Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, is probably my favorite in the entire country.
Each time I visit, I am captured by its unique atmosphere; the colors; the landscape, and the smell – a mix of pine trees, incense, and corn on the cob. This is a place of millenary traditions, an increasingly popular tourist destination that is full of character and with a troubled, beautiful story.
In Chiapas, you will find lovely, colorful colonial towns; well-kept Mayan archeological sites; beautiful natural sites, and much more to keep entertained.
Curious to discover the best things to do in Chiapas, Mexico? Continue reading!
The Best Things to Do in Chiapas, Mexico
Explore San Cristobal de las Casas
There is no doubt that visiting San Cristobal de las Casas is one of the unmissable things to do in Chiapas. In fact, this is the typical starting point to explore the rest of the state.
Considered the cultural capital of Chiapas, San Cristobal de las Casas (San Cristobal, for short) is a lovely, colorful mid-sized colonial town packed to the brim with interesting places to visit and things to do.
Most of the people living in the area belong to the Tzotzil and Tzetzal Mayans indigenous groups, and you can easily spot them as they usually wear traditional clothes and speak a different language (though they all speak Spanish).
Don’t forget to check out my post A Complete Guide To San Cristobal.
Enjoy story-time at Steps in San Cristobal
Steps in San Cristobal is a museum and community organization where visitors can go to learn more about the local culture. Here, the NGO makes indigenous storybooks for children in nearby communities in order to help preserve their culture and heritage.
Daily events take place, including a story time where communities share legends and ceremonies from their culture. There are also things like a cooking workshop and other events to get involved with here.
For more information on the program and what to expect, visit their Facebook page.
Spend an afternoon at Casa Na Bolom
Also in San Cristobal is Casa Na Bolom. Once the home of archaeologist Frans Vlom and his wife, this historic house is now a museum and hotel. Vlom was one of the first people to excavate the nearby Palenque Ruins, and a portion of the house is dedicated to learning about his life and what he discovered.
Today the museum and hotel is a wonderful heritage spot in the city, where proceeds from ticket sales and guest stays go towards community projects in remote areas.
You can either book a room at Casa Na Bolom or purchase a day entrance to enjoy the beautiful gardens.
You can actually book a stay at Casa Na Bolom.
Snap a picture of the Arco del Carmen
The Arco del Carmen is the 17th-century gateway to San Cristobal. This historic structure is an icon of the city and should not be missed if you happen to be in town. Painted in ochre, it looks particularly picturesque against a bright blue sky.
The promenade on which it is located is a lively, crowded spot, making for a great place to watch local life unfold.
Explore the Grutas de Rancho Nuevo
Grutas de Rancho Nuevo is a series of cave systems outside San Cristobal. You’ll find these caves on a large farm or ranch-style property.
You can walk into the farm area, enjoy the beautiful natural area, and go to the corner where the caves’ entrance begins. You’ll walk by horse stables, vending stalls, and other fun activities for everyone.
Once you get to the caves, you’ll walk through the caves with a guide and learn all about the mineral deposits and other exciting minerals found beneath the surface of Chiapas. At the end of the tour, you can even walk through an unlit cave for some extra adrenaline rush.
Marvel at the colonial architecture at Chiapa de Corzo
This is definitely one of the best things to do in Chiapas!
Situated on the River Grijalva, between Tuxtla Gutierrez and San Cristobal, is the small town of Chiapa de Corzo. This colonial gem is a charming place to spend the day to learn about the history of Chiapas as a whole. In fact, this was the first town to be founded by the Spanish in Chiapas in 1523.
Surrounding the main plaza, you’ll find arched arcades playing host cafes and shops, the perfect place to while away a few hours. It’s here also that you’ll find La Pila, a 16th-century fountain.
It takes about one hour to get from San Cristobal to Chiapa de Corzo by bus. You can review the route and book your bus tickets here.
Alternatively, I recommend joining a guided tour to Chiapas de Corzo such as this one that also goes to Sumidero Canyon: it includes transportation, admission to the park, a boat tour in Sumidero Canyon.
Kayak on Laguna Miramar
One of the most remote lakes in the whole of Mexico, Laguna Miramar is a veritable oasis. It’s located 86 miles (134 km) southeast of Ocosingo, specifically in the Reserva de la Biosfera Montes Azules.
Getting here is not straightforward. However, if you have some days to spare on your trip, it’s worth the trip. Here you can bathe in its warm waters, kayak around the coast, and stumble upon untouched Mayan ruins lying in situ around the lake.
Learn about the independent village of San Juan Chamula
San Juan Chamula is a must-visit destination in Chiapas. This intriguing Tzotzil Maya village, located 6 miles (9.6 km) from San Cristobal, is fiercely independent; much of the population is indigenous and speaks a native language.
You won’t forget a visit here. They have their own style of religion, which fuses traditional Mayan beliefs with Catholicism. Nowhere is this more evident than in its church – the Templo de San Juan; instead of pews, the floor is strewn with pine needles, and the walls are full of Catholic saints.
Worshipers consume Coca-Cola to expel evil spirits, chickens are sacrificed, and bad energy is put into unhatched chicken eggs. A truly unique experience.
Remember, photography is prohibited inside the church.
Unless you have a car, the easiest way to get to San Juan Chamula is on a guided tour. In fact, you really do need a guide to appreciate the rituals.
I recommend this guided tour of San Juan Chamula that also goes to Zinacantan and includes transportation from San Cristobal.
Make sure to read my San Juan Chamula guide.
Swing by the unique Zinacantan
Translating as “Land of Bats,” Zinacantan is a small village located in the south of the central Chiapas highlands—a region home to predominantly Tzotzil Maya people. It’s close to San Juan Chamula and at about 30 minutes drive from San Cristobal, and can be visited on the same day.
A visit here means seeing first-hand a traditional way of life, with many textiles on sale in the main market. There are many female-run co-operatives in town, where you can purchase their hand-woven textiles or simply watch the loom weavers at work.
Local dress is particularly interesting: men wear pink tunics covered in flowers; women don pink shawls.
I recommend this guided tour of Zinacantan that also goes to San Juan Chamula and includes transportation from San Cristobal.
Boat trip along the Grijalva River at Sumidero Canyon National Park
A tour of the Sumidero Canyon is one of the unmissable things to do in Chiapas, Mexico. This natural wonder features 3,280-foot-high canyon walls topped with verdant forest, at the bottom of which the Grijalva River runs its snaking course.
One of the best ways to experience this gargantuan canyon is to take a boat trip along the river. This way, you get to really feel the enormity of the canyon, as well as the dam (one of the largest in the world) that helped form the now-navigable river.
I recommend this guided tour of Sumidero Canyon from San Cristobal – it is the most inclusive one for sale online and it also stops at Chiapa de Corzo.
Check out my complete guide to visiting Sumidero Canyon.
Visit the ancient wonders at Tonina Archaeological Site
Tonina is a large archaeological site just 8 miles (around 13 km) from Ocosingo and 59.6 miles (96 km) from San Cristobal. Not many people add it to their list of things to do in Chiapas, but they should. I think it’s one of my favorite Mayan sites in Mexico!
Boasting large complexes of pyramids—some of which are 230 feet (70 meters) tall—set on terraces, as well as carved monuments and stucco sculptures, it’s a particularly interesting insight into what was an aggressive state in the late classic period (700-900 AD). In fact, actually more powerful than the more famous Palenque.
The city was historically known as Po or Popo and is situated in a valley—today consumed by swathes of lush jungle.
Getting to Tonina from San Cristobal is a bit of an ordeal if you don’t have your own car. My recommendation is to actually join this guided tour of Tonina and El Corralito which includes a 2-hour stop at the site.
Hit up a coffee plantation
You wouldn’t expect Mexico to be much of a coffee-producing nation, but it is actually the world’s 8th biggest producer of coffee! Chiapas is the center of the coffee world in Mexico, thanks to its highlands, rich soil, and ideal climate.
A great way to experience an alternative side to Chiapas, therefore, is to visit a coffee plantation. In fact, several of the state’s farms are open to visitors.
You can tour the farms and learn about the process, sample some coffee, or go hiking in the surrounding hills. One example is Chiripa, nearly 3,000 feet (914 meters) above sea level, or Argovia, situated in the middle of the forest.
Soak up the nightlife of Tuxtla Gutierrez
If you feel like you’ve spent enough time in Chiapas hanging out in the countryside and exploring old ruins, then the nightlife of Tuxtla Gutierrez may be just what you’re looking for. The state capital is full of cool nightspots, from live music venues to vibrant bars.
One of these is Cafe Biomaya, known for its indigenous brews and chilled sofas; there’s also La Mocte, a smart cantina where you can expect much shot-drinking! For live music, check out Leonor Antro Banda.
Dance the night away at Parque de la Marimba
Located in Tuxtla Gutierrez, this popular public park is a must-visit if you happen to be in the city.
As evening falls, you’ll see locals start to gather around the central gazebo; the music starts up, and people begin to dance. It takes place every day but is particularly vibrant on Sundays.
As you can tell from the name, Parque de la Marimba, the main instrument here is the marimba; the full band sounds really cool, turning the park into a very lively spot. When you’re tired from dancing or watching people dance, there are numerous vendors where you can grab a snack and refreshing drink.
Take in the view from Cristo Glorioso de Chiapas
Cristo Glorioso de Chiapas is a 203-foot (about tall cross featuring a cut-out design of Jesus Christ, situated 20 minutes southwest of Tuxtla Gutierrez. Designed by Mexican architect Jaime Latapí López, from here, you can get amazing views out over the surrounding countryside and urban sprawl.
This striking sculpture is similar to Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro and is actually an impressive 100 feet taller than its Brazilian counterpart. Come for sunset when the city below— as well as the monument itself—begins to light up.
Go for a refreshing swim in Cenote Chukumaltik
Cenotes are sinkholes that are commonly found in the state of Yucatan, where they are popular attractions. Chiapas has its very own cenote – not nearly as famous as others in the country.
Chukumaltik is close to the city of Comitan, at 77 miles (124 km) from San Cristobal. A visit here is the perfect way to spend a day where you can relax and cool off in the gloriously gleaming waters of the cenote.
With a diameter of about half a mile and a depth of 230 feet (70 meters), the waters here are almost impossibly blue. Make sure you have your camera, as well as your swimming costume: it really is a sight to behold.
Hike up Volcan Tacana
Tacana, with a height of 13,320 feet (4,060 meters) above sea level, is the second-highest peak in Central America. Located on the border with Guatemala, this huge volcano is rich with flora and fauna, as well as culture in the surrounding region.
It’s possible to hike to the top of Tacana. The trek takes two days (ascent and descent) and provides a memorable adventure during your trip to Chiapas.
Though the trail on the Guatemalan side is easier and shorter, it’s also harder to reach. So it’s best to tackle the Mexican trail, which is a challenge but worth the effort when you see the view from the top.
Take a day trip to the beautiful Agua Azul
Visiting Agua Azul is one of the most popular things to do in Chiapas. Agua Azul—meaning “Blue Water”—is a stunning series of connecting cascades, pools, and waterfalls. Not only does this make for a beautiful spot to gaze upon, but it’s also a great place to swim and hike around, too.
This place gets busy at the weekend, but it’s fairly quiet during the week, so you can enjoy bathing in the pools (best done in designated bathing areas as the water can be quite powerful) and soaking up all the beauty of the bright blue water.
Unless you have a car, getting to Agua Azul can be complicated. Your best option is to join this guided tour departing from San Cristobal that also goes to Misol Ha and Palenque.
There also are tours departing from Palenque such as this one.
For more detailed information, head over to my post A Guide To Visiting Agua Azul.
Make sure to stop by the impressive Misol Ha
Fairly close to Agua Azul is Misol Ha. Different from Agua Azul, Misol Ha consists of just one singular cascade that drops an impressive 115 feet (35 meters) into a large pool. It’s located around 12 miles (19 km) from Palenque and makes for a tropical oasis to refresh yourself in.
The clear blue waters make this another fantastic spot for swimming, which is amazing on a hot day. There’s even a cave behind the waterfall for that extra adventurous element.
The easiest way to visit Misol Ha is on guided tours that also go to Palenque and nearby Agua Azul.
You have the option of this tour that departs from Palenque – it’s very popular and well reviewed, but you are looking into a 20 hour day trip!
Otherwise, you could consider this tour from Palenque which is a bit more relaxing.
Spend the day exploring Palenque Ruins
Situated near the town of Palenque, these are the ruins of an ancient Maya city called Lakamha. Flourishing in the 7th century AD, this powerful mid-sized city once dominated the region. Visiting is one of the most popular things to do in Chiapas.
The site is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks not only to the impressive structures but also because of the illuminating hieroglyphic inscriptions on many of the monuments, these document the history of Lakamha and its rulers.
To make the most of the site, I recommend joining this guided tour – it also includes a stop at Agua Azul and Misol Ha.
You should also read my post A Guide To Visiting Palenque Ruins.
Then set off to explore Yaxchilán and Bonampak
If you are in search of less popular things to do in Chiapas, head to Yaxchilán and Bonampak in the Locandona Jungle, among the most unique places to visit in Chiapas, Mexico.
Yaxchilán, whose name means “green stones” in the Maya language, sits on the banks of the Usumacinta River, which marks the border with Guatemala. Because of its location immersed in the jungle, the site is hard to reach – and this explains why it still remains a hidden gem!
At about one hour from Yaxchilán, Bonampak is another unique site that was only discovered in the early 20th century. It is famous for its very well-kept murals that depict war scenes.
The best way to visit the sites is on this guided tour departing from Palenque. It’s a 13-hour tour so be prepared for a long day.
Abseil into Sima de Las Cotorras
This is one of the most adventurous things to do in Chiapas!
Translating to the “Chasm of the Parakeets,” Sima de Las Cotorras is located in El Ocote Biosphere Reserve in western Chiapas. With a depth of 460 feet (140 meters), this sinkhole isn’t the largest or deepest in the area, nor is it filled with water.
It has, however, become a popular spot for visitors since an eco-tourism center was established here in the 1980s.
People come to see the thousands of Mexican green parakeets that make this huge sinkhole their home. Not only that: people also come to do a spot of abseiling down into the depths of the chasm, surrounded by lush vegetation. It’s definitely a unique way to see what this place is all about!
Spend time at El Chiflon Waterfall
Close to Comitan and the border with Guatemala, in the Tzimol Municipality, Cascada El Chiflon (El Chiflon Waterfall) is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Chiapas.
This complex of 5 waterfalls, the tallest of which is almost 394 feet (120 meters), is a sight to behold and a great place to hike, swim, and just enjoy a day immersed in nature. The view from Rainbow Waterfall is spectacular!
Unless you have your own car, I recommend joining this guided tour to El Chiflòn – it departs from San Cristobal that also stop at Montebello Lakes National Park.
Get an adrenaline rush at Las Tres Tzimoleras waterfalls
One of the best things to do in Chiapas if you want to get off the beaten path is to head to Las Tres Tzimoleras. I shall warn you, though: this is not a place for everyone. But if you are an adventure junkie, this will be right up your alley.
To enjoy this incredible place, you will have to join a guided canyoning tour along the San Vicente River. The tour starts with a 45-minute off-road drive in a 4×4.
After that, you will have to swim across the river and then jump off small and big waterfalls – you can also rappel down a 40-meter waterfall if you want.
Las Tres Tzimoleras is located about a 2.5-hour drive from San Cristobal, and you can easily combine a visit with Chiflón. To experience the area, you are better off getting in touch with the local operators before you get there. Send them an email at email@example.com.
Visit the Lagos de Montebello
Close to the border with Guatemala, Lagos de Montebello National Park (Montebello Lakes National Park)has a whopping 59 beautiful lakes, of which, however, only 10 can be visited.
The presence of minerals in the water makes the color of the water absolutely gorgeous, and – for those that can be visited – you can enjoy swimming and kayaking there.
The most beautiful lakes are Cinco Lagos, Montebello Lakes, Lagunas de Colores, Lake Tsiskao, and Lake Pojoj. Inside the national park, you will also find some nice Mayan archeological sites.
If you don’t have a car but you still want to visit the Lagos de Montebello, your best option is to join this guided tour departing from San Cristobal that also goes to El Chiflon Waterfall.
Get off the beaten track at the ruins of Chinkultic
There are, of course, many Maya ruins and archaeological sites to see across Chiapas and Mexico as a whole. But many of them are quite well-trodden, and can get crowded. Chinkultic—on the border with Guatemala and accessible from Comitan—is very little visited.
Making up part of the Lagunas de Montebello Park, this Mayan city offers an array of interesting ancient buildings and fascinating temples. Dating back as far as 600 AD, this city hasn’t been as widely excavated as other Mayan sites, so it retains a rustic, “lost world” atmosphere. It also boasts incredible views out across the jungle.
Learn about the Zapatistas
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation was formed in Chiapas, Mexico 1983. It was initially created to instigate a revolution against the rise of neoliberalism. However, no revolution ever happened.
To this day, the Zapatista movement is powerful and prominent in Chiapas. The group is mainly anti-capitalist and anti-neoliberal and fights for the rights of the everyday person in Chiapas, Mexico.
The group is unique because they have remained within the democratic framework and haven’t gotten involved in organized crime to support funding.
Zapatistas are very influential throughout all of Chiapas, and you’ll find some beautiful Zapatista art adorning the buildings and sidewalks.
Women played an essential role in the Zapatista movement, which you may find depicted in the artwork on the streets. In fact, women were very influential in the art for the activities throughout the years.
Make sure to read my other posts about Mexico:
- The Best Travel Tips For Mexico
- The Best Mexico Itinerary
- The Best National Parks In Mexico
- The Best Itinerary For 3 Days In Mexico City
- The Best Day Trips From Mexico City
- Where To Stay In Mexico City
- The Complete Guide To Visiting Teotihuacan
- The Best Museums In Mexico City
- The Best Things To Do In Puebla
- The Best Things To Do In Oaxaca
- The Best Tours In Oaxaxa
- The Best Beaches In Mexico
- The Best Things To Do In Yucatan
- What To Eat In Mexico
- How Not To Get Sick In Mexico