If you ever find yourself in Mexico’s southernmost state, consider yourself lucky! Chiapas is one of Mexico’s most exciting regions to visit and is a perfect place for those seeking adventure. There are many incredible Mayan Ruins worth visiting and an abundance of natural wonders located in the jungles, such as waterfalls and incredible canyons. The falls at Agua Azul are famous for having crystal blue water which cascades over the limestone and is one of the most beautiful places in Chiapas.
Both of us have been on adventures into Chiapas, and we will admit that we need to go back for further exploration. There are many famous towns to base yourself from – Palenque or San Cristobal are good places to start – where you explore from. We have made a promise to ourselves that we will return in the near future. We have so much more exploring of this beautiful state and we look forward to sharing those adventures with the world.
Mexico is best known for its coastlines, and for good reason; the country is blessed with many incredible beaches, and these top-rated resort towns are where most tourists flock to. Many people don’t leave their hotels. The problem is, if you don’t venture inland from these breathtaking beaches, you’re missing out on a lot of what Mexico has to offer. It’s like eating only the bread of a sandwich and throwing away the delicious insides. Mexico is full of surprises, and places like Chiapas are the perfect place to discover why.
Chiapas looks and feels more like Central America than Mexico. The jungles and hills make this place a fun place to wander around. There are many picturesque colonial towns surrounded by the mountains that will fill you with wanderlust. This unique region can inspire a sense of adventure you won’t find anywhere else in Mexico.
Today, the jungles of Chiapas are best known for Mayan Ruins and producing some of the best coffee in Mexico, as the fertile landscape is perfect for the cultivation of the world’s most popular morning beverage.
The jungles of Chiapas were once home to many great Mayan City states, and the more we read more about places like Palenque and Yaxchilan, the more places we find we need to explore. We left Chiapas with an even longer bucket list than we arrived with. Chiapas is also covered with many natural wonders, especially some amazing waterfalls, which will feature prominently on our list of the “6 Incredible things we did in Chiapas.”
Our list of highlights is a mix of waterfalls and Mayan ruins that we visited, with a massive canyon thrown in for good measure. There are many places that we didn’t visit due to lack of time, so we apologize if we didn’t include your favourite spot. If we missed something, please let us know in the comments because we are already itching to go back. Can never start the next list of destinations too early.
There is so much to do in Chiapas, that one trip is not enough to see everything. But it will at least give you a chance to get a feel for the region. We hope this list inspires you to take a chance and visit one of Mexico’s most unique places. We hope you enjoy the 6 Incredible things we did in Chiapas.
6 Incredible things we did in Chiapas
1 Mayan Ruins of Palenque
One of the most impressive Mayan Ruins in Mexico, the Archeological Zone of Palenque is number one on this list for a reason. Set with the dramatic backdrop of dense jungle and rolling hills, there is a certain mystique to Palenque that sets it apart from every other Mayan site we’ve visited.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site has many great structures that have been carefully rebuilt and excavated to showcase the sheer size of this city. When the Mayans abandoned this city in 800 AD, the jungle quickly regained the land.
It is estimated that only about 10% of the Palenque site has been explored so far. The central part of the city which has been excavated is impressive to even the most experienced of Mayan Ruin explorers. There are still many mysteries behind the Mayans, and many of the cities have been taken back and reclaimed by the jungles (some of which still haven’t been rediscovered yet).
The inscriptions found in Palenque have been an important part of re-writing this history of this lost civilization and it is one of the most studied cities in the region. The site was likely known as Lakamha to its original inhabitants, and it was an important Maya city state in southern Mexico that flourished in the 7th century, with its peak dating from 226 BC to AD 799. It’s history included war with other nearby cities, such as Calakmul sometime around 599.
After being invaded and sacked by Calakmul, the city had three great rulers (Pakal the Great being the most famous) and most of the great architecture was built during and after his reign and was followed by his son and grandson. The main plaza – which surrounds the palace – has many great buildings and structures, including the temple of Inscriptions, which was the burial place of Pakal.
The Ruins at Palenque are grand, built around the main plaza (which surrounds the main Palace) and has many great pyramids which you can climb. The “Temple of the Cross” group had three important temples (Temple of the Cross, Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Foliated Cross) built atop step pyramids, located above the main ruins area. From the top of these pyramids, you can get a pretty great view of the surrounding area.
The city was built where the lowlands surrounding the Gulf of Mexico met the mountains, and it’s proximity to the Usumacinta River, would have made it an important trading city.
2 Waterfalls of Misol Ha
After a long day of exploring Mayan Ruins in the humid jungles of Chiapas, its time to find a place to cool off. The climate of Chiapas is quite tropical, especially in the highlands where the rainfall is more than the surrounding areas. The abundance of water combined with the many vertical drops means there are many great waterfalls to discover in Chiapas.
The closest waterfall to Palenque is Misol Ha, which makes it our top pick for cooling off after spending the day exploring Mayan Ruins in the humid jungles. Misol Ha is also the cheapest, with the entry being less than $2 US. What it lacks in entry fee it makes up for in beauty.
Misol Ha was the tallest of the three waterfalls we have visited in Chiapas and underneath is a deep pool of water for swimming. After an afternoon of hiking around Mayan ruins, taking a swim here is a perfect way to refocus and reenergize.
What we enjoyed the most about the waterfalls at Misol Ha, was that you could walk behind (underneath) the falls for a really unique viewpoint. Especially with the temperature, the cool mist was refreshing and the views from behind the falls were very cool.
The main highway south from Palenque splits in two directions, either east towards Yaxchillan and Bonampak or south-west towards Agua Azul and San Cristobal. These falls are located about 30-40 minutes south of the city, in the direction of San Cristobal. It would be possible to visit Palenque, Misol Ha and travel further south towards Agua Azul on the same day, especially if you have your own car.
3 Sumidero Canyon
Sumidero Canyon is a massive natural wonder located in Chiapas, Mexico, in the far south of the country, and is part of the National Park of the same name. The canyon is a deep natural incision into the earth, with towering canyon walls, and the north end has been partially flooded with the reservoir of the Chicoasém Dam.
The canyon was geologically formed around the same time as the Grand Canyon in the US and is fed by the Grijalva River, which over millions of years carved its path into the landscape.
The best way to experience this beautiful destination is by boat, with tours departing from Chiapa de Corso.
The north end of the canyon was flooded and holds the reservoir for the Chicoasém Dam. Construction of the dam began during the early 1970s and finished in 1980, and provides important hydroelectric energy and water management for the region.
It is located in the Sumidero Canyon National Park, which is a massive protected area that borders Chiapas capital city of Tuxtla Gutierrez.
Booking a tour for a visit to the Canyon can be done in the major cities of Tuxtla Guiterrez or San Cristobal de las Casas, which is the ‘easiest’ way to visit. It is a very simple process to travel by bus to Chiapa de Corso on your own (local transport is less than 50 pesos), you can book a tour directly at the dock.
You can access the lake via the colonial town of Chiapa de Corzo, a cute town with some beautiful architecture. Chiapa de Corso is a Pueblo Magico, the designation given by the government to signify towns of cultural importance in the country. If you have time to spend here, make sure to check out the public market and some of the beautiful churches in town.
The boat tour takes you along the lake, where you get to see the massive canyon walls from below, as well as wildlife such as many different bird species and crocodiles. The views are unforgettable, as the canyon has walls that reach a height of over 1000 meters (3300 feet) at some points. The tour takes a few hours, and you learn about the history of the region from a local guide. After a trip past the Dam, the next stop is in Chiapa de Corso and continue on your journey from there.
4 Waterfalls of Agua Azul
The number one destination for waterfalls in Chiapas is the Cascadas de Agua Azul. While there are many great waterfalls in Chiapas, Agua Azul is a worthwhile destination on its own.
The name Agua Azul translates to “Blue Water” and when the weather is perfect, it becomes evident pretty quickly how they got their name. These waterfalls are located about an hour south of Palenque, and there are many busses and collectivos (mini busses) that travel the 69km highway between the two locations.
The water is sourced from the Xanil River, which runs through this part of the state. There are many levels to these falls, and each part has a crystal blue lake which is perfect for swimming. The many colours of this location will leave you breathless; the lush green jungle, limestone cliffs, falling green and blue water, and, hopefully, blue skies to illuminate this beautiful place. While none of the falls here are particularly tall, there are so many different falls to discover, which makes this such a beautiful destination.
These falls are very picturesque, and the turquoise water is the perfect backdrop for a swim (or a selfie). There is a reason these are one of the top-rated attractions in Chiapas. If you are traveling from Palenque to San Cristobal, these are conveniently located along the way. If you’re staying in Palenque, this is an easy half-day trip to Agua Azul.
As we mentioned above with the waterfalls at Misol Ha, after a morning/afternoon of hiking around temples and ruins in the jungle humidity, it’s time to take a dip in the water. The waterfalls here are perfect for this; there are some great places to go swimming at Agua Azul.
Without a doubt, of all the waterfalls in Chiapas, these will most certainly be the one that will blow you away. As they are the most popular, you might have to fight through the crowds to see them, but as you can tell from the photos, it is definately worth it.
5 Mayan Ruins of Yaxchilan & Bonampak
There are many great Mayan Ruins in Mexico and Central America, and these two – Yaxchillan and Bonampak – are worth the price of admission. Located in the far south of Mexico, alongside the border with Guatemala, these two ruins are worth the trip.
These two Mayan cities have always been connected – Yaxchilan ruled over its smaller neighbor – and the short 30km distance between the two make them easy to visit on the same trip. Both these cities experienced their peak in the Late Classic Period, during which Yaxchilan was one of the most powerful and influential cities in the region.
Yaxchilan was located along the south bank of the Usumacinta River – which today marks the border between Mexico and Guatemala – in a large horseshoe-shaped point that sticks out into Guatemala. It would have been an important city with such a strategic location. It was a rival of other Mayan cities nearby like Tikal and Palenque, and it had a long rivalry with Piedras Negras which was located to the north.
Yaxchilan was a large urban center located along the Usumacinta River and this strategic location allowed it to dominate the region culturally during its peak. It has a well excavated main plaza and many temples and palaces that overlook the river. Much of its history is known because of the many sculptures, carvings, and Hieroglyphs that have survived.
There were so many murals and carvings here that they were able to piece together the cities history. It took part in well-chronicled wars with its main rival Piedras Negras, located just to the north. It also fought against other regional powers like Tikal and Palenque.
Nearby Bonampak was built mostly during the Late Classical and was much smaller than Yaxchilain. It wasn’t a regional power, and was and mostly unimportant city historically, as it was a dependant of Yaxchillan.
What sets this location apart from others in the region are the many incredible murals that are unlike anything else found in Mexico. Especially found in the well-named Structure 1, the three tooms that make up “The Temple of Murals” helped paint a picture of life in the Mayan world, depicting scenes of war and human sacrifice.
Despite Yaxchillan’s importance, these two ruins are still off the beaten track, still mostly covered in thick jungle, which makes them even more enjoyable to explore.
6 Waterfalls of Roberto Barrios
The jungles of Chiapas are full of surprises; it is an amazing place for those who want to explore nature, especially waterfalls. The three waterfalls that we visited – Misol Ha, Agua Azul, and Roberto Barrios – were all located just south of Palenque.
The waterfalls of Roberto Barrios is located outside of a small community of the same name, in the Zapatista Region of Chiapas, about 40 minutes south of Palenque.
Chiapas has a very strong connection to the land, as the descendants of the Mayans who still call this place home have a strong identity. The Zapatistas – peaceful rebels who retain a strong sense of sovereignty – are based out of here. There are many great villages and towns you can stop along the way to get a sense of how the locals live.
The falls at Roberto Barrios are visually similar to Agua Azul in many ways, with many cascading levels falling over the limestone and clear blue water surrounded by an unforgettable jungle background. What set these waterfalls apart was how much further off the beaten track these were, and on the day that we visited, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We saw less than a dozen other people while we wandered around the park. There are many trails in the jungle which you can follow, making it easy to visit different views.
This was one of our favourite discoveries in Chiapas. You can hear the sounds of nature; the birds chirping and whistling in the trees or just the peaceful sound of falling water. One thing we learned about after we visited was that there are several caves nearby that you can visit. It’s possible to hire a local guide to make sure you don’t miss anything.
If we were to visit Chiapas again, we would definitely go back to Roberto Barrios, as there was something intangible about this place that made it extra special.