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.

Oaxaca to Tuxtla, in the state of Chiapas

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).

Blue indicates regular roads, while olive-green indicates the boat ride through the Sumidero Canyon

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.

A view of Tuxtla Gutiérrez from the hilltops

A view of Tuxtla Gutiérrez from the hilltops

A view of Tuxtla Gutiérrez

A view of Tuxtla Gutiérrez from the hilltops. One thing that stands out for me is the prevalence of low-rise structures throughout ALL of Mexico. A high-rise structure is a rarity.

Zooming into the little houses built everywhere in Tuxtla Gutiérrez

Zooming into the little houses built everywhere in Tuxtla Gutiérrez

Tuxtla Gutiérrez

Most cities in Mexico will have a mountainous backdrop in the distance, as seen in this photo of Tuxtla Gutiérrez

Tuxtla Gutiérrez

The would be considered low to middle class dwellings in Tuxtla Gutiérrez

Scanning the rooftops of the lower-class homes in Tuxtla Gutiérrez

Scanning the rooftops of the lower-class homes in Tuxtla Gutiérrez

Scanning the rooftops of the lower-class homes in Tuxtla Gutiérrez

Scanning the rooftops of the lower-class homes in Tuxtla Gutiérrez

Almost looks like a California paradise, but of a lower socio-economic class

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.

During this season, the hilltops of Chiapas are sun-baked

It almost feels like Mars in Chiapas

The various dividing lines, and quadrants mark the hillsides of Chiapas

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 brief 1 hour drive from Tuxtla Gutiérrez to San Cristobal

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.

Arriving in the colonial town of San Cristobal, Mexico

A man walks past an Israeli Fabrics shop in San Cristobal, Mexico

Streets in San Cristobal, are narrow, thus all streets are one-way

The representative Spanish colonial-style rooftops in San Cristobal

Las Carmelitas Restaurant in San Cristobal

The Cathedral of San Cristobal in the main plaza

The Cathedral of San Cristobal is currently under renovations

A mother holds her infant in San Cristobal

A man sells inflatable balls and balloons in San Cristobal

Walking down the main tourist streets in San Cristobal

Walking down the tourist streets of San Cristobal. Many foreigners from outside the country, as well as from within Mexico visit this town every single day

A Burger King happily fills in an old colonial building in San Cristobal

 

Revolucion Cafe and Bar in San Cristobal

A blinded man is guided by a boy through the streets of San Cristobal

A woman sells her hand-made purses on the streets of San Cristobal

A man performs music, without any noticeable rhythm in San Cristobal

Walking around the colonial streets of San Cristobal

We are leaving the touristy areas of San Cristobal, and entering more of the local areas

2 women barter in front of a cathedral in San Cristobal

 

2 women barter in front of a cathedral in San Cristobal

A local man sells sweets on the streets in San Cristobal

Local vendors sell their leather goods and necklaces in San Cristobal

Walking through the local shops in San Cristobal

Every corner around the market areas of San Cristobal has someone selling something.

Women from outside of San Cristobal come into town to sell their goods, every single day

A man sells nuts on the right side of the already narrow streets in San Cristobal

Indigenous Mexican women sell their clothes and fabrics on the streets of San Cristobal

Wooden sculpted face masks for sale in San Cristobal

These masks are contemporary representations of the cultures that once lived in Chiapas, pre-Spanish conquest.

Russian dolls in the markets of San Cristobal

Markets crowd the streets in front of a very old Cathedral in San Cristobal

The various trinkets and figurines for sale in San Cristobal

Indigenous-styled face-masks for sale in San Cristobal

A Mexican woman poses for a camera shoot in San Cristobal

Local women converse on the streets while awaiting a buyer for their goods in San Cristobal

Delicious baked goods in a coffee shop in San Cristobal

Various cheezy snacks in San Cristobal

Walking down another touristy boulevard in San Cristobal. This section has been renovated heavily

This must be where most of the night-life, bar scene happens in San Cristobal

A Che Guevara plaque sits inside an oldschool Volkswagen van

Large cliffs and hills surround the town of San Cristobal

A large hill springs right up through the city of San Cristobal

Cuauhtemoc means ‘land or house of rabbits' in the Nahuatl language.

The car I rented to drive around Chiapas. Unfortunately, this one had engine problems (transmission failure).

Walking through a park in San Cristobal

Interesting lawn ornaments in San Cristobal

Paul and Paula Cafe in San Cristobal

Our ultimate aim is to get to the Guadalupe church that sits on in the hills on San Cristobal

The exterior of Guadalupe Church in San Cristobal

The exterior of Guadalupe Church in San Cristobal

The city of San Cristobal from as seen from Guadalupe Church

Creative decor on a regular home in San Cristobal

Looking at the outer regions of San Cristobal. Farms are layed out in whatever regions are available

The houses that fill the outer regions of San Cristobal

On another side of San Cristobal, we have a church that sits next to a (probably) expensive home

Homes scale the mountain-sides the greater San Cristobal area

The rooftops of San Cristobal. Nothing is higher than the main churches in this town

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.

Compared to the reddish hills on our journey to San Cristobal, the journey to Chamula features green landscapes specifically nurtured for grazing animals and farming

Sheep graze the farms on the way to Chamula

Farmers walk across the lands in Chamula

Boys bring their cooked goods to town in Chamula

Bright green vegetation covers the landscapes of Chamula

All of these houses were built, most likely, by their owners in Chamula

Entering the central core of Chamula

The homes that cover the hillsides of Chamula

Locals in Chamula await to receive goods from a truck

Locals in Chamula await to receive goods from a truck

An indigenous woman crafts something in Chamula

A local girl sprays water on her vegetables to keep them vibrant for buyers

This is the central plaza and marketplace in Chamula

Women laughing and producing clothes to sell on the markets in Chamula

A man stands watch of his produce in the Chamula market

The markets of Chamula

Probably the main bus station in Chamula, as seen from the market place

San Juan Chamula – The Monument to my ‘Race'

Bright oranges, bananas and mangos for sale in Chamula

The Church of San Juan Chamula

A few locals take a breather in Chamula

The steep inclines of the town of Chamula

Women feed their children in the town of Chamula

The toys and souvenirs for sale, that are handmade by the local people of Chamula

A man walks through the fresh produce of the market in Chamula

Locals stand watch over their produce, and decide what to do before the sun starts to set in Chamula

The cowboy-style hats are very popular in Mexico

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.

Zinacantán as seen from the hill-sides

Zinacantán farmlands as seen from the hill-sides

A man sprays his fields in Zinacantán

Farmers and labourers tend to their fields in Zinacantán

Harvesting the crops by hand in Zinacantán

The farms scale the mountain sides, even on an angle in Zinacantán

Clouds come in and out of these highlands in Zinacantán

Almost every sector of land has been converted into agriculture in Zinacantán

The central core of Zinacantán features the typical church, and plaza, as well as a cell-phone tower.

The central town of Zinacantán

A long-distance closeup of Zinacantán

The roads and farms weave up and down in Zinacantán

Driving back towards Chamula, San Cristobal, and ultimately, back to Tuxtla Gutierrez

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.

Delicious mexican dish

Various vegetables with colours, and tacos on the side

Maiz (corn) in a cup for sale, with various condiments like mayonnaise, hot sauce, and salt.

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.

The wondrous canyon that cuts through Chiapas is absolutely enormous

Boats run in and out of El Sumidero on an hourly basis, for tourism, and for whatever other activities

Burning the tops of the cliffs of El Sumidero, whether legally, or illegally.

A vulture seeks its next dead meal in El Sumidero canyon

The haze that fades the photos of the canyon took some work to remove, due to its enormous scale

On the little islands/shores on the left, you can find crocodiles in El Sumidero

A boat, full of passengers marks a small point of the massive canyon

A tourist takes a photo of the massive El Sumidero canyon

The total duration of a tourist trip, up and down the canyon of El Sumidero, is about 2 hours

A nearby cliff contrasts the cliffs in the background of El Sumidero quite well

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.

Santo Domingo de Guzman Parish in Chiapa de Corzo

A woman sells various artistic sculptures in Chiapa De Corzo

Inside a large Villa in Chiapa De Corzo

During high season, every one of these boats takes tourists into the El Sumidero Canyon

The various ports of Chiapa De Corzo

In the background, you can see large, brand new developments in Chiapa De Corzo

Stepping back into a pre-historic time while venturing towards the El Sumidero canyon

Various low socio-economic locals depend on the river for their survival in Chiapas

A man hunts, or washes, or drinks water in the Chiapas river

Various low socio-economic locals depend on the river for their survival in Chiapas

One of the main locations to send off tourists into the El Sumidero Canyon

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.

This bridge marks the entry point into the El Sumidero canyon

An american crocodile relaxes for the day in El Sumidero

A man with not much to do, sits by and rethinks his life in El Sumidero

Vultures populate the El Sumidero. There are over 100+ of them

The canyon was formed through a crack in the crust about 35 million years ago, that was eventually eroded by the ‘Grijalva' river.

The canyon walls can rise as high as 1,000 meters (3,300 feet).

The canyon can turn up to 90 degrees at some points

Most of the vegetation is low-to-medium height deciduous (lose their leaves during certain seasons)

While taking a boat, the sun is mostly blocked from sight within the canyon

Inside the ‘Cueva De Colores” (Cave of Colours). The cave filters magnesium, potassium and other minerals to get various colours (apparently)

The Virgin of Guadalupe sits inside the Cueva De Colores

El Sumidero

Árbol de Navidad (Christmas Tree) is a seasonal waterfall. Branches over time were covered in moss.

A crane under the Árbol de Navidad in El Sumidero

A crane in El Sumidero

A lone house stands atop a islet in El Sumidero. We have now left the main portion of the canyon

The Chicoasen hydro-electric dam just outside the canyon

Venturing back into the El Sumidero canyon, back towards Chiapa De Corzo

El Sumidero

El Sumidero

A giant american crocodile in El Sumidero

Another american crocodile in El Sumidero

A family of monkeys adventure through the El Sumidero

El Sumidero

El Sumidero

Returning back towards Chiapa De Corzo

The main port in Chiapa De Corzo during sunset

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.

At the top of the climb are various cell-tower installations, and a man who keeps them protected

The city of Tuxtla

Conclusion

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

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