Exploring Chiapas (Palenque, Agua Azul, Tonina, San Cristobal de las Casas, Lagunas de Montebello and Cañon de Sumidero) – Trip, Excursion, tour, from Mexico City

One of the most spectacular States of Mexico is without any doubt the State of Chiapas.

Our most favorite places so far that we have explored with Aztec Explorers, are Palenque, Agua Azul, Tonina, San Cristobal de las Casas, Lagunas de Montebello and Canyon de Sumidero.

Exploring Palenque

Palenque is a Mayan city that flourished in the 7th century. The Palenque ruins date from ca. 226 BC to ca. AD 799. After its decline, it was absorbed into the jungle of cedar, mahogany, and sapodilla trees, but has since been excavated and restored.

Palenque contains some of the finest architecture, sculpture, roof comb and bas-relief carvings that the Mayas produced. Much of the history of Palenque has been reconstructed from reading the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the many monuments; historians now have a long sequence of the ruling dynasty of Palenque in the 5th century and extensive knowledge of the city-state’s rivalry with other states such as Calakmul and Toniná.

The most famous ruler of Palenque was K’inich Janaab Pakal, or Pacal the Great, whose tomb has been found and excavated in the Temple of the Inscriptions.

The discovered area covers up to 2.5 km² (1 sq mi), but it is estimated that less than 10% of the total area of the city is explored, leaving more than a thousand structures still covered by jungle. Don’t forget to hike through the jungle, passing a river and waterfalls and covered ruins, to it’s incredible site museum.

Virtual Trip – Palenque archeological site

Exploring Agua Azul

The Cascadas de Agua Azul (Spanish for “Blue Waterfalls”) are a series of waterfalls found on the Xanil River in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

These waterfalls consists of many cataracts following one after another, taken from near the top of the sequence of cascades. The larger cataracts are as high as 6 meters. During much of the distance the water descends in two streams, with small islands in the middle.

The water has a high content of calcium carbonate and other minerals, and where it falls on rocks or fallen trees, it encases them in a thick shell-like coating of limestone.

Exploring Tonina

Toniná is a pre-Columbian archaeological site and ruined city of the Maya civilization. Toniná means house of stone in the Tzeltal language of the local Maya inhabitants. Toniná was occupied at different times by different cultures: Olmec, Maya, Teotihuacan and Toltec.

The site is has groups of temple-pyramids set on terraces rising some 74 meter above a plaza, a large court for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame, and over 100 carved monuments, most dating from the 6th century through the 9th centuries AD, during the Classic period.

Toniná is distinguished by its well preserved stucco sculptures and particularly by its in-the-round carved monuments, produced to an extent not seen in Mesoamerica since the end of the much earlier Olmec civilization.

Toniná possesses one of the largest pyramids in Mexico; at 74 meters in height, it is taller than the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán (65 meters).

Toniná was an aggressive state in the Late Classic, using warfare to develop a powerful kingdom. For much of its history, Toniná was engaged in sporadic warfare with Palenque, its greatest rival and one of the most important polities in the west of the Maya region, although Toniná eventually became the dominant city in the west.

The city is notable for having the last known Long Count date on any Maya monument, marking the end of the Classic Maya period in AD 909.

The site was built on a platform covering 6 hectares (650,000 sq ft). The principal architecture is located in the acropolis, which occupies seven south-facing terraces on the northern side of the platform.

Virtual Trip – Tonina Archeological site

Exploring San Cristobal de las Casas

The city’s center maintains its Spanish colonial layout and much of its architecture, with red tile roofs, cobblestone streets and wrought iron balconies often with flowers. Most of the city’s economy is based on commerce, services and tourism.

Tourism is based on the city’s history, culture and indigenous population. Major landmarks of the city include the Cathedral and the Santo Domingo church with its large open air crafts market.

Exploring Lagunas de Montebello

Parque Nacional Lagunas de Montebello is a national park in the Mexican state of Chiapas, near the border with Guatemala, comprising 59 multi-colored lakes in a pine forest. It was the first national park in Chiapas when created in 1959 and in 2009 the park was designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

The main attractions of the national park are its 59 lakes, collectively called the Montebello Lakes. The lakes are famous for their striking colors, which vary due to their different mineral contents, ranging from emerald and turquoise to dark green, and even purple and reddish black. About 15 of the lakes are easily accessible by car or foot. Lago Tziscao is the largest of the lakes with a village nearby. Other lakes include Montebello, La Cañada, Pojoj, and a group of five lakes known as the Lagunas de Colores (Lakes of Colors: Encantada, Ensueño, Esmeralda, Agua Tinta, and Bosque Azul). Many of the lakes are open for swimming, canoeing, and kayaking.

Exploring Cañon de Sumidero

Cañón del Sumidero is a deep natural canyon. The canyon’s creation began around the same time as the Grand Canyon in the U.S. state of Arizona, by a crack in the area’s crust and subsequent erosion by the Grijalva River, which still runs through it. Sumidero Canyon has vertical walls which reach as high as 1,000 metres (3,300 ft), with the river turning up to 90 degrees during the 13-kilometre (8.1 mi) length of the narrow passage.

The canyon is surrounded by the Sumidero Canyon National Park, a federally protected natural area of Mexico which extends for 21,789 hectares (53,840 acres) over four municipalities of the state of Chiapas. Most of the vegetation in the park is low- to medium-height rainforest, with small areas of mixed pine-oak forest and grassland. At the north end of the canyon is the Chicoasén Dam and its artificial reservoir, one of several on the Grijalva River, which is important for water storage and the generation of hydroelectric power in the region.

The interior of the canyon has thirty rapids, five waterfalls, three beaches, two freshwater springs and a cofferdam three meters wide. The canyon contains endangered and threatened species such as the Central American river turtle and the American crocodile, which can be seen on the riverbanks.

The walls of the canyon contain numerous small caves, rock formations and other notable features. The best known of the area’s caves is the Cueva de Colores (“Cave of Colors”). This cave gets its name from the filtration of magnesium, potassium and other minerals which form colors on the walls, especially shades of pink. It contains an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe inside usually surrounded by fresh flowers and burning candles left by visitors. The Cueva de Silencio (“Cave of Silence”) is so named because of a lack of echo or any other kind of resonance in its interior. In another small cave, there is a stalactite called the Caballito de Mar or “Seahorse” after its shape.

Of the various seasonal waterfalls, the best known is the Árbol de Navidad (“Christmas Tree”). The “branches” of the Árbol are made by deposits from the waterfall which have been covered in moss. During the rainy season, when the waterfall is active, the water and the light change the colors of the “branches” and make the formation stand out. The park was a candidate in 2009 as one of the Seven New Natural Wonders of the World.

Free downloadable PDF – Maps & Travel Guide Chiapas 40 pages – English – Courtesy of Azteca Travel Tours Art

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Road trip to the State of Chiapas with Aztec Explorers


Next road trip exploring Chiapas, visiting all those amazing places, from Wednesday the 17th of April (from 19.00 pm) to Monday 22nd of April (04.30 am); all details and sign up on Meetup – Aztec Explorers.
Small groups, experienced driver, certified guides, in Spanish and English.
All pictures by Aztec Explorers, please respect our copyright or ask permission before using our texts or pictures.
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