There’s a lot to see and do beyond San Cristóbal’s city limits, and it’s definitely worth budgeting time to visit the surrounding villages, Maya ruins, and the many lakes, reserves, and more. The city has many tour operators, so it’s worth considering the style of tour you’d like, not merely the destination. Most agencies specialize, be it budget or custom, by car or by bike, day trips or overnighters.
Alex y Raul (tel. 967/678-9141, alexyraul [at] yahoo [dot] com) has long offered the most highly recommended tours of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán. What started as a two-person operation has since grown to nearly a dozen guides, but hasn’t lost the balance, insight, and personalized feel that make the tours so good.
Chamula-Zinacantán trips leave daily at 9:30 a.m. and return at 2 p.m. (US$17.50 pp) and include bilingual guide, transport, and entrance fees; no reservations are required, just wait at the large wooden cross in front of the cathedral (Av. 20 de Noviembre at Calle Guadalupe Victoria). Tours to other villages can be arranged, including Amatenango, Tenejapa and Romerillo, even Nahá and Metzabok in the Lacandón rainforest.
Felipe Flores Tours & Travel (Calle Felipe Flores 36, tel. 967/678-3996, www.felipeflores.com) is operated out of the B&B of the same name, and offers personalized tours in and around San Cristóbal and to destinations further afield. Multilingual guides and prompt professional service are the reward for slightly higher prices; choose from short city tours and horseback trips, tours of indigenous villages, or all-day and multiday trips to Toniná, Laguna Miramar, and others.
For mountain bikers, Los Pingüinos (Av. Ecuador 4-B at Real de Mexicanos, tel. 967/678-0202, www.bikemexico.com/pinguinos, 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 3:30–7 p.m. daily) has a number of appealing tours, ranging from a couple hours to several days. Prices are a bit high—US$40–150 per person per day—but include experienced guides, high-quality gear, and (for longer trips) a support vehicle and hotel accommodations. Destinations include some usual suspects—Zinacantán, Chiflón Waterfall, Sumidero Canyon, and others—but getting there by bike, on forgotten roads and narrow forest trails, proves it’s the journey that really matters. (A few tours go to lesser-known places, as well.) There are options for bikers of all levels, including downhill cruises and customized private tours.
Another option for bikers is Ruta Nahual (Real de Guadalupe 123, cell tel. 044-967/124-2100, rutanahual [at] hotmail [dot] com, 10 a.m.–1 p.m. and 4–6 p.m. Tues.–Sat.), a local environmentally minded organization that offers reasonably priced biking and hiking tours near San Cristóbal. Outings include four-hour excursions to Huitepec or Moxviquil Reserves, and to little-visited villages and forest regions (US$22–24 per person, including equipment and entrance fees). Ruta Nahual also offers walking tours, including a nighttime city walk delving into the myths and mysteries of various neighborhoods (US$17.50 pp, 2 hrs). English is spoken.
Explora Ecoturismo y Aventura (Calle 1 de Marzo 30 btwn. Avs. 5 de Mayo and 12 de Octubre, tel. 967/678-4295, www.ecochiapas.com, 9 a.m.–2 p.m. and 4–8 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Sat.) specializes in multiday kayaking and rafting tours on three area rivers: Río Lacanjá, Río La Venta, and Río Usumacinta, which forms the Mexico-Guatemala border. Trips are all-inclusive, often with side trips like hiking in the rainforest and visiting archaeological sites. Detailed itineraries are available on the website (Spanish only), and rates average US$100 per person per day.
For those on a budget, Zapata Tours (Av. Insurgentes 19-A at Calle Hermanos Domínguez, tel. 967/674-5152, www.zapatatours.com, 8:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m. daily) has a number of reasonably priced options, including a horseback tour to San Juan Chamula (US$15 pp, 3.5 hrs) and a combo trip to Lagos de Montebello, Chiflón waterfall, and Rancho Nuevo caves (US$25 pp, 4–5 hrs). The “guides” typically speak Spanish only and offer very limited information or explanations. The office is located upstairs from Madre Tierra restaurant.
Agencia Chincultik (Real de Guadalupe 34, tel. 967/678-0957, 8 a.m.–9 p.m. daily) is a longtime do-it-all tour agency, offering all the standard one-day and multiday trips for essentially the same prices. Many hotels arrange tours for guests using Chincultik, and their fleet of vans tends to be newer and more comfortable than others.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition