Lagunas de Montebello: Visiting Mexico’s Pine Forest Paradise

Lagunas de Montebello Chiapas Mexico

A chilly pine forest, multi-colored lakes, and mountain cabins. Are we back in Colorado? Nope, these are the beautiful Lagunas de Montebello, Chiapas!

If all you’ve ever seen of Mexico are its white-sand beaches, prepare to be mind-blown when you arrive at the cloud forests and pine tree paradise of Montebello Lakes.

The scenic Lagunas de Montebello National Park (Parque Nacional Lagunas de Montebello), or Montebello Lakes National Park, is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve located in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state.

This high-elevation Mexican national park sits on the Mexico and Guatemala border and is home to almost 60 multi-colored lakes, pine and oak tree forests, and over 50 species of orchids. The area has a mix of Mexican, Guatemalan, and Chuj Maya cultures, with many locals speaking both Spanish and Chuj.

Lagunas de Montebello is – without a doubt – one of the most beautiful places in Mexico and one of the best things to do in Chiapas. It offers tons of outdoor activities including swimming, hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, and paddling a balsa raft.

This is an incredible area to visit and well-worth a day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas, but it’s best to spend at least 1-2 nights in a lakefront cabin here to get the full experience.

It’s difficult to find information online about this hidden gem, so we put together this travel guide with everything you need to know to plan your visit to Lagunas de Montebello, Chiapas.

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Road to Lagunas de Montebello
The road to Lagunas de Montebello in Chiapas, Mexico.

How to Get to Lagunas de Montebello

The Lagunas de Montebello National Park lies about 35 miles (56 km) east of Comitan, a charming town located a 2-hour drive south of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas.

The closest airport to Lagunas de Montebello is Tuxtla Gutierrez International Airport (TGZ) in Chiapas’ capital city, Tuxtla Gutierrez.

The best way to explore Lagunas de Montebello National Park is by renting a car in Tuxtla Gutierrez and taking the scenic drive south. Book your rental car →

It’s about a 4-hour direct drive from Tuxtla to Montebello, but if you’re driving a rental car in Mexico take the route that passes by other popular Chiapas attractions like Sumidero Canyon, San Cristobal de las Casas, and Comitan.

Read Next: Everything You Need to Know Before Renting a Car in Mexico

To get from San Cristobal de las Casas to Lagunas de Montebello by bus, take a first-class ADO bus from San Cristobal de las Casas to Comitán. Book your bus tickets →

From Comitan, take a colectivo to the lakes. Colectivos are shared public transport vans that stop to drop off and pickup passengers along their route. They are usually the cheapest option for traveling around Mexico.

The colectivo to take in Comitán is called Lineas de Pasajeros Comitán–Lagos de Montebello and it’s located at 2a Av. Sur Pte. near 2a Calle Sur in Comitan. It takes about 1 hour (depending on stops) and costs about $55 MXN per person. The last stop is the town of Tziscao, next to Lake Tziscao.

Another option is to take a private taxi from Comitan to Lagunas de Montebello for about $700 MXN one-way.

Once at Lagunas de Colores or Laguna Montebello, you can hire a mototaxi or certified guide/driver in a pickup truck to take you around the lakes for about $600 MXN. This is a great option for visitors without a rental car that speak some Spanish.

Read Next: The Must-Read Guide to ADO Bus Mexico (+ How to Book Tickets in English)

Mototaxis at Lagunas de Montebello National Park
Mototaxis waiting at the turn off to Cinco Lagos.

Lagunas de Montebello Tours

Most travelers visit Lagunas de Montebello as a day trip from San Cristóbal de las Casas. Viator and Get Your Guide offer day tours to Lagunas de Montebello from Tuxtla Gutierrez and San Cristobal de las Casas.

This San Cristobal to Lagunas de Montebello tour includes a visit to El Chiflon Waterfalls in the morning and a tour of the Montebello Lakes in the afternoon.

This Tuxtla to Lagunas de Montebello tour also stops at Montebello Lakes and El Chiflon Waterfalls, but it departs from the state capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez.

Day Tours to Lagunas de Montebello:

Day tours are a good option if you’re running short on time, but we highly recommend spending at least a full day at both El Chiflon waterfalls and Lagos de Montebello.

Read Next: The 11 Most Amazing Things to do in Chiapas

The Best Lakes at Lagunas de Montebello National Park

The fee to enter is $36 MXN per person for the national park fee, plus an additional $25 MXN per person for the local ejido community. Each lake offers a variety of outdoor activities for visitors, including swimming, kayaking, hiking, birdwatching, mountain biking, horseback riding, camping, and cabin rentals.

Here’s a brief description of the lakes when heading west to east on the typical tourist circuit of Lagunas de Montebello:

Off Path Travels at Lagunas de Montebello
Exploring Lagunas de Montebello.

Lagunas de Colores

The first group of lakes on the road into the national park is called Lagunas de Colores (Colored Lakes). These multi-colored lakes are managed by the government and have onsite food stands and tour guides.

The Lagunas de Colores lakes are:

  • Agua Tinta
  • Bosque Azul
  • La Encantada
  • Ensueño
  • Esmeralda

Laguna de Montebello (Montebello Lake)

Laguna de Montebello (Montebello Lake) is a large open lake with pine trees towering over and a cloudy mist hanging in the air. It has an accessible shoreline you can wade in to for swimming.

Montebello Lake has hiking trails, horseback riding to nearby cenotes, boat rentals, and plenty of authentic Chiapas food stalls with lake views.

Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to San Cristobal de las Casas

Cinco Lagos

The next group of lakes is called Cinco Lagos (Five Lakes). If you’re taking a colectivo, you can have it drop you off at the turn off for these lakes and then take one of the mototaxis to the miradores (lookout points).

Lagunas de Montebello, Chiapas, Mexico
One of the lookout points around Cinco Lagos.

Mirador El Caracol is a hidden lookout point perfect for taking beautiful photos of the lakes. There are two other lookout areas nearby, Mirador Laguna Jahan and Mirador Lago Agua Tinta.

Lagunas de Montebello: Mexico's Pine Forest Paradise.
Laguna La Cañada

The stunning Laguna La Cañada has tree-covered, craggy rocks cinching at its middle. There are lots of food stalls and souvenir shops being at this lake.

It’s also one of the lakes where you can rent a raft or kayak to paddle around.

Lago Pojoj

Next up is the beautiful turquoise-colored Lago Pojoj (Lake Pojoj). Pojoj is the name of a type of palm widely used in the area.

This is one of our favorite lakes, but it’s also one of the most visited. Not only is this lake a mix of hues from dark blue to light aqua, but it also has an island in the middle with an orchid and bromeliad garden that you can row to on a traditional balsa (raft).

Food Stalls at Lago Pojoj
Food stands and souvenir stalls at Lago Pojoj.

Heading down the stairs to the water, you’ll see rafts, made of tied up trunks, for rent. They also have rental kayaks, but paddling along this pristine lake on a traditional balsa is Mexico bucket list item.

The balsa tours at Lago Pojoj include a 1-1.5 hour guided tour to Cenote Perol at the opposite end of the lake for around $600 MXN and a 40-minute guided tour to the orchid island for around $500 MXN (for 2 people).

The rental cost also includes a rower/guide. Although they are mostly there to help you row, they do provide some interesting information on the depth of the lake and other fun facts (Spanish only).

Orchid Garden at Lago Pojoj in Lagunas de Montebello Chiapas
The orchid garden on the Pojoj Lake island.

The trip to the island includes a quick walking tour of the tiny island, including the orchid garden and a small beach area where you can swim.

There’s a small rock outcropping that’s known for being the site where Antonio Banderas jumped off while filming a Mexican beer commercial. It’s the perfect spot to splashing into the cool, turquoise waters after the paddle and take some photos of the mind-blowing scenery.

Lago Pojoj at Lagunas de Montebello, Chiapas, Mexico
The stunning array of colors at Lake Pojoj.

Lago Tziscao (Lake Tziscao)

Lago Tziscao (Lake Tziscao) is the largest lake and one of the last lakes on the Lagunas de Montebello route. Tziscao is also the name of the village located on the southeast shore of Lake Tziscao. It’s the only town in the area and the last stop for colectivos coming from Comitan.

Overlook at Lago Tziscao in Lagunas de Montebello, Chiapas, Mexico
Tziscao Overlook

If you’re looking for a place to stay and explore the area, Tziscao has the most options for accommodations and restaurants. It has plenty of cabins for rent along the lake, camping spots, home-style cooking restaurants, and kayak rentals.

Lago Internacional and Guatemala

The final lake along this route is Lago Internacional (International Lake), which does a good job of living up to its name: the lake is divided in two by a rope with buoys which represents the border. The northern half of the lake is in Mexico and the southern half is in Guatemala.

It’s the extreme opposite of the Tijuana border crossing along the US/Mexico border. Here there are no walls, armed guards, drug-sniffing dogs, and, most shockingly, no passport or even ID required.

You can simply walk along a dirt trail that winds around Lago Internacional and into Guatemala. There’s a beautiful waterfall called Cascada Cola de Quetzal (Quetzal Tail Waterfall) along the way. It’s probably one of the most relaxing border crossings anywhere.

At the end of the walking trail, there’s a tourist area with lots of stalls selling everything from colorful textiles to local Guatemalan beer to cardamom gum. Once you’re done visiting Guatemala, follow the same vendor-lined path back into Mexico.

Cascada Cola de Quetzal Guatemala
Cascada Cola de Quetzal (Quetzal Tail Waterfall)

The 8 Best Things to Do in Lagunas de Montebello

Lagunas de Montebello is an outdoor lover’s paradise! This beautiful and unique area of Mexico has everything from birdwatching to horseback riding to camping.

1. See the Different Lakes

Off Path Travels (Kristina Ros) at Lagunas de Montebello
The amazing colors at Lago Pojoj.

Checking out the different lakes in Lagunas de Montebello and taking part in some of the activities each one offers is one of the top things to do in this national park.

The best way to explore the Montebello lakes is to rent a car in Tuxtla, drive around at your own pace, and stay overnight at a lakefront cabin.

Otherwise, you can book a day tour of Lagunas Montebello or hire a driver at Montebello Lake to take you around for a few hours.

2. Horseback Riding to a Cenote

Lago Montebello offers horseback riding along forest trails and guided horseback riding tours to a nearby cenote.

3. Hike El Perol Trail

Guided hikes of Sendero El Perol (El Perol Hiking Trail), near Lago Pojoj, are offered for $150-200 per person for 2-3 hours one way. During the hike, the guide points out the local flora and flauna and explains their use in traditional Mayan medicine.

4. Paddle a Traditional Balsa Raft

Balsa Raft on Lago Pojoj, Lagunas de Montebello, Chiapas, Mexico
Michael on a traditional balsa raft.

Paddling across a turquoise lake on a traditionally-constructed raft made of a bundle of logs tied together is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a must when visiting Lagunas de Montebello. It’s a serene and quiet paddle since motorized boats are prohibited within the national park.

Balsa rentals are available at some of the lakes, including Lago La Cañada and Lago Pojoj. Pojoj Lake is the best lake to explore on a balsa raft. There’s an island and cenote you can paddle to.

5. Explore the San Rafael del Arco Caves

The San Rafael del Arco caves (Grutas San Rafael del Arco) are a group of limestone caves located near Laguna La Cañada that you can reach by foot or horseback.

6. Go to Guatemala

Lago Internacional Mexico Guatemala
The border crossing between Mexico and Guatemala.

One of the best parts of visiting Lagunas de Montebello is that you can easily visit Guatemala for a few hours!

To get to Guatemala, head to Tziscao and take the walkway around Lago Internacional. Walk over to Guatemala for lunch, souvenirs or a local beer. No passport needed!

7. Visit the Chinkultic Ruins

The Chinkultic Ruins are an archeological site located about 2km off the main road to Lagunas de Montebello. These Maya ruins are off the beaten path, and not nearly as well-known as the Palenque Ruins in northern Chiapas.

Chinkultic has several temples and a ball court overlooking a large cenote known as Cenote Azul (Blue Cenote).

Other lesser-known, yet amazing ruins in southern Chiapas include Tenam Puente and El Lagartero.

8. Try the Local Chiapas Food

Food Stalls at Lago Tziscao Overlook in Lagunas de Montebello, Chiapas, Mexico
Row of restaurants at the Tziscao Overlook.

There are food stalls and small restaurants at the larger lakes where you can try the local food, like chinculguajes, chorizo, cafe de la olla, and freshly foraged mushrooms.

The overlook on the side of the road next to the Tziscao Overlook is a popular place to eat. There are about ten food stalls with ladies yelling what they serve to attract customers.

We had a quick Mexican vegetarian lunch consisting of fresh cheese wrapped in banana leaves (the specialty), black beans, tortillas, salsa, and avocado.

The town of Tziscao also has small restaurants for tourists.

Read Next: The 9 Best Things to do in Comitan, Chiapas

Where to Stay in Lagunas de Montebello, Chiapas

The accommodations in Lagunas de Montebello are mostly budget-friendly, rustic cabañas (cabins) and campgrounds along the shores of Tziscao Lake, Cinco Lagos, and a few others.

If you’re looking for hotels with full amenities, stay in the magical town of Comitan (about an hour’s drive away) or check out the luxurious Parador-Museo Santa Maria (along the road from Comitan to the lakes).

Lagunas de Montebello Cabins

Cabañas Islas de Tziscao: lake front cabins in Tziscao, with mosquito nets, wifi, balconies, and a restaurant

Cabañas Cinco Lagos: cozy cabins with lake views in Cinco Lagos, with TV, wifi, bicycles, and a restaurant

Cabañas Junkolal Tziscao: lake view cabins in Tziscao, with patios, wifi, 24-hour front desk, and a restaurant

Tips for Visiting Montebello Lakes, Chiapas

  • There’s no cell phone service here. Make sure to download offline maps before visiting.
  • Bring enough cash to get you through your visit. There are no ATMs or banks in the area. Check out How to Use Money in Mexico for more tips.
  • Pack a rain jacket, sun hat, biodegradable suncreen, bathing suit, travel towel, insect repellant, and hiking shoes or shoes that you don’t mind getting muddy. Check out our Favorite Adventure Travel Gear for more packing tips.
  • Dress in layers and bring a warm jacket. It gets chilly!
  • Leave your drone behind. Drones are not allowed without a permit.

Going to Chiapas? Check out all our Chiapas articles and these:

Have you visited Lagunas de Montebello? What was your favorite thing to do? Let us know if we missed anything in the comments below.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in May 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Lagunas de Montebello: Mexico's Pine Forest Paradise. How to go horseback riding to a cenote, float on a balsa, visit over 5 lakes, and go to Guatemala all in one day!

9 thoughts on “Lagunas de Montebello: Visiting Mexico’s Pine Forest Paradise”

  1. thank you for this. we are going in December and just booked a cabin on the lake. we have lots of time. how many days would you say is sufficient to see and do everything you would like to do on the lakes?

    1. Hi Karyn! It’s great that you booked ahead of time because there were barely any cabins available when we visited in December. If you like outdoor activities and getting off grid, you could easily stay 3-5 days in the area since you have the time. Tour the lakes and visit Guatemala one day. Then spend some time swimming in the lakes, hiking around the forest trails (hire a local guide to teach you about the flora and fauna), paddling on the balsa raft, checking out the limestone caves and cenotes, tasting the local dishes, and admiring the views from your cabin. Enjoy your trip!

  2. Hey there! I’ll be visiting Chiapas this week and would love to do a visit with Noel. I tried contacting him via text and WhatsApp, and neither worked. Do you know the best way to get in touch?

    1. I think he spoke very basic English, but these “guides” are more about getting a mode of quick transportation around the lakes than the history or culture of the area. He’ll tell you the names of the lakes, the depth of some, and the activities available at each. The tour isn’t timed, so it just depends how long it takes you to do everything you’d like. We just kept ours short since it was a holiday and we were worried about catching the public transportation back to town. If you would like to make a reservation with a tour company, I found a local one on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Guiasdeturistaslagosdemontebellochiapas/) you can contact, but they also speak basic English. Don’t forget to download the Google Translate app! It’s a lifesaver in those situations. 🙂

  3. Elizabeth Mastro

    OMGosh thank you so much for writing this blog. My husband and I are traveling to Chiapas this Nov. There is so little info on independent travel there.

    1. Hi Elizabeth! Thank you so much for reading. We’re glad we were able to help. Let us know if you have any other questions. I’m sure you will absolutely love Chiapas!

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