Aaaaah Chiapas, the Mexican state everyone loves – except perhaps the Mexican government. Some of Mexico’s most visited tourist sites are packed into this southern state, while its cultural capital San Cristobal has become a backpacker Mecca in recent years. For many travellers, Chiapas will likely be the crown jewel of their time in Mexico. Yet despite its booming tourism sector, Chiapas remains dirt poor, and lags behind most of the country by almost every measure of development. The gains of the tourism industry have largely gone to just a small portion of the population, while everyone else has seen very little trickle down. It’s almost to be expected that locals (aka: Chiapanecas) will complain the federal government almost totally ignores their beautiful state – and the lack of love seems mutual. Along with neighbouring Oaxaca, Chiapas is a hotbed of political resistance, and likewise of political repression.
Even the casual visitor should be at least vaguely aware of Chiapas’ complicated political situation. If a road block slows your tour bus, consider that those protesters manning the barricade may have bigger problems than reaching some tourist site behind schedule. If a protest interrupts your lunch … well deal with it. At least you have something to eat.
Of course, Chiapas isn’t all barricades and social unrest, and I hope to discuss some of the state’s social movements in the weeks ahead. Anyway, this is one of Mexico’s most colourful corners, and a photographer’s paradise. These shots basically took themselves.
The cultural capital of Chiapas, San Cristobal de las Casas is used as a base for most visitors to the state. At 2,200 metres above sea level, its climate is much cooler than the humid lowlands.
Expect colours …
… like red and orange. You’re bound to run into a protest at some point. Bring s’mores.
The otherworldly Cascadas de Agua Azul are tinted blue by a mix of natural minerals.
Some of the waterfalls are up to 20 feet high.
Once a bustling Mayan city, Palenque is today one of Mexico’s most impressive archaeological sites.
Much quieter and less visited than San Cristobal, the pueblo magico of Chiapa de Corzo is a peaceful little village that’s perfect for whittling away tropical afternoons with a cold drink and some people watching.
One good choice of refreshment is pozol, a beverage unique to southern Mexico, made with fermented corn dough and cacao. It’s normally served ice cold, and has been a thirst quencher in these parts since pre-Hispanic times.
Another great way to cool off is with a visit to Misol-Ha, a 35 meter waterfall on the road to Palenque.
The kilometre high cliffs of Cañón del Sumidero are a stunning sight.
The canyon is best enjoyed from a boat ride through this gaping crevasse. Look out for crocs!
Seriously, watch for those crocs!
Catch a glimpse of indigenous culture at Zinacantán’s Sunday market. The local Tzotzil Mayans are known for their excruciatingly detailed, hand woven clothing.
Chiapas is a great place to pick up souvenirs, though it’s a bit hard to vouch for the authenticity of these “meteorites”.