The state of Chiapas rises from the Pacific coastal plain to the peaks of two ranges, the Sierra Madre de Chiapas and Los Altos de Chiapas. The climate, like the land, varies enormously. The coastal areas can be hot and muggy, while in highland towns like San Cristóbal de las Casas, nights can call for a jumper, even in August.
Chiapas has the greatest biological diversity in North America. Its forests are home to howler monkeys, red macaws and jaguars. Most visitors will likely see these animals only at the zoo in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, but you can venture into the heart of the huge Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, a section of the largest remaining rainforest in North America. From Ocosingo you can make forays into its heart, Laguna Miramar, a truly isolated wilderness destination. There’s also cloud forest in the south of the state, protected in El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve. From the pretty colonial town of Comitán de Domínguez, the isolated Frontier Highway runs along the Guatemala border and past the beautiful lakes and hills of the Parque Nacional Lagos de Montebello.
On the east side of the mountains, at the edge of the Yucatán plain, the Classic-period Maya city of Palenque is one of Mexico’s finest ancient sites. The limestone hills in this area are pierced by exquisite waterfalls. Palenque is the best starting point for a trip down the Usumacinta valley, to visit the remote ruins of Bonampak and Yaxchilán, where you can cross to Guatemala by boat. This remote eastern half of Chiapas is also the home of the Lacandón Maya, who retreated into the forest when the Spaniards arrived, and shunned all outside contact until fifty years ago.