Reasons to Visit Chiapas, Mexico
Chiapas: The Chiapas conflict (Spanish: Conflicto de Chiapas) refers to the 1994 Zapatista uprising, the 1995 Zapatista crisis and their aftermath, and tensions between the indigenous peoples and subsistence farmers in the Mexican state of Chiapas from the 1990s to the present day.
The Zapatista uprising started in January 1994 and lasted less than two weeks before a ceasefire was agreed upon. The principal belligerents of a subsection of the conflict were the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Spanish: Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional; ELZN) and the government of Mexico. Negotiations between the government and Zapatistas led to agreements being signed but were often not complied within the following years as the peace process stagnated.
This resulted in an increasing division between communities with ties to the government and communities that sympathized with the Zapatistas. Social tensions, armed conflict, and para-military incidents increased, culminating in the killing of 45 people in the village of Acteal in 1997 by an anti-Zapatista militia Though at a low level, rebel activity continues and violence occasionally erupts between Zapatista supporters and anti-Zapatista militias along with the government. The last related incident occurred in 2014 when a Zapatista-affiliated teacher was killed and 15 more wounded in Chiapas.
Chiapas was linked with Guatemala in colonial days, but it became a Mexican state in 1824; its boundaries were fixed in 1882. In the 19th and 20th centuries, most of its people toiled in poverty under a small landowning elite, although some joined communal farms (ejidos) after the Mexican Revolution. The Pan-American Highway and a railway were extended across Chiapas in the mid-20th century, yet the state attracted little subsequent investment. In 1994 large numbers of both impoverished Indians and middle-class residents, protesting economic and social inequalities, created the Zapatista National Liberation Army and launched an armed uprising that continued into the 21st century.
The executive branch of state government is led by a governor, who is elected to a single term of six years. Members of the unicameral legislature (the State Congress) are elected to three-year terms. Chiapas is divided into local governmental units called municipios (municipalities), each of which is headquartered in a prominent city, town, or village. Tuxtla is home to most of the state’s cultural institutions, including the Regional Museum of Chiapas (founded 1939), with archaeological and historical collections; the Autonomous University of Chiapas (1975); and the University of Arts and Sciences of Chiapas (founded 1893; university status 1995). Area 28,653 square miles (74,211 square km). Pop. (2010) 4,796,580
Chilly pine-forest highlands, sultry rainforest jungles, and attractive colonial cities exist side by side within Mexico’s southernmost state, a region awash with the legacy of Spanish rule and the remnants of ancient Maya civilization. Palenque and Yaxchilán are evocative vestiges of powerful Maya kingdoms, and the presence of modern Maya is a constant reminder of the region’s rich and uninterrupted history. The colonial hubs of San Cristóbal de las Casas and Chiapa de Corzo give way to sandbar beaches and fertile plots of coffee and cacao in the Soconusco, and for outdoor adventurers, excursions to Laguna Miramar and the Cañón del Sumidero are unmissable.
There were a lot of things that we were expecting from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas: low prices, a colorful city in San Cristobal, and mountain views. What we weren’t expecting was to discover a destination that appears to be designed for outdoor lovers like us.
If you love waterfalls, wildlife, and bargains, here are 11 reasons to get yourself to Chiapas immediately and amazing things to do in Chiapas while you are there.
Rainbow Falls at El Chiflon became our new favorite waterfall the second that we laid eyes on it.
Enormous and cascading into a beautiful turquoise pool, one of our favorite aspects of the Rainbow Falls is that rather than falling in one giant bucket of water, it falls along the cliff it runs over–the effect is beautiful.
Some of the smaller waterfalls at the park were also beautiful–this one reminded me forcibly of the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia:
Hike to El Chilfon and don’t want to head back down? Don’t worry: as long as you didn’t go up the “wrong” (left) side like us, you can zipline most of the way back down! Our wrong turn worked to our benefit, however–looking at where the viewing platform is on the opposite side of the waterfall, I think that we got a better view.
When we head back to this area at some point in the future, visiting El Chilfon again will be one of our first things to do in Chiapas.
I never expected to find a view that reminded me of the karst cliffs of Thailand while in Mexico–but the Lagos de Montebello fit the bill.
These lakes are said to often be covered in mist, which held true for when we visited, but they were still beautiful (even if we didn’t feel up for kayaking).
Enormous amounts of incense. Chanting in a language that was not Spanish or Latin. No pews. Straw all over the floor. Hundreds of candles burning directly onto the ground, no candle holders insight. A chicken in a box, waiting to be sacrificed at the end of a ritual.
No priests. Very few crucifixes. Plenty of statues of saints. One small Jesus statue off to the side of the altar.
Is this a Catholic church? That’s what the Templo de San Juan considers itself, but it is, without a doubt, the most unique house of worship that I’ve ever entered. During our time there, I couldn’t help but keep thinking: the Spanish seem to have only gotten about 30% of the way there with the Christian conversion of this group.
The church, which is located in the village of Chamula, strictly bans all photography inside and was vehement about enforcing it–and yet I have never wanted to take photos so badly in my life.
Not all the ruins in Mexico are available to climb anymore, including the famous pyramids at Chichen Itza. That is for the best–Angkor Wat is a great example of a world-class site that is being damaged by its numerous visitors.
That being said… it’s still incredibly fun to climb ruins, and when you find sites (usually lesser-known ones) that let you scramble over them, it’s a blast.
Palenque is a perfect example of this–the best views of the city are from sitting on top of some of its buildings. Admiring this view was one of our favorite things to do in Chiapas!
It’s easy to overlook the city of San Cristobal in all of the nature that surrounds it, but there are plenty of things to do in San Cristobal, and the city is also worthy of some attention.
San Cristobal makes a perfect base in Chiapas: it’s reasonably priced, has plenty of transportation and tourism companies available to arrange excursions, there are tons of food and dining options (we had our first Pad Thai since Asia–definitely not as good as on Koh Tao, but a noble effort!), and it’s so colorful!
Due to its location to the southeast of the country, Chiapas has seven different ecosystems, which gives it a privileged geography that is both lovely and odd. Explore jungles, forests, and mangroves as you navigate the waters of its rivers and waterfalls. Marvel at the natural beauty of this region.
Although Chiapas is part of the Mayan World, it also ranks second in Mexico in terms of ethnic diversity. In this State people, language and traditions merge into one.
If you visit Chiapas then don’t miss out on the bread soup, tamales of chipilin, corn, saffron and tascalate; local sweets, pozol, coffee, fruit ice cream, the delicious chocolate or digestives like comiteco or pox. We share a list of the “must try” in Chiapas.
Shote with momo
When you find yourself in Palenque, taste this dish also known as shuti broth, which is a dish prepared with river snail boiled and holy herb.
A type of dish that is the so-called “Mexican snacks (antojitos mexicanos)”. It has the most popular recipe of the traditional food of many parts of the country, especially during the national day celebrations, in September.
In San Cristobal de las Casas, the mix of different cultures and the European influence can be seen in delicious cold meat and typical dishes such as tachilhuil based on pork giblets.
Pork meat baked in a casserole claypot, seasoned with chilis, big chilis, oregano, thyme, tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic and a dash of vinegar. Tartare Steak The dish came to Chiapas from the migration of Germans in the nineteenth century, only the chef Marta Zepeda has added Simojovel chilli sauce, lemon juice, and salt to stimulate the palate.
Mayan spirit drink used during the healing rituals in communities like San Juan Chamula and it’s made with corn, spring water, sugar, and wheat bran.
Jaguares De Chiapas
I love canyons–they’re a great reminder of how enormous the Earth really is.
The walls of Sumidero Canyon reach over a kilometer high in some points, and there’s nothing more relaxing than enjoying a slow boat ride through it–as long as you’re not scared of alligators! We spotted a couple of adults and one baby sunning itself during our ride. In general, Chiapas has a humid, tropical climate. In the north, in the area bordering Tabasco, near Teapa, rainfall can average more than 3,000 mm (120 in) per year.
In the past, natural vegetation in this region was lowland, tall perennial rainforest, but this vegetation has been almost completely cleared to allow agriculture and ranching. Rainfall decreases moving towards the Pacific Ocean, but it is still abundant enough to allow the farming of bananas and many other tropical crops near Tapachula. On the several parallel “sierras” or mountain ranges running along the center of Chiapas, the climate can be quite temperate and foggy, allowing the development of cloud forests like those of the Reserva de la Biosfera el Triunfo, home to a handful of resplendent quetzals and horned guans.
Capital De Chiapas
The years after the revolution saw several agrarian reforms, and through Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution the encomienda system was abolished and the right to communal land and other resources for the people of Mexico was granted in accordance with the principles set forth by Zapata. This part of the Constitution more specifically gave the traditionally communal indigenous groups within the country the “legal capacity to enjoy common possession of the lands, forests, and waters belonging to them or which have been or may be restored to them.” Thus, the ejido system was created, which organized lands that we’re able to be worked by various members of rural and indigenous communities, but was often sold off to multinational corporations. The compromise recognized the right of individuals to own private property and of associations, whether Indian or other, to similarly own property, thereby allowing for security, safety, and property of the mostly Spanish upper class whilst elevating Indian and Meztizo groups to equality before the law while simultaneously allowing them to retain their traditional pre-colonial and colonial customs and rights.
However, since the issues of material and political equality were more complex than simple Marxist land class problems, rather than instantly bringing about an increase in material wealth and standard of living, the living conditions of most of the country remained as before. This was especially true in the Yucatán peninsula where stubborn resistance of the Mayan population along with complex historical development features, kept the geographical area divided between an almost wholly European property-owning and wage-earning population living along the coasts and certain inland areas and the interior which in essence remained a Mayan country of collective ownership. Consequently, removed from the overall Mexican economic system, the native Mayan Indian nation remained as a free but marginalized underclass much the same as before the revolution.
How poor is Chiapas?
Chiapas has the highest poverty rate (74.7%) among all Mexican states. The top 10 Mexican states by poverty rate are Chiapas, Guerrero, Puebla, Oaxaca, Tlaxcala, Michoacán, Zacatecas, Hidalgo, Veracruz, San Luis Potosí.
Is it safe to visit Chiapas?
Although the EZLN is still active and maintains a few strongholds in Chiapas, things are relatively peaceful and there is no threat to tourists. Travelers are advised to respect any roadblocks they may come across in rural areas.