Mexico is famous for its turquoise blue coastline in the east and rugged beaches in the west, but outdoor lovers might find that the southernmost region of Mexico, the state of Chiapas, is where the real adventure is. Traveling into Chiapas you can start to see the landscape changing, from the dry desert Mexico is known for, to a much more lush, tropical jungle.
We recently visited Chiapas with the team at LifeStraw, the water filtration company that is helping support safe drinking water around the world. The first half of our week was spent installing their LifeStraw Community water filters at rural schools that don’t have access to safe drinking water. It was an incredible project to help document, so be sure to check out our article and video recapping that program!
The rest of our week was spent putting their consumer water filters and bottles to the test around Chiapas! From jungle hikes and river rafting, to scaling ancient Mayan ruins and exploring the contemporary towns. Being able to fill up our bottles at any stream, lake, bathroom sink, and yes, puddle, without the risk of getting sick was so easy!
Here are some of our favorite locations for adventure travel in Chiapas, Mexico:
Adventure Travel in Mexico, watch our video below!
Palenque Mayan Ruins
Whether you’re a history buff or not, the Mayan ruins of Palenque are an absolute cannot miss in Chiapas. These ruins date back to the 7th century and saw the rise and fall of many prolific rulers along the way. While not as big as neighboring ruins like Tikal, there’s still so much to see at Palenque.
Climb the start of the Temple of the Red Queen and wander inside the dark passageways, imagining what it was like for explorers to unearth this for the first time. Next, climb to the top of El Palacio to get an amazing view of the Temple of Inscriptions, which stands over 27 meters high and runs 42 meters deep into the ground!
Around the backside of the archeological site And they believe only 10% has been uncovered, which means over 1000 ruins are likely buried far into the jungle!
We’re not normally tour people, but we really recommend hiring a local guide to take you around the site. These ruins are visually spectacular, but learning about the history of the civilization that ruled here is what really makes it interesting. If you want to do a little homework beforehand, NOVA by PBS has an amazing program on how historians cracked the code of Mayan hieroglyphs and were able to piece together a timeline of the civilization’s history. You can read more about that here: Cracking the Maya Code.
At Palenque, Jules also had a great opportunity to test out the original LifeStraw by taking a drink from one of the muddy puddles on top of the ruins. Needless to say he got some odd looks, but he was also the most hydrated out of the group as Palenque is HOT and doesn’t have many places to fill up safe drinking water.
Agua Azul is a series of stunning waterfalls about 80 miles from San Cristobal de las Casas. It’s best to visit this site in the dry season, when the water is at its bluest. During this time the high mineral content of the water causes limestone deposits on the rock below, creating a bright shade of blue across the water.
Because of the relatively low slope of the falls, small pools form that you can swim in, or simply laze about for an afternoon. If you’re not looking to get wet, there’s a path you can follow up the side of the waterfall to reach or stunning views.
This impressive solo waterfall in the Chiapas region is 35 meters high. You can swim in the murky waters below but don’t get to close to the falls, there’s a lifeguard on duty who isn’t afraid to blow his whistle! There’s a cave system behind the waterfall so you can actually walk along the path and feel the spray from just a couple meters away. If you continue until the end of the rocky path, you’ll find a small cave. Just inside the cave is a man renting flashlights for 10 pesos and beyond him, at the back of the cave are….bats! Lots and lots of bats! If you have any sort of fear of these nocturnal creatures, I would avoid it. But if you’re chill with bats, head back and enjoy the cool, dark cave!
Lacanja River Rafting
Before we went on our river rafting trip, the excursion was described to us as a lazy day floating down the river, with no actual rapids. While it’s true that we didn’t come across any “rapids”, we did have to contend with small waterfalls that sent us bounding down the river. And it was an absolute blast!
We went cruising down the Lacanja River with our local guides who were fearless in navigating the 2-3 meter drops. We ended up with a mouthful of water and I ended up in Jules’ lap at one point, but it was so worth it. During the quiet parts of the river, it was lovely to kick back and feel completely enveloped by the trees and wild plants around us.
After the river we went on a walk through the jungle, stopping by a small ruin that seemingly came out of nowhere. Our guides called it part of la Cuidad Perdida, which means ‘The Lost City’. In the middle of literally nowhere, it’s easy to see how they city was lost. It was an awesome reminder that ruins like these are hidden all over.
After finishing our tour with the guides we had a hilarious exchange where we gifted them a couple of LifeStraw products to try out and keep. They were extremely hesitant to try them out, but after seeing us use them in the river they gave it a shot. They were really surprised that the water tasted just like ‘normal’ water and especially interested in know it was now filtered and safe to drink.
The only way to get to these off-the-beaten track ruins is by boat, which just adds to the adventure. You’ll board the boat at Frontera Corozal and ride along the Usumacinta River, which acts as the border between Mexico and Guatemala. The boat ride takes about half an hour, but try not to sleep, because there’s plenty to see along the way. Aside from the gorgeous tropical landscape, you may get lucky and see a cayman or two lounging on the riverbed.
Once you arrive at the dock, its a short walk past the entrance to get to the ruins. Yaxchilan are some of our favorite ruins in southern Mexico, because you really do feel like Indiana Jones trekking through the jungle and coming across a clearing of incredible stone structures.
There are three main areas of structures, the first of which has a maze-like interior that is full of bats! The entire site is lush and green. At the top of the trees you can watch spider monkeys swing from branch to branch and hear the howler monkeys defending their territory with dinosaur-like screams.
This is just a short list of all the adventure activities in Chiapas you can do. Our guides in the Lancandon region also told us about overnight excursions through the jungle that require machate-ing your way through the brush. We’ll definitely be back!
What to Pack for an Adventure in Mexico
LifeStraw Filter or Bottle – Not only do you help reduce your single-use plastic for the environment, but you can also fill up wherever the adventure takes you. Stopped off at a dirty looking bathroom? Only got a muddy puddle in front of you? You’ll never get caught out without access to safe drinking water when you’ve got your LifeStraw product.
Plus, more importantly, for every LifeStraw product sold, the company donates one year of safe drinking water to a child in need. This program has singlehandedly provided tens of thousands of children in rural areas with safe drinking water, and was the whole reason we were down in Mexico to begin with!
Mosquito Repellent – If you’ve got sweet blood, the mosquitos are going to find you! Those buggers are out in the jungle in full force!
NO-AD SPF50 Sunscreen – Most of these adventure activities have you in the sun for hours. When you’re walking up and down the ruins at Palenque, exploring the ground, there is very little shade cover. Avoid getting burnt like toast! We’ve always used NO-AD sunscreen because it’s extremely affordable and works exactly like the expensive sunscreens.
Lightweight Pants – Travel pants may not be the most Instagrammable item of clothing you own, but they’ll save you from bug bites and scratches from brush in the jungle. They’re light, fold up small and also dry quickly. They really are the most practical item of clothing to travel with, even if they can be a bit bland.
Lonely Planet Mexico – Why stop at visiting Chiapas? Mexico is an incredible country with an infinite amount of places to visit. From the beautiful beaches of the Yucatan peninsula to the incredible cuisine of Oaxaca, Mexico has it all!
Travel Adapter – Most US based cords will work in Mexico, but sometimes you’ll only find the two prong outlets which won’t work for computer chargers, etc. The all-in-one adapters work particularly well because they also have USB outlets, so you can charge multiple devices at once. We’ve traveled with a few of this brand and have never had any problems.
Travel Insurance! – If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times. You never know what’s going to happen out there, and you don’t want to blow your savings because you weren’t prepared. Get travel insurance! It has saved our butts a number of times over the years! From a lost camera in Indonesia, to Christine being hospitalized with dengue fever in Cuba.