Copainalá is a tidy little town built on opposing banks of a steep barranca, or river gully. It’s backed by squat hills and high west-facing cliffs that glow red at sunset. Its central plaza is long and narrow—to make it any wider would require tiers—with a basketball court, tree-shaded benches, and small shops and eateries around the edges.
The town is home to a beautiful colonial church—the main reason to stop—and a short drive from a small lake with swimming and boating. Copainalá celebrates its patron saint, San Miguel del Archangel, September 26–29.
Templo San Miguel del Archangel
Construction of Copainalá’s distinctive San Miguel del Archangel church and convent (Calle Central, 9 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5–8 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–8 p.m. Sat.–Sun.) began in the 1570s and took nearly a century to complete. The church later fell into such disrepair that locals began calling it la ruína (the ruin), a name still used today despite extensive restoration in 2001.
The church’s bell tower is a classic example of Mudejar (Arab-Iberian) architecture, with its imposing square design and intricate brickwork. A spiral staircase is enclosed in a curious brick column on the tower’s south face (alongside an unusually dramatic false archway), though visitors are rarely permitted to climb to the top. The nave’s high stone walls are original, save the fresh coat of stucco, and have minimal adornment; the altar is also rather austere, featuring a simple—albeit huge—wooden cross.
Though fairly amateurish, Copainalá’s small community museum (opposite Templo San Miguel, tel. 968/661-0174, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., free) has a handful of noteworthy archaeological pieces, including clay masks related to Zoque jaguar cults, and costumes and photos from Copainalá’s numerous festivals. For Spanish speakers, the museum’s soft-spoken attendant can explain the stories woven into many local events, like the unique weya weya dance marking the beginning of Carnaval.
Hotel Levi (Calle Central 31, tel. 968/131-4075, US$12 d with fan, US$18 d with fan and TV, US$30 with a/c and TV) is the better of Copainalá’s two hotels, but that’s not saying much. The location is great—a half block from San Miguel church—and the lobby is warm and appealing; the rooms, however, have worn beds and dreary cement walls, and get incredibly stuffy, making air-conditioning all but essential.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition