Nestled snugly between Oaxaca and Guatemala and Belize is the Mayan gem that is Chiapas. Consisting of mountainous highlands, dense sub tropical rainforests, Spanish colonial towns and Mayan archeological sites this travellers wonderland has enough going on to keep even Alice’s head on a swivel. We based ours lives in the central and incredibly charming San Cristobal de las Casas. This was the perfect perfect spot for us to stay in / retreat to at the end of the very fun filled 5 nights that we spent there.
From Oaxaca to Chiapas:
We took an overnight bus from the terminal in Oaxaca to San Cristobal de las Casas at 8pm. There’s one at 7, 8, 9 and 10:30pm. The ungraceful guide are BIG advocates of overnight transport for long distances because, well you’re not losing a day travelling AND you’re saving on a nights accommodation. So it’s win win really. The price of the bus ranges from about $380 to $700 pesos (€18-€35).
What a massive difference I hear you say? Yup… ADO has various levels of bus travelling its routes. Starting with OCC which is a sister company with slightly older busses, but still totally comfy and air conditioned and with a toilet on board, these are your best bet if you’re on a budget. They take a little longer as they don’t use tolled highways, and sometimes have more than one stop, but sure if you’re sleeping that doesn’t really matter.
The other prices are for ADO, pretty much as above but a slightly newer bus, ADO gl or gold line has lovely comfy seats, personal charging points for laptops phones etc, and ADO platino which is the same again but with sex segregated bathrooms, free soft drinks, coffees and a snack, bigger seats that recline further and the movies are piped into individual headphones instead of blared over the speakers.
So basically it depends on how much you’re willing to spend and how comfortable you want to be. In my opinion the OCC bus is totally fine, the others are overkill, but hey, that choice is yours to make.
Our journey took us just under 11 hours with a VERY brief stop at roughly the halfway mark. I would recommend eating before you get on the bus, and take some snacks and plenty of water. As I mentioned there is a toilet on the bus but if you do need to use it be prepared, it’s like trying to pee standing up on space mountain.
Accommodation in Chiapas:
We stayed in Planet Hostel, and could not recommend it more highly. The hostel cost us $390 pesos per night (€19), but included a different breakfast every morning, pancakes, omelette, huevos rancheros etc, always with fruit and coffee.
The staff were amazingly friendly and informative. If you need to do laundry have a shop around there are cheaper places, but saying that we shopped around for various tours (see below) and ended up booking all of them through the hostel as they were the cheapest we found.
Also there are volunteering opportunities available at the hostel, we met a really cool guy who was staying there (in a dorm) for free in exchange for a few hours a day of work. If you’re travelling on a budget this is a really good way of keeping costs down.
Things To Do in Chiapas:
Free Walking Tour San Cristobal:
I would recommend the first thing you do in any new city is try to do a walking tour. It’s a great way to get a feel for the city through the experience of a local. The San Cristobal walking tour is by far the best walking tour I’ve been on. The guides are super friendly, incredibly passionate about their city you get to try loads of local bits and bobs.
The tour is donation based so be generous as they’re trying to make a living at this, and they have to kick back to vendors for all the stuff you get to try! It leaves every morning at 10am from the big cross in front of the church in the Plaza de La Paz.
You can whatsapp them the night before on +52 1 951 135 0906 to book your spot. They speak perfect English, but as always feel free to hablar your Español if you fancy the practice.
The tour will take you on a 3-3.5 hr odyssey of the town, highlighting not only spots of local historical interest, but also art hotspots, coffee tasting and local food places ( we went back to La Caldera twice). Try to do it on your first day, you’ll feel like a local afterwards.
We loved everything about this. Beautiful speedboat journey up and back the river in a canyon (approx 2hrs). It was spectacular to see the canyon that’s immortalised on the Chiapas flag. Along the way you’ll see monkeys and crocodiles (oh my!). Monkeys and a speedboat? Where do I sign?
Afterwards, you also visit the local town of Chiapa de Corzo. It’s a beautiful colourful town, you’ll get some great snaps if you’re into photography. You’ll get roughly an hour to float around. Take a trip up the bell tower for 10pesos and enjoy the views. The tour cost 285Mxn (€13) and was from 9am-3pm.
Montebello Lakes and Chiflon Waterfalls:
The first stop on this tour was the waterfalls at el Chiflon We were picked up at our hostal at 8am and arrived at the waterfalls at about 10.30. Once here we were given about 2 hours to do with as our little hearts desired… which of course for us was hike as far as possible and see the magnificent ‘vela de novia’ waterfall. STUNNING. This stop had a little something for everyone as there were hammocks, barbecues, zip lines, swimming etc… so dont feel like you have to walk, that’s just The Ungraceful Guide default!
After this we hit the Montebello Lakes, 5 lakes in total. All very beautiful, but by lake 3 we we’re kind of over them to be honest. We got 20 mins at each lake, and then there is a long drive between each lake. On a beautiful day I can see this being a slightly better part of the tour, unfortunately it was overcast, windy and cold when we were there which took the WOW factor out of it. Although, do indulge in the hot chocolate. You can thank me later.
After the lakes we stopped for lunch/dinner at a local restaurant. Dishes cost an average 100pesos each (no drinks included). Although it was great food (Guetemalan food) it was quite pricey by Mexican standards so if you are on a budget we reccommend you just bring a picnic.
So all in all its a long day and very heavy on the driving. My personal recommendation would be to skip the lakes, DIY it to El Chiflon and spend the day there instead. If you do want to hit the lakes, you’ll need to book a tour as they’re too far and difficult to access by public transport, but at 300MX (€14.5) for 8am-8pm, it was totally worth it.
El Mercado de Santo Domingo:
Head to Santo Domingo market, off Calle Utilla and just lose yourself in the local artesania, textiles, souvenirs sights and smells!!
San Juan Chamula:
Oh dear lord, just do yourself a favour and get to the church in San Juan Chamula.
Words cannot begin to describe this place. So much so that it will be getting its own dedicated blog post, so I won’t say too much, other than; drunk people, burping, candles and ritual sarcrifice. A Collectivo from the market in San Criostobal costs 15MX (€.75) each way, its a 30 min drive and there is a 25MX (€1) entrance to the church. Busses head back to Chiapas from the market outside the church.
Honestly, it will change you. Check out a snippet from our Mexico travel video to see how stunned we were.
After hearing nothing but amazing things from fellow travellers, we needed to see Palenque. Since we were heading to Guetemala, we decided to kill two birds and book a tour leaving San Cristobal at 4am.
You can DIY it but a tour suited us better as we planned to stay the night in Palenque, to cross the Guatemalan border the following day. A tour also meant we got to visit Agua Azul which is breathtaking, and Misol Ha.
The bus collected us from our hostel at 4am and put our bags in boot, after 2.5 hours of driving we stopped at a breakfast buffet 85MX each. It was good, it was early, we were tired and hungry. We were happy to pay. Remember, that is an expensive meal for Mexico and it’s not included in the tour, but at that hour of the morning “shut up and take my money!!”
Leaving the breakfast buffet at 7.30am, we headed towards Agua Azul. WOW. Enjoy a morning dip, soak up the sun, have a trek and just enjoy listening to the natural beauty. Despite the umpteen busses parked in the car park, It was tranquil, it was quiet, it was awesome.
What we would recommend is the night before the tour, pick up something small like a banana for a quick bite at 4am, then (if you can hold off) sleep or wait to get breakfast in Agua Azul. There is lots to choose from, and the prices are very reasonable. We regretted indulging in a buffet when we saw what was available at Agua Azul. If you can hold off for 5 hours. Do!
Also, be warned. No matter how comfortable you get on the bus sleeping is touch and go. The roads are full of bumps, bends and speed ramps. I wish you well on this conquest. And no matter how grumpy or tired you feel, that refreshing swim at Agua Azul will put the (hot) spring back in your step.
Although Misol Ha was a place of stunning beauty where you can walk in behind a gorgeous waterfall, like a scene from last of the mohicans, this stop was REALLY busy. I mean tourist central, queue – wait – selfie – repeat. Also the time we were given to visit here (1hr) was too much, mostly because I got sick of taking photos for other people. In saying that if you make the climb to the top, the views are stunning!!
The Palenque ruins themselves are breathtaking! We found it hard to believe that people had actually built these things, and so long ago. We were given a good chunk of time to explore the grounds and go all Indiana Jones. Just beautiful. Just bear in mind it costs 31MX (€1.50) to enter the National Park and 70MX (€3.40) to enter the archaeological site on top of the price of the tour. The park closes at 5pm. Bring water! Lots of water.
The tour leaves the park shortly after 4:30 to head back to Chiapas, which I can only imagine was a long hike back, as we were crossing the border into Guatemala, we were dropped off in Palenque town where we made camp for the night, and prepped for our first border crossing. GAAAAAH!!!
To Be Continued…. (psssht – here!)