This guide to things to do in Chiapas is authored by Alex.
Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state, is one of the most diverse, unique places imaginable. It has everything from steamy jungles, complete with crumbling ancient ruins and stunning waterfalls, to soaring mountains, to tropical beach paradises.
Add to this a fascinating blend of different local foods to try, beautiful colonial towns to visit, and traditional Indigenous cultures to learn about, and you have a perfect adventure travel destination.
There are so many incredible things to do in Chiapas—places to visit, things to see, and experiences. It would take several months to truly experience everything this amazing state has to offer.
However, if you don’t have several months to spare, here are our top things to do in Chiapas!
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Things To Do in Chiapas
1. Marvel at the Incredible Palenque Ruins
One of the best-known things to do in Chiapas is a visit to the Palenque archeological ruins—an absolute must.
Perched at the top of a hill and surrounded by thick jungle are some of the most atmospheric and magical ruins in Mexico. They are also extremely important archeologically and have informed much of what we know today about the ancient Mayan civilization.
Palenque was a powerful and influential Mayan city, inhabited from 226 BC until 800 AD. From here, its rulers controlled a vast empire spanning much of modern-day Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and a decent chunk of southern Mexico.
The city was abandoned in the 9th century. Over the next 1,000 years, it became enveloped by thick vegetation. Today, most of the site is still hidden in the jungle, and only an estimated 10% has been excavated.
Several different areas of the site are worth exploring, connected by a series of trails through the forest.
In addition to the main groups of pyramids and other structures at the top of the hill, don’t miss the lower sections of the site. These have been excavated much less, and most of the buildings here are still partially overgrown with vegetation.
Many people seem to skip these lower sections. As a result, you get to explore these areas minus the crowds. Sometimes, you can be the only person in sight—it’s awesome!
Top tip: To get to these lower areas, go past the Grupo Norte (North Group) of temples on the main upper level of the site. Keep an eye out for a path that leads down through the trees to a set of steps. Coming from the direction of the main entrance, the path will be on your left side and should be signposted “waterfall” (which you’ll see on the way down).
→ Book a day trip to Palenque and Agua Azul.
2. Discover Stunning Turquoise Waterfalls
The other main highlight of northern Chiapas, aside from the Palenque ruins, is the stunning waterfalls hidden deep in the jungle.
Agua Azul is the most popular of these, although it’s usually quite crowded and (in my opinion) a bit spoiled by the number of vendors and touts trying to sell you things.
Cascadas Roberto Barrios is a much better alternative if you prefer to avoid the crowds.
Located 31 kilometers south of Palenque, these incredible waterfalls are equally beautiful, with crystal-clear turquoise water, but receive a tiny fraction of visitors.
There are five main waterfalls at Roberto Barrios and many other little falls, which flow into a series of pools. Some of these pools are deep enough to swim in. Others are more shallow and make perfect spots for sitting among the swirling, fizzing waters. It’s like being in a natural jacuzzi.
If you’re feeling brave, a few of the waterfalls are “shaped,” so it’s possible to slide down and land in a deep pool below. Of course, only attempt this in the places where it’s safe to do so!
If you pay for a guide, they’ll show you which spots are safe to slide down and/or jump off. However, this isn’t necessary. You can get a good indication by watching what other people are doing.
There are several ways to get to Roberto Barrios. It’s most accessible with your own car. Otherwise, you can catch a colectivo from Palenque (they leave near the main market), take a taxi, or visit as part of an organized group tour.
Top tip: The north shore is even less busy (and more scenic) than the south shore. Bring a dry bag, and you can explore both sides by swimming across.
→ Book a tour of Roberto Barrios from Palenque.
3. Kick Back at the Beach (A Lazy But Awesome Thing To Do in Chiapas!)
With so many things to do in Chiapas, you’ll probably need a bit of rest and relaxation along the way.
Everybody knows that Mexico has no shortage of incredible beaches. Places like Holbox, Mazunte, Puerto Escondido, Tulum and Cozumel are firmly on the travel map. However, Chiapas also has some stunning beaches along its 270 kilometers of Pacific coastline.
Stretching from Oaxaca to Guatemala, the Chiapan coast is wild and untouched. There are a few small fishing towns and villages here and there, but it’s primarily undeveloped.
One of the best places in Chiapas to spend a few days on the beach is Boca del Cielo. This tiny village is located on the edge of a lagoon, about 40 kilometers away from Tonalá. The lagoon is separated from the Pacific Ocean by a sandbar commonly known as San Marcos “island.”
One side of the sandbar (which is only about 100 meters wide) is covered by mangroves. The other side has one long stretch of pristine sandy beach stretching as far as the eye can see.
Here you’ll find a few simple bungalow-style cabañas for rent, plus the odd beach bar/restaurant, but that’s about it.
Boca del Cielo is a peaceful, natural place – perfect for disconnecting from the outside world. The internet is virtually nonexistent, and there’s a definite off-grid vibe. It’s also well off the main tourist trail. I love it!
Listen to the sound of the ocean, watch the birds soaring overhead, sip from a coconut, snooze in a hammock, paddle in the waves, and enjoy world-class sunsets and stargazing.
After a few days, you’ll be fully rested and ready to continue exploring all of the fantastic things Chiapas offers.
Top tip: Entremares has the best and most comfortable cabañas and serves excellent food and drinks.
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4. See the Awe-inspiring Sumidero Canyon (From Above and Below)
One of Mexico’s most impressive natural wonders, Sumidero Canyon (Cañón del Sumidero), is a gorge located just outside the state capital Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
Photos don’t do this place justice—it’s enormous! In some places, the canyon’s walls rise vertically almost 1,000 meters (a kilometer!) from the Grijalva River.
To experience this stunning place properly, you need to see it from both below and above.
A few different companies offer boat trips through the canyon. Although a little touristy, these are worth it as they give you a real sense of the enormous scale of the place. You’ll probably also see loads of wildlife from the boat, including crocodiles, monkeys, and tropical birds.
These trips aren’t costly (270 MXN/US$13.50 as of March 2022), and the guides tend to be very knowledgeable about the various features of the canyon, its history, and the wide range of wildlife that lives here.
Once you’ve seen the canyon below, you need to see it from above!
…And from above
Several miradors (lookouts/viewpoints) are perched on the very top of the canyon wall.
You can enjoy incredible views of the Cañón del Sumidero from a few different perspectives from these places. Don’t go too close to the edge if you’re afraid of heights…
Getting to these lookout points is easiest with your own car. There’s a steep, windy road leading from the edge of Tuxtla up and along the edge of the canyon.
Enter “Mirador Cañón del Sumidero” (the last viewpoint and the end of this road) into Google Maps, and you’ll be golden. Watch out for monkeys and other animals on the road!
However, if you don’t have wheels, don’t worry. A few tour companies offer trips to the miradors, and you can sometimes buy a joint ticket for both this and the boat trip, plus a connection between the two.
Top tips: Most people take the boat trip from the town of Chiapa de Corzo. However, you can also take one that departs from close to the bridge where Highway 190 crosses the river. These tend to be less busy, so they are usually better. (Search for “Embarcadero Bella Cahuaré” on Google Maps for the exact location.)
Also, don’t throw away the national park entry wristband that you receive when paying for your boat trip. You’ll need to show it again when re-entering the national park up to the miradores. (Otherwise, you have to pay twice.)
→ Book a Sumidero Canyon Excursion from San Cristobal de las Casas.
5. Spend Some Time in San Cristóbal de Las Casas
San Cristóbal de las Casas is a beautiful city located high up in the mountains of central Chiapas. The city is an essential hub for the region, and it’s worth spending at least a few days here.
The historical center is full of amazingly well-preserved colonial buildings, with large, leafy courtyards and traditional cobbled streets. Here you will also find several markets selling everything from food and local produce to handmade clothes and other artisan goods.
The central pedestrianized street of Real de Guadalupe is a bit of a tourist trap. But there are still some great things to be found here. For example, Cafeología (a cafe and roastery) sells the best coffee I’ve seen in Mexico.
For a fantastic view out over the city and surrounding mountains, climb the steep steps leading up to Guadalupe Church. You might be a little out of breath by the time you reach the top—San Cristóbal is 2,200 meters above sea level. But the views are worth it, especially at sunset.
Many people spend more time in San Cristóbal than they intended to. There’s a unique feel to the place and a great vibe.
San Cristóbal is also an excellent place to base yourself while exploring central Chiapas. Several of the locations mentioned in this post are within an hour’s drive of the city.
Top tip: If you want to stay somewhere within easy walking distance of the center of town but is also quiet and leafy, check out the area around Rancho San Nicolás. Here you’ll find many great Airbnbs and other places to rent, on the edge of a tranquil pine forest.
6. Learn About Indigenous Cultures in Chamula and Zinacantán
Chiapas is home to a large number of Indigenous people. In many parts of the state – especially the towns and villages in the mountains – you will hear more Tzotzil spoken than Spanish.
The mountain towns of San Juan Chamula (Chamula for short) and Zinacantán are two of the best places to get an insight into the fascinating, and proudly independent, Tzotzil communities that live in Chiapas.
Chamula is one of the largest and most distinctive Indigenous communities in Mexico.
The town’s focal point is its main church, Iglesia de San Juan Chamula. But this isn’t like any church you’ve seen before.
Inside, there’s no organ, no font, and no pews. Instead, the church’s large floor is covered in pine branches and (literally) thousands of tiny candles, all stuck to the floor in carefully-arranged rows and patterns.
People come here from all over the local area to pray and perform healing rituals. The atmosphere inside the church is incredible – really mystifying and unique.
Traditionally-dressed Tzotzil people gather to light candles on the floor, praying and chanting as if in a trance. Sometimes, their rituals involve sacrificing a chicken (slightly grizzly) and drinking a mixture of Coca-Cola and homebrewed spirit.
It’s an amazing (and bizarre) experience, unlike anywhere else I’ve ever visited.
Important: Do not try to take pictures inside the church; it’s strictly prohibited (and deeply offensive to the local people). Seriously, please don’t do it. People have been arrested, fined, and had their cameras confiscated for trying to take photos inside; outside is fine.
Zinacantán is another Tzotzil town in the mountains above San Cristóbal. It’s famous for the manufacturing of handmade textiles and clothing.
Many women in this town are experts in artisan weaving. They produce stunning, intricate patterns and products from simple, traditional materials. You can visit their workshops and watch their skills in action.
This is a perfect place to buy high-quality, authentic souvenirs and gifts.
Top tip: It’s possible to visit Chamula and Zinacantán as part of a day trip from San Cristóbal. This is most easily done with your car. However, you can also take a colectivo from SC to Chamula, a taxi to Zinacantán, and finally another colectivo back to SC. Or go as part of a group tour.
→ Book a Chamula and Zinacantán day trip from San Cristóbal.
7. Visit Traditional Coffee Producers
Some of Mexico’s best coffee is produced in Chiapas. Most of this is grown in the mountains by Indigenous communities, and almost all stages of the production are performed by hand.
If you love coffee as much as I do, visiting these smallholder producers will be one of the highlights of your time in Chiapas. The coffee is harvested between December and March, so this is the best time to come.
However, most coffee-growing areas in Chiapas are relatively remote and not particularly easy (sometimes impossible) to reach using public transport.
The easiest way to visit a coffee-producing community is to go as part of a group tour. These can be organized from several places in the state. If you’re in San Cristóbal, head to Real de Guadalupe street, where you’ll find a few companies offering coffee tours.
Alternatively, ask your favorite coffee shop if they might be able to organize a visit to one of their suppliers. It’s guaranteed and depends entirely on their inclination (and how nicely you ask). But if someone from the cafe was planning a visit anyway, they might be happy for you to tag along too…
Top tip: If you offer to drive them there and back, they’re more likely to say yes!
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Things to do
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Final Thoughts on the Best Things To Do in Chiapas
As you can see from this list, Chiapas is an incredible place to visit. It’s so diverse and has a unique feel.
These are just my favorite things to do in Chiapas. There are many other unique experiences here; it is a dream destination for any adventurous traveler.
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Alex Tiffany is a personal travel planner and the founder of Just Go Exploring, the ultimate resource for adventure and off-the-beaten-track destinations. Alex is a former corporate lawyer and lifelong travel enthusiast on a mission to make adventurous travel accessible to all.