Located in the high hills of southern Mexico, San Cristobal de las Casas is a colorful city sitting at an altitude of 2,200 meters (7,200 feet) above sea level and surrounded by nature. Its cobblestone streets and colonial cathedrals will be sure to delight visitors.
With San Cristobal de las Casas as your base, you can also explore the best sights in Chiapas state. Take a day trip to the towering Sumidero Canyon, hang out around the azure waters of the Montebello Lakes, or head into the mountains to learn about pre-Colombian culture amongst the many indigenous villages.
It’s southern Mexico’s greatest destination, and here are all the best day trips from San Cristobal de las Casas!
How to Get Around
Although many of the day trips mentioned below can be done by public transport, consider renting a car for the day to give yourself more flexibility and independence. Your own four wheels allow you to be in control of your time and schedule, and depending on how many people are in your group, renting a car might even work out cheaper than other forms of transportation. You can compare car rental deals and find the cheapest prices at Rentalcars.com, an aggregation site that searches and displays prices and availability from hundreds of car rental companies so that you can be sure of getting the best possible car for your budget
Don’t want to drive or deal with the hassle of public transport? No worries, we have listed the best tour for each day trip (where available).
1. Sumidero Canyon
The Sumidero Canyon is not only Chiapas state’s premier national park but also one of the best places to visit in Mexico. In fact, for many tourists it’s the number one reason to visit San Cristobal de las Casas.
This vast protected nature reserve is home to the Sumidero Canyon, which reaches staggering depths of up to 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) at certain points. A wide river twists and turns its way through the canyon, so of course, the best way to explore it is by boat.
While cruising beneath the towering walls of Sumidero Canyon, keep on the lookout for crocodiles lazing on the banks of the river. The tropical rainforest that grows in abundance within the canyon is brimming with birdlife, and you can never be quite sure which other animals you’ll encounter on your journey.
Getting there: The Sumidero Canyon is located close to the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez, around 1.5 hours by car from San Cristobal de las Casas. Most tourists join an organized day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas, which includes all your transport and a two-hour boat ride through the canyon.
2. Chiapa de Corzo
Located just off the road that leads to Sumidero Canyon is the small town of Chiapa de Corzo. This laidback destination was inhabited by indigenous people for thousands of years, but today it has the dubious distinction of being the first town to be founded by the Spanish colonizers in what would become Chiapas state; as happened with many Mexican towns, the Spanish built over the existing town.
There are many layers of history to be discovered here on a short trip from San Cristobal de las Casas. While Chiapa de Corzo is now best known for its colorful colonial architecture – including an imposing catholic church, a Moorish fountain, and a classic, central square – you can also visit the nearby ruins of a pre-Hispanic town that is thought to have been at the height of its power around 500 BCE.
Getting there: It’s a one-hour drive from San Cristobal de las Casas to Chiapa de Corzo. Many of the Sumidero Canyon day tours stop in the town as part of the trip. If traveling by public transport, you would need to first take a bus to Tuxtla Gutierrez then a colectivo to Chiapa de Corzo.
3. Tuxtla Gutierrez
Tuxtla Gutierrez is the largest city in Chiapas, but it’s almost always overlooked by travelers who head straight for San Cristobal de las Casas. Tuxtla Gutierrez, being far more developed and business-oriented, is a far cry from the colonial streets of San Cristobal de las Casas. However, it’s well worth a day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas purely to visit the city’s museums because it’s here, the state capital, where the rich archaeological finds of Chiapas inevitably end up.
Start by visiting the excellent Museo Regional de Antropologia e Historia (the Regional Museum of Anthropology and History), where you can find exhibits with artifacts dating back thousands of years. There’s also the Museo del Café, a museum dedicated solely to the humble coffee bean and the region’s history of coffee farming. Then there’s the Museo de la Marimba, which is devoted to the marimba, a local musical instrument, and of course, the exceptional Museum of Paleontology, where you can find ancient fossils, some of them tens of millions of years old.
Getting there: It’s around one hour along the highway from San Cristobal de las Casas to Tuxtla Gutierrez. The easiest option is to take one of the many public buses.
4. Cascadas El Chiflon
If you’re on the hunt for waterfalls, then one of the best side trips from San Cristobal de las Casas is a day out at Cascadas El Chiflon. This beautiful area is home to serene waterfalls, lagoons, and lazy rivers that wind through the rainforest.
A number of hiking trails lead through the forest, and a number of different waterfalls, small and large, are spread out along the river. The tallest is around 70 meters (229 feet) in height, and there’s a bright green plunge pool below to take a dip in.
Getting there: There are lots of day tours from San Cristobal de las Casas, but it’s also possible to get here by public transport. First, take a bus to Comitan (just under two hours away), then switch to a colectivo heading to El Chiflon (another 45 minutes). Don’t forget your swimming gear!
5. Lagunas de Montebello
Located right on the Guatemalan border, the Lagunas de Montebello require a long journey to reach, but they make for one of the best San Cristobal de las Casas day trips!
The Lagunas de Montebello (or Montebello Lakes) are part of an enormous protected biosphere reserve where you can find 59 lakes hidden away in the forest.
There are opportunities for swimming, kayaking, boat tours, hiking, and many more outdoor activities. There are also two Mayan archaeological sites that you can visit.
Getting there: It takes just under three hours from San Cristobal de las Casas to the Montebello Lakes, so it’s best to hire a car or join a day tour. You can also stop off at Cascadas el Chiflon on the way there or back, with many tour companies offering this double package.
Head into the hills that surround San Cristobal de las Casas to learn more about the many different indigenous groups that have called Chiapas home for thousands of years. One of the most popular villages to visit is Chamula, where you can immerse yourself in the Tzotzil culture.
The local traditions are a blend of pre-Hispanic and Catholic, and while you’ll be able to enter the local church, you’ll find there are no pews, and the religious ceremonies are very different to anywhere else in Mexico (A lot of posh, a local alcoholic drink, is drunk during the church services!)
Getting there: Visitors are welcome in Chamula; however, it’s best to visit with a local tour guide to learn more about the traditions and history of the Tzotzil people. In many locations (including inside the church), photography is banned, so please be respectful and stick to the rules.
While you’re exploring the hills around San Cristobal de las Casas, another popular destination to visit is the village of Zinacantan. As in Chamula, the locals here speak Tzotzil and can trace their ancestry to a time long before the Spanish arrived.
Zinacantan is much quieter than Chamula (where fireworks are constantly being set off around the church for religious reasons), and if visiting with a local tour guide, you’ll be able to learn more about the local weaving trade from the villagers who live and work here.
Tzotzil clothing and textiles are highly regarded across the region, and Zinacantan is the best place to learn all about them.
Getting there: As with Chamula, it’s recommended to visit Zinacantan with a local guide. There are several reputable tour organizers in San Cristobal de las Cases that offer an insightful day tour to both Chamula and Zinacantan.
8. El Arcotete
One of the best places to visit in San Cristobal de las Casas is El Arcotete, a wonderful eco-park that’s just a short way from the city. Located in the surrounding hills, El Arcotete is home to walking trails, caves, and lots of forest.
The main sight to see is El Arcotete Archway, a natural rock formation that forms a tall arch over the riverbed. You can stroll over swaying suspension bridges, hike through the forest, or take a zipline over the canopy!
Getting there: It’s possible to hike to El Arcotete from San Cristobal de las Casas, taking around 1.5 hours. There are also regular colectivos that drop passengers off at the entrance, whilst by car or taxi it takes just 15 minutes.
9. Rancho Nuevo Caves
A twenty-minute drive outside of San Cristobal de las Casas brings you to one of the city’s hidden sights, the Rancho Nuevo Caves.
When we say hidden, we mean it literally, because these caves extend 500 meters (1,600 feet) underground and form a vast network of caverns and tunnels thought to be at least 10 kilometers (six miles) in length.
There’s a lengthy walkway that leads through selected parts of the caves, offering you the chance to get up close to all the stalactites and stalagmites.
Getting there: The easiest travel routes are by car, taxi, or organized tour. It’s only twenty minutes away, so the caves make for an easy day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas!
Tour companies in San Cristobal de las Casas advertise day trips to Palenque, but be warned: It’s a long, five-hour drive (minimum) to the magnificent Mayan ruins (and then five hours back!) A much better, more relaxed option is to take an overnight trip to the ruins from San Cristobal de las Casas.
It’s well worth the effort, because the Palenque ruins are one of the best things to see in Mexico on a day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas. This former Mayan stronghold was the center of power in the region for many centuries, and the towering temples and palaces are a true testament to this pre-Hispanic civilization’s wealth and knowledge.
Getting there: As we mentioned, you can join an incredibly long day tour to Palenque (with very little time actually spent at the ruins) or, better yet, organize an overnight trip. There are public buses from San Cristobal de las Casas and plenty of overnight tours.
That’s it for our guide to the best day trips from San Cristobal de las Casas. If you’re searching Mexico for stunning mountain scenery, epic lakes, waterfalls, and dramatic canyons, then you’ve certainly come to the right place. With the city as your base, you can enjoy all the best places to visit from San Cristobal de las Casas.
But there’s more to this city than nature (although the nature is stunning!), so save time for side trips to the villages of Chamula and Zinacantan and perhaps even an overnight adventure to the Mayan ruins of Palenque!