Ask a Mexican where they recommend you pay a visit to within their country and the answer will most likely be “Chiapas”. It’s one of the southern states that borders Guatemala and is also one of the most diverse – not only in ethnicity but in ecosystems and language as well. Of course, the LocalAventura team couldn’t wait to see this place, especially San Cristóbal de las Casas, a charming small town in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. Here’s what we learned from our trip.
Leaving from Mexico City it’s about an hour long flight, therefore we highly recommend doing this instead of driving there or taking a bus since that would take you around 11 hours. Chiapas’ capital city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez has an international airport called Albino Corzo (TGZ) about 20 km away from downtown; several national airlines have flights arriving there so finding one that fits your budget won’t be a problem. Keep in mind that ticket prices vary depending on the season and how far in advance they are purchased.
Once you arrive, you will need to take a taxi ($500 – $800 pesos) or bus ($242 pesos) to get to San Cristóbal, which is 1 hour and 15 minutes away. Although, if your flight arrives around noon or earlier, you may want to take advantage of your time there and visit the Sumidero Canyon, which is a 30-minute drive from the airport.
In case you’re not familiar with the term “Pueblo Mágico”, it’s a program created by the Mexican government where culturally and historically rich towns throughout the country are recognized for offering a truly magical experience to visitors. This is the case for San Cristóbal de las Casas. It’s a place you’ll definitely want to go back to as soon as you leave. So it makes sense that today it’s become an international town that people from all over the world have decided to call home.
From there, you can find local companies that will take you to key attractions around Chiapas like Palenque, Agua Azul, and San Juan Chamula. You do have to research a bit first about these tours; ask about them in your hotel or hostel, look for reviews on TripAdvisor, etc. But not every point of interest is outside the city, there’s also plenty to discover in San Cristóbal itself.
Museums like Casa Na Bolom, where you can learn about the Lacandona rain forest, or the Amber Museum, where Chiapas’ gem is exhibited, are some of the places you should visit. Around historical downtown there’s the Cathedral, the Zócalo and the ex convent of Santo Domingo de Guzman, a place where local artisans sell their creations. Although if you want a more organized and less crowded spot to shop we recommend visiting Mercado de Dulces y Artesanias.
You simply cannot leave San Cristóbal without drinking some of the famous Chiapas coffee. I personally was never really keen on the drink but decided to try it there; after a few cappuccinos, I was hooked. Three great places to sit down and enjoy a good cup o’ joe:
– Casa Cafeólogo (pair it with a vanilla concha or a Nutella-filled bun)
– Frontera (breakfast here is just heavenly; we recommend the chilaquiles and the bacon, egg, and cheese on a bagel)
– Carajillo Café (this is the perfect place to buy a bag of coffee to take back home with you)
For a fun night out, we recommend going to Miguel Hidalgo street downtown, where you will find different clubs and bars. There’s live music playing everything from salsa and merengue to rock, so you just have to choose the place that most appeals to you, order your favorite drink and enjoy!
Now, this is a stop you have to make. It’s the most visited place in Chiapas, which doesn’t come as a surprise for those who have the chance to see it in person. The Sumidero Canyon was formed millions of years ago thanks to a geologic fault; the result being an impressive site that hosts vast biodiversity. You’ll be able to see crocodiles, spider monkeys, geese, vultures and more.
The best time to visit the Sumidero Canyon is towards the end of August when the rainy season is almost over and you’ll still be able to see the waterfalls that form in several points. Some other interesting sights are the Chicoasén Dam at the north end, the colorful cave, the “Christmas Tree” and the “Seahorse Cave”.
It has been a National Park since 1980, which made it possible for the river to be navigable, so there are two ways to visit the canyon: by car and by boat.
We recommend hiring a transportation service that can take you to the five different lookouts in the park since it’s a 16 km route. Unless you like mountain biking and want to take a shot at going through it. The entrance fee to the park is $34 pesos and on average you will spend 2 hours here, although it depends on how much time you actually spend at each spot. You will be given a wristband as you enter; be careful not to take it off if you’re also planning to visit the canyon by boat because it will grant you a ticket discount later.
Even though every lookout offers a unique view, the last one, called Los Chiapa, is the most impressive. It stands at 1,000 meters above the river level and has a two-story structure visible from the bottom where you can get the best picture yet. It’s also where you can buy mementos from local artisans and a snack.
The best view of the canyon truly is aboard a “lancha”. It’s how you can really appreciate how big it actually is and all the details that make it such an incredible place. In order to go on this ride, first you need to travel to Chiapa de Corzo, the small city about 20 minutes away from Tuxtla where all the boats depart from. This colonial town itself is worth visiting, being another “Pueblo Mágico” like San Cristóbal, full of history, colors, and traditions.
As you walk down to the port, you will see there are different “cooperativas” or boat companies that offer that tour service. On average the ticket price is around $200 pesos with the discount from the park’s wristband we mentioned before. It’s a round trip that takes you along the 36 km of the canyon in about two and a half hours.
Something you have to be aware of is that the boats won’t leave until they have sold all the tickets for that ride. For example, if the maximum capacity is 20 people and you’re number 15, you’ll have to wait a few minutes until more people arrive. But once they call your group, you will be given a life vest before getting on the boat and off you go!
You may be wondering about Tuxtla and what there is to do. The truth is, there aren’t many tourist attractions in the city. The Miguél Álvarez del Toro Zoo (ZooMAT) is one of the few recommended points of interest, aside from Parque de la Marimba, which hosts every night at 18:00 a small concert featuring Chiapas’ emblematic instrument: the marimba. Tuxtla was really built to be a transport hub, so it’s hard to get around as a pedestrian.
– If you don’t know any Spanish, having someone in your group or a tour guide that does goes a long way. Especially during the boat ride through Sumidero Canyon, we noticed that it would’ve been really hard to understand everything happening if we didn’t speak the language.
– You can get almost anywhere in San Cristóbal by foot. If your hostel/hotel has a good centric location, there won’t be any need to pay for transportation. And in case you do need to call a taxi (there’s no Uber), it’s pretty cheap and safe during the day.
– San Cristóbal is a hostel town. You can find affordable and very well-rated places to stay that won’t empty your bank account.
– Living up to its international reputation, San Cristóbal de las Casas is a place where you can find food from any part of the world. From Brazilian to Argentine and Italian (there are pizza places everywhere), all your cravings will be answered.
– If you’re visiting the city during the rainy season (from June to August), make sure you come prepared. In the morning there will be clear skies and sunshine but after around noon, gray clouds start coming in and it can really pour down. We bought ponchos for $50 pesos (you could probably bargain for less) from a street vendor, and they were our best allies throughout the trip.
We want you to fall in love with San Cristóbal de las Casas and Chiapas like we did! Start planning your trip there and contact us for a free 30-minute session if you need any tips and tricks. Our team of travel experts is here to help!