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One of the best activities I did in inland Mexico was visiting Sumidero Canyon. This canyon is one of the most beautiful and stunning sights in the Chiapas region of Mexico.
If you’re visiting Chiapas, in Mexico’s south, you’ll probably be visiting San Cristóbal de las Casas. This is an incredibly beautiful and charming city — a must in the region. And it does make a popular itinerary stopover in between Palenque, Oaxaca, and the Guatemalan destinations of Quetzaltenango (Xela) or Lake Atitlan.
But Chiapas is more than just cities — in fact, if you’re traveling to Mexico and only visiting cities and beaches, you’re seriously missing out. In a simple day trip from San Cristóbal, you can see one of the great natural wonders of southern Mexico — from several different angles.
I don’t think Mexico gets enough credit for its natural scenery. Sure, its Caribbean beaches get a lot of publicity, but inland Mexico is full of absolutely gorgeous destinations that most international tourists haven’t heard about. Sumidero Canyon is one of them. Only four of us were foreigners; the rest were Mexican tourists.
I highly recommend visiting Sumidero Canyon if you make it to Chiapas. Here is everything you need to know to have a great time.
Sumidero Canyon, or Cañon del Sumidero, is part of Parque Nacional Cañon del Sumidero, a national park covering 50,000 acres. Even so, the canyon is the superstar. It’s one of the most visited places in Chiapas and the canyon is even on the Chiapas flag!
Sumidero Canyon is about 35 million years old, around the same age as the Grand Canyon, and was formed by the Grijalva River carving through the landscape. Unlike the Grand Canyon, Sumidero Canyon is much smaller at about 8.1 miles long (13 km). The tallest edges of the canyon are about one kilometer high (1.6 miles).
But if you come to see the canyon — and you really should — it’s more than marveling at its beauty. This is an incredibly fun place to visit on a tour from San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Sumidero Canyon Tour
There are lots of Sumidero Canyon tours from San Cristóbal de las Casas, but not all of them are equal. Choose the wrong tour and you could accidentally book yourself onto a trip that omits the miradores or even the boat trip itself, which has sadly happened to some of my friends.
You want to choose a tour that at minimum includes the boat trip, the miradores, and the town of Chiapa de Corzo. Some tours include lunch; most will stop at a restaurant where you can get a pretty cheap meal.
This is the Sumidero Canyon tour that includes everything. You’ll get transportation from San Cristóbal de las Casas, including pickup from your hotel; a two-hour boat ride in the canyon; a visit to the town of Chiapa de Corzo; and visits to five different miradores (viewpoints).
How far is Sumidero Canyon from San Cristobál de las Casas? It’s about one hour away by car. You may be wondering if it’s better to book a tour from Tuxtla Gutierrez, the major city next door to the canyon (and home to the nearest airport), but tours from here are usually more expensive.
San Cristóbal may be further away, but trips from here are cheaper because it’s a tourist town with lots of tour companies in competition with each other. Tuxtla Gutierrez doesn’t have a lot of tourism value; most visitors to Chiapas skip the city entirely.
Sumidero Canyon Boat Trip
After a 9:00 pickup at our hotel in San Cristóbal de las Casas, we were ushered into an air conditioned van. After picking up other tour participants, we headed out on the highway to Sumidero Canyon, the sky bright blue over rippling brown mountains.
The tour begins at the base of the canyon, where you put on a lifejacket and a Sumidero Canyon National Park wristband and load up into a bright yellow boat, two seats on each side. You’ll be packed in until you’re cozy. And you better be — this is a two-hour boat ride.
First up: the boat tour is entirely in Spanish. But don’t worry — there isn’t a ton of hardcore information; it’s more “Look at that cool thing!” than anything else. And with that, we began to speed down the river, briefly holding up our wristband-clad arms as we passed the security guard.
This photo really gives you an idea of just how big the canyon is!
“This feels bigger than Matka Canyon in Macedonia,” my boyfriend Charlie told me.
“This feels bigger than Tara Canyon in Montenegro,” I replied.
For the record, he was right and I was wrong. Tara Canyon dwarfs the two others.
The views reminded me of my fjords cruise in Norway. High cliffs springing up on either side of the river, smashing straight down into the river.
But unlike Norway, there was nothing around — no villages, no docks. Just canyon.
Right off the bat, we had our first wildlife sighting. Something black was swinging back and forth from tree to tree — yes, it was a monkey. IN MEXICO. I was shocked — I had no idea there were monkeys in Mexico!
What a cute little guy! Well…he was cute at first.
Our boat driver guided our boat right underneath the tree where he was swinging. And I was in the first row of the boat, so I was literally right underneath the monkey, and I started FREAKING OUT. What if he fell on me?! What if he PEED on me?! Can you get rabies from monkeys?
I’ve done a few safaris in Africa and none of my safari guides would dare going that close to an animal, let alone right underneath a monkey. This seemed really antagonistic.
Finally, we pulled back, I ceased having a heart attack, and the monkey’s companion swung out to join him.
A MOMMY MONKEY WITH A BABY MONKEY CLINGING TO HER!!! How cute is that?!?!
We watched the monkeys swing back and forth.
Best family portrait ever. Though I’m still terrified of monkeys.
The next sighting was one of Sumidero Canyon’s famous caves — La Cueva de Colores (the Cave of Colors). This cave is streaked with shades of pink from rich magnesium and potassium deposits.
Inside is a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe that locals maintain with burning candles and flower offerings.
Next up, the guide drove our boat to a stone crocodile statue. Ho hum.
Then he drove us to another crocodile statue, pictured above.
Then the statue blinked.
YEP, THIS ONE WAS A REAL CROCODILE.
(Also, yes — the trash in the canyon is truly disheartening. I wish people here took better care of their environment.)
We spotted another crocodile on the way back, and there was no denying this one was real — he snarled and slithered and dove into the water.
But the highlight of the boat trip was just enjoying the immense beauty of the canyon. I love when nature makes you feel humble.
One thing you should know is that the driver asks for tips while you’re still offshore — it feels a bit like you’re being held hostage, though I respect the hustle. The driver will come up the aisle taking tips from everyone.
Sumidero Canyon Miradores
There are five miradores, or viewpoints, of the canyon throughout Sumidero National Park. These are great places to take in stunning views of the steep cliffs of the canyon, the green river snaking through them.
After our tour finished the boat ride on the river, we visited four out of the five miradores around the park.
How much time do you need at the miradores? Not much. I was fine with just a few minutes at each stop, though Los Chiapa Mirador has a restaurant if you’re starving. We wolfed down two quesadillas for 60 pesos ($3).
The miradoras are a great place for posed photos, but keep in mind that the facilities are very basic. Most didn’t have bathrooms. Los Chiapa Mirador had a bathroom — but none of the toilets were flushing and there was no running water nor soap.
Chiapa de Corzo
Chiapa de Corzo is a beautiful town near Sumidero Canyon, and one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos. Pueblos Mágicos are smaller towns throughout Mexico that Mexico Tourism has highlighted for their “magical” cultural value, whether it’s for natural beauty or unique traditions.
If you happen to be near a Pueblo Mágico, you should go! I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve visited so far, like Izamal in the Yucatán, Sayulita in Nayarit, and Bacalar in Quintana Roo. And San Cristóbal is technically a Pueblo Mágico as well.
We arrived in Chiapa de Corzo as the final part of our tour. Most tours will give you around 45 minutes to an hour to explore the town. It’s a small place so you can see quite a bit of it in that amount of time.
Chiapa de Corzo is another launching point for boat trips down Sumidero Canyon.
While we were in Chiapa de Corzo, there was actually a children’s carnival taking place! All the kids were in costumes, mostly Hawaiian and Caribbean themed outfits, and I burst out laughing at one little rotund boy in a bright orange striped jumpsuit with ruffly sleeves, looking like he was about to lead a Cuban band.
(No pics because I only photograph kids when they’re in crowds or from a distance.)
Sumidero Canyon Tips
Prepare for hot weather, even if San Cristóbal is cool. San Cristóbal is at a higher elevation and tends to be cooler than the surrounding area; it’s much hotter and sunnier in the canyon. Wear layers and peel them off.
Bring sunscreen and sun protection. If you’re spending extended time in Mexico, I recommend packing biodegradable sunscreen, which is essential for protecting delicate areas like cenotes, coral reefs, and stromatolite-rich waters like Laguna de Bacalar.
You’ll also want to wear a hat, but be careful — the boat goes REALLY fast and a hat can easily blow off your head. I nearly lost my hat — the ponytail through the back of the cap saved it — and my boyfriend lost his twice. (Yep, after the second loss, the hats stayed off for the rest of the boat ride. Ha!)
Bring coins for the bathrooms. The bathrooms around the canyon cost 5 pesos to use, which is standard for most places in Mexico. The one by Los Chiapa Mirador is free.
Leave your wristband on all day. This isn’t just for getting on the boat tour, this is for the whole park. When you’re on the boat trip, you’ll pass a checkpoint and the man will yell for everyone to hold up their arms to show the wristbands. When you go back into the national park to the miradores, the staff will check the wristbands again.
Don’t buy anything from children. Chiapa de Corzo has a ton of souvenir sellers, and sadly, some of those sellers are children. Buying from children rewards a system that keeps them out of school and forces them to grow up too quickly. If you want to buy something, buy from an adult.
There is mostly no phone signal on the highway between San Cristóbal de las Casas and Sumidero Canyon. Bring something to read, or just stare out the window — the views are spectacular! (Get a seat on the left side of the car on the way to Sumidero Canyon and on the right on the way back.)
Expect the tour to take longer than the tour provider claims. We were told that we would be back by 4:30 PM. In reality, we weren’t back until 6:15 PM. Keep this in mind if you have plans for later.
Best Time to Visit Sumidero Canyon
Sumidero Canyon is part of Chiapas state in Mexico, and the best time to visit Chiapas is between November and May. This is the dry season, you’ll have daily sunshine, and temperatures will be at their most pleasant.
Things can be a bit iffier if you visit between June and October, which is the rainy season.
Keep in mind that Sumidero Canyon and San Cristóbal de las Casas are just an hour apart, but have totally different climates. San Cristóbal is at a higher elevation and is several degrees cooler. Bring layers to accommodate both climates.
Where to Stay in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico
San Cristóbal de las Casas is a lovely city. It’s so colorful and lovely, and while there are a few attractions, this is more of a city where you stroll soak up how it feels, rather than checking off things to do. It’s a nice place to catch your breath if you’ve been speeding through Mexico or Guatemala.
San Cristóbal is also a very affordable city. You can get a lot of value for money here, and it’s worth spending a few days to soak it all up.
That being said, it can get very cold here at night, and most properties are not insulated well. It can also be noisy in San Cristóbal at night (as it is in virtually every place in Mexico), so I recommend bringing earplugs. Finally, know that a lot of the “double beds” are actually not queens but tiny full-sized beds, so look carefully at the photos before you book.
I recommend staying within five blocks of the zócalo, or main square, which will have you walking distance from most places of interest in the city.
I stayed at Pepe Pancho, a budget guesthouse in the center of town. While on the simple side, the king rooms here are a comfortable budget option. If you’re looking for a budget place to stay, this is a very good option.
If you stay here, GET ONE OF THE NICER KING ROOMS. We originally stayed in one of the regular rooms and the bed was tiny and awful. For the equivalent of $12 more per night, the king room had a huge bed with giant cushy pillows, a big thick comforter, and a view of the rooftops and mountains.
If you’re looking for a high-end stay, check out Casa Lum. This is a gorgeous luxury hotel, right in the city center, that is colorful and artistic and brings so much of the Chiapas aesthetic indoors creatively.
If you want something mid-range, check out Sombra del Agua. While prices are low, this feels more like a luxury hotel, down to its gorgeous outdoor courtyard and immaculately designed rooms, some with fireplaces.
If you’re looking for a great hostel in San Cristobál de las Casas, check out Posada del Abuelito. This welcoming hostel has both dorms and private rooms, all decorated colorfully with thick blankets, and it has a beautiful courtyard area.
If you’re on a super-low budget, some of the best deals in San Cristóbal are private rooms in San Cristóbal homes via Airbnb Superhosts. Some of the top-rated central rooms under $20 per night include this light and airy room, this warm and comfortable room, and this simple room in a colonial home.
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