The Chiapas Bucket List

September 19, 2018

Just on the other side of Guatemala’s Northernmost border lies a green blanket of tropical jungle covering an entire state, which just may become the most magical place you’ll ever experience should you venture under its canopy: the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Though presently this region’s reputation lies in its main exports of beans, bananas, coffee, and cacao, these lands were once inhabited by some of the most incredible Maya civilizations known to date with archeological sites dating back to 100 B.C. Chiapas can even take credit for to the invention of chocolate, which is a rich part of culinary culture in the state. Whether you’re the run-of-the-mill tourist or the most extreme of travelers, Chiapas has something to offer for all who make their way to the south of Mexico. Jeweled with countless waterfalls, Meso-American ruins, some of the best coffee this world has to offer and a colorful colonial city with the character of a ski-town, Chiapas will give you so much more than you were looking for.

Palenque Ruins

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Engulfed in a tropical wilderness, this incredible archaeological site should be one of the 7 Wonder of the World. A ten-minute ride up the mountain from the center of Palenque will lead you to the entrance of these astounding Maya ruins. Once you have maneuvered your way through the locals offering to sell you every Maya-themed trinket you could ever dream of, a small set of stairs overgrown with plant life will lead you to what would otherwise be completely hidden behind a thick jungle veil: the Palenque Ruins. The best advice you could take when visiting this treasure is to take your time. Spend a minimum of three hours and thoroughly appreciate the sites and sounds of this ancient city in all its magnificence. Take the time to sit and listen to the music of the jungle—the birds, insects, and jaguar-esque roars of the howler monkeys lurking in the trees surrounding the ruins will transport you into a universe untamed in its wildness and majesty. This will be an experience you won’t soon forget.

Agua Azul

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Also located in the heart of the state’s flora is a series of impossibly beautiful natural pools and waterfalls fed by the Tulijá River. Allow yourself to be stupefied by the vividly turquoise water and it’s mercifully cool temperatures. After battling the suffocating heat of the jungle in order to arrive, the falls make for the perfect refreshment as you take a dip to rinse off and cool down. There are multiple places to swim along the river and the further upstream you go, the less crowded the pools become. The stairway up and along the river is also lined with souvenir shops and little restaurants selling, almost exclusively, empanadas, so be sure to come fully prepared… on an empty stomach!

San Cristóbal de las Casas

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This city in the sky, nearly a mile and a half in elevation, sits far above its tropical surroundings. As you make your ascent up the mountain just outside of Tuxtla Gutierrez, you’ll climb right over the clouds into an entirely different climate. Pine trees accompany this historic colonial city at what feels like the top of the world, making this destination a clean, cool, crisp breath of fresh air. Each avenue looks as inviting as the next with cobblestone streets and colorful buildings that give this city a charisma unlike any other in the world. Although not necessarily known for its food, here you can expect to find a variety of delicious Chiapan dishes that will leave you speechless. To make this city even more enticing, just about every corner coffee shop will be able to offer you a taste of the local Chiapan chocolate. The perfect home base for day trips around the state and a hidden gem all on its own, this is not a city to miss!

Sumidero Canyon

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You don’t have to be a Jurassic Park lover to feel like you’ve stepped into the theme park when you’re coasting in a boat through this canyon with 900-foot cliffs on each side of you. The crocodile-infested waters and monkeys swinging from the trees on the shoreline make for a surreal atmosphere—and a photogenic one. For those who are fortunate enough to get there in the early hours of the day, sunrise in the canyon is a must-see. As the morning beams begin to peak over the cliff tops, golden rays of light shine down upon the canyon of Sumidero, serving as an alarm clock for the animals that reside here. Keep your eyes peeled as you make your way along these waters and you’ll almost definitely spot some of this spectacular wildlife.

El Chiflón

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A three-hour ride from San Cristóbal de las Casas flirting with the border of Guatemala is a 600-foot collection of waterfalls hidden yet again somewhere in the thick of the Mexican jungle. Thanks to its isolation from most largely populated cities, El Chiflón is relatively unhindered by the typical crowds of tourists out looking for things to do. A quick walk up the river will lead you to where you’ll be able to stand on a platform near the largest, and most astounding of El Chiflón’s waterfalls. In your proximity, you will feel the sheer force of the water rushing into the river below and be humbled by its grandeur. The off-spray will leave your clothes drenched, which will be a massive relief after having climbed all the way up to this spot in the sub-tropical Chiapan heat. For those who are seeking a bit of an adrenaline rush, the park offers a zip lining tour that starts at the main waterfall and makes its way all the way down the river. Flying through the trees and gliding effortlessly over 100-foot waterfalls, thrill seekers will not be disappointed with this experience.