Chiapas is an enigma – perhaps the most beautiful state in Mexico, an area rich in natural resources, yet many of it’s inhabitants, descendants of the ancient Maya, are among the poorest in Mexico. It’s a fascinating, exciting place to visit and photograph: One can expect to see wildly beautiful landscapes, rich and mysterious indigenous cultures, the colonial charm of the town of San Cristobal de las Casas, and exotic Mayan ruins.
While this gem of an area is little known by most outsiders, Chiapas is home to more than one million indigenous people, most of whom are descendants of the ancient Mayans. Each of the eight principal Mayan groups in the state has its own language, beliefs and customs. This high indigenous presence and the cultural variety it entails are among the most fascinating aspects of Chiapas. We will do our best to explore and photograph the various manifestations of the Mayan culture during our stay here.
We’ll begin our journey in the bustling lowland capitol of Tuxtla Gutierrez. There we’ll travel by boat on the Rio Grijalva to visit breathtaking Sumidero Canyon. While we’re on the river we’ll photograph the dramatic 3,000 foot cliffs, as well as birdlife and hopefully crocodiles along the shore. After our river trip we’ll take a short drive up into a different world in the pine-forested mountains to the colonial gem of San Cristobal de las Casas. That will be our base for most of the trip and we’ll visit the most beautiful colonial churches and sites in San Cristobal.
Our group will also explore nearby traditional Maya villages, where many of the ancient beliefs are carried on to this day. We’ll visit fascinating San Juan Chamula, a town of about 3,000 inhabitants which supports a community of about 80,000 Chamulans, most of whom live on small farms in the surrounding mountains. Here the people have fiercely hung on to their ancient beliefs and to step inside their church is to step back centuries in time. As you enter, thousands of flickering candles, thick copal incense, and worshippers kneeling with their faces to the pine needle carpeted floor creates a powerful impression. You will witness numerous healers performing age-old ceremonies on the floor of the church. We’ll then continue on to the weaving village of Zinacantan, where we’ll visit and photograph families who weave some of the most beautiful textiles in the Mayan world.
We’ll then descend from the cool mountains down to the tropical lowlands to visit Palenque, home to perhaps the most beautiful of all Mayan archeological sites. On the way we’ll visit the beautiful Cascadas de Agua Azul. There we’ll photograph the turquoise waters with numerous cascades (and go swimming if you wish) as villagers approach to sell us local grown fruit. More adventure and incredible photo opps await while visiting ancient Palenque. This area stands at the point where the hills rise out of the Gulf Coast plain and the dense jungle covering these hills forms an evocative backdrop to the exquisite Maya architecture.
From there, our group ventures farther off the beaten track, and into the Lacandon Jungle to visit the isolated ruins at Yaxchilan and Bonampak. To visit the ancient Maya city of Yaxchilan, our group will travel by boat down the Usamacinta River, separating Chiapas from Guatemala. We’ll have the opportunity to view and photograph the colorful murals at Bonampak and the impressive Misol Ha waterfalls is a welcomed stop as we make our way back to San Cristobal. This exhilarating journey will be topped off with a image-sharing party and celebration dinner.
Day 1: Flights arrive into Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capitol of the state of Chiapas. From the airport, you’ll be transferred up into the mountains, to the beautiful colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas, nestled in a valley surrounded by pine-forests. You will check into our hotel, and that evening we’ll have introductions and an orientation before our welcome dinner. We will spend the night in San Cristobal de las Casas.
Day 2:In the morning we’ll go with our local guide on a walking tour of some of the most photogenic colonial churches and neighborhoods in San Cristobal. Our group sets off for a photo shoot of some local Mayan people, and sure to capture interesting images in the late afternoon light. We’ll spend the night in San Cristobal de las Casas.
Day 3:After breakfast we drive to the shore of the Rio Grijalva, where we’ll board our private boat to take a photographic river cruise through breathtaking Sumidero Canyon. Here’s your chance to photograph towering 3,000 foot cliffs, crocodiles (hopefully) and birdlife. There’s free time after lunch, then in the late afternoon the group heads out to shoot the last light on the nearby Cathedral and local Maya people. We’ll spend the night in San Cristobal de las Casas.
Day 4:On this day we’ll visit a nearby traditional Maya village, San Juan Chamula where the steadfastly cling to their ancient Mayan beliefs. In the church, where photos are unfortunately not allowed, we can witness traditional healers carrying on timeless Mayan ceremonies. Then, one last photo shoot awaits in the late afternoon in San Cristobal. After dinner those who want to, will go for a cold refreshment at Bar Revolucion, a favorite watering-hole for writers, poets, artists, travelers, fire-jugglers, revolutionaries, musicians, Zapatistas, beatniks, hippies, and yes – photographers too. They are sure to have an eclectic line-up of live music to enjoy. We’ll spend the night in San Cristobal de las Casas.
Day 5:Today we’ll visit nearby Zinacantan, a traditional Mayan village slightly more part of the modern world than Chamula. We’ll also have some free time in San Cristobal to take photos, shop or rest. We’ll spend the night in San Cristobal de las Casas.
Day 6:After breakfast we’ll depart for Palenque, with a stop on the way to visit and photograph the gorgeous Las Cascadas de Agua Azul (blue waters with multiple cascades) as well as some local villagers. The afternoon offers free time in Palenque, then it’s off to dinner near the hotel. The restaurant and hotel are in a heavily wooded area in the La Canada section of Palenque, serenity away from the hustle and bustle of the main town. We’ll spend the night in Palenque.
Day 7:Around 8 a.m. we’ll arrive at the exquisite Mayan ruins at Palenque when the gates are opened and when the temples are sometimes still wrapped in photogenic morning mist. We’ll have a guided tour of the site and some free time to wander among the ruins and along the stream that runs through the site. Our group will then visit the museum to see exquisite stone carvings of the ancient rulers, and there will also be an optional trip back to the ruins for the last hour they are open. Dinner will be enjoyed at El Panchan, a famous destination in the international travelers scene. We’ll spend the night in Palenque.
Day 8:We’ll depart early in the morning to venture to the less-visited Mayan sites of Yaxchilan and Bonampak. After a hearty breakfast en route, we’ll board our boat for the one hour journey on the Usamacinta River, which separates Chiapas from Guatemala. Extraordinary photo opps await us at Yaxchilan, the ancient Mayan kingdom with it’s jungle setting on the river. After lunch we’ll explore Bonampak, famous for its colorful stone murals, with much of the original paint intact, depicting warriors and other facets of Mayan life. Tonight is spent in Palenque.
Day 9:Following breakfast, the group sets out to visit and photograph the mighty Misol Ha waterfalls! During times of low rain and good weather the pool at the base of the falls is an excellent swimming option. You are free this afternoon to go to town, rest, download images, etc. For our farewell dinner we’ll go to El Panchan, the famous hangout of the Palenque archeologists, and now a favorite destination in the international travelers’ scene. Those with enough energy can stay for the popular fire-juggling show. We’ll spend the night in Palenque.
Day 10: Everyone is transported to the airport in Villahermosa for flights back home.