice weather to appreciate these shades of color that contribute
to the beauty of the area.
At the entrance of the park, there are guides who can show you the
way for a few pesos. You can reach some lakes via signed trails.
Start with "Lagunas Coloradas”, so called because of
the diversity of the colors (on the left at the entrance of the
park). Go also on the tour "Laguna Bosque Azul", an equipped
site with pedal boats, horses and restaurants. To visit the southern
lakes, go back to the entrance of the park and take the road to
Tziscao. The lake and the village are 10km (6 miles) further. You
will first go to “Laguna de Montebello" (10 minute walking
to reach it), then to "Cinco Lagunas" (30 minute walking),
to the wonderful "Laguna Pojoj" and then to "Laguna
Tziscao", close to the village with the same name. It is a
nice one day tour. Don’t forget your hiking shoes and your
swimming suit. The tourist Office of Comitán can give you
a detailed map of the region. Renting a car is the best choice to
visit the national Park. However, there is a bus from Comitán
to Laguna Bosque Azul and Tziscao.
Tziscao is also an ecotourism center open from 8 AM to 6 PM (fees
included in the park ticket) with 8 triple cabins for lodging and
If you have time, keep going to the Falls (cascadas) Las Nubes,
one hundred kilometers (60 miles) from Montebello. It is part of
the high flow rate Santo Domingo River which creates the turquoise
waterfalls. You can practice rafting on several portions of the
river. A suspension bridge offers a wonderful view on the falls.
By the bridge, you can walk 30 minutes on a trail to reach a viewpoint
overlooking a meander of the green river. There is a wonderful view
of the area and the river. It is also good for hiking and swimming.
This ecotourism center is open from 8 AM to 5 PM. There is a small
restaurant, cabins and a campground for lodging. The entrance fees
are from $35 to $65 depending on the capacity of your vehicle.
Another visit from Comitán is the ecotourism center of Chiflón
Falls, 40 km (24 miles) further on road 226.
These falls are surrounded with a sugar cane valley, mountains and
jungle. The most impressive fall, the «Velo de novia»
- «Bridal Veil»-, is a fascinating water barrier made
by San Vincente Rio that ends in turquoise water basins. This place
is ideal for swimming. You need to walk about 1km (0.6 mile) before
reaching the highest fall. You can also practice Mountain Bike,
hiking and climbing.
It is open daily from 8 AM to 5 PM ($10). A few cabins are available
for lodging as well as a campground and a restaurant.
on the Pan-American road 199 to Palenque
First stop coming from San Cristóbal : the caves of Rancho
Nuevo : it is a 1km (0.6 mile) lighted ride to discover the changeable
stalagmites and stalactites. There are many ranchos (livestock farms)
along the roads190 and 199 from where you can ride horses. There
is also an ecotourism center open from 8 AM to 5 PM ($10 per person
and $10 per car).
Ocosingo : this is a small, pleasant and prosper city. It is a good
stop on the way to the archaeological site Toniná, Agua Azul
Toniná : This village, located 14 km (8 miles) east of Ocosingo,
was once a ceremony center and a military power. This is a Pre-Hispanic
city. The name means « Large Stone House ». It was built
on a limestone hill overlooking a large valley. You will notice
the Acropolis, a Ball Game, the Palace of Underworld and the Palace
of the Greek Fret and War. The visit can be completed by a visit
of the museum. The Acropolis is one of the highest Maya pyramids.
It measures 57 m (187 ft). The stairs lead to seven terraces linked
by dark labyrinths. On the 5th terrace, admire the "Mural de
las Cuatro Eras" (Mural of the four eras), the masterpiece
of the site. The site is open daily from 9 AMM to 5 PM ($41 including
You can stay in Rancho Esmeralda (a dozen cabins) close to Tonina.
You also can ride horses there.
Agua Azul : The Agua Azul River goes down forming an impressive
set of cascades among luxuriant tropical vegetation. By the parking
lot, there are two viewpoints, several restaurants and shops.
Walk up and swim in a succession of natural pools linked together.
Entrance fees : $20. It is open from 8 AM to 6 PM.
How to get there ? Take road 199 from Ocosingo to Palenque.
66 km (40 miles) before Palenque,
follow the 5 km (3 miles) road on the left that leads to the cascades.
: Agua Azul cascades
The waterfall of Tzaconejá River, through a limestone fault,
creates one of the most beautiful falls in Chiapas : Misol-Há
is a spectacular 30m (98 ft) high waterfall that ends in a basin
where you can swim. It is open daily from 8 AM to 6 PM. ($10).
There are cabins, restaurants and a craft store.
How to get there ? On the road 199 from Ocosingo to Palenque,
20 km (12 miles) before Palenque,
take the 1.5km (1 mile) road to the cascades.
This part of the coast has not a lot of interest but if you cross
Tapachula on your way to Guatemala, stop for a visit of the Museo
Regional del Soconusco, by the Municipal Palace. It displays Maya
steles and other objects ($31).
There is also a museum of coffee open daily from 8 AM to 8 PM ($5).
It is on the road to Cacahoatán, 35 km (21 miles) from Tapachula.
The small village just before the border, Unión Juárez,
has coffee plantations on the foothills of volcano Tacaná
(altitude : 4123 m or 13527 ft). The village has noticeable colored
wooden architecture. Many hikes start from there.
Map of the town of Tapachula :
The biosphere reserve Montes Azules : it represents
0.16% of Mexico with 331,000 ha but has 20% of
Mexican flora with 4,300 species: 25% of bird variety with 345 species
and 27% of the mammals with 114 species. It is the biggest rainforest
in Mexico. If you plan on venturing there, you
need the proper equipment, a guide and an authorization. The place
is called "Selva Lacandona". It is close to the ruins
of Bonampak. Laguna Miramar is a nice hike among others. It is the
biggest lake in Lacandón forest. You access to the reserve
via a dirt road. You can stay in some community houses. Outside
this reserve, there is the ecotourism center LAS GUACAMAYAS, isolated
in the eastern mountains of Chiapas, known as Jungle Lacandon. It
is the ideal destination for the nature lovers. This is the place
for research, conservation and reproduction of scarlet macaw (Ara
Macao), an endangered species. It is open daily from 8 AM to 6 PM
($100 with a guide). You can practice mountain biking, climbing
and hiking. There are cabins, a campground and a restaurant.
How to get there ? It is located 224 km from Comitán.
You first take the Pan-American road 190 to La Trinitaria and then
the road to la Fronteriza del Sur. At the crossing with Chajúl,
keep going for 32 km (20 miles) on a dirt road to the community
Reforma Agraria where you will find the Ecotourism Center.
The biosphere reserve El Triunfo : it is located
in the southern part of the state, in Sierra Madré de Chiapas.
There are pine trees and rain forest inhabited by species such as
the endangered cat family and the quetzal. If you plan on venturing
there, you need the proper equipment, a guide and an authorization.
The park entrance is located 184 km (114 miles) south from Tuxtla.
The biosphere reserve Selva El Ocote : It is located
in North Chiapas. This zone is part of the hydrologic basin of the
river net of Grijalva, one of the most important rivers in Mexico.
Several rivers converge in La Venta River which constitutes the
hydro geological collector of the whole country. Because of the
geographic location, and the many steep lands, there are ten different
kinds of vegetation in La Selva El Ocote : there is the tropical
high evergreen forest, the high or mid sub-leaves species forest,
mid or low evergreen forest, low deciduous leaves forest, low bristlecone
pine forest, savanna, pine and oak trees, oak groves, deciduous
leaves forest and other vegetation. Even if they didn’t finish
recording the data, they already found 705 species, 452 types and
121 families that coexist all along the Canyon of La Venta River.
The result of 705 species is not definitive. The exploration of
the mountain is difficult because of the uneven altitude (from 800
to 1400 m). The number could reach 2,000. Concerning the fauna,
the Selva El Ocote is considerate as one of the most important centers
of biologic diversity because it is located in a transition zone
between two neo-tropical regions, the Pacific region and the Tehuantepec
region. They found 646 species of land vertebras. Concerning the
invertebrates, they counted 3,000 species of coleopterans and 500
species of moth; however, if we would add all the other invertebrates,
we would find 20,000 species. There are also many archaeological
vestiges from Zoque culture and caves that were inhabited by Pre-Hispanic
people. The native communities, Tzotzils and Zoques, offer services
of lodging, camping, hiking, boat or horse rides as well as local
The Huitepec Reserve : It is located on the eastern
side of volcano Huitepec, close to San Cristóbal. Some of
the 300 plant species have been used in medicine and religion by
the Mayas for several generations. You can observe foxes, about
60 species of birds, squirrels... etc. You can hike by yourself
or join a tour (information at the Tourist Office in San Cristóbal).