Chiapas, located in Southeast Mexico, is one of the country's 31 official states. The state is home to a storied and rich history that includes ancient Mayan civilizations and the Spanish conquerors.
Chiapas also has a diverse geography of plains, mountains and lush tropical forests. With so much culture and a diverse range of outdoor activities, it would be a shame not to visit Chiapas, Mexico.
To get you started planning your trip, here are six of the top things to do in Chiapas.
Top things to do in Chiapas Mexico
1. Agua Azul
Agua Azul (translates to blue water in English) is a long series of cascading turquoise waterfalls surrounded by lush green jungle. They're a Chiapas must-see and draw in many tourists every year.
These shimmering falls and streams run through a mineral-filled limestone bed that creates the beautiful bright blue colored water. It is easily one of Mexico's most incredible attractions and the natural beauty rivals that of Semuc Champey in neighboring Guatemala.
The air is humid and the temptation to swim is strong. There are shallow and calm pools to cool off in and enjoy, but you'll want to use caution as the undercurrent and rapids here have claimed lives.
2. Lagunas de Montebello
Southern Chiapas is home to some spectacular lakes that reflect bright turquoise and green colors, surrounded by scenic forests and mountains. While there are around 50 Chiapas lakes, some of which cross over into Guatemalan territory many are still not easily accessible by road. Whether you take your time exploring with your own vehicle or go on a guided tour these lakes are sure to impress.
The first four lakes in the park are the “Lakes of Colors” and these are the ones with the most stunning reflective colors. Further on, there are the “Five Lakes” which are much larger and equally as beautiful. Both collections of Lakes are important Chiapas points of interest.
There are small food stalls serving fresh Mexican food at many of the lakes. If the weather is nice swimming is permitted.
Other things to do in Montebello by the water include taking small rafts or kayaks out for adventures. Simply standing and taking in the moment as you view them is more than enough to justify the trip.
3. El Chiflon Waterfalls
Adding to the list of amazing water features in Chiapas is El Chiflon waterfalls. The park is one of the things to see in Chiapas and well-developed with a modern visitor center and facilities. From the entry of the park is a long path hugs the river all the way up to the top of the falls. While trekking along the path begins fairly easy it gets quite steep the closer you get to the top.
If you visit during the wet season as I did, the path is also very moist and damp; it can become quite slippery. Breathtaking views are to be had at the top of the falls so it is well worth the struggle to reach them.
If you're in need of an adrenaline rush there is also a zip line you can take across the gorge. Many tour guides include a 2 hour stop at El Chiflon during the Lagunas de Montebello tour. This is not enough time to hike to the top and get the full experience, you should take your time and explore it separately if able.
If you would like to go on an organized trip to El Chiflon and Montebello, this tour is a good option as it lasts all day, giving you ample time to explore both sites.
4. Palenque Ruins
Chiapas is home to at least five known Mayan sites, the biggest and most popular of which is Palenque. These ruins date back as far as 226 BC and while many large impressive temples have been excavated here, it's believed that 90% of the structures are still hidden underground, claimed by the jungle after it was abandoned.
Palenque was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason. It's not as big as Tikal or Chichen Itza but its large pyramids and towers are impressive, making them one of the best places to visit in Chiapas for architecture and history lovers.
The Temple of the Inscriptions is the largest stepped pyramid known to be built by the Maya. Palenque also has some of the nicest sculptures and carvings made by the Mayans ever found.
Unlike Chichen Itza, you're still allowed to climb the steps of these tall structures and explore their magical past.
5. Sumidero Canyon
If you're wondering where to go in Chiapas for some pure nature, Sumidero Canyon is the answer.
It's hard to imagine any canyon being able to match the grandness of the Grand Canyon, but to me, Sumidero was just as great. Sumidero Canyon isn't as big but boasts 1,000-meter tall vertical canyon walls, multiple waterfalls, and wildlife all surrounded by lush green national park forest.
A trip to this canyon can easily be made from San Cristobal. There are many cheap tour providers or you can rent a car and drive yourself.
Standard boat tours take you an hour up the river, stopping along the way to view wildlife and waterfalls before arriving at the Chicoasen Dam. Spotting crocodiles and birds along the ride is a sure thing. Afterward, you visit a small but cultured nearby town for lunch, Chiapa De Corzo.
Tips for tours:
- 7-hour tour to Sumidero Canyon and Chiapa de Corzo from San Cristobal
- 7-hour tour to Sumidero Canyon and Chiapa de Corzo from Tuxtla
- Full-day tour to Sumidero National Park from Tuxtla, including a boat tour and a visit to Chiapa de Corzo
- Full-day tour to Sumidero National Park from San Cristobal, including a boat tour and a visit to Chiapa de Corzo
6. San Cristóbal
Sitting in a valley surrounded by hills high up in the mountains is a vibrant and culturally rich city named San Cristóbal de las Casas or San Cristóbal for short. This city is one of the best places in Chiapas to use as a base for exploration and adventure around the state.
This charming city's architecture is Spanish colonial and features cobblestone streets and famous red-tiled roofs giving it a distinct look. The city has many sights to see, such as large colorful cathedrals and churches, museums, a large open-air market and many international restaurants.
Anyone interested in the local Mayan populations should check out one of the nearby towns such as San Juan Chamula. Inhabited by the Tzotzil Mayans they remain independent, growing crops and making textiles. They speak their own language and continue practicing many ancient customs to this day.
Practical tips for traveling to Chiapas in Mexico
If you want to travel to Chiapas to visit the waterfalls and other Chiapas attractions in nature, plan your trip accordingly with the seasons. During the wet rainy season (when I visited) the rivers and falls were raging with water. While it was still great, the best time to visit Chiapas for water activities is in the dry season.
And that's it! I hope these tips have answered your question of what to do in Chiapas and have put you in the mood to plan your own trip there.
Where to stay in Chiapas
Booking.com has an extensive list of options for all budgets and needs, and so does TripAdvisor.
How to get to Chiapas, Mexico
Traveling to Chiapas requires a few stops depending on where you'e coming from. Fly into Mexico City and take a flight onward into Palenque or Tuxtla. Alternatively, you can fly into Villahermosa and rent a car to get to your first destination. Another option is to take a long-distance bus from Mexico City. Click here to find the best flights for your trip.
More reading material
Interested in learning more about what to see in Chiapas, where to go, and what to do when visiting Chiapas? Or do you want some background information about the region before you visit? Then check out these books.
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This cool list of things to do in Chiapas was contributed by James Kelley of Escaping Abroad. James has developed an insatiable passion for travel. Read about his travels and wild adventures across the world on his adventure travel blog EscapingAbroad.com. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
San Cristobal looks stunning, full of colour and activity, and whilst I do enjoy walking and enjoying the local and surrounding nature of the countryside, I’m definitely more of a city boy so would enjoy walking around and watching the locals going about their days.
Escaping Abroad says
Sounds like you definitely would enjoy San Cristobal then! Lots of people, easy and safe to walk around (when it’s not raining), colorful and historic architecture, variety of food/restaurants as well. Easily one of my favorite cities in Central America/Mexico.
Looks like a beautiful place. I’ve been working on planning a trip to Mexico for next year & trying to figure out where I can go for a week. There are SO many places I want to explore it’s difficult to choose!
Escaping Abroad says
Anna that is quite a dilemma! From my experience it is very safe traveling in Southern Mexico, even solo and by bus as I did. The Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche and Chiapas are all amazing destinations.
Laura @Travelocafe says
Great places! I’ve never been to Mexico but it’s definitely on my list.
Escape Hunter says
The Sumidero Canyon looks wonderful.
I wonder how safe Mexico is right now.
Katie @ Second-Hand Hedgehog says
Sounds exactly like my kind of place: fascinating history, breath-taking landscapes, and some waterfalls thrown in to boot. Amazing! Mexico has never really been on my hit-list, I think largely because I don’t reallly know much about it. But maybe it should be…?
Sanjana @ Green Global Travel says
The Lagunas de Montebello are so beautiful! That turquoise is incredible!
Ron Saffer says
When is the rainey season,what month or months?
It’s mostly dry November-April and rainy May/June – October.
I’m going to be working at a hostel in San Cristobal for three weeks this August, I can’t wait to go on weekend trips to these beautiful places! I’ll be taking a Spanish course at UDLAP in Puebla for a month and travelling for a week to get to Chiapas after that beforehand too. The thought of such a big adventure is getting me through university exams at the moment!
That sounds fun! I hope your exams go well and you’ll have an amazing time:)
Sofie, is Chiapas safe these days. Is San Critobal a good centered place to stay while exploring all over Chiapas?
I suggest you ask in the TripAdvisor forum for Chiapas as locals there are usually quick to respond. This post is a guest post from James from Escaping Abroad, as you can see. I haven’t been to Chiapas yet. I’ll also ask James if he can pop in here to answer:)
James Kelley says
It’s been a couple years since I left, but when I was there Chiapas had been untouched by the violence that haunts other parts of Mexico. San Cristobal felt very safe and was a wonderful city. It’s always wise to Google and search for any updates, but I doubt that has changed! San Cristobal is a great place to hang out for a while why you explore Chiapas.
Lovely article dear! I really want to go Mexico City and the famous places in this country. I’ve heard great things about the food and cultural scene, history and being in the world’s biggest city. I have added this on my hit list. By the way, really helpful information and keep it up.
Thanks! This was a guest post, but I’ll tell him :-)
Hey! I managed to chime in and answer a few questions! San Cristóbal is totally safe! I lived there as a single woman helping a small school. I met my husband there as well. We will be moving back in January. It is a wonderful city! Its pretty easy and cheap to travel from to many other cities on the ADO buses. Feel free to contact me if you decide to visit! We plan to live there for a minimum of a few years! Shontillylace@hotmail.com
You mentioned that visiting during the rainy season made rivers and waterfalls rage with the water. Still, was it possible to visit? Was it really rainy?
I have a vacation in September and would like to visit Chiapas.