If you want to know when is the best time to travel to Mexico, the answer is now!
Really, Mexico is as beautiful as ever and there are so many great opportunities to explore the rich culture, history, and natural beauty of one of the most fantastic destinations on our planet.
Our feature destination is Chiapas, the southernmost state in Mexico and one of the most diverse and colorful in the country. Not to mention one of the safest places to visit.
Most people begin exploring this Mayan Territory as soon as their plane lands at Tuxtla Gutiérrez Airport, which is the capital city of the state.
Chiapas not only offers great Mayan archeological sites and beautiful indigenous culture, but a spectacular opportunity to enjoy the splendors of nature.
Warning: you will fall in love with Chiapas.
How much time should you spend exploring Chiapas? It all depends, but in one week you can at least see some of the main attractions:
The Sumidero Canyon
Close to Tuxtla Gutiérrez (about 20 miles), the Sumidero Canyon is a great place to start your Chiapas adventure.
The best way to admire the impressive cliffs is to take a fast boat ride on the Grijalva River, which takes you through the canyon on an adrenaline rushing journey.
Along the way you will witness a variety of wildlife, a couple of waterfalls, a natural cave, and of course, the colossal walls of this majestic canyon.
The canyon’s main silhouette also represents the loyalty and courage of the Chiapas people and it is portrayed in the state’s coat of arms.
After visiting the canyon you can head to Chiapa de Corzo, a nearby picturesque town with a beautiful square, artisan shops, and great places to enjoy the local cuisine.
San Cristobal de las Casas
Yes, go ahead and pinch yourself, San Cristobal is that beautiful!
The Mexican Tourism Board has included San Cristobal de las Casas in their “Magical Villages” program because of its natural beauty, its rich culture, and its historical relevance.
Located in the central highlands of Chiapas, San Cristobal is a place you want to use as a base to explore the village and nearby towns.
For people watching head to the square at the main church. Throughout the town you’ll notice the Tzotzil people in their traditional multicolored clothes.
These are indigenous people from the central highlands, mainly from the villages of San Juan Chamula, Zinacantán, and San Cristobal de las Casas.
With its colorful buildings and cobblestone-paved roads, San Cristobal is a great place to explore on foot.
There are many places around town you can buy handicrafts, but I strongly recommend you go to the open market.
A very unique place to visit in San Cristobal is the Museum of Traditional Costumes, operated by Don Sergio Castro. Don Sergio is a humanitarian hero who has helped the community for over 45 years.
San Cristobal also has great coffee shops (after all, Chiapas produces some of the best coffee in the world).
When it comes to restaurants, I recommend La Casa del Pan; it offers a variety of mouth-watering options for vegetarians and live music.
Zinacantán and San Juan Chamula
Close to San Cristobal are these two colorful Tzotzil towns you don’t want to miss.
Both have lively Tzotzil traditions with vibrant parties throughout the year full of fireworks and dances.
For centuries, trade has allowed the Tzotzil people to live with some degree of prosperity selling their hand-crafted goods and flowers in markets.
However, in recent years they have also depended heavily on tourism.
I would suggest a visit to Zinacantán if you wish to buy traditional arts and crafts like paintings, baskets, pottery, wood sculptures, hand-woven wool blankets, and amber jewelry.
But at San Juan Chamula you should go to the main church for a unique religious experience. I promise it will be something you have never seen before.
From the outside, the Church of San Juan looks like a regular small town church.
But inside there are no benches and no priests giving sermons.
It’s very mystical; the natives practice a local form of Catholicism blended with Mayan rituals.
Figurines of saints with mirrors adorn the walls and the floors are covered with pine needles.
Many families bring cans of soda, candles, and sometimes even live chickens to sacrifice as they chant their prayers.
It’s unlike anything else you’ll ever experience, but you’ll have to see for yourself since there is no photography or video allowed.
Beautiful Water: Montebello Lakes, Agua Azul Falls, and Misol-Ha Falls
A trip to Chiapas wouldn’t be complete without visiting and admiring the spectacular presence of water in its versatile facades.
And the Montebello Lakes (see photo) are proof of the beautiful expression of nature in Chiapas. I would devote a day trip to explore this site.
Just admiring the breathtaking scenery of the many lakes with its bright turquoise blue tones reflected on the water and the green surroundings of the forests is worth the experience.
If you want to go for a swim there’s good news, you are allowed to dip in. And there are small boats for rent too.
On your way to the archaeological sites from San Cristobal you should take advantage and explore both Agua Azul and Misol-Ha falls.
The Agua Azul Falls consist of a sequence of cascades in a stair-like formation.
Although the water flows fast, there are areas where you can go for a swim.
However, if you’d rather enjoy the beauty and look for picture-perfect spots, you can walk a path that takes you to an observation deck were you can enjoy a beautiful view of the falls.
Misol-Ha is only a short drive from Agua Azul and offers a spectacular 115ft waterfall surrounded by lush green jungle (see photo).
The main trail to get there is easy and you can actually walk behind the waterfall and underneath the rocks.
If you are a Hollywood buff, the Misol-Ha falls were featured in the movie Predator.
Hey, I didn’t say it was a good movie.
Archaeological Sites: Palenque, Bonampak, and Yaxchilán
Palenque is perhaps the most famous of all archaeological sites in Chiapas mainly because it contains very well preserved buildings with fine stone carvings produced by the Mayans.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Palenque was a Mayan city that flourished in the 7th century and its most celebrated ruler was Pakal the Great.
The central feature of the complex is the Main Palace with its four-story tower and bas-relief sculptures.
But also important are the Temple of the Inscriptions, the Temple of the Skull, the Temple of the Red Queen, and the Temple of the Cross.
Bonampak is another ancient Mayan archaeological site. At first, their buildings might not seem that impressive and, in fact, they are even smaller than other sites.
But the fascinating thing about Bonampak has to do with the original Mayan paintings inside three rooms in one of the buildings.
These paintings are one of the most valuable treasures of ancient Mexico (see photo).
The paintings depict several passages in Mayan history, their hierarchical structure, their rituals, battles, and other significant historical symbols.
The lost city of Yaxchilán was one of the most powerful Mayan cities along the Usumacinta River, which is on the Guatemalan border.
The archaeological site, which lies in the middle of the jungle, is one of the most fascinating due to its off-the-beaten-path location and very well-preserved stone carvings.
One of the great things about Yaxchilán is that it’s not as touristic as Palenque and therefore at points you feel like the only one in the complex (play Indiana Jones theme here).
When visiting the archaeological sites, I would recommend exploring Bonampak and Yaxchilán in one day and spending an entire day visiting Palenque (save the best for last).
After Palenque, it may be time to head back to Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
The night before your departure from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, you should head to Las Pichanchas.
This is a colorful restaurant-bar with great food and live music. Sometimes they even offer traditional dances with masks.
It may be a bit touristy for the average adventurer, but still far from real tourist traps like Señor Frogs or Carlos and Charlies.
Besides, you do deserve a drink after exploring Chiapas tirelessly. Well, their signature drink is called Pumpo (see photo), a fruity cocktail served in a colorful carved gourd.
When the waiter brings the Pumpo to your table there’s a short ceremony where he rings bells and shouts PUMPO!!!
Enjoy Chiapas! It is really one of the most fascinating destinations in the world.
Learn from its rich history and culture, appreciate the beautiful colors of nature, and smile back at all the friendly people that welcome you to their magical land.
Have you been to Chiapas? Do you have any questions? Please comment!