The state of Chiapas is one of the most stunning regions of Mexico. The southernmost state of Mexico boasts as diverse a range of activities and adventures that you can imagine. From breathtaking waterfalls, jaw dropping canyons, sparkling cenotes, and colorful cultures, Chiapas is a region that has it all. You’ll never run out of things to do in Chiapas. Despite being relatively close to the more popular states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo, and Oaxaca, it often goes overlooked on most travelers’ itineraries. Big mistake. Chiapas stole my heart from the get-go. I ended up spending nearly two months exploring this magical area of Mexico.
Come for the natural attractions, stay for the amazing vibe. Without further ado, here are the top bucket list things to do in the state of Chiapas.
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Cruise Through Breathtaking Sumidero Canyon
I can’t think of many places that blew my mind quite like Sumidero Canyon. It brought me back to a boat ride I had through the fjords of Norway. That cost me a couple hundred dollars. Sumidero Canyon? $15. I hate comparing things to Jurassic Park, but Sumidero Canyon really did give me Jurassic Park vibes. Riding in a boat while flanked on both sides by thousand-meter-tall canyons is a surreal feeling. It was otherworldly, and the Jurassic Park theme song played in my head every other minute as we cruised the river for a breathtaking few hours. That’s not the last time I’m going to compare something in Chiapas to Jurassic Park, if that gives you an idea just how stunning this lush Mexican state is going to be. If you’re using San Cristobal as your home base, then it’s easy to book a tour to Sumidero Canyon.
Roam Through the Archaeological Site of Palenque
The archaeological site of Palenque is the most impressive in Chiapas. These Mayan ruins truly transport you back in time. When I visited Palenque, there were hardly any other people there. Compared to the other Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Tulum, it actually gave me the feeling that I was Indiana Jones or Lara Croft exploring an undiscovered archaeological site. Believe it or not, archaeologists believe that 90% of the ancient city of Palenque has yet to be unearthed. And while Palenque might be the most famous Mayan ruins in Chiapas, they’re far from the only ones. A visit to Bonampak or Yaxchilan might be in the cards for the more hardcore history geek.
Go Chasing Waterfalls Near Palenque
The archaeological ruins of Palenque aren’t the only attraction that Northern Chiapas has to offer. Chasing waterfalls is the name of the game in Chiapas, and there’s no better home base than the city of Palenque. Misol-Ha, Agua Azul, and Roberto Barrios are among the most famous. However, talk to some locals and you might get the low down on some more hidden gems. Welib-Ha was one that came up quite a few times, although my limited time in Palenque meant that I had to stick to the classics.
A lot of tours from San Cristobal will combine both the ruins of Palenque with some of these waterfalls.
Explore the Magical Town of San Cristobal de las Casas
Home. Sancris is a city that I fell in love with immediately. I left after two weeks, only for my heart to pull me back to the city not even a week later. I spent Christmas and New Year’s there, and ended up calling this magical city home for nearly two months. It was an excellent home base to explore the region, while the city itself boasted everything that I loved in a destination. The city was oozing with culture, particularly thanks to the indigenous people of Zinacantan and Chamula. The colorful city nestled in the mountains of Chiapas is easily one of the most beautiful in Mexico, too. Toss in some excellent nightlife, restaurants, and markets and you’ve got Sancris.
Spend The Night at Lagos de Montebello
Lagos de Montebello is a popular day trip from San Cristobal, but I recommend spending the night there. We stayed at an incredible cabin with a stunning view of the turquoise lakes and lush, green hills. These lakes are stunning, and each one has a different attraction. Be sure to check out Laguna Tziscao if you want to hop over the border and check out Guatemala for a couple hours. Kayaking, hiking, and relaxing by the waters are other popular activities in these beautiful lakes straight out of Thailand.
Get Drenched by El Chiflon Waterfalls
Cascadas El Chiflon are arguably the most beautiful waterfalls in Mexico. The sheer size and scope of these monstrous cascades will take your breath away. A few hours from San Cristobal near the village of Tzimol, this is the quintessential day trip in Chiapas, along with Sumidero Canyon. It’s easy to spend the entire day here. Beyond the jaw dropping waterfalls at the end of the trail, there are plenty of spots to plop down for a swim in the turquoise waters and have a little picnic to pass the time.
If you want to see both El Chiflon Waterfalls and Lagos de Montebello, many tour agencies offer both as a combination day trip.
Explore the Pueblo Magico of Comitan de Dominguez
Criminally overlooked in favor of San Cristobal is the neighboring city of Comitan. This pueblo magico is about two hours from San Cris, but gets a fraction of the love that San Cristobal gets. It’ll have its time to shine one day, but for now, it is an absolute hidden gem. The historic center here was such a vibe, with its beautiful plaza and outdoor restaurants being reminiscent of a stroll through Paris or Barcelona. Of course, being two hours away from Sancris means that it’s also two hours closer to some of the best natural attractions of Chiapas. Use Comitan as a home base for Chiflon and Montebello instead of San Cristobal, and bam, you’ve saved four hours of travel time per day.
Go to San Juan Chamula’s Sunday Market
One of the most intriguing cultural experiences you can have in Chiapas is paying a visit to the indigenous community of San Juan Chamula. It’s only a few minutes away by colectivo from San Cristobal, so well worth the day trip. However, I’d recommend going on a Sunday morning when the indigenous market is in full swing. Make sure to pay a visit to the church pictured above. It’s one of the most unique churches I’ve ever been to, with a mix of both Catholic and Mayan rituals, including chicken sacrifices and more.
Visit the Indigenous Village of Zinacantan
Along with the Chamula, the Zinacantan people make up a part of Chiapas’ big indigenous population. While the Chamula are recognizable from their fuzzy black wool vests and skirts, the Zinacantan women have bright pink and purple floral attire. You can visit their village from San Cristobal, also a short colectivo ride away.
A good way to conveniently check out both cities and get a better understanding of their history and culture is by going on a guided tour to Chamula and Zinacantan. I’m not usually a guided tour type of guy, but having a local guide will add a lot of context to what you’re going to see.
Visit the Pueblo Magico of Chiapa de Corzo
If you’re visiting Sumidero Canyon, then you’ll likely stop by Chiapa de Corzo on the way as well. This is another one of Chiapas’ pueblos magicos, although I think the main reason for that is Sumidero Canyon. It’s cool to walk around in for a few hours, and if you choose to visit Sumidero without a tour, it’s likely where you’ll go to find a boat.
Go Hiking at Huitepec Natural Reserve
San Cristobal is surrounded by mountains, but you’ll come to find that hiking isn’t really a leisure activity for most Mexicans. Huitepec is one of the only hiking areas you’ll find around San Cristobal. It doesn’t boast any stunning views, but it is a beautiful walk through the cloud forest outside of San Cristobal. If you’re just looking to get out and active while in San Cristobal, this is your best bet.
Explore the Caves of Arcotete and Rancho Nuevo
Outside of San Cristobal, you’ll find two different cave systems. Arcotete is a small eco-park, boasting hiking, zip lines, and a small cave system. For a small entrance fee of 10 pesos, it’s worth the visit for a quick getaway to the outdoors. Rancho Nuevo is another cave system south of San Cristobal. It’s not as popular as Arcotete, but arguably, the caves here are more impressive. Hiking and horseback riding are other popular attractions in Rancho Nuevo.
The next couple destinations are spots that I didn’t get a chance to visit, but heard great things about.
El Chichon or Chichonal Volcano
Probably the thing I’m most bummed about missing in Chiapas is the hike to El Chichon. If I had known it existed, it would’ve been the first thing I did while I was here. It’s located in Northwestern Chiapas. You can hike to the crater, which has a beautiful green laguna inside of it. There’s nothing I love more than lakes inside of volcanoes, and I’m super bummed I missed out on this epic adventure.
Swim in Cenote Chukumaltik
Thought cenotes were only in the Yucatan and Quintana Roo? Chiapas has some as well, with the biggest one being Cenote Chukumaltik. This 200-meter wide cenote is a perfect swimming hole for those sizzling summer days in Chiapas.
Cascadas Las 3 Tzimoleras
Near Cascadas El Chiflon are other waterfalls named after the nearby village of Tzimol. I didn’t get a chance to make it here but they look like a beautiful alternative to the more touristy destinations in the area.
An hour away from Tuxtla Gutierrez, you’ll find some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Chiapas. Yeah, are you tired of waterfalls yet? You better not be, because there are a ton of them in Chiapas. The thing about waterfalls is that sometimes, they all look the same and you get tired of them after a while. The ones in Chiapas are all different, and Aguacero might be some of the most unique.
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By popular demand… Here is the complete itinerary for one of my favorite countries in the world, Mexico. In this 77-page guidebook, I cover 30 of my favorite Mexican destinations, including how to get to each city, where to stay, and the best things to do in each city. I also include tidbits of useful information like things to know before going to Mexico, as well as my favorite party destina…