Living in Huatulco has given Erin and I lots of opportunities to travel and explore the states closest to us. We love Oaxaca and exploring the mountains and villages and discovering something new about Oaxaca City every time we go. We also love Chiapas state, the state next to us in the south. What’s not to love? Waterfalls, picturesque villages, San Cristobal de las Casas, Mayan ruins. The list is long and we always feel lucky every time we get to take a little trip south.
Chiapas is Mexico’s southern-most state bordering Guatemala. Along much of the southern border, the Usumacinta River provides a natural barrier between the countries. Chiapas is one of the most beautiful, mountainous, rural and safest states along with Oaxaca in all of Mexico. Chiapas is colorful and intriguing as it has mountains, highlands and rain forests. Authentic Mexico is omnipresent here. Although Tuxtla Gutierrez is the capital city of the state, San Cristobal de las Casas is the tourism capital and a great base for exploring.
San Cristobal de las Casas, a picturesque colonial city, can be reached by car from Huatulco in about 9 hours or by ADO bus. The driving is easy and is all on major highways and some toll roads. For some tips on driving in Mexico, be sure to read our article on “How to Drive Safely in Mexico.” There are some opportunities to divide up the driving. Of course Tuxtla has many hotels but stopping in Chiapa de Corzo, an hour before arriving in San Cristobal is a real treat. Chiapa de Corzo is a small, colonial town that comes alive in the evenings around the town zocalo or the town square with a small town ambiance.
San Cristobal de las Casas
Once you arrive in San Cristobal, park the car and explore the colonial town, the neighboring villages or take some day tours around town. It is important to note that the whole state can be visited with public transportation. For more information on how public transportation works in Mexico, see our article “How to live in Mexico Without a Car.” Day trips and multi-day trips can be hired from San Cristobal. You can even travel to Guatemala with private tours from San Cristobal.
San Cristobal itself is its own universe. Explore the center, learn how to make chocolate, take a cultural hike or walk, learn about Zapatista history, take a traditional Mayan embroidery class, learn about regional cooking and the local mole, visit a working horse ranch outside of town and ride through the Chiapas mountains at Rancho Evergreen.
Villages of Chiapas
Several enigmatic villages persist around San Cristobal like San Juan de Chamula. If you visit on market day, you will see the town square become backdrop to an amazing scene of rural goods and people trading and bartering. Pass by the unassuming church and become a humble observer to how this culture mixes spiritual and medicinal ceremonies, with pagan, modern and ancient beliefs.
Incredible Rivers & Waterfalls
The nature of Chiapas is stunning. The state is home to many towering waterfalls, beautiful lakes and rivers. As a matter of fact, most of Mexico’s electricity comes from Chiapas state in the form of hydroelectric power. Ironically, the state itself doesn’t benefit much from this production. It still has the highest number of villages without power and is effectively the poorest state in Mexico. Over half of the population of Chiapas works in agriculture, growing coffee, plantain, papaya, beans, corn and mango.
Tourism is growing and represents about 15% of the state’s GDP. You will see many federal and state-funded eco-tourism projects around the state promoting tourism-based economic activities for the local populations. The projects are meant to train people in tourism-based services such as providing lodging, meals and tours to visitors while preserving the natural sites.
Road Trip Around Chiapas Jungle and Southern Border
If you really want to explore and if you’re looking for a real road trip, from San Cristobal, drive down towards the southern border. You can drive through Montes Azules with crystal clear lakes. Continue towards the southern border through Comitan towards Guatemala and take the border highway, Carretera fronteriza del sur, along the Usumacinta River. Pass by the Chinkultic ruins for a visit.
There is public transportation along the whole route. Traveling the itinerary with minivans and colectivos is an adventure but can be easily done as long as there is not a strict schedule to be followed.
As you drive south entering the lush, tropical jungle you’ll have plenty of opportunities to explore; hiking, rafting, visiting the Scarlet macaw sanctuary, visiting architectural ruins of Yaxchilán and Bonampak and hearing the howler monkeys wherever you are. Many eco tourism projects with lodging in comfortable cabins dot the itinerary.
Yaxchilan is a unique archaeological site accessible by boat from the Usumacinta River leaving form Frontera Corozal. There are cabins here so you may arrive the evening before and do the boat trip and visit the next day is ideal. The site itself is surrounded by jungle. You may see crocodiles, monkeys and toucans.
Visit Bonampak, another Mayan archaeological site with some of the best-preserved mural paintings of the Mayan world.
The Lacandon Jungle which is partially protected by a Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, extends from Chiapas to Honduras. This is the only montane rainforest in North America and some areas are still dense and isolated enough for a jaguar population. The jungle also hides many unexcavated Mayan ruins. In parts of the jungle, notably close to Bonampak, tribes of the Lacandon offer home-stays.
The drive passes through Palenque with its grandiose ruins. From here, you can carry on to Yucatan state or drive back over the mountains towards San Cristobal coming full circle in your itinerary. Along this route, you will find the Cascadas de Agua Azul with natural swimming pools in crystal blue waters. You will come across the ruins of Toniná. This lesser-known but no less impressive archaeological site is one of the amazing hidden treasures of Chiapas with its expansive esplanade and multitude of pyramids and edifices on a hilltop looking out over a 360 degree panorama.
This itinerary could take from 3 to 10 days depending on how much you like to see and stop and spend your time.
Chiapas is full of natural and cultural wonders. Many people speak Tzotzil and Tzeltal which are Western Mayan languages. The climate is pleasant year-round. While hot and humid in the jungle, temperatures can be cool in the mountains and highlands.
Chiapas state is just one of the discoveries you make when you choose Huatulco as your new home base. If you’re ready to explore the possibility of choosing Huatulco as your new home base, get in touch with us. We can answer your questions and guide you through the process of becoming a Huatulco home owner.