Chiapas is about as far south as you can get in Mexico. It borders Guatemala on the southeast, the Pacific on the southwest, and the states of Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Tabasco from west to northeast. If you are planning to visit this culturally super interesting state, let us give you a hand: here comes your ultimate Chiapas Travel Guide!
- 1 A bit of history
- 2 How to get around in Chiapas
- 3 What to see in Chiapas
- 4 Where to stay in Chiapas
A bit of history
Chiapas was administered by the Spanish as part of Guatemala until 1824, when then it joined the newly independent Mexico. The state is now second only to Oaxaca in Indian population: about 25% of its four million-plus inhabitants are thought to be indígenas.
Regardless of how nice the surroundings could seem, the villagers often live at the barest subsistence level, with their lands and livelihoods in precarious balance. These troubles resulted in the 1994 Zapatista rebellion, and although that conflict has long passed, many of the core issues concerning land use remain unresolved.
How to get around in Chiapas
Roadblocks in Chiapas
The main problem with the roadblocks is that they always choose strategic locations such as bridges, single roads to access to concrete destinations, exactly to achieve that somebody would react to their actions. For tourist this means to find a plan B by an insane alternative road, sometimes completely messing up their itinerary. The only way to know about road blocks upfront is to listen or read local news. Nobody would inform you in advance.
We faced a real roadblock in Ocosingo. A community was demanding improvements on a bridge. They decided to take the Zapatists symbols, they took three policemen and one civil servant as hostages and they blocked the road. The mess of trucks and cars waiting for the opening was impressive but we have been told that nobody would come to reopen the road. So we needed to wait until the community decided to give up. We didn’t want to wait to find out when that might have happened so we added 10 nice extra hours to our itinerary, getting back to San Cristobal de las Casas first and then drive to Villahermosa from there to reach Palenque this way the next day.
Illegal immigration is a big issue in the state of Chiapas, hence a heavy military presence focuses more on the Guatemalan border and the eastern half of the state & you can often meet them on the roads too.
What to see in Chiapas
Santa Brigida is a surprisingly cute spot, right on the border of Oaxaca and Chiapas states, that much that according to Google Maps it’s hard to decide where it belongs. But if you do your research it will be confirmed quickly that Santa Brigida is already part of Chiapas state. The only reason why we ended up here was that we were looking for some cute beaches on the Pacific, something similar to Playa Bamba and something definitely better than Salina Cruz. Read our advantages in Oaxaca state here!
Well Santa Brigida is super popular spot among locals, especially on Sundays, we also arrived that day during lunchtime. It was full of local people, families, enjoying their free day with good food and nice surroundings. Even though Santa Brigida is not more than a street with 4-5 restaurants on a lagoon, with many palapas & hammocks to enjoy the shadow after lunch and also to access the beach – it’s definitely recommended to stop by.
Playa Del Sol
Playa Del Sol, on the coast of Chiapas is a lovely place that does not include big resorts and crowded beaches, only couple of palapas, where you can taste the local food. Boca del Cielo and Puerto Arista are the closest beaches to San Cristobal de las Casas – about 4 hours away by car, but once around don’t miss Playa Del Sol and admire its sunset.
Chiapa De Corzo
If you are on a road trip around Mexico by car – you cannot miss Chiapa de Corzo, that culturally and historically so relevant tiny colourful town.
Chiapa De Corzo lies some 15 km to the east of the state capital, Tuxtla Gutiérrez. Chiapa has been occupied since at least 1400 BCE, with a major archeological site which reached its height between 700 BCE and 200 CE. It is important because the earliest inscribed date, the earliest form of hieroglyphic writing and the earliest Mesoamerican tomb burial have all been found here. Chiapa is also the site of the first Spanish settlement founded in Chiapas in 1528
Where to eat in Chiapa De Corzo
There are not that many options to eat a proper lunch in a restaurant in Chiapa de Corzo center. If you look on the map, only 2-3 options will pop up. Of course, if you desire street food, you will be able to choose from many options around the Mercado.
El Campanario Restaurant is located in the city center, very easy to access and provides local food options, specialities from the region for a reasonable price. We really enjoyed the place, nice service & good food, what else would you need?!
San Cristobal De Las Casas
San Cristobal De Las Casas is a charming colonial city high up in the mountains of Chiapas and a center for artisans, yogis, and creative people of all kinds. From here, you can easily take a day trip in any direction to visit ruins, old religious villages & natural parks. Additionally, there is a wealth of history and culture in the city.
The reason why it’s so popular is because it still retains the appearance of an old, colonial Spanish village with red-tiled roofs and cobblestone streets which also reminds us of Mérida, San Fransisco de Campeche or even Puebla.
Unfortunately when we were there, the main attraction – Catedral de San Cristóbal de las Casas was under renovation and was not possible to visit. Still we could enjoy the vibe of the city, wander around its picturesque streets & visit some other famous landmarks:
Where to eat in San Cristobal De Las Casas
La Lupe Cocina was one of our favourites in San Cristobal De Las Casas. The main streets in the center are full of restaurants to please the tourists, and they offer many international options from Lebanese falafels to Argentine parilla. However if you want a cool local place with proper Mexican food you need to look a bit more deeply. In this case La Lupe Cocina won’t disappoint you!
Ancient customs and religious practices carry on in the villages of Chiapas, especially in Chamula & Zinacantán. Chamula is a charming and mystical small town is only about a 20-minute drive from downtown of San Cristobal De Las Casas. The main site is an old church where local priests, shamans, believers and prayers go to practice their very unique and sacred religious rituals. It is important to be respectful of their local culture and customs.
Before visiting, for sure they will tell you many misleading information about the possibilitiy of taking pictures here. The rule applies as follows:
- You can take pictures from the outside, about the facade, the church from all angles & the square as well. However the locals don’t like to be photographed, and might cover their faces if they spot you taking pictures.
- But once inside, taking photos is completely forbidden, and no phones or photography are permitted. There are signs outside that advertise this rule. Once you enter the church, you will also understand why it’s better not to do it at all. But please show your respect & don’t even try to do so. This way you will have the unforgettable experience only for yourself that will stay with you in your heart and mind, but luckily it never would be overshared and spoiled around social media.
Zinacantán has a beautiful church in the center that is also worth taking a peek at. Here there is no explicit policy about the possibility of taking pictures inside. However, it’s definitely better to avoid capturing people in their place of worship, no matter where you go.
Palenque is an ancient Mayan city that still stands in near perfect condition. It’s one of the most thoroughly investigated Mayan sites today and is considered to contain some of the best examples of Mayan sculpture and architecture in the world.
Palenque is a medium-sized site, smaller than Chichen Itza, but it contains some of the finest architecture, sculpture, roof comb and bas-relief carvings that the Mayas produced. Much of the history of Palenque has been reconstructed from reading the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the many monuments; historians now have a long sequence of the ruling dynasty of Palenque in the 5th century and extensive knowledge of the city-state’s rivalry with other states such as Calakmul and Toniná.
By 2005, the discovered area covered up to 2.5 km2, but it is estimated that less than 10% of the total area of the city is explored, leaving more than a thousand structures still covered by jungle. Palenque received 920,470 visitors in 2017.
The city of Palenque has its own airport, which you can fly to from Mexico City. There isn’t a whole lot happening there, but it’s in the jungle and there are quite a few restaurants with traditional dishes to try. If you do go to Palenque, be prepared for humid weather and a lot of mosquitos!
The VW Beetles
The perfect game all over Mexico, but especially in Chiapas state is to spot VW Beetles. They come in many colours, pimped up manually, and park all around the cities, especially in San Cristobal De Las Casas.
The Volkswagen Beetle was introduced to Mexico in March 1954 inside the exhibition “Alemania y su Industria” (Germany and its Industry). At that time, the Mexican car market was mostly characterised by American models with large sizes and large engines, which made a huge contrast with the new German entrant. During the first exhibition, the VW Beetle vehicles were widely admired by the public. Former Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas made a trip from Michoacán, just to see this peculiar vehicle. The local press immediately published the news into eight columns under the title “The People’s Man” with the “People’s Car”. Since then the popularity of this model is unbreakable.
Where to stay in Chiapas
In San Cristobal De Las Casas – Hotel La Casa de Mamá
Hotel La Casa de Mamá was one of the best accommodations during out road trip in Mexico. Offering an outdoor swimming pool and an on-site restaurant, and even free private parking is available. The hotel is 500 m from San Cristobal Cathedral, 100 m from La Merced Church and 300 m from Museo del Ambar, outstanding location and quality!
In Palenque – Axkan Palenque
Axkan Palenque Hotel was one of the most relaxing accommodations during out road trip in Mexico. We felt like we are in the jungle in a little oasis. The facilities were really nice, the pool is a great way to refresh and relax. We loved the landscaping, all the tropical plants and flowers. It’s very close to archaeological site and also from the main town Palenque.
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