You can marvel at incredible cascading waterfalls, stroll charming cobblestone streets in highland towns, immerse yourself into colorful indigenous cultures, get lost in the Lacandon jungle, explore ancient Mayan ruins, and so much more.
If you have a love for outdoor activities, culture, and natural wonders, then you, too, will find yourself swooning for Chiapas.
And did you know? Chiapas is actually one of the poorest states in Mexico, but it is the richest in terms of natural resources and diversity. The state often gets overlooked as a tourist destination, but that is slowly changing as more and more people discover its best-kept secrets.
After living in this state for a couple of months, I want to share with you all the best places to visit and things to do that you didn’t even know existed.
Here is my ultimate bucket list for things to do in Chiapas MX!
15 Adventurous Things to Do in Chiapas, Mexico
Before we dive into this amazing list of things to do in Chiapas, first you should know how best to navigate this state and visit all these locations.
You will first land at Tuxtla Gutiérrez Airport (TGZ). If you plan on driving a lot in the state, I suggest going ahead and renting a car from the airport since you will get the best rates (it also makes it easier if your return trip is departing from TGZ).
Next, while Chiapas is extremely safe, there are some roads that you should avoid driving yourself. For example, avoid driving on your own to Palenque. The route is long, curvy, and the Zapatista (EZLN) political group controls part of the territory and can sometimes ask vehicles to stop on the highway for bribes. Nothing to be scared of, but just so you know that some trips will be better off if you book them through a tour agency from San Cristobal.
Second, most of these places can be visited on a day trip from San Cris, but I’d highly recommend planning multi-day trips because they each deserve at least 1-2 full days to explore. The longer day trips (i.e. to Palenque or to El Chiflón) are also quite exhausting, lasting often 12 hours or more, and don’t allow you enough “free time” to explore.
If you’re only looking to do a highlight reel of Chiapas, then that may be okay. But otherwise, I seriously recommend spending more time in each place by going on your own.
Now let’s discover all the incredible things to do in Chiapas!
1. Fall in Love with San Cristóbal de Las Casas
San Cristóbal de Las Casas is the pueblo mágico of Chiapas to visit.
Set in the highlands and teeming with cultural and historical attractions, no trip to Chiapas is complete without passing through (or basing yourself in) San Cristobal. It’s here, where you can witness the melting pot of indigenous cultures, go on exciting day trips, shop at sprawling local markets, and satisfy your belly with all the food options one could ask for.
Of all the things to do in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, my favorite is to simply stroll down the pedestrian-friendly Andador Guadalupe to marvel at the well-preserved colonial architecture and visit all the colorfully-painted churches across town (there are at least a dozen!).
San Cris is the place, after all, from which to explore greater Chiapas. You will find both adventure and comfort here. Actually, most people who visit end up extending their stay so go ahead and plan a few extra days to fully enjoy San Cris and its environs!
2. Cruise Through the Majestic Sumidero Canyon
One of the most sought-after things to do in Chiapas is to take a boat tour through the Cañón del Sumidero (Sumidero Canyon) on the Rio Grijalva.
Not quite as large as the Grand Canyon in the USA, but big enough to invigorate your senses, the Sumidero Canyon is worth visiting if nothing but for the chance to spot its endangered wildlife (spider monkeys, river crocs, birds) and its stunning viewpoints which give way to magnificent panoramic views.
The Sumidero Canyon is considered one of the natural gems of the state and is, therefore, an unmissable thing to do in Chiapas!
Boat tours depart daily from the embarkment points near the magic town of Chiapa de Corzo (more on this wonderful little place later). I would recommend visiting both places on the same day since they are right beside each other and are not too far away from San Cris (1-hour drive).
3. Stand in Awe Underneath the Cascadas El Chiflón
Waterfalls mark the state of Chiapas with their alluring shades of turquoise blue, roaring water, and stunning natural landscapes. One of the most famous of them all is none other than the El Chiflón Waterfalls, located in the southeastern part of the state near the town of Comitán and the Guatemalan border.
Visiting El Chiflón and its five waterfalls is, thus far, one of my favorite things to do in Chiapas. The colors of the mineral pools, during the dry season, are simply stunning and will make you just want to jump right into its refreshing waters. You can also hike, camp, zip line, and picnic at El Chiflón, making it worthy of an extended day trip or overnighter.
Since chasing waterfalls is one of the iconic things to do in Chiapas, I’d highly recommend visiting the best of them all at El Chiflón. Getting there takes 2.5 hours driving from San Cristobal and only costs $50 MXN pesos for the entrance fee.
4. Wander the Famous Palenque Ruins
Palenque is perhaps the most well-known place to visit in Chiapas and one of the most famous Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico. As such, it is at the very top of people’s bucket lists for things to do in Chiapas.
It’s here where you can explore exceptionally-preserved ancient Mayan ruins dating back thousands of years ago between 226 BC to 799 AD, during which Palenque rose to the top of the power hierarchy, making it one of the most influential Mayan cities equal to that of Calakmul in Campeche, Chichen Itza in Yucatan, and Tikal in Guatemala.
Palenque, and its nearby waterfalls, are best explored on a multi-day trip from San Cristobal. The town itself is not much to marvel at, but you will want the extra time to explore the ruins, waterfalls, and the wild selva Lacandona (Lacandon jungle).
Since visiting the Palenque ruins is the most popular thing to do in Chiapas, there are many guided tours that can take you there (both day trips and overnighters). You can also hitch an OCC bus from downtown San Cris that goes to Palenque overnight that leaves at 10:30 PM and arrives at 7 AM.
5. Witness Syncretism & Sacrifice Inside San Juan Chamula Church
Syncretism and sacrifice? If you have no idea what I mean, then you have to visit the indigenous Tzotzil Maya town of San Juan Chamula. There, inside its early 16th-century church, takes place syncretist religious practices – the mixing of ancient Mayan beliefs with that of modern Catholicism. The result is one enormous experience of the senses.
Thousands of candles melt into the floor, chicken necks are wrung in a sacrificial ceremony to heal sick family members, and women, men, and children chant prayers underneath Catholic patron saints while drinking a fizzy concoction of Coca Cola and pox – the local liquor made of fermented corn – to burp out evil spirits.
As I said, it’s an experience of the senses.
The church, and its syncretist culture, are unique to this very town in the state of Chiapas. In fact, it’s the only one of its kind in the world. No photography or videography is allowed inside, but observing the mixing of religious beliefs and traditions is arguably one of the most unique things to do in Chiapas.
6. Shop for Textiles at the Women’s Weaving Co-ops in Zinacantán
Right next to San Juan Chamula is another indigenous Tzotzil Maya town worth visiting called San Lorenzo Zinacantán.
Here, you won’t find a church of chicken sacrifices, but you will find an inspiring women’s weaving co-op that employs dozens of women in the town who weave and hand-embroider traditional textiles and clothing featuring floral patterns.
The women, similar to those of Chamula, have their own style of clothing which can be seen throughout this village, and around San Cristobal de Las Casas, as locals often travel in between the towns to sell their fares.
Zinacantán also boasts a lively Sunday market as well as Feast Days during which massive celebrations take place in honor of the town’s patron saints.
Both Chamula and Zinacantán are quickly becoming popular things to do in Chiapas as they are incredibly unique places to visit.
7. Stroll in the Magic Town of Chiapa de Corzo
Chiapa de Corzo is another one of Chiapa’s endearing Pueblo Mágicos (designated “Magic Towns” by the Mexican government) and one of the first cities to be founded by the Spanish in the early 16th century.
In Chiapa de Corzo, you can immerse yourself in local life and eat your way through the market featuring special candies and snacks typical of the region, visit its one-of-a-kind Marimba Museum (as Chiapas is famous for the marimba instrument), marvel at its Mudejar-style fountain La Pila, and witness the traditional regional costumes worn by the Parachicos Dancers.
Oh, and of course explore the Sumidero Canyon from above (its viewpoints) and below (boat tour)! If you have a special appreciation for culture, music, and history, then you will adore this charming town in Chiapas.
8. Visit the Sparkling Blue Lagos de Montebello
The Lagos de Montebello (Montebello Lakes) comprises 59 natural lakes in the southeastern part of Chiapas, right along the Guatemalan border.
In fact, one of the coolest things to do in Chiapas visits the Lago Internacional, or International Lake, where you can officially “cross” the border into Guatemala from Mexico – no passport needed. The mountains form a natural barrier, but you can go to the crossing point and take pictures and actually stand on Guatemalan territory.
Beyond the Lago Internacional, there are only ten lakes of the 59 that can be visited. The most popular and stunning are:
- Cinco Lagos (Five Lakes)
- Montebello Lake
- Lake Pojoj
- Lake Tziscao
- Lagunas de Colores
The Montebello Lakes are beautiful and well-worth visiting on a beautiful sunny day when the colors of the lakes pop. On overcast days, however, the lakes just appear like any other. Nonetheless, considering that you can rent rafts, swim, camp, and hike here, visiting the Lagos de Montebello is considered one of the best things to do in Chiapas.
9. Witness the World’s Largest Natural Arch at Arco del Tiempo
Adventuring to the Arco del Tiempo, or Arc of Time, lost in the jungle, is one of the most incredible things to do in Chiapas. The arch, towering over 518 ft (158 m) high, is said to be the largest natural stone arch in the world! (If you understand a bit of Spanish then the above video by Sin Postal covers it wonderfully!)
Our friends went here on a 2-night camping trip and said it was simply mesmerizing. But getting there isn’t for the faint of heart. Not only do you have to drive the four hours to get there, but you need to start early in the morning and hike 3-4 hours into the jungle and then rappel down the Canyon Rio La Venta walls into the water below where you can camp underneath the arch on its small sandy inlets.
Getting to see the Arc of Time is one of the best things to do in Chiapas and, I’d argue, in Mexico. It is truly a natural wonder untouched by man and is managed only by the locals who live there.
What’s more, the canyon and arch are said to be over 87 million years old, and you can see cave art on the canyon’s vertical walls left by the ancient Zoque communities that lived sometime between 5,000 – 10,000 years ago.
Sadly, the Arc of Time was closed due to the pandemic during our stay in San Cristobal. I know we will be back in the future, though, to experience for ourselves this magical geological wonder in Chiapas. If you have the chance to go, do it!
10. Explore the Jungly Ruins at Yaxchilán
For a truly immersive experience in the Lacandon jungle, head to the ancient Mayan ruins site of Yaxchilán. Yaxchilán, meaning green stones in Maya, sits lost right on the banks of the Usumacinta River which divides Mexico from Guatemala.
Together with other nearby sites such as Palenque, Piedras Negras, and Bonampak, it formed part of the Usumacinta province, and thus the architectural style you see here is typical of the region.
Yaxchilán is one of the least-visited ruins sites in Mexico, seeing as it’s harder to reach. You literally have to take a boat on the river to get there since the jungle is so thick there are no car routes.
In Chiapas, it is current to hear people speak about Yaxchilán, especially on multi-day trips combined with Palenque. Likewise, you will find many tours that visit both Yaxchilán and Bonampak from San Cristobal, which leads me to the next thing to do in Chiapas!
11. Marvel at the Ancient Painted Murals at Bonampak
Bonampak is often visited in conjunction with Yaxchilán since the two are only 1-hour apart from each other. Like Yaxchilán, Bonampak is seemingly lost in the Lacandon jungle and was only discovered by non-Mayans in the mid-20th-century.
What sets Bonampak apart however from other Mayan ruins are its colorful painted murals which can be seen inside the mesmerizing Temple of the Murals. These murals depict violent battles between the Mayas, debunking any prior theories that the Mayas were peaceful people.
If you have a craving for adventure, I can’t think of a better thing to do than to make the journey to the far-reaching corners of Chiapas to explore both Yaxchilán and Bonampak (before they get too popular and developed).
12. Splash in Agua Azul, Roberto Barrios, & Misol-Ha Waterfalls
As I briefly touched upon before, Chiapas is home to a diverse range of breathtaking waterfalls, making visiting them one of the most popular activities to do in Chiapas.
The three waterfalls of Agua Azul, Roberto Barrios, and Misol-Ha waterfalls are easily visited together since they are along the route toward Palenque. Most guided tours will combine a stopover at the first and last of the three on the route there, and at Roberto Barrios on the way back.
All three are worth visiting in my opinion, but Agua Azul is the most famous and thus most popular (translation: crowded). Roberto Barrios is still gaining traction as a popular place to visit in Chiapas so you may want to start there. This is another reason why I would recommend visiting Palenque for a few days, rather than on a day trip because there are simply too many things to see and do in one short day.
The falls are best visited during the dry winter months, namely from November-May when the water is crystal clear and glistening with a beautiful turquoise color.
13. Hike up to the Sacred Don Lauro Mountain
Love hiking and rock climbing? Then you will love going on an adventure to the top of a sacred mountain in San Cristobal at Cerro Don Lauro.
Don Lauro Mountain was named after a Chiapaneco medicine man who bi-annually hosts workshops and ceremonies in the Don Lauro Ecological Reserve.
You can go rock climbing at Don Lauro for epic vertical views, or simply go hiking to the top of the mountain at el mirador for panoramic views of the valley and city below.
The small trek is short yet intense and worth it if you are craving an escape to the outdoors during your time in San Cris.
14. Camp at El Aguacero Waterfall
What?! MORE waterfalls? Yes! In this beautiful state, you can expect many waterfall adventures! El Aguacero is found hidden inside the Biosphere Reserve Selva Ocote and features a whispy, cascading waterfall tumbling over mossy green rocks into a refreshing pool below.
Not only can you camp at El Aguacero, but you can also go caving inside the El Encanto cave, go trekking in the surrounding jungle, swim, and watch for wildlife.
What’s more, since El Aguacero is essentially at the start of the Río La Venta Canyon, so you could combine a trip here and then journey further to reach the natural wonder of El Arco del Tiempo.
15. Visit The 3 Ecotourism Parks of Arcotete, Rancho Nuevo, & Grutas del Mamut
Last but not least, if you still have energy left, one of the last adventurous things to do in Chiapas is to visit all three ecotourism parks surrounding San Cristobal de Las Casas.
El Arcotete: El Arcotete is the perfect mini day trip from San Cris if you love climbing, hiking, and caving. Marvel at the small (yet impressive) natural stone arch or climb up stone steps into its ceiling to climb through limestone caverns.
Rancho Nuevo: The Grutas del Rancho Nuevo is another ecotourism park featuring a large network of caves that extend over 1800 ft (550 m) deep. You can also go hiking, climbing, and camping.
Grutas del Mamut: You guessed it – more caves! The Grutas del Mamut (Mammoth Caves) cost only $20 pesos to enter. Inside you can explore the underground caves and rock formations – one of which may or may not be in the shape of a mammoth!
Of course, there are PLENTY more things to do in Chiapas but I will leave you with this list for now! Before you go, make sure to check out all my travel guides to Chiapas and beyond!
If you have any questions about the above things to do in Chiapas or this magical state in general, feel free to drop your questions/thoughts in the comments below!
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