Northwest of Tuxtla  is the state’s hinterland, a hot, dry region long defined by the meanderings of the mighty Río Grijalva. This little-traveled area is best known for the impressive colonial churches and convents built by Dominican missionaries in the early (and most optimistic) years of the conquest.
Their host towns are decidedly modest—quaint, slow-moving communities with precious little in the way of hotels and other services, though charming in their own right. Although called the Ruta Zoque (Zoque Route), little survives of Chiapas ’s earliest culture, which grew to prominence in this same river valley.
The Zoque indigenous group emerged as a distinct entity around 1000 B.C.; descendants of the Olmecs, Mesoamerica’s first civilization, they occupied the rich river valleys of the Río Grijalva, in present-day western and northwestern Chiapas . Today’s cities of Chiapa de Corzo , Ocozocoautla, Jiquipilas, and Tonalá  all grew from what were once Zoque strongholds.
The Río Grijalva was a vital trade corridor between central Mexico and Central America, and the Zoques naturally formed strong commercial ties—and sometimes fierce rivalries—with neighboring groups. The Zoques were invaded several times, notably by the Chiapas, arriving from the north around A.D. 1000, then by the Aztecs several centuries later, and finally by the Spanish in the mid-1500s.
In modern times, this stretch of the Río Grijalva has drawn the focus of government planners and civil engineers, who constructed not one but two massive hydroelectric dams—and a third further upriver in the center of the state—plus the graceful Puente Chiapas, which connects Chiapas to Veracruz, Mexico City, and beyond.
A rental car makes touring the Ruta Zoque significantly easier and faster. The road is fairly well maintained, although narrow and windy in places, and armed with countless topes (speed bumps), many unmarked. Otherwise, combis and small buses leave from Tuxtla ’s Terminal de los Ancianos (9 Av. Sur Ote. at 13 Calle Ote. Sur) bound for Chicoasén , Copainalá , and Tecpatán . Tecpatán buses stop at all the preceding towns, but at the highway turnoff only.