Parque Nacional Cañón del Sumidero
The Sumidero Canyon is a spectacular natural wonder located in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, just north of the state's capital city, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, and close to the charming town of Chiapa de Corzo. Declared a national park in 1980, the Cañón de Sumidero has high vertical walls of up to 2,600 feet (800 meters) in some places and lots of natural life to admire and enjoy. You can view the canyon from one of the look-out points or take a boat ride and see the canyon and its abundant vegetation and wildlife up close.
The canyon is open to visitors all year long, so you can visit during any season. Chiapas' climate is highly variable due to the mountainous terrain and varying elevations, so it's a good idea to dress in layers. The weather is generally warmest in April and May and coolest in December and January, with the rainy season taking place between May and September. However, rain is possible at any time of year in this tropical climate zone.
Things to Do
The most popular ways of enjoying the national park are by getting a birds-eye view of the canyon from the lookout points above and taking a boat trip to traverse the canyon at water level. You can do both activities in a day and it's definitely the best way to see the canyon. Visitors to the national park may also participate in adventure activities such as hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and rappelling, but typically only with a guided tour. Exploring the park outside of the viewpoints can only be done with a tour group or by requesting permission from the government.
The national park has a stunning array of geological features and biodiversity. Varying microclimates at different heights of the canyon allow for varied vegetation and fauna. The national park is home to many birds and spider monkeys, reptiles, fish, and butterflies. It also contains endangered species such as the Central American river turtle and the American crocodile, which can be seen along the riverbanks. There are numerous small caves, rock formations, and other notable features along the canyon walls. The Chicoasén hydroelectric dam, one of the largest Mexican hydraulic engineering works, has a 20-mile-long reservoir that encompasses the entire canyon.
Visit the Lookout Points
There are six miradores (lookout points) accessible by land at different elevations and locations along the canyon so that you can enjoy various views. These lookout points are named La Ceiba, La Coyota, El Roblar, Tepehuaje, Los Chiapas, and Manos. Each of the lookout points has its own charm and offers different perspectives from which to appreciate the canyon. Some of them have paths so you can walk through the forest and see the local vegetation. Take your binoculars if you're interested in birdwatching.
The lookout points are open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the high season, which lasts from November to April. During the low season, they are closed on Tuesdays for maintenance. You have to travel between miradores by car, so you'll need to have your own vehicle or join a tour.
Take a Boat Trip
Besides seeing the canyon from above, you can also take a boat tour that runs the length of the canyon, covering some 20 miles from the Belisario Domínguez Bridge to the hydroelectric dam and back again, for a total of 40 miles. This boat tour takes about two hours and gives you a chance to enjoy the canyon's impressive natural beauty, see interesting geological formations, and spot some of the local wildlife.
There are four different docks near the town of Chiapa de Corzo with boat companies who offer basically the same service, charging between 200 and 300 pesos (between $10-15) per person for a two-hour boat tour. The sun can be powerful out on the water, although with the breeze, you may not feel it until afterward, so be sure to take sunscreen and a hat (preferably one with a string to hold it on during the boat ride), and drinking water. Also, be prepared for some splashing and protect your phone or other electronics you may have with you.
Join an Adventure Tour
There are opportunities for practicing several different adventure activities in the canyon through guided tours. If you’re interested in hiking, Keteka Tours offers afull-day excursion hiking adventure. If you would like to do some mountain biking in the area, Enbiciando provides rentals, repairs, and tours. Kayaking excursions are offered by the tour group and hotel Balam Posada. For rock climbing within the canyon, get in touch with Vertigo Rock Climbing.
It’s best to go with a tour company as they know the lay of the land and provide the necessary permissions and equipment. If you would like to pursue any of these activities independently—even hiking—you’re required to get permission from the CONANP government agency, which has an office in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. You'll need to fill out some forms, pay a fee, and have a detailed plan of what you plan to do and why you're entering.
Where to Stay Nearby
You can't camp in the park, but Tuxtla Guiterrez—the capital of the province of Chiapas—is located at the border of the national park and is a city with plenty of lodging options. However, most boat tours depart further down the river from the small town of Chiapa de Corzo, making it a convenient location for spending the night. About an hour away is the colonial town of San Cristobal, which is considered one of Mexico's "pueblo mágicos" and is a worthwhile place to spend a few nights.
- Chiapas Hotel Express: Even though this three-star hotel in the city of Tuxtla is outside of the city center, it's one of the closest options to the entrance of the national park. The entrance gates are just 10 minutes away by car and the best vista points are just a bit further.
- Casa Grande Hotel: There are only five rooms in this hotel located inside a historic colonial home in Chiapa de Corzo, so personalized attention is all but guaranteed. Apart from the endearing decor and cozy guestrooms, the hotel is also just a few blocks away from the dock where the boat tours depart for Sumidero Canyon.
- Casa Santa Lucia: If you're staying in a pueblo as magical as San Cristobal, then you'll need a hotel that's just as spellbinding, like Casa Santa Lucia. This 18th-century building is a registered national historic place, but the inside has been remodeled to offer all the amenities of a boutique hotel without losing its Old World charm.
How to Get There
Getting to the park depends on if you're entering by land or by water. If you're taking a car or a bus into the park, you'll likely begin in Tuxtla, which is the biggest city in Chiapas and also home to the area's main airport. The park entrance is about 4 miles northeast of the city center; you can visit in a private vehicle or take a tour offered by tour companies in Tuxtla, Chiapa de Corzo, or San Cristóbal de las Casas. If you're taking a boat tour of the canyon, most of them leave from the town of Chiapa de Corzo to the south of Tuxtla.
Visitors who are staying in San Cristobal can easily get to Tuxtla via frequent buses between the two cities or colectivos, which are like shared taxis for people heading the same direction.
Tips for Your Visit
- There is a small admission fee—less than two dollars—to enter the national park, which is separate from the cost of taking a tour. You will be given a bracelet to prove you have paid the admission fee for the park and it will allow you admission to the lookout points after entering the park on a boat tour.
- If you choose to explore the park by water on your own without a tour, keep in mind that the boats leave sporadically and don't have a fixed schedule. Booking a tour is the easiest way to guarantee that you have a seat on the boat at the time that you want.
- If you stray from the path or choose to go on your own to explore the national park, you should be aware that it's home to some potentially dangerous animals such as coral snakes, rattlesnakes, crocodiles, and jaguars (It's rare to see them, but they are present).
- Take some time to stroll around Chiapa de Corzo and see the La Pila fountain in the main square. Completed in 1562, it’s a wonderful example of Mudéjar (Moorish) architecture in Mexico.