Sumidero Canyon and Chiapa de Corzo


My overnight Christmas gift to Chad (category: Science & Nature) was a trip to the Sumidero Canyon National Park near San Cristobal de las Casas. There are plenty of tours that go there from San Cris, but most just take you on a boat ride through the canyon from Chiapa de Corzo, rather than including stops at the miradores (though some do include the miradores). Plus, we’re not big on group tours. I’d also read that the town of Chiapa de Corzo was historic and charming and worth spending a night, so we decided to rent a car for two days for this adventure.

As far as I could determine, there’s only one rental car agency in San Cristobal, called Optima Car Rental, located in the lobby of the Hotel Mansión del Valle (which seems really nice). They only have one car with automatic transmission, but after a bit of email correspondence, I called and reserved it for two days at a cost of 2,600 pesos (around $140) including taxes and insurance. Luckily since this was a Christmas gift, this expense (and our hotel in Chiapa) didn’t count against our regular weekly budget.

We picked up the car a little after 9 a.m. on a Thursday, and after paperwork and checking out the car, we took the toll highway (89 pesos) to Tuxtla Gutierrez and the entrance of the national park. There is a small entry fee of 58 pesos per person. After driving about a half hour through the park, mostly up, we arrived at the furthest of five miradores, Mirador los Chiapa. 

That mirador was definitely the busiest of the five, with lots of tour vans, but we may have just caught it at a bad time (it was around 11:30 when we arrived). It’s also the only mirador with real bathrooms, which cost 5 pesos, so that may be why the tour groups stop there for so long. We managed to find a picnic table there to eat our packed PBJs, but we later found that the other miradores had better tables to enjoy the views with lunch. So my tip for others wanting to picnic in the park is to save lunch for after the stop at Mirador los Chiapa.

Next we visited Mirador El Tepehuaje, which was small and had a similar view to Chiapa, but was much quieter. Next was Mirador el Roblar, which involved a nice little walk out to the viewpoint, so it was probably our favorite one. Though this is a national park, there are not many hiking trails. The activity there mostly just consists of driving from stop to stop. Then we checked out Mirador La Coyota, which was maybe the most developed with stairs and walls. And finally, near to the entrance, Mirador La Ceiba, which also had a bit of a view of the city of Tuxtla beyond the river.

After our last mirador we drove 45 minutes to the town of Chiapa de Corzo and La Ceiba Hotel and Spa. Chiapa de Corzo is much hotter than San Cris with highs in the mid-90s (Fahrenheit) so we started our stay with some pool time. Unfortunately the water was very cold, but it was still fun to hang out by it with a few beers.

After our “swim” and showers, we headed out to check out the town and find an early dinner. One downside of Chiapa de Corzo is that most of the restaurants close at 6 p.m. Luckily we were hungry by 4:30 when we walked to the plaza from the hotel. We spent a little time checking out the town. The main highlight is the Plaza de Armas, which has a 16th century Moorish fountain and a huge old tree. They call the tree “La Pochota “ and it is at least 500 years old because the town was supposedly founded near the tree in 1528. It is a ceiba tree (the same name as our hotel and one of the miradores) and was very large and full of birds.

For our early dinner we chose a buffet restaurant featuring typical Chiapan food. It had great reviews and we figured it was a great opportunity to try lots of different foods. The buffet proved to be really fun (and delicious) – I think we ate more meat that night than we typically eat in a month! Chiapan food involved lots of grilled meats and mole-type sauces, but the highlights were probably the refried beans (which had a hint of chocolate) and the fish ceviche (which was the same as other ceviches, meaning great). Oh, and the fried plantains.

After dinner, we walked around the town some more to enjoy the architecture and lovely warm evening. During our walk, we got adopted by a stray dog who insisted on following us everywhere we went. She was very pretty so we tolerated her presence and named her “Doña,” which I thought was Spanish for lady but is actually more like a term of respect. After a while, we decided to buy her something to eat because she’d been following us passively for so long. We didn’t see any stores and most restaurants were closed but there was a line of food carts near the church so we decided to buy her a hot dog. At the price (25 pesos) we thought it would be a simple hot dog with bun and maybe some condiments, but it turned out to be a quite elaborate and delicious-looking hot dog. We made sure to get far from the hot dog cart before giving any to Doña so the woman who made it wouldn’t be offended (though she was pretty happy to make a sale to us on a slow night) and so that Doña wouldn’t associate the cart with getting food and annoy the owner. So we walked to the main plaza before giving her some bites. She seemed very grateful and ate everything except the avocado.

On our way back to the hotel, we decided to walk up to the main highway to buy a couple more beers to enjoy by the pool before bed. As we started walking (Doña still trailing us), we passed a home-based grocery store around the corner from our hotel, with a woman and her children sitting out front. We asked if she sold beer and she did, though only Modelo Especial. That worked for us! While we were waiting for the woman to return with some cold cans of beer, a large firework went off a few blocks away. Doña took off running into the night in the opposite direction of the noise. This proved to be very lucky because I don’t know how we would have discouraged her from trying to come into our hotel after feeding her. Normally we never feed or interact with stray dogs but she was so gentle and patient and skinny that I couldn’t resist. And it made for a good story. We will never forget what she looked like running up the street after the fireworks. The little girls outside the home-based store found it amusing too. A few nights later I dreamt she found us in San Cristobal. I think I miss having a dog. 

The next morning we got up to do the boat ride through the Sumidero Canyon. After seeing it from above, we’d get to see it from the river on the canyon floor. I’d read that the boats start at 9 a.m. so we headed out around 8:30. Unfortunately, they don’t operate the boats on a regular schedule and they only depart when they’ve sold enough tickets (at 280 pesos per person) to fill the boat. On that morning, it ended up taking until 10:30 for them to sell the amount of tickets needed. So we had a lot of sitting around while waiting, which wasn’t the best but we passed the time ok with a crossword puzzle.

The boat ride takes two hours and I think it was worth the wait (though I would have much preferred if it had left at closer to 9!). We saw a crocodile and some very interesting rock formations. The canyon walls were quite impressive. The highlight was a family of monkeys in the trees next to the river. The outward tour ends at a large hydroelectric dam where there are a few boats set up selling refreshments to the tourist boats. We didn’t buy anything. Then the boat brought us back to Chiapa de Corzo. I called our hotel front desk while we were waiting to depart to delay our check out time to 1 p.m. and we got back just in time.

Monkeys by Rio Sumidero

From there we drove the hour back on the toll highway to San Cris and returned the rental car. All and all, I’m not sure seeing the miradores, Chiapa de Corzo, and Sumidero Canyon boat ride on our own was worth the cost and hassle versus a tour that offers all those things, but we had a really good time and a memorable night in the town. Tours don’t leave a lot of flexibility to find unexpected adventures like spending the evening with a stray dog. And our hotel was wonderful with a beautiful jungle garden. Our overnight trip to Chiapa de Corzo will definitely be one of the highlights of our time in San Cristobal.

Review of La Ceiba Hotel and Spa – Lovely hotel for a night – Beautiful grounds. Comfortable bed. Clean room with good hot water in the shower. The pool was nice but cold and we enjoyed sitting by it. There was parking in the small lot across the street. Staff was friendly and helpful at check in and they were kind about letting us check out at 1 p.m. when we ended up having to wait until after 10:30 for our boat ride through the Sumidero Canyon. Note that the restaurant closes at 3 p.m. and most of the restaurants in town close at 6 so be prepared to eat early.

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