A tourist's guide to Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas: Three days of sightseeing
By now, I’m assuming you are finally here, settled into your hotel, refreshed and unpacked. Let’s begin our tour right away, because it will actually take more than three days to see and enjoy everything here. We will use taxis rather than colectivos to save time during your visit. After all, they are very affordable and are available 24 hours a day. Colectivos only run from 5:00 in the morning until about 8:30 at night.
Since you arrived early in the afternoon, we’ll start with dinner. Eating out is a favorite pastime for locals, and eating out is even better when the restaurant is open-air and the food is regional. Tonight, we take a taxi to the Restaurante Primavera. The cab fare will be about 40 or 50 pesos. We tell the driver that the restaurant is on the Villaflores Highway, between Copoya and Suchiapa. The ride up into the mountains is itself very exciting. We can ask the driver to return for us in about two hours, or we can have our waiter at the restaurant call a taxi when we finish our leisurely meal.
We select from menu choices such as " carnes parrilladas" (a table-size platter of assorted roasted meats including liver steaks and fried blood) with side orders of coleslaw, french fries, and refried beans and all-you-can eat appetizers of " carne molida tartare", spicy ground meat "cooked" in lime juice with >>onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. Our meal will probably cost about 50 pesos per person, with cold cerveza or cocktails extra.
On the way back down the mountain into Tuxtla, we’ll ask the driver to stop at the Mirador Copoya, now a wide gravel parking space off the side of the narrow road high above the city. From here we can see the vast expanse of the capital itself. Plans are to improve the overlook by 2001 with more parking spaces and a brick pavilion. Right now it is used mostly by amorous teenagers, but the view is awesome.
If you are an exercise enthusiast, you have probably already gone for a jog in one of our local parks. Joyyo Mayu, one block north of El Camino Real, is the most popular. You have changed into appropriate clothes and are ready to visit the local museums.
10:00 We meet at the Casa de las Artesanias, a large purple building on the boulevard. This is the official government outlet for the best handicrafts from our area. Here you will be amazed by an ever-changing display of articles to buy or simply to admire. The items for sale include textiles, clothing, clay containers and decorative pieces, exotic wood sculptures, unique children’s toys, and books about this area. Much of the inventory is museum quality. There is also a special section of genuine amber jewelry, some pieces very simple, others ornately carved and set in silver. You won’t be able to resist buying something!
We will also go through the free museum behind the display room, following a darkened path between fabulously life-like dioramas. Scenes of various tribal villages show which ones provide the crafts and also how they are made. Mannequins in richly embroidered native dress show costumes worn in the various villages.
Since you have probably made several purchases here, you will need to make a brief trip back to your hotel.
12:00 Time for a lunch break or, if you prefer, a late breakfast before we continue our tour. I suggest the Cafeteria Bonampak in the Hotel Bonampak complex for a great cheeseburger with fries (order the huge “Bonampak Especial” and share it with a friend). Or enjoy a late breakfast along with many of the locals at the Cafe Plaza, a small outdoor restaurant just behind the cathedral. This is where Chiapaneco business people meet and greet one another. It is the place to see and be seen during the middle of the day.
And while you are this close to the cathedral it is very important that you do not look at the Apostles now. You don’t want to have to leave Tuxtla just yet. There’s so much more to see and do!
1:30 About six blocks northeast of el centro is the Parque Madero, an easy walk from the restaurant. At the park we will visit the museum and the botanical gardens. There is a great natural history museum featuring artifacts and maps about many of the pre-Conquest peoples who lived in Chiapas. There is also an orchid garden showcasing the colorful exotic flowers native to this area. And there is a special place for children where they will want to stay and play. The wonderfully shaded paths winding through the park make this an ideal activity for a warm afternoon.
5:00 Swimming at the Hotel Maya Sol sounds good now. We can order drinks and botanas (a large tray of assorted regional snacks) at poolside and share the pool with many of Tuxtla’s finest. I guarantee you will enjoy yourself.
7:30 Parque Marimba for music and dancing. Marimba music in the western world originated in Tuxtla Gutierrez and it continues nightly at this lovely square on Avenida Central, just a few blocks west from the center of town. Lots of well dressed older couples dance in front of the gazebo where the bands play. Some of them have danced almost every evening for decades. On the outer edges of the park small children, teenagers and young parents buy soft drinks, snacks, ice cream and balloons. Many of them dance, too. Feel free to move with the music!
9:00 Dinner at Balam. This steak restaurant is a part of the Hotel Bonampak complex. You can order thick, tender, well-aged steaks to enjoy outdoors under a tall palapa roof. Uniformed waiters hover to attend your every wish. With after dinner coffee they will offer you a generous snifter of “Bailey’s Irish Creme” whiskey to pour into your cup. Just say “Si, por favor!”.
9:00 Breakfast at Cafeteria Parque, just across the avenue from Parque Marimba. Before you eat you might want to drop your rolls of film at the one hour developing place on the next block. This restaurant is big, bright, and popular with locals and tourists alike. It’s the only place in town that serves real, freshly made toast. Norteamericanos love it. The rest of the breakfast will be just as delicious.
10:00 We visit the zoo. Of course you have worn comfortable shoes. This will actually be a nature walk up and down mountain paths. It may require frequent stops, but there are small snack stands with plastic chairs and tables all along the wayand we can sit for a few minutes whenever we like, to relax and enjoy the scenery.
The zoo is on a mountain south of the city. The heavily wooded terrain duplicates the undulating natural hills and valleys of Chiapas state. And unlike American zoos, which offer exotic animals from all over the world, the zoo here in Tuxtla has only native species of plants and animals. The abundance of flora and fauna is awesome. Many animals run free. Others are fenced in spacious landscaped compounds. There are lots of snakes, insects, spiders, and birds in addition to the larger mammals and reptiles. The zoo is widely acclaimed as the very best in all of Latin America. It is a fine example of ecological correctness.
12:00 The Mercado de los Ancianos is a large market on the southeast side of town, not far from the zoo. It offers gorgeous fresh flowers, meats, poultry, seafood, clothing, household goods, cassette tapes of popular music, and shoes. Best of all is the outdoor cafe under a huge red tent. Just ask your waitress “Que hay?” and she will rattle off a long list of good things they can cook for you, all directly from the market. There is always a choice of shrimp (boiled or in a spicy soup), chicken, fish fried whole until it is dark and golden brown, carne asada or al gusto, and tacos. All are served with puffy handmade tortillas (the best in town), rice and salad. Cold cerveza is also waiting for you.
You can eat first, then go through the market and shop until you drop. You won’t believe the prices. A dozen long-stemmed red roses with baby’s breath and greenery for 25 pesos!
8:30 Dress up and enjoy the Restaurante Las Pichanchas, which features regional specialities for under 50 pesos, live marimba music all the time, and young costumed folk dancers each evening between 9:00 and 10:00. Cameras are welcome and there is a gift shop with local handicrafts. Your evening will fly by!
9:30 Start the day with fresh pan dulce and coffee at El Boutique del Pan on Avenida Central several blocks from downtown. Then take a micro bus (larger than a colectivo) or a taxi to the town of Chiapa de Corzo. This is a very old tropical settlement on the banks of the Rio Grijalva about 12 kms east of, and considerably lower in elevation than, Tuxtla Gutierrez. It has been continuously inhabited for more than 3500 years.
First we visit the fountain in the center of the square. It has an impressive brick covering originally built in 1542, designed to resemble the crown of Queen Isabella of Spain. The spring which supplies water here is one of the reasons this is the oldest community in southern Mexico. The spring has always provided dependable fresh drinking water, even when the town itself was under enemy seige.
The ornate brick “crown” was painstakingly restored last year. The head craftsman, Arturo Comacho Hernandez, a native of Chiapa de Corzo, is the same man who restored the adobe cottage we now have for rent on our property here in Copoya. You are welcome to stay in it during your visit.
10:00 After looking at the fountain, and throwing in a coin or two for buena suerte (good luck), we walk two blocks down the hill to the embarcadero, the dock from which boats leave for trips through the Sumidero Canyon. Boats leave only when full, or nearly full. A girl at the dock counts the number of people waiting for the next boat and charges each one accordingly. If the boat is full, the fare is less per person. If there are not enough people for a full load, the fare is more. These adjustments may continue to increase or decrease right up until the moment the boat leaves. She figures this on her hand with a ball point pen. The trip will probably cost between 50 and 80 pesos. If you have lots of money and are terribly unsociable, you can rent the entire boat for yourself and a few close friends for 760 pesos. But it is always the most fun to be on board with a group of Mexican tourists who bring along their portable bars and really know how to have a good time!
The trip will take about two hours and it is thrilling. During the rainy season, we may speed under spraying water cascading down the mountainsides. We look up in wonder as the guide points to the top of the canyon wall thousands of feet directly above, where hundreds of indigenous Chiapans hurled themselves to their deaths rather than be captured by the Spanish invaders led by Cortes.
12:30 We return to the dock and stop in at the Restaurante Nancy to eat their fabulous seafood (try the large shrimp cocktail). Pay the marimba band 10 pesos for a couple of songs and they will probably throw in a few extra tunes. Ask them for traditional or regional songs of Chiapas and you will have everyone in tears at the beauty of the music.When you use the clean restrooms at the restaurant, don’t forget to flush the toilet with a bucket of water from the cisterna just outside the bathroom door.
After lunch, we walk back to the square, visiting a few of the many small shops which sell embroidered T-shirts and dresses, leather goods, and wood carvings. Prices are low and the products are of good quality. Many women from Tuxtla shop here reguarly for clothes. You can browse to your heart’s content. The shopkeepers are very laid back and don’t pressure tourists.
There is a fantastic waterfall, El Chorreadero, about 4 kms east of Chiapa de Corzo on the road to San Cristobal. Take a cab out and ask the driver to return for you in an hour. During the dry season the waterfall pours into a series of rock pools which are perfect for swimming and wading. There is another waterfall and a cave, higher than and behind the first waterfall, which can be reached by experienced climbers. During the rainy season the water is too turbulent for swimming, but it is lovely to sit on the rocks along the sides of the swirling pools, drink a beer or two, and think about the things that are important to you.
8:00 Dinner back in Tuxtla Guiterrez at the fine Italian restaurante Arlecchino. It is on the boulevard just across from the University of Chiapas. Wear one of the pretty dresses you bought this afternoon in Chiapa de Corzo. Although this is probably the most expensive restaurant in the city, most of the pasta dishes are under 75 pesos. There is a good wine list and the service is especially attentive. I recommend either the lasagna or the putanesca. Good steaks and salads, also.
Well, you have now spent three very busy and interesting days in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas. Although we have been on the go constantly, we still haven’t seen everything. Most important of all, we have yet to see the Apostles come out of the clock tower at the cathedral, so you’ll have to come back soon and we will continue our tour of the city.
It’s been fun, hasn’t it!