Sumidero Canyon and San Juan Chamula: excursions from San Cristobal

Who I am
Valery Aloyants

Author and references

Walking through the town of San Cristobal de las Casas you will notice several agencies that offer day trips to the beautiful area of Chiapas.

Guided tours cost a minimum of 300 pesos and you must comply with predefined times. If you don't have a car, the only way will be to rely on colectivos or these pre-set packages. If, on the other hand, you have rented a car, you can do everything independently without anyone giving you the times.

Among the various organized excursions you will find:

  • The Sumidero Canyon
  • Le Agua Azul and Misol Hà waterfalls
  • The Montebello Lagoon
  • San Juan Chamula
  • Zincotanan
  • Bonampak and Yaxchilan
  • Go out on horseback

Excursions such as the one to the Agua Azul waterfalls and the visit to Bonampak e Yaxchilan they last a whole day and are very long and demanding. Having seen the waterfalls of Agua Azul and Misol Ha in stretch between Palenque and San Cristobal, the other excursions that attracted me most were the Sumidero Canyon, San Juan Chamula and Montebello Lagoon. I decided to let go of the latter because it was too distant and I organized myself to do the first two independently.

Excursion to the Sumidero Canyon

Each trip to Mexico self-respecting requires some excursion and this is really ideal also because it is particularly simple to do in full autonomy.

Il Sumidero Canyon they are gorges where the river with the same name passes. They are very special since, in some places, the rock walls also reach the kilometer in height. Imagine how spectacular the views are in this canyon. You will feel small in front of nature which shows its grandeur.

How to reach the Sumidero Canyon?

Before talking to you about the excursion, I have to explain how to reach the landing stage from which the boats direct to the canyon leave.

Starting from San Cristobal you have to take the ring road / highway (still now I don't understand what it was) that leads to Chapa de Corzo. This road is perpetually downhill, you will pass from 2100 meters of San Cristobal to about 400 of Chapa de Corzo in about 40 minutes.

Arrived at the toll booth you will have to pay 30 pesos, and so far so good. The thing that struck me is how the bar works. Entire families populate the toll booth. The women show a piece of cardboard with the words "30 pesos", the men manually raise the bar once the pledge has been paid. I can not tell you if the "Mexican highway company" has hired them all or there are particular company policies such that toll booths can bring the whole family to work, the fact is that there was something strange. Maybe the toll booth is simply occupied or abandoned and the local people use it to earn something. Don't worry about this little oddity, at the toll booth they basically have a party, they are all happy and happy, just pay the 30 pesos (as if it were a normal toll) and they will raise the bar.

From the exit to the center of Chapa de Corzo there are about 4/5 km. Once you arrive, you will easily find parking inside the classic quadrilateral of Mexican squares. Another 1 kilometer walk and you will reach the landing stage.

I show you the map so you can understand where the landing stage is:

How much does the Sumidero Canyon cost and where to buy the tickets?

Near the landing stage under the arcades you will find the ticket office and a waiting room with a television. Purchased the ticket you can sit comfortably and wait your turn, in fact the boats leave when they have reached the number of participants sufficient to cover all the seats. Each ticket is identified by the number of the lance written in pen. When it is time to leave, your departure will be announced by the loudspeaker and you can get in line.

Having said this, it seems that there is an infinite crowd, in reality it is boats that lead up to about fifteen people. This means that the Chapa de Corzo pier is not the tourist port of Genoa, it is simply organized fairly well.

Caution: if you need to know that there is NO WiFi in the waiting room.

Il cost of the ticket is equal to 160 pesos to which they must be added 30 pesos of tax, therefore the total price is 190 pesos each. (Prices in August 2016)

How does the excursion to the Sumidero Canyon take place?

As you stand in line, your life jackets will be given to your right as, for safety reasons, everyone must have their own. On your left, however, you will have the opportunity to buy all kinds of peanuts that you can shower with chili and other various sauces.

You will then be "loaded" on the boat and you will leave for the 38 kilometers and about 1 hour of navigation along the river. The same goes for the return, another 38 kilometers.

The Mexican guy in charge of the boat will guide you and explain every particular point of the gorges.

The landing stage is naturally located a few kilometers before the canyon, here the depth of the river reaches 8 meters. Quite different situation along the river. In the highest section of the gorges, that is 1 kilometer of wall, the depth reaches the 100 meters.

The navigation ends at the dam where a power plant was also built. At this point the height of the river touches i 250 meters.

Positive and negative aspects of the excursion

The Sumidero Canyon is one of the best attractions in the Chiapas area. It is fascinating to move inside the gorges and see crocodiles basking in the sun and dozens and dozens of birds that populate the banks of the river. You enter an ecosystem that should be preserved both from a tourist and a naturalistic point of view.

Although it is an excursion that I recommend to everyone to do I can only be thrilled by the dirt that floats and is carried by the current along the entire course of the river. A tourist who was on the boat with me explicitly asked why there was so much "basura ”in water.

The Mexican boy's response was obviously a palliative. Aided by the fact that the day before there had been a strong storm, he replied that the reason was that the stream, swelling due to a high volume, had brought with it the rubbish present on the banks. In reality, as I explained to you in ctips for traveling to Mexico, here there is a strong malpractice linked to this aspect and the local people are careless of the environment.

Going to the Sumidero Canyon on your own without a guided hike allows you to save a few pesos. The main reason why I advise you to be autonomous is not so much for the cost but more for a speech of flexibility. You can go there whenever you want, at your own pace and above all you can organize yourself in order to make other excursions after or before the Sumidero.

I therefore recommend that you associate it with a visit to San Juan Chamula.

The Mayan village of San Juan Chamula

Visiting this town near San Cristobal means entering in full contact with indigenous peoples, it means immersing oneself in the indigenous Chiapas that is not very inflated from a tourist point of view, apart from a few sporadic cases.

I've reached San Juan Chamula with my trusty rental car and I must admit that the first impact was strong. It was a particularly rainy Sunday in mid-August. On this important day of the week the local market is held where the Mayan tzotzil communities gather to sell their wares. In most cases they are fruit, vegetables, handicrafts, in short, the fruit of their daily hard work. I saw the city in an even more particular situation than on other days and it is for this reason that I recommend you organize this "trip" on Sunday, you will see a more lively and particular city.

The only attraction of this village located in 2200 meters above sea level is the famous church with blue and teal decorations. The rest are botched houses. The population is not rich and I would say that in this sense it is also "below average" compared to nearby San Cristobal.


The church of San Juan Chamula stands out on the square and is the reference point for the Mayan community. In addition to being very characteristic on the outside, the interior is even more incredible.

Paying 50 pesos in the side structure you will get the opportunity to enter.

The church is gloomy, there are no pews and the floor is covered with pine needles. The only illumination is given by myriads of lighted candles. On the sides, in dark reliquaries, the depictions of various saints important to the Chamula population. There are few people present, tourists can be counted on the fingers of one hand, maybe two.

At the bottom, or at the sides, you can watch (with discretion) the prayers of the devotees who repeat the same phrases over and over while the undeterred candles are consumed while the wax covers the floor. A helper lights new candles and blows out others.

Half-liter bottles of coca cola mixed with aguardiente are placed at an equal distance in front of those who pray. This mixture helps to burp and therefore expel the evil one during these shamanic rites.

I paused for several minutes to look at people in prayer and the feeling you get is a mixture of curiosity and anguish and, not being a lover of the unconscious, I prefer to dwell on what I see and not go into too much.

You can find another interesting experience on San Juan Chamula a this link.

It's surely an excursion to do from San Cristobal, you will come into full contact with a reality that tourism has not yet changed and I hope it never does.

I want to give you one last very important piece of advice: pay attention to the photographs both in the village of San Juan Chamula and in the church. In the latter, any photo is strictly prohibited. Once inside, forget about your smartphone and your camera. Don't even do them secretly, if you find out you could run into serious trouble. In the country, as in all of Chiapas, be careful not to shoot people unless they agree. Among the indigenous peoples there is the belief that photographs steal the soul.

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