Amazing Chiapas

Amazing Chiapas

February 2023

We were on our way to the lowlands and jungles of Chiapas province. On the way, we first visited the town of Mitla, where we spent the night. Mitla was a place of worship and religious center of the Zapotec and later Mixtec people. We strolled briefly through the small town.

Close to Mitla we admired the natural phenomenon Hierve el Aqua. We took a short circular walk around the petrified waterfalls. These ‘waterfalls’ were created after mineral-rich water dripped down from above the rock, leaving the mineral behind on the rocks. The thermal pools located on top of the rocks reminded us of Yellowstone National Park in terms of colours.

Actually, it was too hot to start this hike, but the thought that we could “cool off” in one of the thermal pools after hiking made us decide to conquer the height differences. From the bottom, we got a good impression of all the colours and shapes of the petrified waterfall, of which, according to our information, only two exist in the world. Very special indeed!

For the past two weeks we have never been below 2,000 meters, but today we would drive down to almost sea level. We crossed one mountain range after another and with every turn we noticed the temperature difference with the highlands behind us. Upon arrival at the area where we planned to spend the night, we had some trouble finding the right spot. Somewhere on the dirt road we missed a turnoff. It was almost getting dark. We saw an opening in a fence that ran along the narrow dirt road and decided to stop here on a secluded piece of meadow. There probably wouldn’t be anyone passing by at this time of day anyway.

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Full of good spirits, we left the meadow the next morning and headed first for the supermarket for the necessary groceries. And again today we made good progress. We passed several villages or small towns where the necessary speed bumps took out our momentum, but all in all we could not complain. The barren brown landscape soon gave way to a lovely green environment as we entered the province of Chiapas. It almost seemed as if the provincial border between Oaxaca and Chiapas had been drawn on it. All the greenery was quite a relief and pleasing to the eye. At the Cascadas El Aquacero we were going to spend the night where we were welcomed by a two meter long thick snake that disappeared into the bushes just in front of our car. We had arrived in the tropics.

That we have arrived in the tropics was also evident on Eddy’s legs. Two days ago he had walked outside at sunset in shorts and noticed that there were lots of little black flies no bigger than a pinhead flying around. He had not used any anti-bug agent because he was not expecting to be harmed by these little critters. His feet were now so swollen from dozens of bites around his ankles that it was almost impossible to put on shoes. A wise lesson for the coming months.

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The people taking care of the entrance of Cascadas El Aquacero were already back when we woke up in the grassy parking lot. Well into the night it had been a cacophony of insects. This time no passing trucks or loud music from partying Mexicans, but the sound of the jungle. We drank our cup of coffee and got ready for the 700 steps that separated us from the El Aquacero falls. The way down was easy and after 15 minutes we reached the floor of the canyon where the sound of the waterfall told us to turn left.

At this time of year there is not a lot of water flowing making it relatively easy to reach the waterfall. Shoes off and trudging through the clear flowing water. One hundred and fifty meters above us hundreds of vultures hovered in groups gratefully taking advantage of the thermals. From several places the water came down where it collected and finally reached the warm water of the river over smooth brown rocks. This was an excellent opportunity to shower under a waterfall! Going back up the stairs would make us swet again soon, though.

From other travelers we had heard of a sinkhole. Sima de las Cotorras is a deep hole in the earth’s crust near here where a large colony of green parrots  lives. Curious as we are, we visited this impressive hole that is 160 meters deep with a diameter of an estimated 80 to 100 meters. Most impressive was the sound the parrots made from the bottom of the sinkhole. Every now and then a group would fly above the trees and we could not only hear them but also see them.
The rest of the afternoon we entertained ourselves with laundry at a small laundromat in Tuxtla Gutierrez where we would also spend the night.

Sima de las Cotorras

It was no longer far to the town of Chiapa de Corzo on the other side of the Rio Grijalva. As we crossed the river, it already became a little clear to us what awaited us here. We would be visiting the Canyon del Sumidero by boat. A deep canyon formed by cracks in the earth’s crust along with erosion by the river 35 million years ago.

We bought the tickets in advance and knew we were on the early side, but within 30 minutes we would depart, according to the ticket seller. Somehow a Mexican minute always takes longer than a European one because after 60 minutes we were still sitting on the waterfront. The reason was obvious. The boat had to be full of tourists. When we counted 16 heads we finally boarded and the 200hp engine was started. That felt promising indeed! At high speed we whizzed across the water. That alone was an experience. An added bonus was that it created a nice breeze that made the heat of the now high sun disappear.

The captain steered the boat deftly to the entrance of the canyon where the momentum soon wore off. River crocodiles quietly swam back and forth until, in their opinion, the boat got too close and they disappeared. We sailed on and passed the highest or deepest point. A dizzying height and you feel so small. From the water surface to the top of the cliff it is one kilometer. Unfortunately there was also quite a bit of garbage swimming in the river and here we saw again the big problem of Mexico.

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Canyon de Sumidero
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After two hours we were back at the car and made our way to San Cristobal de las Casas. There we met up with the Rommels again at the San Nicolas campground. San Cristobal is at quite a high altitude and so the road wound its way up the mountains. When we arrived at 2100 meters, we got a nice spot next to Thomas and Sima. We sat outside for a while but it cooled off quickly and at first it was very refreshing but later it became even too cold to stay outside. So for a change all the blankets were in use again during a very quiet night. Well, quiet? Just before we went to bed, our car suddenly started to shake and the cause was completely unclear. No one could be seen or heard outside. After a few seconds it stopped again, maybe an earthquake. We don’t know.

The next day we started our 20-minute walk towards the town center. The narrow streets are lined with colonial houses, there are tons of hotels, restaurants and cafes. Much of it is quite modern and you see many Mexican and foreign tourists. The pedestrian zones and squares are used by the indigenous women to sell their souvenirs and textiles to the tourists. They do this very persistently and usually they approach in squadrons, especially the wealthier Mexicans are victims of these “raids”. The indigenous women come from the surrounding villages and are descendants of the Maya. Their traditions and Mayan culture have been well preserved in the mountainous regions of Chiapas, but most of them still live on bone-hard labor and in poor conditions. Despite this, most of the women wear very beautiful, clean and elegant clothes, their black skirts are especially striking. Many women are still very young and usually have a baby or small child tied to their back.

We drifted through the hustle and bustle, tried a Mayan chocolate with corn and cinnamon and for lunch we had a torta at the Mercado de Dulces y Artesenias. Back at the campsite we had a hot shower and then we were on our way again. Our destination for the next days is the Carretera Fronteriza. On it we want to explore the jungle along the border to Guatemala and drive in a big arc to Palenque.

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Streets of San Cristobal
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Mercado de Dulces y Artesenias

The day’s destination were the waterfalls of El Chiflon. It took us about four hours to finally cover these 100 kilometers which again was mainly caused by the many speed bumps. If there is one thing we are not going to miss about Mexico, it is these idiotic speed limiters! Fortunately, the place where we would spend the night was better than expected. It is a great advantage that itis allowed to spend the night in the parking lot by the falls because that way we could visit them the next day before all the tour buses with tourists arrive.

Parking lot El Chiflon Waterfalls

The hike to the falls was not too long at one and a half kilometers. However, the path did count around 800 steps which increased the difficulty factor a bit.We kept the crystal clear and extremely green blue water constantly to our left and slowly climbed up step by step. We passed a number of small waterfalls and stream rapids that seemed very tempting to jump in. However, for no apparent reason this was not allowed in the park at this time. Well, the reason was clear but we didn’t quite understand it. Signs read ‘por temporade lluvia se prohibide nadar’…which we translated as ‘because of the rainy season, it is forbidden to swim’. Maybe we missed something or they knew more than us, but it certainly hasn’t rained in the past two months.

The waterfall from which the park gets its name was waiting for us at the very end of the trail. Here the water falls down 100 meters in two stages. Via a steep staircase we climbed the last 20 meters a little higher and had a fantastic view of the waterfall and the basin in front of it. It is not very convenient to stay on this viewing platform for more than two minutes. Because of the spray coming off El Chiflon, we were soaking wet in no time. 

El Chiflon Waterfall

Back at the car we made our lunch and still briefly went into the water. Fortunately, the water was cold enough to cool off! Then we continued on our way towards the border with Guatemala to experience the real jungle of Chiapas.

Eddy and Romy van Es © 2020, infected.nl. All Rights Reserved.

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