Long Bus Ride to ‘One of the Most Beautiful Places in Mexico'
At this point in my adventures through Mexico, I adapted to long bus rides through the country.
More specifically, by pre-downloading plenty of Netflix episodes, it was much easier to pass the time (your brain goes into passive zombie/couch potato mode).
Hence, the trip from Oaxaca and Monte Alban to Tuxtla City in the state of Chiapas, felt like a breeze, despite taking a good 9-10 hours by bus.
The purpose of visiting Chiapas was because of all of the hype…
Most Mexicans say the state is ‘So beautiful, you NEED to visit' or sometimes as a question ‘Have you been to Chiapas?'… so visiting here was a must!
This adventure consisted of several, absolutely amazing, must-see locations deep into Mexico, with names such as ‘Tuxtla Gutiérrez, San Cristobal, Chamula, Zinacantán, Chiapa De Corzo, and the most breath-taking: El Sumidero' Canyon.
You will see real Mayan people, American Crocodiles, Giant Natural vistas, massive farms high in the mountains, along with a very old Spanish Colonial city, and outdoor indigenous market places.
Where is Tuxtla Gutierrez?
Our photo album for today focuses on quite a few locations, so we will use Tuxtla Gutierrez as our main reference point (this is where I rented a car to drive around the points of interest).
Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, Mexico
Despite being the capital of the state of Chiapas, Tuxtla (pronounced Tuts-tla or Tucht-la), and one of the fastest growing cities in Mexico for the last 40 years, Tuxtla doesn't offer much tourist attractions itself.
Instead, Tuxtla is a major transportation hub for tourism (bus and airport), which people use to visit Chiapa De Corzo, El Sumidero (both up the canyon, and through the canyon by boat), and San Cristobal, and its surrounding attractions and cities.
At first, the valley was called ‘Cuauhtémoc', which means ‘land or house of rabbits', but the Aztecs invaded and renamed it to ‘Tuchtlan' (also house of rabbits). Gutierrez was added in 1848 to honor a conservative politician from the city.
By 1528, the Spanish conquest had conquered most of Chiapas state, and the Chiapa people.
By 1892, due to rapid expansion, the state capital was moved from San Cristobal to Tuxtla.
Driving From Tuxtla Gutierrez to San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico
On the way the San Cristobal, you get a sense of the hilly terrain that makes up this region of Mexico.
You also notice the clear-cut hills, and lines of roads that divide up the areas. Most of these areas were clear cut to grow agriculture of some sort.
San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico
San Cristobal is considered the cultural capital of Chiapas, and sits inside a valley completely surrounded by hills and mountains.
The city was founded in 1528 as ‘Villa Real de Chiapa' in the ‘Hueyzacatlan' valley (translates to pasture in Nahuatl), and used primarily as a fort, and a staging ground for conquering the surrounding areas.
Yet, for many of the local peoples who speak ‘Tzotzil' and ‘Tzeltal', the city is called ‘Jovel', or ‘city in the clouds' due to its high elevation in the mountains.
Eventually, the town was recognized as a city, and gained political control of the surrounding regions, including Tuxtla.
By 1821, the city gained independence from Spain, but was only incorporated into Mexico by 1824, and renamed to ‘San Cristobal' in 1829.
For the next 70 years, the capital of Chiapas would move back and forth between Tuxtla and San Cristobal as the governments shifted from liberal to conservative, and back. Yet, by 1892, San Cristobal was no longer the capital.
San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, Mexico
San Juan (pronounced hwan) Chamula is a 99.5% indigenous ‘Tzotzil' community, located about 2,200 meters up a mountain (above sea level).
The town and municipality enjoys a high level of autonomy due to its ‘outsider' indigenous status, with no government military or police forces allowed into the town.
Catholicism here is a mix of pre-conquest Mayan traditions, Spanish Catholicism, and various new modifications that came with the times.
If you seek help from the local bishop, you need to bring gifts and sacrificial items… in some cases a chicken to sacrifice… the bishop will then chant in the old native tongue of Tzotzil.
Zinacantán, Chiapas, Mexico
99.1% of the people here are of the ‘Tzotzil Maya' indigenous peoples.
Zinacantan translates to ‘land of bats' in the Nahuatl language, but the locals who speak ‘Tzotzil' call it ‘Sots'leb' (also land of bats).
The pre-Columbian Zinacantan had strong economic links to the Aztec empire, but by the mid-1500's, the city was conquered by the Spanish, then converted to Catholicism by the Dominican Church.
The most important development for this area, was creating a highway, for an easier exportation of goods, and a massive boost to the economy.
Delicious Dishes in Chiapas
One night, I decided to venture into the central plaza of Tuxtla, and discover what it had to offer. I don't know the names of these dishes, but they look absolutely delicious.
El Sumidero Part 1: From the Cliffs
This section of the El Sumidero is only accessible by renting a car (better option), or going with a tour bus.
From the center of Tuxtla, it's only about 30 minutes, and once you arrive, the entry is only about $3 USD.
There are 5 viewpoints along the way, and each one is absolutely breathtaking. When I went, it was a bit foggy, so a bit of photo-improvement was needed to show these.
Chiapa De Corzo, Chiapas, Mexico
The history of this city and area date back to about 1200 BCE, but I won't cover that in this post.
Instead, the main purpose of coming to this town, is to take the boat into the El Sumidero Canyon, and once you return, you can visit a restaurant, or do some shopping.
El Sumidero Part 2
During the boat ride, a tour guide will explain the history of the canyon, highlight various natural phenomenons, and point out animals on the side lines.
Make sure you get an English guide if you don't speak a fluent level of Spanish.
Hillsides of Tuxtla Gutierrez
Finally, for the adventurous types, there is a nice hike up the mountains just 10 minutes south of the center of Tuxtla (by taxi).
Climbing to the top is only about 40-50 minutes, although it is quite steep.
Arriving in Tuxtla is the easy part, since it's the main hub for transportation. Visiting the canyons is a must, and visiting San Cristobal, and atleast Chamula are highly recommended.
If you are fine with driving, I recommend renting a car, especially if its for more than one person.
Overall, I enjoyed my adventures here. A great history of historic Spanish colonies, authentic indigenous culture, and a huge amount of nature to take in.
Chiapas is one of the must-see places in Mexico