If you want to explore Mexico's Chiapas region but are short on time, this nine-day trip is a perfect blend of history, culture, and nature. Start with a river ride through Sumidero Canyon, then head to historic San Cristóbal for walking tours and a traditional cooking class. Continue to Maya archeological sites and indigenous cities for cultural exchanges while stopping en route at turquoise waterfalls.


  • Travel between the soaring cliffs of Sumidero Canyon
  • Swim in the turquoise lagoons at Agua Azul
  • Participate in indigenous crafting workshops
  • Explore the Palenque archaeological site
  • Visit the ancient Maya cities of Yaxchilan & Bonampak

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Tuxtla, Visit Sumidero Canyon, Transfer to San Cristóbal San Cristóbal
Day 2 Cooking Class in Zinacantán, Free Time in San Cristóbal San Cristóbal
Day 3 Free Day in San Cristóbal San Cristóbal
Day 4 San Cristóbal to Palenque, Stop at Agua Azul & Misol-Ha Palenque
Day 5 Tour Palenque, Visit the Roberto Barrios Waterfalls Palenque
Day 6 Day Trip to Yaxchilán & Bonampak, Transfer to Nahá Nahá
Day 7 Explore the Nahá Biosphere Reserve, Lacandon Fire Ceremony Nahá
Day 8 Lacandon Bow & Arrow Workshop, Transfer to Palenque Palenque
Day 9 Palenque to Villahermosa, Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Tuxtla, Visit Sumidero Canyon, Transfer to San Cristóbal

View of the Sumidero Canyon from the Grijalva River
Take a ride through Sumidero Canyon

Welcome to Mexico and Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas! This state is one of Mexico's main coffee-producing regions (along with Oaxaca and Veracruz) and is known for its rich indigenous heritage, which reveals itself in the food, culture, and dress of the people. Upon arrival at the airport, a driver will meet you and transfer you 25 minutes outside of Tuxtla to the town of Chiapa de Corzo, which is the base for excursions into Sumidero Canyon National Park.
Upon arrival in Chiapa de Corzo, you'll head to a nearby dock. Here, you'll board a motorboat and begin the adventure. Few sites in Mexico are as incredible as Sumidero—the canyon's vertical limestone cliffs soar as high as 3,300 feet (1,000 m) and are covered in lush vegetation. You'll see diverse flora and fauna on this ride like bromeliads and spider monkeys. There are even families of giant crocodiles sunning themselves on the riverbanks. The boat also passes by cascading waterfalls and through natural caves.

After the tour, you'll drive for approximately one hour up into the mountains to the charming colonial town of San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Day 2: Cooking Experience in Zinacantan, The Flavors of San Cristobal de las Casas

Visit a local Zinacantán home for a cooking class
First thing in the morning you'll head just outside San Cristóbal to Zinacantán (an indigenous Tzotzil word that means "land of bats"). This highland town in Chiapas has been inhabited since pre-colonial times and remains mostly populated by the Tzotzil Maya indigenous people. And since one of the best ways to experience any culture is through its food, today you'll participate in a 4-hour farm-to-table (literally) cooking experience. 
It begins when you arrive at a local home in Zinacantán. After introductions, your hosts will show you the kitchen in which you'll prepare the meal. If it's milpa season, you'll accompany them on a tour of the fields to learn about this ancient farming system in which different species, like corn and beans, are intercropped and share resources such as water. From the fields, you'll harvest your requisite ingredients and then return to the home where, with your hosts' help, you'll prepare a 5-course traditional meal that celebrates local indigenous culture. When it's over, you'll return to your hotel in San Critóbal.

Day 3: Free Day in San Cristóbal

Enjoy San Cristóbal
Today you'll have free to explore San Cristóbal. Stroll its cobbled streets, visit its animated plazas, and admire its old buildings. Many of these date from the colonial period, like the main Cathedral, which was founded in 1528. Other landmarks include the baroque Temple of Santo Domingo and the Church of Guadalupe, a twin-steepled chapel atop a long stairway that overlooks the town below. Also worth visiting are the Lagrimas de la Selva, an artisan amber workshop, and the Jade Museum, which features exhibits recounting the history of this gemstone in Mesoamerica.

Day 4: San Cristóbal to Palenque, Stop at Agua Azul & Misol-Ha

The terraced pools of Agua Azul
In the morning, you'll leave San Cristóbal on a full-day tour of the Chiapas highlands. Your destination is the ancient Maya archeological site of Palenque, but you'll break up the 5-hr drive with various stops. First up is a real treat: the waterfalls at Agua Azul. Located on the Xanil River, these terraced falls are famous not for their height—the largest plunge about 20 feet (6 m)—but for the vivid turquoise water. Feel free to take a dip before continuing to the much larger Misol-Ha waterfall, which cascades 115 feet (35 m) down a limestone cliff into an emerald lagoon. You can swim here, too.

From Misol-Ha it's another 12 miles (20 km) to Palenque, the remains of an ancient Maya city that existed from around 226 BCE to 799 CE. Though not as large as other famous ruins in Mexico (Palenque is 1 sq mile / 2.5 sq km, compared to Chichén Itzá's 4 sq miles / 10 sq km), it is one of the most fascinating. Archeologists have learned much about Maya history from Palenque's well-preserved epigraphic records, sculptures, and bas-relief carvings. You'll reach the site in time for sunset, which is an ideal time to visit as there are few to no crowds. Also, the warm hues bathe the temples in a spectacular golden light.

Day 5: Tour Palenque, Visit the Roberto Barrios Waterfalls

The archeological site at Palenque
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After breakfast, you'll take a 2-hour tour around some of the 800 structures that comprise Palenque. Like many ancient cities, when Palenque was abandoned in the 8th century it was reabsorbed by the surrounding jungle. Only in the early 1950s was it discovered by Mexican archeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier. Since then, excavations revealed various royal tombs (including that of ruler Pakal the Great) as well as glyphic texts on different temples that map nearly 200 years of history—by far the most such text of any Maya archeological site. For these reasons, Palenque enjoys UNESCO World Heritage status.
Once you've finished touring the ruins, you'll then travel about 20 miles (32 km) south from Palenque to Roberto Barrios. Upon arrival, you'll have three hours to enjoy one of the lesser-known of Chiapas' incredible waterfalls. Like at Agua Azul, there are many cascades plunging into turquoise pools here, and the vivid colors derive from the mineral content of the water. You can swim in the lagoons, explore the caves, and enjoy natural rock waterslides. There are also platforms great for diving (provided the water is deep enough). Keep an eye out for howler monkeys and parrots in the trees.

Day 6: Day Trip to Yaxchilán & Bonampak, Transfer to Nahá

Ancient city ruins
A pyramid temple in Yaxchilán
In the morning, you'll take a 3-hour drive southwest from Palenque to Frontera Corozal. Located on the border with Guatemala, this town sits on the Usumacinta River and is populated by Ch’ol indigenous people. Upon arrival, you'll hop in a motorboat for a ride down the river (the longest in Mesoamerica) to the ruins of Yaxchilán, an ancient Maya city. This archaeological site dates back almost 2,000 years but was at the height of its dynastic power from the 4th-9th centuries CE. On a tour, you'll visit its palaces and temples, which are adorned with hieroglyphics and stone reliefs. 

After touring Yaxchilán you'll return to Frontera Corozal for lunch. Then you'll venture deeper into the jungle, heading 20 miles (30 km) south of Yaxchilán to another archeological site: Bonampak. The heyday of this ancient Maya city was around the mid-8th century, during which time it was under the control of the larger Yaxchilán (although relations between the two cities go back at least as far as the 5th century). Here you'll visit its large terraced acropolis and main plaza. The site is famous for its detailed murals, and surrounding the plaza are various stelae (stone slabs) carved with images of past rulers.
At the end of the tour, you'll drive deep into the Lacandon Jungle (a rainforest ecosystem that stretches south through Chiapas into Guatemala) to Nahá. This isolated village is populated by the once nomadic Lacandon Maya people, who are the last remaining speakers of the threatened Lacandon language.

Day 7: Explore the Nahá Biosphere Reserve, Lacandon Fire Ceremony

Take a ride on Lake Nahá
In the morning, venture deep into the jungle as a Lacandon guide accompanies you on a 3-hour tour through the remarkable Nahá-Metzabok Biosphere Reserve. This 52 sq mile (135 sq km) reserve exists to protect the area's lakes, montane rainforest, pine-oak forests, and some 40,000 plant and animal species found here. Your guide will share their knowledge of the animals and plant life of the area as you enjoy a boat ride on tranquil Lake Nahá. Afterward, you'll disembark for a short jungle trek near the water, where, with a little luck, you can spot local wildlife including turtles, crocodiles, and howler monkeys. 

Later that day, you'll get to experience a famous ancestral ritual of the Hach Winik (Mayan for "Lacandon Maya") culture. Don Antonio Chankin, one of the elders of Nahá, will guide you through this experience. Through ancient Mayan chanting and the burning of incense in clay censers, he'll give thanks and offerings. He'll also beseech Hach Akium (one of the Lacandon gods) for protection. This ritual takes place in his temple and at the end, you'll receive a protection token for you and your loved ones.

Day 8: Lacandon Bow & Arrow Workshop, Transfer to Palenque

A closeup
Make your own arrow
Until 50 years ago, the Lacandon Maya were a nomadic tribe living in the deep jungle of Chiapas. Today, this group of villagers, which is barely 800 strong, have opened their community up to eco-tourism. They've done this not only to offer cultural exchanges but to also promote awareness of deforestation in the region. In today's hour-long workshop, you'll learn about the history of the Lacandon Maya people, their culture, and how they've used handmade arrows and bows to hunt and feed their families throughout the ages.

You'll also make your very own, perfectly balanced arrow from dry cane. The Lacandon Maya will teach you how to add feathers from endemic birds to improve aerodynamic stabilization, then instruct you on how to tie stone arrowheads to the tip. By the time you're finished, you should have a functional arrow that flies straight through the air. You'll get to test the quality of your craftsmanship during an informal archery exhibition once the workshop is complete. 

But that's not the only cultural experience you'll enjoy. Afterward, you'll participate in a clay workshop, a material the Maya have used since pre-Hispanic times to make everything from utensils to model figures of their gods. This creative/spiritual experience is led by a Lacandon artist who will encourage you to let your imagination run wild as you create a sculpture unique to your sensibilities. Later, you'll hop in the car for the 4-hour drive from the town of Nahá back to Palenque. 

Day 9: Palenque to Villahermosa, Depart

Goodbye, Mexico

Unfortunately, this is your last stop on the ancient Maya trail. At the appropriate time, your driver will pick you up for the 2.5-hour drive northwest to the airport at Villahermosa. Here you'll catch your flight home. Adios!

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