Allan and I spent a splendid day with friends exploring the magnificent Sumidero Canyon in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Upon recommendations from a neighbor, we booked a half day tour with a local agency in San Cristobal. The experience wound up being the highlight of our entire trip. Already I’m dreaming of returning to explore more of this magical canyon and the adjacent national park
Cruising Through the Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas
Departing to the Sumidero Canyon
We met up in the morning with our tour agency, Otiza, in central San Cristobal de las Casas. In a twelve passenger van we joined a small group of six for the hour drive down the mountain to the town of Chiapas del Corzo. There we parked on the banks of the Grijalva River and picked up life jackets.
Thanks to our pre-purchased package we skipped the long line waiting for ships, and swiftly boarded a speed boat that sat thirty. Allan talked his way into sitting next to the driver in the crow’s nest on the back of the vessel, while I and a other couple dozen riders sat in rows of four in the main part of the craft. One by one each boat departed for the two hour round trip journey down to the Grijalva River dam and back again.
The Sumidero Canyon possesses some poingant features.
Fairly shortly into the trip we reached the main part of the gorge with astonishing vistas. Towering high above, the canyon’s walls reach dizzying heights of 3,300 feet (1,100 meters). The crocodile infested waters churn adroitly through its center.
On one wall a waterfall created relief resembling a large christmas tree. Over the decades the constant flow fed fungi which formed in the distinct holiday pattern. Then close by a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe adorned with flowers rested on a rock shelf in a nearby cave. The tree and shrine are only a couple of examples of rare sights along the river.
In terms of fauna, several spider monkeys hung from trees over the rivers edge. Presumably the crocodiles basking on nearby banks hope some primates will fall into the water. That would be a quick snack for some of these fat amphibians.
In other ways the Sumidero reminded me of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
The Sumidero’s size, depth and beauty are equally impressive. Likewise, both canons were created around the same time some 35 million years ago. Although the Grand Canyon is larger in scope, the Sumidero’s obsurity makes it special.
In fact, before coming to Chiapas I had never heard of the Sumidero Canyon before. Yet it’s listed as one of the top attractions in the area. This is because it’s visited primarily by Mexicans on vacation. The world has not yet discovered this natural wonder. I think it’s only a matter of time before it becomes more commercialized.
After our river tour ended, we boarded our van and drove up the circuitous mountain roads to reach three overlooks.
Clearly the perspective of the canyon changes once you are up high. I wouldn’t say one view is better than the other. Viewing from the top of the canyon, I was moved by the greatness of this enormous winding gorge. Where being on the river you can appreciate the detail and height of this wonder, as well as obtain a more intimate glimpse of the local flora and fauna.
Part of me wished I could hang glide over the edge, soaring down to the bottom. However, I’m not sure I’d want to risk encountering a large, hungry reptile. Ironically an international high diving competition takes place on the Sumidero. Actually we passed two diving boards during our river cruise. Perhaps they put up nets to restrict access by any nautical predators.
After passing the three outlooks we drove down to the town of Chiapas del Corzo for some free time.
For me and my friends, this was the least organized and most underwhelming part of the trip. No direction was given nor suggestions. Apparently we were supposed to find food, but where? We struggled to find a restaurant that looked clean and appetizing. In the end we mostly waited around in the heat for the driver to return and take us back to San Cristobal.
I would recommend avoiding Chiapa del Corzo if at all possible. When not feasible, plan ahead by finding an air conditioned restaurant to relax and recover. Although not overly stressful, the hours on the road and on the boat can drain you. You may want to find respite before your hour drive up the mountain back to San Cristobal.
Arranging Our Tour of the Sumidero Canyon
I highly recommend Otiza tours on Guadalupe Street in San Cristobal del las Casas. We reserved directly in their office with only 24 hours’ advanced notice. At only $350 pesos ($20 USD) per person, the price is fairly unbeatable. Plus our driver was courteous, safe and punctual. In Mexico such accolades can be rare.
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