Chiapas is a wonderfully diverse state in southern Mexico on the border of Guatemala with tons of things to do. It’s one of the lesser known states in Mexico, overshadowed by the popular tourist areas such as Cancun, Cabo and Mexico City. It’s famously known as the cheapest state in Mexico, along with it’s neighbour Oaxaca.
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Chiapas then you’ll quickly discover that there’s no shortage of activities, amazing places to see, things to eat, drink and so much more! With largely unexplored coastline to the south, hidden volcanoes on the border with Guatemala, rainforest to the north and old colonial towns to explore, you won’t get bored here!
We recommend flying into the capital Tuxtla Gutiérrez and begin your journey from there. You could also take a bus here from neighbouring states but they are long and around the same price as a cheap flight. San Cristobal de las Casas is only a 1 hour bus ride from Tuxtla, and makes for a great next stop. With so many things to do in Chiapas, it was hard for us to narrow down our favourites. With that being said, here is our list.
Things to do in Chiapas
Explore the colonial town of San Cristóbal de las Casas
One of the most popular things to do in Chiapas, and the main reason gringos and foreigners visit the state is this quaint little colonial town covered in cobblestone and cutely decorated and colorful “casas” or houses. Built in 1528 by the Spanish, it was the capital of Chiapas until 1892 when it moved to Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
While it is a small town, you’ll find a variety of things to do here such as exploring the wonderful churches, lively nightlife, souvenir shopping at the extensive markets, trying “Pox” and cheap wine and much more. It’s also the perfect spot to base yourself for the many day trips around Chiapas that we’ll cover.
Climb Pyramids in Palenque
One of the most popular things to do in Chiapas, Palenque was an ancient Maya city state that met it’s demise in the 8th century. While it is smaller than other archeological sites such as Chichen Itza or Tikal, the site consists of some of the finest sculptures, architecture and bas-relief carvings the Mayas have ever produced.
It can be done as a full day trip from San Cristóbal, around 16 hours if you stop at the Agua Azul falls on they. It’s around 5 hours there and 5 hours back. We would recommend staying in the town of Palenque itself, so you don’t feel rush and you’ll have time to explore other attractions in the area. Unlike other ancient sites in Mexico (aside from Calakmul) you are allowed to climb these pyramids!
Agua Azul Waterfalls
On the way to Palengue are some fantastic waterfalls you should not miss the opportunity to see. Like other waterfalls in Chiapas, Agau Azul is a cascading series of epic falls on the Xanil River. While the falls are not very high (the tallest is around 20 feet) the cascading effect is a sight to behold. The water has a high calcium carbonate content, encasing rocks and other objects in a coating of limestone.
Soak up the El Chiflón Waterfalls
Without a doubt the best thing to do in Chiapas, Cascada El Chiflón is the most spectacular waterfall in Mexico, and probably one of the best in the world. Featuring turquoise water cascading down several “steps” through a lush green jungle, it makes a fantastic day trip just a 2 and a half hour bus ride from San Cristóbal.
When you arrive you’ll notice there are two entrances, this is because there are two sides to the waterfall and river, we recommend choosing the first one to the north of the river. You’ll be able to go to the very top of the waterfalls and swim under the first falls at the top of Cascada Velo de Novia! You are unable to do this on the other side. The entire hike from the entrance is only about 1 hour if you decide to go to the very top. But beware it does get very humid, so the plunge at the end makes for a great reward.
Tour the Coffee Plantations
Far to the south of Chiapas near the town of Tapachula and close to the Guatemalan borders are wonderful rolling green hills and mountains with the perfect climate for growing coffee beans. Chiapas is known to have some of the best coffee in all of Mexico thanks to the rich history and perfect growing conditions.
There are tours you can take from San Cristóbal, including 3 day tours where you stay on the coffee plantations themselves. You’ll learn how the coffee is made, learn about the local life, spend time hiking through the hills and tasting the wonderfully delicious coffee yourself.
Sumidero Canyon Tour
Sumidero Canyon, located closer to Tuxtla, is a massive canyon as old as the Grand Canyon in the US and one of the best things to do in Chiapas regarding nature. You can take a boat tour from Chiapa de Corzo here and you’ll bed guaranteed to feel tiny amongst the towering cliff sides of the impressive canyon. The canyone is located in a national park where you can experience lots of extreme sports such as mountain biking, rappelling and spelunking.
Visit the Church in San Juan Chamula
Chamula is a municipality just 20 minutes from San Cristóbal and has autonomous status within Mexico, it is mostly made up of the local indigenous Tzotzil people, also speaking the same language. You will actually find some locals that don’t even speak Spanish. Paganism and Catholicism has an influence here which can be seen in the most popular attraction in the town: the church.
It’s unlike any church we’ve ever visited. Inside you’ll find no pews, but rather locals kneeling on what seem to be pine needles scattered all over the place. If you’re lucky you’ll even see locals sacrificing chickens in the middle of the church. One important point – do not take pictures, especially of the locals. They believe that taking a picture will steal their soul. This town is definitely one of the strangest things to do in Chiapas.
A little known alternative to the main Sumidero canyon tour, there is actually a spectacular drive consisting of several “miradors” or viewpoints of the canyon far below. The best way to do this is to rent a car so you can make several stops on the way.
It’s only a short 45 minute drive from the capital Tuxtla, slowly winding it’s way up the mountain with the road meeting a steep drop below in some cases, it can be a scary drive at times. There are around 4 viewpoints, but the best one if the last one, with a full 180 degree view of the Sumidero river carving it’s way through the canyon.
Explore the coast in Puerto Arista
One of the lesser known things to do in Chiapas is to visit the coast at Puerto Arista, only a two and a half hour drive from Tuxtla. While Chiapas is not known for it’s nice beaches, it’s still a great place to visit as you’ll see how the locals live along the coast.
One interesting spot we stumbled upon is a wonderful island called Boca Del Cielo, which translates to: “Mouth of Heaven” It’s an island that doesn’t even show up on google maps. At the end of the island the ocean meets a river which flows the opposite way, creating an very unique water ecosystem. On this island you’ll find many cabins and camping areas, popular for ecotourism.
Go Camping at El Aguacero Waterfalls
Yes, even more waterfalls! This state is full of them, and in our opinion one of the best things to do in Chiapas with chasing waterfalls.
Go Caving at Arcotete, Rancho Nuevo & Grutas del Mamut
Surrounding San Cristóbal and Tuxtlas are some awesome Ecotourism parks that most foreign tourists don’t normally visit, however they are typically popular with the locals. Each of these parks offer lots of activities such as climbing, hiking and spelunking.
Our favourite was Grutas del Mamut with a fantastic cave system for only 10 peso entry. One of the rocks in the cave is in the shape of a mammoth, which is where the caves get their name. Rancho Nuevo features a massive network of caves that goes down 1800 (550 meters) feet deep!
If you’re into mostly undiscovered archeological sites with little to no tourists at all, then Zona Arqueológica de Iglesia Vieja just north of Tonalá is a must see. While it’s not easy to get there, you’ll need to rent a car and drive up a steep hill for 7km, in our opinion it’s one of the most unique things to do in Chiapas.
What’s special about this large site is it’s age, with construction starting around 300 BC by the Zoque culture. It was expanded upon and grew larger the following centuries, consisting around 10,000 inhabitants at it’s peak. It’s a surprisingly large area to explore, with one pyramid after another. You can even see the city of Tonalá below once you get to the end.
If you’re into nature and national parks, Lagunas de Montebello is a spectacular reservation on the border with Guatemala featuring a series of 59 spectacular green and turquoise lakes and lagoons. Due to the mineral content of the water, the colours vary, from blue-green to purple-black.
While a day trip would be possible as it’s only 3 hours from San Cristóbal, there is so much to do here so we’d recommend staying the night. There are countless limestone caves to explore, ancient Mayan ruins to discover and of course kayaking and swimming in the lakes.
Hike the Tacaná Volcano
This spectacular active volcano on the border with Guatemala is the second highest peak in Central America at 4,060 meters. There are several different hikes you can do, some starting from Mexico (more difficult path) and a different route starting from Guatemala. The climb is not too difficult and can be done within a day. If you’re a physically fit traveller and into ecotourism, this is one of the best outdoorsy things to do in Chiapas.
Get Tipsy on Pox
Pox (pronounced posh) is a strong liquor made from mainly corn, wheat and sugar cane. It’s a popular local drink among the Mayan population in Southern Mexico and Central America. It’s a very popular drink in Chiapas and you’ll find several “Poxerias” in small towns. Pox means “medicine or cure” in the local Tzotzil language and is used in many religious ceremonies in San Juan Chapula. For a good samplin of Pox we would recommend Posheria in San Cristobal.