Getting to Chiapas
For centuries, getting to Chiapas required harrowing and uncertain land treks limited to mule trains and narrow paths through the tangled jungle. Today, the state is easily accessible. Visitors arrive via airplane, a network of good highways, excellent bus service, and even by cruise ship.
The main airport in Chiapas is in Tuxtla Gutiérrez (TGZ); its service is almost exclusively limited to flights that are headed to or from Mexico City. Chiapas also has a second commercial airport, located in Tapachula (TAP). It’s a convenient place to land if you’re planning to spend most of your trip along the Pacific coast or are headed to Central America.
There is a US$38 departure tax to fly out of Mexico—most airlines incorporate the tax into their tickets, but it’s worth setting aside some cash just in case.
Chiapas’s main interstate bus hub is in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, with service to and from Mexico City, Oaxaca, Tabasco, Yucatán, and other major destinations in the country. There also are buses between Tapachula and cities in Guatemala; travel agencies and tour operators in Palenque and San Cristóbal offer van service to destinations in Guatemala, including Flores, Quetzaltenango, Panajachel, Antigua, and Guatemala City.
Foreigners driving into Mexico are required to show a valid driver’s license, title, registration, and proof of insurance for their vehicle. Mexican authorities do not recognize foreign-issued insurance; Mexican vehicle insurance is available at most border towns 24 hours a day and several companies also sell policies over the Internet. Do not cross the border with your car until you have obtained the proper papers.
A handful of cruise ships stop in Puerto Chiapas, just east of Tapachula, every year. Many sail out of San Diego, CA, stopping along the Mexican Pacific coast and continuing into Central America; others start in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and head through the Panama Canal before continuing north to Puerto Chiapas and beyond.
Prices are competitive and ships vary in services, amenities, activities, and entertainment. Pools, restaurants, nightclubs, and cinemas are commonplace. Fitness centers and shops also make ship life convenient. To hone in on the type of cruise you’d like to go on, research options on the Internet, in the travel section of your local newspaper, and by contacting your travel agent.
If your budget is tight, consider traveling standby. Ships want to sail full and are willing to cut their prices—sometimes up to 50 percent—to do so. Airfare usually is not included. Note: Once you’re on the standby list, you likely will have no choice of cabin location or size.
Chiapas is Mexico’s gateway to Guatemala; travel across the border is typically overland near Tapachula and Ciudad Cuatémoc. Travel agencies and tour operators in the towns of Palenque and San Cristóbal de las Casas also arrange transportation to various destinations in Guatemala.
At the time of research, citizens of the United States, Canada, and European countries did not need visas to enter Guatemala. Before you start the trek towards the border, though, call the Guatemalan consulate to confirm that visa requirements have not changed.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition