Along a winding highland road in Chiapas is a tidy 18th-century chapel called Templo Carmen Arcotete. Built as a retreat for the state’s local bishop, the chapel overlooks a picturesque valley, a patchwork of corn and cabbage fields dotted by low adobe homes. Down the road is a towering stone arch, the remnants of an ancient cave system, complete with dangling stalactites; a clear icy river burbles through the vaulted stone, great for swimming if you can stand the cold.
A short distance up the road is the Maya village of El Romerillo, where every November 1 — Día de Todos Santos — families gather at the local cemetery to speak with loved ones through wood doors placed over their mounded graves. A few kilometers away is San Cristóbal de las Casas, one of Mexico’s finest colonial cities, known for its rich history and bohemian air; and beyond that, the modern state capital of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, whose gleaming new airport connects travelers to Mexico City and beyond.
Neither Templo Carmen Arcotete, the archway, nor El Romerillo are major tourist attractions, even for those visiting San Cristóbal. But that’s the amazing thing about Chiapas — whether it’s a marquee attraction or a quiet stretch of mountain road, the state bursts with natural beauty, intriguing history, and fascinating culture. Of course, for many people Chiapas is synonymous with the armed uprising that broke out in 1994, and the movement’s charismatic pipe-smoking spokesman Subcomandante Marcos. But it doesn’t take long to discover just how remarkable (and peaceful) the state really is.
Chiapas has gorgeous colonial cities, a prominent and highly independent indigenous population, and some of Mesoamerica’s most stunning ancient Maya ruins, including Palenque and Yaxchilán. Chiapas’s landscape ranges from scenic beaches to jagged peaks cloaked in cloud forest — and just about everything in between, even an active volcano. The state’s massive Lacandón rainforest forms part of one of the largest tropical rainforests north of the Amazon, and, unbeknownst to many, Chiapas is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet.
Best of all, Chiapas is as charming and pleasant as it is fascinating and engaging, full of quiet coffee shops and tree-lined plazas, and home to a diverse and gracious population. It is a place to linger — and a place that will linger in you, long after you’ve left.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition