The Mexican state of Chiapas is famous for the wild vastness of the Lacandon Jungle, the colonial beauty of San Cristobal, and the ruins of Palenque, an enigmatic Mayan relic. Yet it was the revolutionary morbidity of Subcomandante Marcos and his Zapatista guerrillas that finally put this corner of the world on the map, a lung that also has the honor of being, in part, a biosphere reserve.
Travelling to Chiapas is stealing a piece of history from a legend. With its lights and shadows. It is to enter a territory as inhospitable as it is welcoming, as futuristic as it is ancestral. It’s seeing that the extremes can be very similar. It is the land of green and infinite horizons, potholes on the road, improvised beans at street level, funeral homes called “The Last Journey” and buses that leave when they are full and it suits the driver. Not a minute before, not a minute after. This is the far southeast of Mexico. An adventure as interactive as life itself.
We’ve chosen four good reasons for you to discover Chiapas.
The breakfasts of San Cristobal de las casas
It is true that the colourful houses in the city, such as those in Alma de Chiapas, will make your retina work. Their attractive, sunny pastel colour is irresistible. It makes sense that their flea markets will catch you if you like haggling, joyful discussions and symbolic craftsmanship. It is natural that you admire their century-old churches where you can almost visualize how the companions of Columbus evangelized centuries ago.
Nor will you be immune to the cosmopolitan bustle of its streets where bohemians, university professors, students and international volunteers abound, halfway between the Rivera Maya and the peace of their consciences, an interesting and talkative tribe that meets at sunset in the city’s large wine bars. But since San Cristóbal is the ideal base of operations for exploring Chiapas, what you will most revere are its delicious breakfasts. Pure energy. Tropical fruits, cereals, sweet bread, natural yoghurts… the list is long! Make sure you find your coffee (like La Viña De Bacco) and go for it. You’ll really enjoy the experience.
The Mayan magic of Palenque
They are not the most spectacular ruins in the region, but their location in the heart of the jungle is breathtaking and makes them a must see. A mysterious atmosphere seems to surround the grey stones of Palenque, covering their iconic and labyrinthine beauty with fine fairy dust, where everything seems to obey a superior and almost always unintelligible plan. Climbing the temples of the step pyramids, walking through the Palace and letting oneself be impregnated by the sudden silence that sometimes seems to blow through the area like a benign current has something unique. Just think that a good part of the ancient city has not yet been excavated. If you wish to complete the visit, you can immerse yourself in the Mayan culture in its museum and go home wondering what the Mayans meant by leaving their complex hieroglyphics to history.
See the multicoloured toads of the Lacandon Jungle
It’s true that it’s not the animal you most want to pet, but it’s so close that it’s hard not to like it. At least a little. The flora and fauna of the jungle will never cease to amaze you and it is quite possible that when you are told that you are walking among jaguars and boas constrictors, you will forget the friendly toads. Enjoy the smell of red cedar trees, the thousand shades of green and the sumptuousness of mahogany trees. And don’t forget that you’re in one of the most unexplored lungs on the planet. So much so that its origins date back to the first Mayan settlements, when its name was Lacan-Tun (meaning big stone) and the Spaniards softened it until it became Lacandona.
Discover the indigenous community of San Juan Chamula
It is one of the world’s largest indigenous (Tzotzil-speaking) communities – about 60,000 people – and although it is very close to San Cristobal, the reality seems to be miles away. Perhaps most surprising is the way its inhabitants have turned their backs on everything Catholic, preserving the temples of the Spanish period, but using them for their pagan and ancestral rituals with total normality. Don’t forget to ask one of their shamans to tell you about your future if you want to come back with a shudder on your body. To complete the adventure, go down the Usumacinta River to the Mayan city of Yaxchilán, where you will once again be immersed in the mystery of their advanced civilization. Don’t forget to spend a night in one of the less touristy cities, such as San Andrés de los Pobres. The lullaby of the jungle is unforgettable.