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 canyon has high vertical walls of up to 2,600 feet (800 m) 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. Visitors to the national park may also participate in adventure activities such as hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and rappelling.
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.
You can visit the canyon any day of the year. Chiapas' climate is highly variable due to the mountainous terrain and varying elevations—high in San Cristóbal, low in Tuxtla and Palenque, 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. The rainy season is between May and September, but there may be light rains other times of the year. The lookout points are open between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily except Tuesdays when they’re closed for maintenance.
The Canyon's History
The Sumidero Canyon was formed over millions of years by cracks in the earth's crust combined with erosion from the Grijalva River, which still flows through it. Archaeological remains show that the surrounding area was inhabited in ancient times. During the Spanish invasion, the canyon provided refuge for the local Chiapanecan people to hide from the European invaders. According to legend, many preferred to jump to their deaths rather than submit.
In 1980, the Chicoasén hydroelectric dam (officially the Manuel Morreno Torres dam) was completed, which flooded the canyon, allowing it to be traversed by boat. Before that, the canyon's water level had been variable, and it wasn’t possible to navigate the canyon. That same year, the Mexican federal government created the Cañón del Sumidero National Park, with an area of 21,789 hectares of land (nearly 54,000 acres), including the canyon, the river basin, and surrounding areas.
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 or take a boat trip to traverse the canyon at water level.
Get a Birds-Eye View
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 entrance to the park is reached by heading north from Tuxtla Gutierrez. 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.
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 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.
Have an Adventure
There are opportunities for practicing several different adventure activities in the canyon.
If you’re interested in hiking, Keteka Tours offers a Sumidero Canyon Hiking Adventure, a full-day excursion. If you would like to do some mountain biking in the area, contact Enbiciando for rentals, repairs, and tours. Kayaking excursions are offered by the tour guide 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, you’re required to get permission from the CONANP (National Commission of Natural Protected Areas), which has an office in Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
Tips for Visiting the Sumidero Canyon
There is an admission fee of about 30 pesos ($1.49) to enter the national park, which is separate from the boat tour's cost. 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.
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.)
Various tour companies offer tours to the Sumidero Canyon departing from San Cristóbal de las Casas and Tuxtla Gutierrez. Most include the boat ride, entrance to the park, and some free time in Chiapa de Corzo. If you go independently, keep in mind that the boats don’t have a fixed schedule and will only depart when they have a sufficient number of people, so if you go very early, you may end up waiting for a while. If you arrive late in the day, you may have missed the last opportunity of the day. Your best bet is to arrive around 9 or 10 a.m.
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.