There were a lot of things that we were expecting from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas: low prices, a colorful city in San Cristobal, and mountain views. What we weren’t expecting was to discover a destination that appears to be designed for outdoor lovers like us.
If you love waterfalls, wildlife, and bargains, here are 11 reasons to get yourself to Chiapas immediately and amazing things to do in Chiapas while you are there.
1. El Chiflon is magnificent.
Rainbow Falls at El Chiflon became our new favorite waterfall the second that we laid eyes on it.
Enormous and cascading into a beautiful turquoise pool, one of our favorite aspects of the Rainbow Falls is that rather than falling in one giant bucket of water, it falls along the cliff it runs over–the effect is beautiful.
Some of the smaller waterfalls at the park were also beautiful–this one reminded me forcibly of the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia:
Hike to El Chilfon and don’t want to head back down? Don’t worry: as long as you didn’t go up the “wrong” (left) side like us, you can zipline most of the way back down! Our wrong turn worked to our benefit, however–looking at where the viewing platform is on the opposite side of the waterfall, I think that we got the better view.
When we head back to this area at somepoint in the future, visiting El Chilfon again will be one of our first things to do in Chiapas.
2. The Lagos de Montebello are reminiscent of Southeast Asia.
I never expected to find a view that reminded me of the karst cliffs of Thailand while in Mexico–but the Lagos de Montebello fit the bill.
These lakes are said to often be covered in mist, which held true for when we visited, but they were still beautiful (even if we didn’t feel up for kayaking).
3. Horseback riding is the perfect way to explore the countryside.
I have always loved to ride horses and took several years of lessons as a teenager. Chiapas is the perfect place to explore on horseback. Our three-hour tour took us through farmland, forest, and small villages.
Both a plus and a minus: the guides were very hands off, and let us essentially do what we want, including trotting and cantering at will. As an experienced rider, I adored the experience, but as many of our group members had never been on a horse before, I also found it fairly risky. Make sure that you stay safe and know your own limits, because you’ll need to set them yourself.
We used our Steripen to sterilize tap water for six weeks in Mexico and never had any issues with the water. Each set of batteries is good for about 100 liters of water, so be sure to pack extra batteries if you think you’ll need them!
4. The Templo de San Juan is the most unique house of worship that I’ve ever set foot in.
Enormous amounts of incense. Chanting in a language that was not Spanish or Latin. No pews. Straw all over the floor. Hundreds of candles burning directly onto the ground, no candle holders in sight. A chicken in a box, waiting to be sacrificed at the end of a ritual.
No priests. Very few crucifixes. Plenty of statues of saints. One small Jesus statue off to the side of the altar.
Is this a Catholic church? That’s what the Templo de San Juan considers itself, but it is, without a doubt, the most unique house of worship that I’ve ever entered. During our time there, I couldn’t help but to keep thinking: the Spanish seem to have only gotten about 30% of the way there with the Christian conversion of this group.
The church, which is located in the village of Chamula, strictly bans all photography inside and was vehement about enforcing it–and yet I have never wanted to take photos so badly in my life.
5. The ruins of Palenque are perfect for climbing.
Not all the ruins in Mexico are available to climb anymore, including the famous pyramids at Chichen Itza. That is for the best–Angkor Wat is a great example of a world-class site that is being damaged by its numerous visitors.
That being said… it’s still incredibly fun to climb ruins, and when you find sites (usually lesser known ones) that let you scramble over them, it’s a blast.
Palenque is a perfect example of this–the best views of the city are from sitting on top of some of its buildings. Admiring this view was one of our favorite things to do in Chiapas!
6. The city of San Cristobal makes a colorful base.
It’s easy to overlook the city of San Cristobal in all of the nature that surrounds it, but there are plenty of things to do in San Cristobal, and city is also worthy of some attention.
San Cristobal makes a perfect base in Chiapas: it’s reasonably priced, has plenty of transportation and tourism companies available to arrange excursions, there are tons of food and dining options (we had our first Pad Thai since Asia–definitely not as good as on Koh Tao, but a noble effort!), and it’s so colorful!
7. Misol-Ha almost feels like a cenote.
Sitting at the base of Misol-Ha is like sitting at the bottom of a cavern: there’s so much beauty above you.
Want to explore an actual cave? For 10 pesos, you can explore the cave situated behind Misol-Ha–just be prepared to get very wet on your way there!
8. Riding a boat through Sumidero Canyon makes you feel so small.
I love canyons–they’re a great reminder of how enormous the Earth really is.
The walls of Sumidero Canyon reach over a kilometer high in some points, and there’s nothing more relaxing than enjoying a slow boat ride through it–as long as you’re not scared of alligators! We spotted a couple of adults and one baby sunning itself during our ride.
9. Agua Azul reminds me of Croatia.
Just like the smaller waterfalls at El Chiflon, Agua Azul gave me Croatia flashbacks–this time to Krka National Park, complete with the option to swim at the bottom of the falls.
10. Want an outdoor adventure? Almost anything is available here.
Zip-lining? Whitewater rafting? Spelunking? Hiking? Mountain biking?
You name an outdoor adventure, and it’s probably available in Chiapas.
11. Chiapas is a bargain.
Three-hour horseback riding tour? $10 USD. A full day trip to El Chiflon and Lagos de Montebello, including entrance fees? $16 USD. Tour of the Sumidero Canyon, including transportation there and back? $15 USD.
The prices here are so low that with a moderate budget, you can easily do an excursion a day without breaking a sweat.
There’s a reason that Chiapas snuck into our list of 2016 destinations that we’re determined to return to: we were completely incapable of having all of the adventures we wanted to during this first round.
Next time? Spending some time hiking and exploring at El Arcotete, caving at Grutas de Rancho Nuevo, and hitting the trails with some mountain bikes are all on our list.
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