Chiapas, a beautiful area bordered by Guatemala and the Pacific Ocean, is the southernmost state in Mexico. Wondering where to spend that upcoming week off? Fly to Chiapas, rent a car, and take the road trip of your life. 

Palenque offers visitors the chance to explore ancient palaces and temples of the Mayan civilization. Photo by toronja_azul

City of Tapachula

Tapachula is the perfect starting point for a road trip. Whether you arrive at lunchtime or midnight, Tapachula offers things to do. Daytime travelers can visit the archaeological zone of Izapa and see remains of the Mayan and Olmec civilizations. Afterward, you can stop by the House of Culture, located in the old city administrative building, and enjoy various shows and exhibitions throughout the year. At night, the neoclassic parish of San Agustín lights up and becomes the background for marimba concerts in Miguel Hidalgo Park. It doesn’t matter what time you arrive—Tapachula has something ready for you to enjoy.

Las Lagunas de Montebello (Montebello Lakes National Park)

A few hours away from Tapachula, Montebello Lakes National Park extends over 14,000 acres of protected land and forest, including 59 lakes, each with unique shapes, features, and colors. Camping, hiking, swimming, kayaking, and exploring the cavern Puente de Dios (God’s Bridge) are some of the available activities. If you’re feeling less adventurous, enjoy the view of the park while eating in one of its restaurants or hunker down in one of its many rentable cabins.

Ruins of Bonampak and Yaxchilán

Next, drive to the ruins in the ancient cities of Bonampak and Yaxchilán. There is nothing common about these two cities. Bonampak houses famous Mayan murals, which exhibit perfect examples of pre-Columbian art. 

Yaxchilán, which is north of Bonampak at the bank of the Usumacinta River, is famous for its well-preserved stone lintels, each depicting a different event in Mayan history. To reach this larger city, you’ll need to ride a boat through the jungle. 

Ruins of Palenque

One of the most studied and well-known cities of the Mayan civilization, Palenque has ruins that date from 100 BC to AD 800. Now excavated after centuries of being hidden by the jungle’s overgrowth, Palenque offers visitors the chance to explore ancient palaces and temples, study bas-relief carvings and hieroglyphics, examine great stone blocks of an ancient aqueduct, and walk in one of the first sports fields in history. You can also climb down into Emperor Pacal’s tomb within the Temple of the Inscriptions, or simply wander through the courtyards and take in the majesty of the ruins. 

After a day of exploring the ancient city, relax by swimming in the famous Baño de la Reina (Bath of the Queen), a refreshing stream that is only a 10-minute walk through the jungle. 

Las Cascadas de Agua Azul (Blue-Water Cascades)

One hour from the city of Palenque, a long chain of waterfalls creates the natural park known as Las Cascadas de Agua Azul. You can hire a guide, hike along the banks, and see one cascade after another. The larger cascades are as high as 20 feet. You can even swim in certain areas of the park. Because of the popularity of Agua Azul, schedule your visit for early in the morning. 

San Cristóbal de las Casas

Considered the cultural capital of Chiapas, San Cristóbal offers a view of Colonial Mexico. Filled with cobblestone streets, the city is a reminder of the days when the first Spaniards arrived in Chiapas. The hand-carved temple of Santo Domingo is one of the main attractions of the city. Its majestic workmanship is considered one of the best examples of colonial craftsmanship in Mexico.

Six blocks from this temple, the public market gives visitors the opportunity to buy souvenirs, including the famous dolls of El Subcomandante Marcos (the spokesperson of the Zapatista movement) and different types of textiles. Many of these beautiful handicrafts are made by natives who gather early each morning in the market to sell their products. It is not uncommon to find people dressed in native clothing all around the market and to see women with babies attached to their back by a rebozo (Mexican scarf). Some indigenous people don’t speak Spanish; however, this doesn’t stop the relationship between tourists and natives. 

El Cañón del Sumidero offers a majestic view for travelers. Photo by Thomassin Mickaël

The market also provides a great opportunity to taste some of the traditional dishes of the state: candies, sweet breads, and even local favorites like tamales de iguana (iguana tamales). 

Tuxtla Gutiérrez

Tuxtla, the capital of Chiapas, is a big city with beautiful colonial architecture. With restaurants that will satisfy all types of appetites and events at all hours of the day, Tuxtla offers something for everyone. Only a few miles from the city is El Cañón del Sumidero. You cannot leave Chiapas without visiting this place; the Sumidero Canyon provides a view straight out of a fantasy novel. The national park has a museum, art and craft stores, and areas for rappelling and boating. 

Whether you visit the state hoping to have great adventures or just to take a break from a fast-paced life, Chiapas is the perfect place for a week off.

—David Rivera