Although they’re very different states – Chiapas is mountainous, and Tabasco is steamy lowlands – we group them together here, as travellers will usually pass through one or both en route to the Yucatán. Endowed with a stunning variety of cultures, landscapes and wildlife, Chiapas has much to tempt visitors, but the biggest draw is how many indigenous traditions survive intact, as well as how much pristine wilderness exists. The state of Tabasco, by contrast, is less aesthetically attractive than its neighbour state, and its rural areas see almost no tourists. But its capital, Villahermosa, is a transit hub, and archeology buffs know the region as the heartland of the Olmecs, Mexico’s earliest developed civilization.
Chiapas was administered by the Spanish as part of Guatemala until 1824, when it seceded to join newly independent Mexico. The state is now second only to Oaxaca in Indian population: about 25 percent of its four million people are thought to be indígenas, of some fourteen ethnic groups, most of Maya origin. Tuxtla Gutiérrez is the capital, but travellers usually head straight for the colonial town of San Cristóbal de las Casas, tucked among the mountains in the centre of the state and surrounded by strongholds of Tzotzil and Tzeltal Maya culture. Ancient customs and religious practices carry on in these villages, yet as picturesque as life here may sometimes seem, villagers often live at the barest subsistence level, with their lands and livelihoods in precarious balance. These troubles helped fuel the 1994 Zapatista rebellion, and although that conflict has long subsided, many of the core issues concerning land use remain unresolved. Now illegal immigration is the bigger issue, and a heavy military presence focuses more on the Guatemalan border and the eastern half of the state.
In Tabasco, Villahermosa is the vibrant, modern capital, with a wealth of parks and museums, the best of which is Parque La Venta, where the original massive Olmec heads are on display. In the extreme southwest, bordered by Veracruz and Chiapas, a section of Tabasco reaches into the Sierra de Chiapas up to 1000m high. Here, in a region almost never visited by outsiders, you can splash in pristine rivers in Tapijulapa and explore the astonishing ruins of Malpasito, a city of the mysterious Zoque culture.Read More
Fiestas in Chiapas and Tabasco
Fiestas in Chiapas and Tabasco
The states of Chiapas and Tabasco are extremely rich in festivals. Local tourist offices should have more information on what’s happening.
New Year’s Day (Jan 1). San Andrés Chamula and San Juan Chamula, both near San Cristóbal, have civil ceremonies to install a new government for the year.
Día de San Sebastián (Jan 20). In Chiapa de Corzo, a large fiesta with traditional dances (including the masked parachicos) lasts several days, with a re-enactment on Jan 21 of a naval battle on the Río Grijalva.
Día de la Candelaria (Feb 2). Colourful celebrations at Ocosingo.
Fiesta de San Caralampio (Feb 11–20). In Comitán, celebrated with a parade to San Caralampio church, where elaborate offerings are made and dances held in the plaza outside.
Carnaval (the week before Lent; variable Feb & March). Celebrated in hundreds of villages throughout the area, but at its most frenzied in the big cities, especially Villahermosa.
Anniversary of the foundation of Chiapa de Corzo (March 1). Town fair with kiddie rides, live music and more.
Semana Santa (Holy Week). Widely observed. There are particularly big ceremonies in San Cristóbal de las Casas. Ciudad Hidalgo, at the border near Tapachula, has a major week-long market.
Feria de San Cristóbal de las Casas (April 1–7). Festival in San Cristóbal de las Casas celebrating the town’s foundation.
Feria de Villahermosa (second half of April). Villahermosa hosts its annual festival, with agricultural and industrial exhibits and the election of the queen of the flowers.
Día de San Pedro (April 29). Celebrated in several villages around San Cristóbal, including Amatenango del Valle and Zinacantán.
Día de la Santa Cruz (May 3). Celebrated in San Juan Chamula and in Teapa, between Villahermosa and San Cristóbal.
Día de San Isidro (May 15). Peasant celebrations everywhere – famous and picturesque fiestas in Huistán, near San Cristóbal. There’s a four-day nautical marathon from Tenosique to Villahermosa, when craft from all over the country race down 600km of the Río Usumacinta.
Día de San Antonio (June 13). Celebrated in Simojovel, near San Cristóbal, and Cárdenas (Tabasco), west of Villahermosa.
Día de San Juan (June 24). The culmination of several days’ celebration in San Juan Chamula.
Día de San Cristóbal (July 17). Celebrated enthusiastically in San Cristóbal de las Casas and in nearby villages such as Tenejapa and Amatenango del Valle.
Día de Santiago (July 25). Provokes widespread celebrations, especially in San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Fiesta de Santo Domingo de Guzmán (last week of July, first week of Aug). Comitán’s fair, with concerts, rodeos and more.
Fiesta de San Lorenzo (Sun nearest Aug 10). Celebrated in Zinacantán, with much music and dancing.
Día de Santa Rosa (Aug 30). Celebrated in San Juan Chamula, when the locals don traditional garb and play Tzotzil harps and instruments outside the church.
Independence Day (Sept 14–16). In Chiapas, independence celebrations are preceded by those in honour of the state’s annexation to Mexico.
Día de la Virgen del Rosario (first Sun in Oct). Celebrated in San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán with Tzotzil folk music and dances. There’s also a special craft market.
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead; Nov 1–2) The most captivating celebration of the Day of the Dead in Chiapas takes place in Comitán, where the cemeteries overflow with flowers and ornate altars.
Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe (Dec 12). An important day throughout Mexico. There are particularly good fiestas in Tuxtla Gutiérrez and San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Feria and cheese expo (Dec 17–22). Held in Pijijiapan, on the coast highway to Tapachula.