Going on an ecotourism boat tour through the spectacular Sumidero Canyon (El Cañòn del Sumidero in Spanish) in Chiapas, Mexico is a must!
A day trip to this deep natural canyon will reward you with majestic views thanks to its towering steep walls that soar up to 0.6 miles (1 km) high and its abundant wildlife, both of which you will be able to enjoy from the seat of your boat ride.
The experience takes you on a thrilling river tour, on the Rio Grijalva, where you will have the chance to see crocodiles, spider monkeys, endemic flora, colorful cave walls, a misty waterfall, and birds, and learn about the history of Sumidero Canyon (all explained in Spanish by the community boat guide/driver).
The Cañòn del Sumidero is the second most visited attraction in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico, after the Palenque Ruins.
The canyon itself is housed within the protected Sumidero Canyon National Park, which stretches nearly 22,000 hectares across the state of Chiapas — so it’s pretty huge!
Many people compare the Sumidero Canyon to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, as they both have rivers that carved them out over millions of years. However, the Sumidero Canyon is only 8 miles (13 km) long, whereas the Grand Canyon is 227 miles (445 km) long.
But it’s precisely this accessibility that attracts so many visitors to come to see the Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas on a fun and scenic 2-hour boat tour.
Here’s everything you need to know about visiting the Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas!
How to Visit the Sumidero Canyon on a Thrilling Boat Tour
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How to Get to El Canon del Sumidero
Getting to Sumidero Canyon is fairly easy. The main embarkment to do the boat tour is located in Cahuaré, just 10 minutes from the Magic Town of Chiapa de Corzo. On the map, it is called “Embarcadero Cahuaré”.
From San Cristobal de Las Casas
Getting to the Sumidero Canyon from San Cristobal de Las Casas takes around 50 minutes – 1 hour by bus or shuttle van. The easiest way to do it is by booking a tour from San Cristobal and then having the transport taken care of for you.
However, you can go on your own by bus or colectivo. It costs around 70 pesos from San Cris to Tuxtla. Ask to get dropped off at Chiapa de Corzo and then from the highway, hop on a small colectivo marked “embarcadero” which will take you to Cahuaré.
Most national tourists visit Sumidero Canyon from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the state’s bustling capital city. If you are traveling to Chiapas and just arrived at the Tuxtla International Airport, then you can visit the canyon from there.
That option would take you 30 minutes driving via Highway 190 — I’m not sure about prices. You could also do an organized tour from Tuxtla or hop on a colectivo that costs around 20 pesos and go on your own.
From Chiapa de Corzo
If you are already in Chiapa de Corzo visiting for the day, then you will have no trouble getting to the main boat embarkment at Cahuaré. The local colectivos run frequently there/back and cost only 13 pesos.
Sumidero Canyon Tour
There are several different tours you can do to visit Sumidero Canyon, but the best we found (and experienced) is a tour that includes:
- Transport to Cahuaré
- Tickets to the Sumidero National Park AND the 2-hr boat tour
- 1-hour self-guided walking tour of Chiapa de Corzo
- Transport back to your destination (for us, it was San Cristobal)
Note: Some tours also include a visit to the viewpoints (“miradores”) atop Sumidero Canyon. However, due to current travel restrictions, we were told they are not fully accessible and only available 2 days out of the week. I believe I also heard it’s limited to 150 people/day or max 4 persons/vehicle.
Should you decide to book a tour, note that they are not guided, per se.
As in, it only includes tickets and transport. Explanations on the river tour are provided by the boat captain (separate from your tour guide), who at the end walks through the boat aisle with his hat in hand asking for tips. We offered $50 pesos as a couple.
Then, it is completely self-guided when you are dropped off in Chiapa de Corzo by your tour guide/shuttle driver for a quick lunch/free time.
So is taking a tour worth it? Let’s compare the costs.
Costs to Visit Cañón del Sumidero
Organized Tours: From San Cristobal de Las Casas, most tours are priced around $450 to $550 MXN. They include transport from San Cris to the boat embarkment, transport from there to Chiapa de Corzo, and the return trip. They also include the Sumidero Canyon National Park fee and the cost of the boat river tour. Note that the total price doesn’t include gratuities for the boat driver and your shuttle driver.
DIY Visit on Your Own: If you want to visit Sumidero Canyon on your own from San Cristobal de Las Casas, you will need to consider the cost of transport (about $150 pesos roundtrip), the fee for entry into the national park ($36 pesos), and the price to join the 2-hour boat trip into the Sumidero Canyon from Cahuaré ($270 pesos). All combined, that adds up to be around the same cost as the organized tours (but with the hassle of finding your own transport).
Note that in either case, you will need to wait at the Cahuaré embarkment until the boats are at capacity with 20 people. The boats have 10x rows with 2 seats on each side of the boat. You are required to wear a life jacket and I recommend you wear sunscreen and secure any hats or accessories down as the wind gets quite whippy when the boat speeds up! Also, the boat tour will last for 2 hours, so use the restroom before you go.
What to See Inside Sumidero Canyon
Now comes the fun part! The 2-hour, 17-mile (30 km) boat ride through Sumidero Canyon is simply gorgeous. You will see wildlife such as river crocodiles and spider monkeys, stunning waterfalls, and hidden caves, before arriving at the Chicoasén Dam.
The boat trip will start out slowly on the banks of the Grijalva River, which originates in Guatemala, in search of wildlife. Your boat driver will point out hidden iguanas in the trees, crocodiles basking in the sun, and the passing flock of white herons or cormorants as he begins to explain to you about the canyon.
You will first pass under a great bridge before entering the canyon, where the canyon walls begin to narrow. Along the way, you will have multiple opportunities to take pictures of the spectacular views while your boat guide explains a little bit more in detail about what you’re seeing.
On a side note, be careful with your camera and valuables as you can sometimes get splashed by the waves (especially if you’re seated at the back of the boat!).
After slowing to marvel at the curious spider monkeys swinging in the trees, our boat tour took us to the Christmas Tree waterfall (“Cascada del Arbol de Navidad”) which you might guess resembles an enormous Christmas Tree jutting out of the canyon wall.
We got up right next to the flora growing out of the canyon wall and could feel the trickling of the water flowing from above. The waterfall was misty and magical looking, but I expect it to be even more so during the rainy season when the cascade is bigger and more powerful.
Another thing you will see inside the Sumidero Canyon tour is the Cave of Colors (“Cueva de Colores”) which houses an altar of the Virgin of Guadelupe and a ceiling rich in natural minerals that turned the roof pink!
Every December 12th, in celebration of the Day of the Virgin Guadelupe, a pilgrimage to the sanctuary takes place and the enclave becomes full of boats. To reach the altar, one must climb up a rickety ladder clinging to the canyon walls.
At some point, your boat guide will also point out the five viewpoints that you can visit on foot at the top of the canyon. They are La Ceiba, La Coyota, El Roblar, El Tepehuaje, and Los Chiapa, where you can eat at the restaurant with a magnificent view. The tallest canyon wall towers an astonishing 3,300 ft or 1,000 meters above while the depth of the water sinks down to 328 ft or 100 m.
Once you pass through the canyon, you will come to the hydroelectric dam of Chicoasén. While this dam isn’t much of a marvel to look at, there’s more to it than meets the eye. It actually powers over half of Mexico and is one of the largest in the world!
It’s here, where you will receive the last explanations from your boat guide before he climbs down to collect any tips. You will then get tied up next to a “boat tienda” – aka a mini-store on the water, where two hustling men will tempt you with beers or homemade micheladas and a variety of typical Mexican crisps and snacks smothered in hot sauce. I must say, it was pretty cool to sip on a michelada and enjoy the warm sun in such a unique place!
Inside the Cave of Colors
Responsible Tips for Visiting Sumidero Canyon
The Grijalva River is becoming more polluted each year, mainly due to irresponsible human activity, littering, and mismanagement of solid waste. There are around 15 municipalities surrounding the Sumidero Canyon, and all of the trash gets swept into the river with each flood and rainy season.
While ecotourism is helping to raise awareness of this issue, Rio Grijalva’s trash problem isn’t going away. Already in 2007, it was reported in research by the University of New Mexico that there were already 5,000 metric tons of garbage piling up on average, after the rainy season.
Some days, after heavy rain, the stretch of the river becomes impassable by boats, and tourism efforts have to be closed down for a week until authorities can remove the bulk of the garbage.
With that said, it’s easy to pretend that human activity doesn’t reach (and disastrously affect) the peaceful Grijalva river and the wildlife that calls it home. Please remember to discard your trash properly and help raise awareness of this issue!
What to Wear on the Canon del Sumidero Boat Trip
If you’re coming from San Cristobal, the first thing you’ll notice when exiting the shuttle van is the temperature. Chiapa de Corzo and Tuxtla are much lower in altitude. So it is much warmer there than in the mountains of San Cris.
I brought a sweater in my bag that I put my arms through, especially for the return trip back through the canyon when the boat doesn’t stop and you’re going fast.
Where to Stay Near Sumidero Canyon
It’s much smaller than Tuxtla and more charming as well. Plus, you will be right beside the Sumidero Canyon National Park for a full day of adventure!
- Show up early to beat the crowds! Between 10-11 am is a good time to embark on the boat to have a nice light inside the canyon.
- Bring small pesos for gratuities (you’re expected to tip the boat driver and your tour guide).
- Keep all trash with you until you exit the boat.
- Wear or pack sunscreen in case your seat in the boat is in full sun.
- Make sure to protect your camera when the boat is moving because sometimes you get wet!
- Use the restrooms at Cahuaré before you go on the boat tour (cost $5 pesos).
- Have lunch in the magical town of Chiapa de Corzo to visit the La Pila Fountain and shop for colorful crafts.
I hope this travel guide to the Canon del Sumidero in Chiapas, Mexico helps plan your trip! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out or drop a comment below.
Before you go, check out my other guides to Chiapas, Mexico!
- San Juan Chamula & Its Church of Syncretism & Sacrifice
- Visit Zinacantán & the Indigenous Women’s Weaving Co-op
- 5 Adventurous Things to Do in El Arcotete Ecotourism Park
- Inside Casa Na Bolom: The House Museum of Lacandon Culture
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