Charming chiapas

19th of april 2020

Yes "charming Chiapas" is the cheesiest title I could come up with, now that that's out of the way let's dive into Chiapas and what it has to offer. 



First let me get something out of the way, Chiapas is one of the poorest area's in Mexico but also one of the most beautiful so watch your wallet and watch your belongings but don't let fear take over and enjoy your time there.

So without spoiling anything else, let’s dive into how I experienced my five days in Chiapas.

Tuxtla Gutiérrez

Our first stop into Chiapas was going to be Tuxtla Gutiérrez because we started our day in Villahermossa (Tabasco) and the road here is both very long and windy so after driving for almost 5 hours we made it over the mountains.

For some reason Tuxtla reminded me a lot of Los Angeles, it all feels very big and spread out, there's a lot of traffic and palm trees and people don't seem to be very nice. There's actually only one reason why we are stopping here (there's two; we just didn't want to drive any further up to San Cristóbal de las Casas) and that's Parque Nacional Cañón del Sumidero. The park offers some breathtaking views and you can drive around it to all the viewpoint and get a spectacular view of the cliffs and the water. If you want to be even more amazed you should definitely take a boat ride, there are loads of boat companies that take tourists into the canyons for a two hour boat ride. Beware of these though; don't be like us and show up in the afternoon expecting to get onto a boat immediately. They will let you wait until the boat you are waiting for is full. Unfortunately for us that didn't happen and we had to "pull a karen" to get our money back after raising our voice.

Apart from the canyon Tuxtla just doesn't seem to have to offer a lot, after not getting onto a boat we decided to call it a day and head to the hotel and had dinner close by and drove up to San Cristóbal de las Casas the next day.

High up in San Cristóbal de las Casas

San Cristóbal is a city high up in the mountains, and when I say high up I mean high for my "I live by the water" standards. The city 2.200 meters above sea level which gave me a two day headache and a long lasting exhausted feeling. The city itself gives off a totally different vibe than any other city we have been to in Mexico. The architecture is so different from any other place we had visited, probably because temperatures at night drop easily and these houses are actually built to keep out the cold at night. This was also the only city in Mexico where we had to go out in our jeans and sweaters at night (we visited in February). Next to the architecture that will capture your eye, you will also notice the city is covered in multiple churches, not two or three but (at least) eleven that we visited and most likely even more so please reach out if you know the exact number.

What we mostly enjoyed here in San Cristóbal is the atmosphere around the city, there's just something about it that makes you love it. We ate some of the best food here in this city and because all the highlights are so close together you can walk around and leave your car behind which was very different from all the other places we had been to in Mexico already.

Chamula & Zinacantán

On our second day in San Cristóbal we took a tour to two small towns outside of the city; Chamula and Zinacatán. We took a tour to these towns with Alex y Raul Tours, they do daily tours leaving at 9 in the morning at the Cruz Atrial in front of the Catedral de San Crisóbal  for 300 mexican pesos per person. If you are looking into visiting these towns I would highly recommend a tour and especially this tour as they treated the locals with a lot of respect, something I didn't see the "big bus" tourguides doing. Chamula & Zinacatán aren't your average "buy a plastic souvenir scam" towns, the people who live here are direct relatives from the native inhabitants of the land with their own culture and religion. This is why I highly recommend a tour, they will explain more in depth their rituals and way of life.

I could write a lot about this day and how interesting it was to see people live such a slow and different life than the life we are used to but I'm not going to since I don't want this to be the main focus of this story. What I do want you to take away from it is that if you plan on visiting and are open to learning about a different way of life I would highly recommend visiting.

The road to Palenque

This part deserved it's own paragraph because I couldn't find enough information on this part online myself while planning this trip and I feel like it should be shared.

San Cristóbal was a turning point for us, this would mark our 14th day in Mexico out of 23 and it would be the furthest we go west until turning back to Cancun to catch our flight in over a week. When we were planning this trip I took a lot of advice from friends and colleagues and one thing stuck; "don't drive through Ocosingo". Why you may ask, there's actually a simple reason: it's might not be safe. I'm saying it might not be because multiple sources told me not to go there and I didn't go myself. First source is this blogpost (INSERT LINK), second source was my colleague telling me she took a bus form Palenque to San Cristóbal so she could have a safe passage and my third source being our tour guide from the day before telling us one of his friends got mugged, was told to step out of his car and lost all his belongings while stranding there.

Only after hearing that from our tour guide we decided not to drive through this area and decided it would be safer to drive back down to Tuxtla Gutiérrez then back through the mountains to Villahermosa and then to Palenque. This route only takes one hour longer than the route through Ocosingo. If you are planning on visiting this area yourself I'm leaving it up to you if you want to take the risk of driving through. I didn't do it but I can also not tell you if it's actually unsafe or not.

So we drove our car for basically a full day, with a quick stop in Villahermosa for pizza and as if just driving to Palenque wouldn't be enough we decided to go to the Cataratas de Agua Azul waterfalls before going to our hotel. We only got to the waterfalls at around 16 o'clock so we basically just managed to take in some sights and snap a couple pictures before having to drive another hour back to Palenque at sunset. That sunset eventually turned into darkness and something else a lot of people have told me was "do not drive in the dark". Our time management wasn't all too perfect on this day but we managed and got to Palenque.

Palenque

Coming from San Cristóbal into Palenque felt like a totally new world again, it was hot and humid down here in the middle of the jungle and the mountains.

The main attraction in the area here are obviously the ruins and there is a reason for that, the Palenque ruins are the most spectacular ruins we have seen in my opinion. They are so well preserved in a magnificent green jungle setting and on top of that you get to climb most of them so you get to witness some amazing views of your surroundings. Another plus about Palenque was how cheap it was considering how much you are getting to see and climb. Also the vendors inside the site will not come up to you to sell you all kinds of (excuse my language) crap which made me actually buy some crap.

Next to the magnificent ruins Palenque has to offer there are also some spectacular waterfalls nearby. We visited the Agua Azul waterfalls the day before and on our day in Palenque we also visited the Misol-Ha waterfalls and the Roberto Barrios waterfalls. If you want to enjoy a relaxed afternoon in the water you should visit the Roberto Barrios waterfalls, there are four waterfalls in this area and a lot of spots to hang out by the water.

Reflection

Chiapas is a beautiful area in Mexico but consider taking some Spanish on Duolingo because once you leave the Yucatan peninsula you enter a world where there is an about 70% chance even the hotel receptionist will not understand basic english. Also consider getting a better car if you decide on driving through here yourself. A lot of roads are in a pretty horrendous condition, we managed to do it with a cheaper rental but looking back on this, we should have gotten something a little better and robust.