A chilly pine forest, multi-colored lakes, and mountain cabins. Are we in Colorado? Nope, these are the beautiful Lagunas de Montebello, Chiapas! If all you’ve ever seen of Mexico are its white-sand beaches and fresh coconuts, prepare to be mind-blown.
This amazingly scenic area in Mexico is part of the Parque Nacional Lagunas de Montebello (Montebello Lagoons National Park) in Chiapas, the southernmost state in Mexico. The national park sits on the border with Guatemala and is home to almost 60 pristine lakes, pine and oak trees, and orchids.
Lagunas de Montebello is – without a doubt – one of the most beautiful places in Mexico. It also offers tons of activities including swimming, hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, and taking a raft to a cenote. Here’s everything you need to know to visit the Lagunas de Montebello, Chiapas.
How to Get to Lagunas de Montebello, Chiapas
The Lagunas de Montebello National Park lies about 35 miles (about 56 km) east of Comitan. A charming city located a 2 hours drive south of San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico’s southernmost state, Chiapas.
By Colectivo: We took a colectivo (shared van) from Comitan to the national park. The colectivo company is called Lineas de Pasajeros Comitán–Lagos de Montebello and it’s located at 2a Av. Sur Pte. near 2a Calle Sur. It takes about 1 hour (depending on stops) and costs around $60 pesos per person. Its last stop is the town of Tziscao.
By Car: Rent a car upon arriving at the Tuxtla Gutierrez Airport or once in San Cristobal de las Casas and take the scenic drive down.
By Tour: There are many companies offering day tours to the lakes along the main tourist strips in San Cristobal de las Casas and in Comitan.
By Taxi: Take a taxi from Comitan to the lakes for about $30 USD one-way.
On The Way to The Lakes
Once on the colectivo, we met a man that was also on his way to Lagunas Montebello, but first, he was going to stop at the Chinkultic Ruins. These ruins are definitely off the beaten path. Located about 2km off the main road to Lagunas Montebello and overlooking a big cenote, Agua Azul. We didn’t have time to check these out ourselves, but if you make it down there please let us know if you have any tips in the comments below.
We also had a guide introduce himself to us (apparently the driver had informed him that we were headed to the lakes), and let us know all about his services. He offered a 3 hours tour for $600 pesos, which we declined. Turns out that was a smart move because guides were half that price once at the lakes.
A Tour of Lagunas de Montebello
We asked the colectivo driver to drop us off at Laguna de Montebello because it seemed to be closer to the road (as in walking distance) than the first group of lakes, Lagunas de Colores. If you have a car, you should probably explore those lakes first.
We were quickly approached by a guide offering a tour of the lakes by car. We were anxious to get a feel for the area before hiring any guides, so we told him we’d think about it and headed down the muddy dirt road to the lake. The pine trees towered over us and there was a cloudy mist hanging in the air.
Montebello is a large open lake with an accessible shoreline you can wade in to for swimming. Each of the lakes offers different activities for visitors. Montebello has horseback riding to cenotes for about $150 pesos, boat rentals, and food stalls with lake views. Keep in mind that you will have to pay $25 pesos per person at the entrance booth, but this will give you access to all of the lakes.
Since we only had one day to explore the lakes, we decided to pay $300 pesos for a driven tour of the lakes. We usually don’t take tours unless pressed for time and this was 100% worthwhile. It would have taken us at least two days to explore the area without our guide. Which is what we would recommend most people do. There is so much to see here and we will be back to explore some more!
But, if you’re short on time, feel free to contact our wonderful guide/driver, Noel Hernandez Morales. His cell phone number is 963-127-6565. Noel is a local and lives in the town of Tziscao. He knows his stuff. Another plus is that he has a truck that’s well-equipped for the muddy roads.
Noel gave us a great 3+ hour tour of the lakes, showed us the cheapest place to rent a raft (and then waited for us while we paddled across the lake), took us to a roadside food stall with delicious fresh cheese wrapped in banana leaf, and accompanied us on an unexpected walk into Guatemala. And, no, we had no idea we would be visiting another country on this tour. It was kind of like, “Surprise! We’re going to Guatemala!”. But, more on this below…
We hopped into Noel’s truck and headed down the road to the next group of lakes called Cinco Lagos (Five Lakes). If you’re doing this route without a guide, you can have the colectivo drop you off at the turnoff for these lakes and take one of the mototaxis to the lookout points.
Our first stop was Mirador El Caracol, a hidden lookout point perfect for taking beautiful photos of the lakes below. We also went to two other lookout areas: Mirador Laguna Jahan and Mirador Lago Agua Tinta.
We also visited the stunning Laguna La Cañada, which has tree-covered rocks cinching at its middle. There are lots of food stalls and trinkets being sold. This is one of the lakes where you can rent a raft or kayak and paddle around. It’s a bit more expensive here than at the next lake. We’re on a travel blogger budget so we decided to wait until Lago Pojoj to rent our raft.
Next up, we visited the turquoise-colored Lago Pojoj. Noel explained that “pojoj” is a type of palm used in the area. Not only is his 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. THIS is the perfect place to rent a raft.
Heading down the stairs to the water, you’ll see several balsas, or rafts made of tied up trunks, for rent. They also have kayaks, but I’ve had my heart set on paddling on one of these pristine lakes on a balsa for years.
There are two options for balsa rentals at Lago Pojoj: a 1-1.5 hour guided tour to Cenote Perol at the opposite end of the lake ($600 pesos) and a 40-minute visit to the orchid island for $500 pesos. We opted for the shorter rental.
To our surprise, we were also provided with a “rower/guide”. Although, he was much more of a rower than a guide. They do give you another set of paddles so you can help him row.
Once at the island, our guide gave us a quick walking tour of the tiny island, including the orchid garden and a small beach area. He also let us know that this was the site where the “famous” Corona commercial was filmed with Antonio Banderas jumping off the rocks. Needless to say, neither of us had ever seen or heard of the commercial, but we both nodded politely and focused on the most important part of what he had just said.
“You can jump off the rocks here?!”
Yes, you can. And before I knew it, Michael was stripping down to his board shorts.
It was a bit cloudy and too cold/windy for this California girl, but I happily watched Michael jump off the rocks several times. We took in the beautiful scenery, snapped some photos of the mind-blowing colors and hopped on our balsa back to shore.
Food Stalls at the Tziscao Overlook
Noel was waiting for us by his truck and we rode off to our next destination: FOOD!
We stopped at an overlook on the side of the road to see the biggest lake of them all: Lago Tziscao. It’s also home to the village of Tziscao and sits right on the border with Guatemala.
On the opposite side of the road was lunch. About ten food stalls with ladies yelling at the top of their lungs to attract customers. It seems that the loudest and fastest speaking ones win.
We sat down for a quick vegetarian lunch of fresh cheese wrapped in banana leaves (the specialty), black beans, tortillas, salsa, and avocado. The cheese was delicious, but the beans were canned. 🙁 Tourist trap alert! Our advice: taste the local cheese and move on.
Tziscao Lake and Town
After lunch, we drove through Tziscao on our way to the last lake (and, we discovered, Guatemala!), the only town in the area and the last stop for the colectivos coming from Comitan. It’s small and located on the southeast shore of Tziscao Lake.
If you’re looking for a place to stay and explore the area, this is it. It has plenty of cabins for rent along the lake, camping spots, simple restaurants, and kayak rentals. You can even make reservations for some of the lake-side cabins online (more on that below).
Lago Internacional and Guatemala
The final lake on our tour was Lago Internacional, which does a good job of living up to its name. The northern half is in Mexico, the southern half is in Guatemala and it’s divided by a rope with buoys that hangs over it.
Noel took us on a walking tour on a dirt trail that winds around the lake and into Guatemala. Being from the border city of San Diego, CA, I am used to (and jaded by) the heavily fortified border and walls between Mexico and the US. I must admit this division, or lack thereof, between Mexico and Guatemala, is the most mind-blowing border I have ever encountered. There are no walls, no armed guards, no long lines, no drug-sniffing dogs, and most shockingly, no passports required. Which was just perfect for us, because we had left our passports at the hotel.
Instead of a military zone, there were some kids happily splashing in the lake, a man buying some lunch on the Mexican side on his way back to Guatemala, and a beautiful waterfall called Cascada Cola de Quetzal (Quetzal Tail Waterfall). It was the most relaxing border crossing EVER!
At the end of the walking trail, we headed into a more touristy area with lots of stalls selling everything from colorful textiles to Guatemalan beer to cardamom gum. After that, we followed the same path lined with vendors back into Mexico.
I asked Noel about the culture in this area and he explained that it is a mix of Mexican, Guatemalan, and Chuj Maya. He himself speaks both Spanish and Chuj.
We were fascinated by the area and wanted to learn more. Unfortunately, our guided tour had come to an end and we needed to make sure we caught the last ride to the city. Noel helped us catch a colectivo back to Comitan, but not before showing us where he lives and inviting us to stay next time we visit.
Top Things to Do in Lagunas de Montebello
Here’s a quick list of things to do when visiting this beautiful and unique area of Mexico.
Hire a Guide
Unfortunately, the lakes are too far apart to explore by foot and there are no bicycle rentals. If your time is limited the best thing to do is hire a guided car tour of the lakes.
Lagunas de Montebello Guide:
Noel Hernandez Morales
Float on a Balsa
Paddling across a turquoise lake on a raft made of a bunch of logs tied together is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Rent a balsa in Lago La Cañada or Lago Pojoj. Prices start at $500 pesos.
El Perol Hiking Trail
Guided hikes of Sendero El Perol (near Lago Pojoj) are offered for $150-200 per person for 2-3 hours one way. The guides explain how the plants along the way are used in Mayan medicine.
Ride a Horse to a Cenote
Lago Montebello offers horseback riding starting at about $150 pesos for an hour. They also have rides to a nearby cenote for a bit more money.
Walk over to Guatemala for lunch, souvenirs or a local beer. No passport needed!
Sleep in a Lakeside Cabin
Although we didn’t get to stay in the Laguna Montebello area because we went during Christmas and it was fully booked. We did tons of research on accommodations (before realizing everything was reserved) and are planning on returning soon to stay in either of these.
Plan Your Trip to Chiapas, Mexico
Book Your Flight
Check out our guide on how to find the cheapest flights.
Pack Your Bags
Wondering what to pack? Check out our Ultimate Packing List.
Grab a Guidebook
Download Lonely Planet Mexico on your Kindle.
Have you visited Lagunas de Montebello? What was your favorite thing to do? Let us know if we missed anything in the comments below.