Is Chiapas safe to travel to in 2023? Safety is likely to be at the forefront of your mind if you are planning a trip to the Southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
(Safety is one of the main concerns for people traveling to Mexico, period. It’s a place that people are often anxious about visiting for the first time).
Chiapas can be a safe place to travel to provided that you take the same common sense precautions as you would when traveling anywhere else in the world.
For the time being, Chiapas remains relatively off the beaten path as far as travel in Mexico goes. Every year, more and more people are starting to be drawn to the appeal of the mountain town of San Cristobal de Las Casas and the ancient Mayan city of Palenque.
But aside from the main tourist attractions, Chiapas remains largely untapped. The state borders Guatemala to the south, as well as the Mexican states of Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Tabasco.
Chiapas is bursting at the seams with cultural and historical sites as well as natural wonders, waterfalls, and hiking trails. This Chiapas safety guide has been written by a British Travel Writer based in Mexico (Me!). I have traveled through Chiapas extensively and live in the city of Merida in the Yucatan.
Is Chiapas Safe to Travel to in 2023?
Chiapas is the poorest state in Mexico, with more than 75.5% of the population living in poverty, and, according to a 2020 study, around 28.3% live in extreme poverty. With that being considered, you would think that the crime here would be higher than it actually is.
Chiapas is actually one of the safest states in the country. Homicides and violent crime are well below the national average.
There is some organized crime/narco activity. However, as a tourist, it really isn’t likely to affect you in any way unless you actively get involved with the wrong people.
Besides, the narco presence here pails in comparison to that in popular tourist destinations like Cancun and Quintana Roo. (And nobody is scared out of traveling there!)
Check your government travel advice for Chiapas
It is always a good idea to consult your government travel advice before visiting anywhere new and the same is true of traveling to Mexico for the first time. The U.S. Department of State awards a safety rating to each of the 32 Mexican states based on any perceived risks or dangers.
States are flagged as places to “exercise normal precautions”, “exercise increased precautions”, “reconsider travel” and “do not travel to”. This rating is awarded based on consideration of a number of factors.
Chiapas is flagged as a place where you need to “Exercise increased caution due to crime.” It goes on to state that “Criminal activity and violence may occur throughout the state.”
Be aware of the US government state ratings but don’t be terrified by them. They are sternly worded to encourage you to be alert.
Crime rating in Chiapas
Crime rates are notably lower in Chiapas than in other parts of Mexico. According to the safety index Numbeo, San Cristobal has a crime rating of 29.55.
Tuxtla Gutierrez is a sprawling capital city so it makes sense that it has a crime rating of 53.5. By contrast, Mexico City has a high crime rating of 77.85. As does Cancun at 62.2.
Safe Destinations to visit in Chiapas
Palenque and San Cristobal de las Casas are the best things to do in Chiapas as far as most travelers are concerned. However, there is a lot more to see and do in the region.
You could easily spend weeks in San Cristobal de las Casas using it as a base to explore the wider area. Word hasn’t gotten out about the treasures of Chiapas yet, it doesn’t see the tourist hordes as other parts of Mexico, and therein lies part of its charm.
Some of the safest places to visit in Chiapas are detailed below for your consideration. They are all wonderful places to explore during your trip.
San Cristobal de las Casas
San Cristobal de las Casas is a lot of people’s entire raison d’etre for visiting Chiapas. The mountain town was founded by Spanish settlers in 1528.
The Spanish had moved here after relocating from Chiapa de Corzo where they struggled to cope with the heat. San Cristobal has almost become something of a hippie commune in recent years, with a lot of barefoot travelers choosing to stay here for extended periods of time.
Its labyrinth-like network of narrow cobbled streets twists and turn and lead to grand pizzas where Tzotzil women sell street food and handicraft. The architecture here is different from other parts of Mexico.
San Cristobal’s streets are made up of pastel-colored houses adorned with red tile roofs. Several majestic catholic churches sit on hilltops and offer incredible panoramas over the city.
From here, you can take organized day trips to the indigenous village of Chamula and Zinacantan. Here, you are also at the heart of one of Mexico’s best coffee-growing regions and can do a tasting and tour of one of the many nearby Chiapas coffee plantations if you like.
San Cristobal de las Casas is a safe town. Sometimes the occasional criminal is apprehended here but the town has largely managed to avoid the violent crime that affects other parts of Mexico.
There are no parts of town that are unsafe. You can comfortably explore its entirety on foot, take the time to get lost in the various areas, etc.
Walking to and from restaurants and bars in the early evenings is mostly fine. However, it is still best not to walk alone at night (just like anywhere).
Chiapa de Corzo
Chiapa de Corzo is a charming pueblo magico in Chiapas state. It is largely overlooked from most people’s Chiapas itineraries and is often only seen as a stopping point en route to the majestic Sumidero Canyon.
However, the little town is definitely worthy of a day or two’s exploration in itself. The fact that it has been recognized as a “pueblo magico” should be a testament to that too.
(Pueblo magicos are towns that have been recognized by the Mexican tourism board for possessing a particularly special history, culture, or gastronomy. When you see that somewhere has been flagged as one, it is usually a good indicator that it is a worthwhile place to visit.)
The “Zocalo” is the central square of Chiapa de Corzo. It is a popular meeting point among locals and is home to the beautiful “La Pila” brick statue, built in the shape of a diamond, which dates back to 1562.
Lots of great cafes and coffee shops where you can indulge in Chiapas coffee and traditional Mexican breakfast dishes encircle the square. Chiapa de Corzo, surprisingly, has an incredible street art scene.
Large murals depicting local indigenous traditions and festivals cover entire walls, alleyways, and storefront facades. Many quaint, centuries-old churches are scattered around the town and a nice way to explore on foot is to simply pin their locations in Google maps and walk from one to another.
You will discover some wonderful off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods and markets as you go. Chiapa de Corzo is safe, locals are friendly, and the area has a very small-town vibe.
Comitan de Dominguez
Comitan is a pueblo magico in the southernmost part of Chiapas state, close to the border with Guatemala. This area has been occupied for thousands of years – initially by the Tzeltal Indians who named it Balún Canán, and later by the Aztecs and the Spanish.
Comitan, with a population of 140,000 people, is the fourth largest city in Chiapas. Still, it has a very small-town feel about it.
There are some great cafes and restaurants here where you can sample the best of the local Chiapescan cuisine. Street food vendors serve treats like cascara preparada and pan compuestos that you simply won’t find elsewhere.
Be sure to check out the Comitan Archeological Museum while in town. It is only small, but it contains many interesting masks and artifacts recovered from the nearby Mayan cities of Chinkultic and Tenam Puerte.
Very few tourists venture here and you will seldom see many other travelers ambling around. However, nobody bothers or hassles you, and the locals are very friendly. Since Comitan is closer to El Chiflon falls, Montebello lake, and other natural attractions in southern Chiapas, it actually makes a better base than San Cristobal for getting to some places.
Chiapas indigenous villages
Chiapas is one of the most indigenous parts of Southern Mexico. The Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Chol, and Zoque people make up a large part of the indigenous population.
(There are more than 68 different indigenous groups in Mexico, all with their unique customs, indigenous clothing, language, and traditions). Some parts of Chiapas are autonomous and are controlled by a specific indigenous group.
The villages of Zinacantan and Chamula are predominantly inhabited by Tzotzil people. You can visit them on a day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas.
Zinacantan is known for its beautiful churches and tradition of growing and selling flowers. Chamula is known for its unique San Juan Chamula church where people visit to see curanderos (local witch doctors) when they are sick.
Chiapas Safety Tips
Chiapas is a safe place to travel. The lack of detailed information about it online and the fact that it isn’t the most common place to visit in Mexico can have you thinking otherwise.
But you don’t need to worry. Some safety advice for traveling to Chiapas is detailed below.
Monitor the situation on the road between Palenque and San Cristobal
The road Between the Mayan city of Palenque and San Cristobal De Las Casas is one of the only places where you need to take additional precautions when traveling in Chiapas. The road does not have the best reputation and is known for being somewhat sketchy.
Several years ago, two travelers lost their lives here and they were attacked. However, this was an isolated incident and buses pass along this route every day.
So you shouldn’t let it scare you out of visiting. There are often roadblocks along the road between the two sides, particularly around Ocosingo.
Locals may block the road and refuse to let people pass until they give them a payment of around 100 or 200 pesos. It is generally better to just hand this over rather than risk getting into any debate.
Although it isn’t what you want to deal with when traveling, these people generally don’t mean harm and it’s important to understand it comes from a place of poverty and desperation. The most frustrating thing about these roadblocks is that they can add hours to your journey if you wind up getting stuck behind a line of traffic somewhere.
The roadblocks aren’t constantly there, however, they are often. In 2022, many travelers reported tourist buses being followed by thieves along this route.
It is a good idea to sense-check what the situation is like in travel Facebook groups and forums before you travel.
Tuxtla Gutierrez safety tips
Tuxtla Gutierrez, the Chiapas capital is not an especially pretty or interesting city. It may be convenient to stay overnight here when you arrive at Chiapas’ Ángel Albino International Airport or before you depart.
However, you can also just as easily stay in a more charming guest house in nearby Chiapa de Corzo. There are a few points of interest here but the industrial city isn’t easy to get around on foot.
The Cristo de Copoya is a 62m high cross with an image of Jesus Christ carved out of its center. It sits on the top of Mactumactzá hill in the southern part of the city, and you can enjoy sweeping vistas of Tuxtla and the wider region from the top.
You need to keep your wits about you more here, as you would in any large city. Female travelers may feel uncomfortable with the amount of attention and comments they receive from men.
It is better to ignore catcallers but sometimes it is just incessant here. Do not walk alone at night and be mindful about which areas you are venturing into.
It is worth paying a little more for a good hotel where you feel safe. Read past reviews of the hotel you choose so you know what you are getting yourself into.
Tuxtla Gutierrez airport cabs
When you travel in Mexico and Latin America, it is generally better to use Uber or other rideshare apps like Didi rather than get into a random street cab. There is more accountability that way.
However, these do not function in the Chiapas state. When you land at Chiapas airport, you will see that there are always plenty of airport cabs lined up outside.
These are safe to use – just insist that they put the meter on. (Alternatively, you can also ask your hotel to organize an airport pick-up for you).
If you need cabs elsewhere in Chiapas, it is generally better to ask the receptionist/concierge of your hotel to organize one for you, rather than to get into a random street cab.
Public transport in Chiapas
Public transport in Chiapas is generally pretty good. Buses are a low-cost and convenient way to get around and run between all major cities and towns at regular intervals.
You can take the bus from Tuxtla Gutierrez to San Cristobal, and from San Cristobal to Comitan. Small minivans run from San Cristobal to Chiapa de Corzo, and from Comitan to the Montebello lakes.
You are generally fine to purchase your ticket at the train station ticket office an hour or so before you want to travel. If you have luggage or a big backpack, you can store it under the bus.
(You will be given a ticket which you need to present in order to collect your bag once you arrive at your destination).
Learn a little Spanish
English is not widely spoken in Chiapas. You may find a few English speakers in some hotels and tourist businesses but for the most part, you may struggle to communicate if you don’t have at least a couple of Spanish words and phrases down.
Obviously, it isn’t realistic to expect yourself to become fluent in a new language right before a trip. However, a handful of words and phrases can go a long way.
You should also download Google Translate on your phone to help you with your interactions with locals. A handful of useful Spanish words and phrases that will help you during your trip are detailed below.
Useful Spanish phrases
- Yo tengo una reserva – I have a reservation
- Mi nombre es – My name is
- Lo siento, no entiendo – Im sorry, I don’t understand
- Disculpe – Excuse me
- Yo quiero – I want (useful for ordering food)
- La cuenta por favor – The bill please
- Quanto es – How much is it?
- Buenos dias – Good morning!
- Buenos tardes – Good afternoon!
- Buenos noches – Good night
- Hasta luego – See you later
- Una mesa para uno/dos/tres – A table for one/two/three…
- Dónde está – Where is…
- Gracias! – Thank you
- Tienes wifi? – Do you have wifi?
- Necesito ayuda – I need help
- Habla Inglés?
- Lo siento no puedo hablar español – Im sorry I cannot speak Spanish
Watch your personal belongings
Crime rating is low in Chiapas but nowhere in the world is completely devoid of crime. There are opportunists everywhere in the world and if you are going to find yourself a victim of crime in Chiapas, it is most likely going to be petty theft like pickpocketing or bag-snatching.
These things can be easily avoided. Make sure you have your eye on your personal belongings at all times.
Never store valuables such as your wallet or your phone in your back pocket. In crowded marketplaces and busy streets, walk with your backpack in front of you.
Theft-proof backpacks such as those offered by Pacsafe are a worthwhile investment if you travel a lot. They come with additional safety features compared to normal backpacks.
For example, they are slash-proof, waterproof, and come with TSA-approved locking devices.
They are a little more expensive than regular backpacks, sure. However, they tend to come with long, multi-year warranties.
It is better not to wear expensive jewelry, accessories, and designer items. People don’t really wear them in Chiapas and it is a surefire way to draw additional attention to yourself.
Similarly, don’t walk around with your expensive DSLR camera hanging around your neck. Keep it safely stored away in your bag.
If you go to a coffee shop in San Cristobal De Las Casas, Tuxtla Gutierrez, etc, never leave your laptop unattended. Take it with you to the counter or to the bathroom rather than asking other people to watch it for you.
FAQs about Staying Safe in Chiapas
Do you have any further questions about safety in Chiapas or planning a trip to this part of Mexico? The answers to some frequently asked questions on the topic are detailed below.
Hopefully, you will find the information that you are looking for there. If not, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
Is Chiapas safe for American tourists?
Chiapas is safe for American tourists and tourists from any other part of the world. This is a less common part of Mexico to travel to.
However, that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile to visit than more popular places like Puerto Vallarta or places in the Yucatan.
Follow the same common sense precautions as you would at home or anywhere else in the world and you will be just fine in Chiapas.
Is it safe to drive around Chiapas?
Renting a car in Mexico can give you a lot more freedom and flexibility in your schedule compared to having to depend on public transport. However, the road conditions and local people’s attitudes to driving differ significantly from one part of the country to another.
In tourist places like Quintana Roo, the Yucatan, and Baja California Sur, the road conditions are pretty good. In fact, you might not notice any difference compared to driving in the US!
Chiapas is a little more off the beaten path and some of the roads have potholes or are not as well maintained. People here often speed or drive dangerously so if you are considering renting a car, you need to be very aware of your surroundings.
Driving between tourist destinations in Chiapas is pretty safe. However, you need to be careful on the road between Palenque and San Cristobal De Las Casas and in the Ocosingo region
Is Chiapas safe to travel to in 2023? Final thoughts
Chiapas is a safe and wonderful place to visit. If you are planning a trip to Mexico, you may also enjoy reading these Mexico travel tips or this post on general Mexico travel safety. Have a wonderful time!
Buen Viaje! Melissa xo