There are plenty of things to do in Chiapas Mexico, whatever your interest or travel style. In fact, there is enough to do here that you could easily dedicate an entire month to exploring Chiapas state and still feel as though you have barely scratched the surface.
Chiapas is arguably one of Mexico´s most underrated states. The region has started emerging as an off-the-beaten-path Mexican travel destination in recent years but it still sees just a fraction of the tourists of nearby Cancun or Tulum.
In a way, that isn’t a bad thing. Venturing to Chiapas ensures a more authentic Mexican travel experience and valuable insight into Mexican indigenous cultures.
16 of the Best Things to do in Chiapas Mexico
Visit the Pueblo Magico of Chiapa de Corzo
The charming little town of Chiapa de Corzo is one of four Pueblo Magicos in the state of Chiapas. Pueblo Magicos are Mexican towns and settlements that have been recognized for their unique beauty, charm, culture, and gastronomy.
Generally speaking, when you see that somewhere has been designated as a Pueblo Magico, you know that it is a worthwhile place to visit. Most people overlook Chiapa de Corzo when they are traveling through Chiapas, or they only stop by briefly as part of a day trip to the Sumidero Canyon.
However, the little town is well deserved of a day or two´s exploration in itself. This is one of the oldest towns in the Americas.
It dates back to 1528 and was one of the first places that the Spanish colonizers settled when they arrived in Chiapas. They later realized that the intense desert heat was too much for them and moved their main settlement to San Cristobal. However, they left many beautiful churches and structures in their wake.
Start your day in the Zocalo – the charming central square of Chiapa de Corzo surrounded by porticoed buildings and quaint cafes. The piece de resistance of the square is ¨La Pila¨ – a diamond-shaped fountain in its center.
An exploration of the unsuspecting side streets leads you to magnificent, centuries-old churches and thought-provoking street art. Stop for breakfast at Jardines de Chiapa Restaurant (Francisco I. Madero 395, San Jacinto, 29160) and stroll along the riverfront.
The hilltop ruins of the Templo de San Sebastian are not to be missed. From up here, you can enjoy spectacular panoramas of the town and wider Chiapas below.
Chiapa de Corzo tours
If you are traveling to Mexico in January, your time in Chiapa de Corzo will be particularly special. Every year, the Fiesta Grande is hosted here in honor of three Catholic saints.
The festival is famous for its Parachico dancers that wear traditional clothing and painted wooden masks as they dance their way through the town. This dance is so culturally important that it has even been recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Throughout the year, you may enjoy exploring Chiapa de Corzo with the aid of a guide who can give you more in-depth information about the town and its various districts. Several reputable Chiapa de Corzo tours are detailed below for your information.
- Chiapa de Corzo & Sumidero Canyon day tour from Tuxtla Gutierrez
- Sumidero Canyon, Chiapa de Corzo and San Cristobal tour
- Sumidero Canyon & Chiapa de Corzo tour from San Cristobal
Spend a long weekend in San Cristobal de Las Casas
San Cristobal de Las Casas is the main raison d’etre that most people decide to visit Chiapas. The town was founded in 1528 and named ¨Villa Real de Chiapa¨ Its name has changed various times over the centuries before being given its current name in 1848.
Spending three to four days here allows you enough time to explore the town itself, but you may want to base yourself here for as long as a week. San Cristobal is a convenient base for taking day trips out to other parts of Chiapas.
The free walking tour is a good way to get your bearings in the city. It departs at 10 am daily from the wooden cross in front of the cathedral in the Plaza de la Paz.
There are many gorgeous catholic churches scattered throughout San Cristobal which will take your breath away, even if you are not remotely religious. A fun way to explore the town is to mark different churches on your map and enjoy exploring the offbeat neighborhoods that they lead you through.
The beautiful white and yellow Iglesia del Cerro de Guadalupe is a charming 19th-century church perched on top of a hill. If you ascend the 79 steps to the church at the top, you will be rewarded with spectacular panoramas over the town.
Equally worthy of your attention is the Iglesia de San Cristobalito. The views from up here are unparalleled. However, conquering the hundreds of steps to the top is no mean feat.
Learn about the religious practices at San Juan Chamula Church
The San Juan Chamula Church is one of the most unique churches in the world. From the outside, it looks no different from any other Mexican catholic church.
Its crisp white facade is decorated with green fixtures and detailing, and colorful, intricate azulejos. It is when you step inside the church that things get interesting.
Chiapas locals visit the San Juan Chamula church when they or their loved ones become sick. They light candles and pray to a saint of their choosing in the hope that their loved ones become better.
Generally, the more candles a person uses, the sicker they are. A lot of people here cannot afford access to modern medicine or they are suspicious of it. So, they turn to religion instead.
A blend of Catholic and indigenous practices is used during rituals here. Many indigenous people believe that they get sick as a result of people looking at them with envy or sending negative energy their way.
So, they sit and drink bottles upon bottles of fizzy drinks such as Coca-Cola as they pray and force themselves to burp as they believe that burping expels evil. Sometimes chickens are sacrificed in exchange for the person becoming better.
You can take a Colectivo (shared minivan) from San Cristobal to Chamula. However, for the best experience, you should visit with a tour guide.
A number of reputable Chamula tours are detailed below for your consideration. It is advisable to reserve your spot online in advance as places do sell out! Most combine a trip to Chamula with a visit to nearby Zinacantan.
Experience indigenous cultures in Zinacantan
Zinacantan is one of the best places to visit in Chiapas, particularly if you are interested in learning about indigenous cultures. The little town is home to around 45,000 inhabitants, many of whom are Tzotzil.
The town’s original name was ¨Tzinacantlān¨ which is of Nahuatl origin and means “land of bats”. However, it was modified to Zinacantan as the Spanish colonizers could not pronounce its original name.
Today, Zinacantan is home to several beautiful churches that use a blend of Catholic and indigenous practices in their worship. Stop by the Iglesia de San Lorenzo and the Capilla El Señor de Esquipulas.
This region is famous for growing flowers. Whenever you step inside any of the churches of Zinacantan, you will be met with the fragrant aroma of hundreds of colorful flowers and garlands that decorate every wall and ceiling.
Many stunning, vibrant textiles are also produced here. You may be interested in stopping by the indigenous women’s textile cooperative on the outskirts of town.
More than 60 women work together to create unique garments and the existence of this cooperative has helped to massively improve the lives of the residents of the village. They donate a portion of their earnings to fund the education of the younger generations.
Recommended Zinacantan tours
Take a boat tour of the magnificent Sumidero Canyon
Chiapas is home to some of the most diverse and beautiful natural scenery in Mexico. The Sumidero Canyon, set inside the national park of the same name, is a dramatic gorge that was formed more than 35 million years ago.
Start by taking a boat tour along the Río Grijalva where you will pass through areas surrounded by towering 1km high cliffs. It takes approximately 2 hours to sail along the 64km length of the river.
Many endangered species call the canyon home, along with crocodiles, spider monkeys, and many exotic, colorful birds. If you are lucky, you will see them as you sail around the canyon. There are also numerous hiking trails that weave around the scenery here and offer spectacular panoramas over the canyon, with Chiapa de Corzo and Tuxtla Gutierrez shimmering in the distance.
Recommended Sumidero Canyon Tours
It is very difficult to tour Sumidero Canyon independently. One of the best things to do in Chiapas is to take a Sumidero Canyon tour that starts in Chiapa de Corzo, Tuxtla Gutierrez, or San Cristobal.
Many tours include pick-up and drop-off from/to your hotel. This takes a lot of stress out of managing the logistics of how to get from A to B.
A number of reputable Sumidero Canyon tours are detailed below for your consideration. Book online in advance to secure your place.
- Sumidero Canyon full day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas
- Sumidero Canyon and San Cristobal de las Casas day trip from Tuxtla Gutierrez
- Tour of Sumidero Canyon, Chiapa de Corzo and San Cristobal de las Casas
- Sumidero Canyon and Chiapa de Corzo day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas
Visit a coffee plantation
An interesting fact about Mexico that you may not be aware of is that the country is the world’s largest producer of organic coffee. In general, Mexico is one of the largest coffee producers in the world.
Chiapas, along with Veracruz and Oaxaca, is one of the country’s largest coffee-growing regions. Mexican Chiapas coffee tends to have a strong, distinct taste and while it may be relatively unknown internationally, you will note that many cafes and restaurants across Mexico stock and serve it.
If you are a major coffee aficionado, one of the best things to do in Chiapas is to visit one of the coffee plantations in the area. Many plantations offer tours and tastings.
They often also have tourist accommodation on site where you can stay in gorgeous rural cabins in the mountains overlooking the plantations. Most Chiapas plantations are concentrated around Ocosingo and near the Sierra Madre mountains in the southern part of the state.
The Hamburgo plantation is a good choice, although it is tricky to reach unless you are renting a car in Mexico. It is located high in the Sierra Madre mountains, close to the town of Huixtla.
The plantation was founded in 1888 by the German Arthur Edelman. It has been passed down through his family for more than 100 years and is currently managed by the fifth generation. There is also a spa and restaurant on-site.
Explore the ruins at Palenque
The Palenque ruins are undoubtedly among the best Mayan ruins in Mexico. The site dates back to the Early Classic period (A.D. 200-600) and was also known as ¨Lakamha¨ in the Ancient Itza language. It flourished during the 7th century under the rule of Pakal.
Palenque sits in the heart of the Tumbalá mountains. You can climb the ruins here and for your efforts, you are rewarded with spectacular views of the jungle below.
The site is expansive and worthy of 2-3 hours of your time. Palenque is one of the world’s most studied Mayan ruins and it was just as important as Chichen Itza, Edzna, and Uxmal.
Recommended Palenque tours
Palenque is relatively remote and somewhat tricky to get to. It is advisable to visit the site on a tour.
Many reputable local tour operators offer day trips from San Cristobal de Las Casas to Palenque. They usually combine a trip to the ruins with a visit to some nearby waterfalls.
A selection of the best Palenque tours is detailed below for your consideration.
- From San Cristobal: Agua Azul and Palenque day trip
- From San Cristobal: Palenque, Agua Azul and Misol-Ha day trip
Take a boat out to the Yaxchilan ruins
Visiting the ruins at Palenque can feel like a bit of an effort. At first glance, it seems like there is little else of interest in the area nearby. Palenque town is not a tourist destination in itself, although it is home to several hotels and restaurants.
If you opt to stay overnight in Palenque, you can then consider taking a day trip out to Yaxchilan and Bonampak ruins. The Yaxchilan ruins are some of the most difficult to reach but they are well worth the effort.
To get here, you need to board a boat and ride along the Usumacinta River. Much of Yaxchilan has been reclaimed by the jungle and is massively overgrown.
It looks just as you would expect a site that has been abandoned for thousands of years to look. Yaxchilan sees just a fraction of the tourists seen by the likes of Palenque and Chichen Itza.
This is, in part, because the ruins require so much effort to get to. Only a small handful of tourists pass through here every day.
Yaxchilan was occupied between 250 AD and 900 AD. Its location right on the river made it an important city for trade and commerce.
Recommended Yaxchilan and Bonampak tours
It would be very difficult to try and get to Yaxchilan independently. Your best bet is to travel with a tour guide.
Several reputable tour options are detailed below. Most tours combine a trip to Yaxchilan with the nearby ruins of Bonampak.
Stop by the Bonampak archeological site
The Bonampak archeological site is small, and at first glimpse, it may not seem as impressive as Palenque or Yaxchilan but don’t be fooled. The most fascinating thing about this site is that it is home to several extremely well-preserved, colorful painted murals.
In fact, ¨Bonampak¨ is Mayan for ¨painted walls¨. In one of the main structures here, nestled deep in the heart of the jungle, are three rooms that are painted from floor to ceiling.
These are the best-preserved Mayan murals in the world and Mayan paintings like these are extremely rare. The murals depict scenes from everyday life in a Mayan civilization – celebrations, sacrifices, and religious ceremonies.
It is better to visit Bonampak as part of a tour. Most companies combine a trip to the ruin with a trip to Yaxchilan.
Venture off the beaten path to the city of Comitan
The city of Comitan de Dominguez is a pueblo magico in the southernmost part of Chiapas state. It sits right beside the Guatemalan border and a visit here is one of the best things to do in Chiapas if you want to venture far off the beaten track and experience local life.
Comitan’s pre-Hispanic name was Balún Canán meaning “Nine Stars”. The settlement was founded in a swamp by a large group of Tzeltal Indians.
In 1486 it was subdued by the Aztecs who changed the name to “Comitlan” derived from a Nahuatl word meaning “Place of potters”. Spanish colonizers changed the name to Comitan, which was easier for them to pronounce.
The ¨de Dominguez¨ aspect of the name was added in 1915 in honor of Dr. Belisario Dominguez, a beloved doctor, and politician. Comitan does not offer a huge amount in terms of things to see and do; You could easily explore most of the town on foot in half a day.
However, it makes a great base for exploring many of the southernmost ruins, lakes, and parks in Chiapas. If you base yourself in Comitan rather than San Cristobal, your journey time to the likes of Montebello Lakes and the El Chiflon waterfalls is much shorter.
Trek through the Lacandon Jungle
The Lacandon Jungle is an area of rainforest that is easily accessible from Palenque. It stretches from Chiapas, Mexico, all the way down to Guatemala.
You will pass through a section of the jungle if you want to travel to the ruins of Yaxchilan and Bonampak. However, if you want to delve deeper into the wilderness and learn about the indigenous Lacandon Maya tribe that inhabits the jungle, as well as have the chance to view its endemic flora, fauna, and animals, you can book a jungle trek.
Many local companies offer Lacandon Jungle trekking tours. Some are led by members of the Lacandon tribes and others include an overnight say at a jungle camp.
Visit the ruins at Tenam Puente
A visit to the ruins at Tenam Puente is one of the best things to do in Chiapas if you have a keen interest in Mayan history. The Mayan city is just 11.6km south of Comitan and is accessible via Colectivo.
Tenam Puente comes from the Nahuatl word tenamitl meaning fortification. The site dates back to the early post-classic period (900-1200 AD) until it was eventually abandoned. Like many Mayan cities, nobody is certain about the reasons why it was abandoned.
Many artifacts that have been recovered from Tenam Puente are on display in the small Museo Arqueológico de Comitán in Comitan city center. This is well worth visiting if you have time.
Unfortunately, the museum information is only displayed in Spanish so if you cannot speak/read Spanish, it doesn’t give a huge amount of context. However, some of the old Mayan masks and artifacts recovered from Tenam Puente are so ornate and intricate, that it would be a shame to miss the chance to view them.
Head out to the forgotten ruins of Chinkultic
The ruins at Chinkultic are located 45.5km south of Comitan, close to the Guatemalan border. Unless you are driving in Mexico, they are difficult to get to independently.
The site dates back to 600AD and contains several temples and pyramids that you can climb. From their peaks, you have incredible views across Southern Chiapas, with Guatemala in the distance.
The Chinkultic ruins are small. You only need an hour or two to explore them so a visit here is best combined with a trip to the nearby Montebello lakes.
For the time being, very few tours run to the region. If you do not have a vehicle, your best bet to reach the site is to go by taxi.
Ask your hotel reception/accommodation host to provide you with the details of a taxi driver that they trust. Then, you can negotiate a price with the driver for them to wait for you while you explore the site and then drive you back to Comitan.
There is a colectivo that you can take. However, it does not run all the way to Chinkultic. Instead, it
Take a day trip to El Chiflon Waterfalls
The El Chiflon waterfalls are among the most popular day trips that you can do from San Cristobal de Las Casas. This collection of tiered waterfalls awaits in the southern part of the state, close to Comitan.
There are five waterfalls here. The most famous is called the Cascada de Vela Novia (the bridal veil) because its crystal clear water cascades over the edge of a cliff, giving the appearance of a bride’s veil.
You cannot swim in the waterfalls. However, there is a river nearby where you can swim so be sure to bring your swimsuit to make the most of the falls on a hot, humid day. There are also several hiking trails that lead you through the breathtaking natural scenery of the area.
Recommended El Chiflon tours
- San Cristobal: El Chiflon waterfalls and Montebello day tour
- Tuxtla Gutierrez: El Chiflon waterfalls and Montebello day tour
Spend a day at Montebello Lakes
The Lagos de Montebello (Montebello lakes) is a complex of 59 natural lakes situated at the Mexico-Guatemala border. Some fall on the Mexican side of the border, others await in Guatemala.
This is one of the best places to visit in Chiapas if you enjoy the great outdoors and getting back to nature. You can take a boat ride on some of the larger lakes and many hiking trails weave throughout the area.
Many local tour companies include a trip to Montebello lakes with their El Chiflon tours. However, the lakes are also very easy (and cheap!) to get to independently.
You can take a Colectivo from Comitan to the lakes for just 20 pesos ($1 USD!) Pack some snacks or some Mexican street food and have a picnic on the banks of one of the lakes.
Sundays at the lake provide a great people-watching opportunity. Most Mexicans have the day off work and you will see lots of local families having picnics, camping, and swimming in the lakes.
Marvel at the Agua Azul waterfalls
There are several spectacular waterfalls that you will likely pass on your way to Palenque. Namely, Agua Azul, Misol-Ha, and Roberto Barrios.
If you are participating in a Palenque tour that departs from San Cristobal, they will typically include a brief stop at one or multiple of these sites. The Las Cascadas de Agua Azul are the most popular of the falls.
As the name suggests, the clear water here is a fabulous shade of turquoise blue. This ethereal shade is due to a combination of carbonated salts that exist in the water.
Fortunately, the salts do not affect or harm your skin in any way so you can safely and comfortably enjoy swimming in the pools at the base of the falls. Many tour buses stop at Agua Azul each day and unfortunately, the site is becoming increasingly crowded which can somewhat detract from the magic of visiting the site.
If you are touring Chiapas independently, you may prefer to visit the lesser-known cascado Roberto Barrios. The falls are an hour’s drive from Palenque and are accessible via Colectivo.
Have you been to Chiapas, Mexico? Do you have any additional suggestions in terms of the best things to do in Chiapas Mexico?
If you are visiting Mexico for the first time, you may enjoy reading this list of Mexico travel tips to know before you go. Safe travels! Buen viaje! Melissa xo