Tour the Magnificent Sumidero Canyon: Boat Trip

Sumidero Canyon boat tour in Chiapas, Mexico

Water is powerful. Riptides suck you out to sea, landslides wipe out entire towns, and given enough time, water can act like a knife in warm butter by carving deep canyons out of seemingly solid rock-bed. 

Sumidero Canyon is a premier example of mother nature’s wrath. Situated just outside of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, this inexplicable testament to the power of water will blow your mind.

Near-vertical walls rise more than 2,500 feet (800 meters) overhead. A wide river slowly snakes along the valley below. Monkeys, crocodiles, and birds of all sorts can be spotted in the numerous jungle patches along the shoreline. If you enjoy witnessing amazing natural wonders, you’ll love taking a Sumidero Canyon boat trip.

Boat tour of Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas Mexico

Sumidero Canyon boat trip

How to Get to Sumidero Canyon from San Cristobal

By Tour: The easiest, cheapest, and quickest way to do the Sumidero Canyon boat tour from San Cristobal de las Casas is to go with a tour group. For around $300 pesos (about $15 USD), you’ll get round-trip transportation, a boat tour, and an hour or so to explore the lovely town of Chiapa de Corzo – where the Sumidero Canyon boat trips launch from. Tack on another $150-200 pesos and they’ll also take you to the viewpoints (miradores) on the canyon’s edge, sometimes at the expense of spending time in the town. These tours can be purchased at any of the many tour agencies along the Andador Guadalupe in San Cristobal.

By Colectivo & Bus: If you’re like us and prefer to make your own way, then you can easily take public transportation there and back. It’s doubtful you’ll save money doing this – the tour prices are very cheap – but you’ll be able to enjoy the town at your own pace, have a bite to eat by the waterfront and grab the tour boat when you desire. Grab a colectivo (shared van) headed towards Tuxtla Gutierrez from any of the places next to the San Cristobal de las Casas ADO bus station. They charge $55 pesos per person. Make sure to tell the driver you are going to crucero Santa Fe near Chiapa de Corzo (about 45 minutes). They’ll drop you off at a pedestrian bridge along the highway, which you’ll need to cross to get to the bus stop. Next, take the local bus that says “Chiapa-Tuxtla” into town for $8 pesos. Ask to be dropped off at “el parque” which is the main plaza. To return, take the same bus back to the crucero and buy a colectivo ticket at the office (with AC and bathrooms) at the foot of the pedestrian bridge.

By Car: You can also hire a taxi to take you from San Cristobal de las Casas to Chiapa de Corzo for around $300+ pesos or rent a car.

Regardless of your method, the drive out to Chiapa de Corzo takes around 45 minutes to an hour, and the Sumidero Canyon boat trip is about 2 and a half hours long. Making this a nice day trip with the ability to be back in San Cristobal before sunset. You can visit Tuxla Gutierrez before or after, but many people are not impressed by a visit there.

Arriving in Chiapas de Corzo

We hopped off the bus in Chiapa de Corzo and were greeted by the stunning water fountain in the central plaza: Pila De Chiapa De Corzo. This fountain is of Moorish architectural design with lots of large arches and domes surrounding a central fountain. Since this is situated in the main plaza, the fountain’s steps are the perfect place to buy a tepache de piña or tascalate and people-watch in the shade.

Pila De Chiapa De Corzo: Main fountai in Chiapas, Mexico
Pila De Chiapa De Corzo
DJI drone photo of Pila De Chiapa De Corzo

About two seconds after we saw the fountain, we were pounced on by a boat tour salesman. They’re leaving RIGHT NOW but I can get them to wait, he said, it’s the best one in town. We stopped by his office in front of the plaza, since it was on the way to the river anyway and asked a few questions. But we rarely go with the first option we run across unless we’re certain. And we had learned a lot of lessons from the pushy salespeople in Huatulco. Their intense rush seemed to be inauthentic, so we kept walking toward the docks.

Afterwards, we found out that this office drives you over to their dock upstream – far from the main area – and has you wait there (pretty much stranded in their waiting area) until they get a minimum of 15 people to buy tickets. There is another launch point even further upstream at Embarcadero Cahuare if you want to skip the visit to Chiapa de Corzo.

The walkway down to the river’s edge is full of the food, clothing, and souvenir stands. You’ll also pass by a large church, Cruz de la Iglesia de Santo Domingo, which was heavily damaged in the 2017 earthquake – like most churches in the area – and was closed for renovations. An ex-convent with a small museum is next door.

Sumidero Canyon boat trip entrance in Chiapa de Corzo

Sumidero Canyon Boat Trip Tickets

Eventually we reached the water, Rio Grijalva, no more than a 5-minute walk from the main plaza. Just follow the stream of tourists.

Riverside restaurants flank both sides of end of the walkway, along with waiters eager for your business, pushing menus in your face and listing off food options quicker than you can comprehend. In some sense, it was just like the boardwalk in Puerto Escondido with the pushy restaurant hosts. And they’re tempting. Authentic Chiapas cuisine, ice cold tepaches, micheladas and coconuts by the water and live marimba music. But that’s not why we’re here.

It’s the boat tours that are the true ticket to enjoyment in this town. The tour boats are parked right along the river in front of the restaurants, down some steps. The tour operators in this area are part of a cooperative with fixed prices. There will be plenty of salesmen trying to get you to buy tickets and they’ll show you to the ticket desk that is in the shaded area to the right of the walkway. The cost for the 2.5 hour tour with guide (in Spanish) is $230 pesos (Dec 2018).

You can bring your own food and drinks on board (including beer), which you can buy at the shop across from the ticket area. Make sure to bring a hat and wear plenty of sunscreen because there’s no shade on these boats.

Boat tours of Canon del Sumidero in Chiapas Mexico
Sumidero Canyon boat trips in Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas, Mexico
Michael from Off Path Travels on a Sumidero Canyon boat tour in Chiapas, Mexico

The boats don’t run on schedules. They head out when they have around 15-20 people. So it’s good to get an idea of how many people have purchased tickets and to gauge your wait time. If you do have to wait, there are plenty of restaurants to help you pass the time and a shaded lobby right there. Usually, the only times you may have difficulty will be very early in the day (before 9 am) or if you arrive late afternoon (3 pm or later). We arrived right along with some large groups, so the wait was less than 10 minutes.

We put on the mandatory life jacket and climbed aboard. The captain gave a brief safety lecture and we backed off the dock.

Approaching Sumidero Canyon National Park (Parque Nacional Cañón del Sumidero)

At first, the landscape is a semi-arid desert. No vast canyon walls yet. Some trees and bushes line the river’s edge, along with a lot of yellow/brown pastures during the non-rainy times.  But plenty of birds and smooth water that’s perfect for the boat to ramp up to speed. It reminded us of our time in Laguna Manialtepec on our way to Puerto Suelo. But then we thrashed about when crossing the wake of another boat and it was clear that another adventure began.

As you cross under the main highway 190, you’ll see a large bridge. On the western side is the capital of Tuxla, the eastern is the town of Chiapa de Corzo, and to the north is Parque Nacional Cañón del Sumidero. A guard situated in a tower high above will make sure you all have wristbands indicating you’ve paid the park’s entrance fee (included in the $230 peso boat tour price).

Bridge entering the Parque National del Canon Sumidero in Chiapas, Mexico
Sumidero Canyon boat trip
Kristina from Off Path Travels on a Sumidero Canyon boat trip

Snaking around a few more curves, the walls start to rise higher and higher. The vegetation becomes more dense in the areas suitable for it. It’s fairly obvious that you’ve escaped the developed areas and are venturing into wilderness – a feeling that’s tough to top.

As the canyon walls continue to rise, the boat cruises along and the guide will point out the wildlife he can spot. Then you’ll encounter a magnificent entrance to the heart of the canyon: two immense walls separated by the water, with vegetation of top of each and the canyon wall wrapping around in the background. What a sight! It’s no wonder that this exact view is used on the state seal for Chiapas.

Chiapas state seal with Sumidero Canyon depicted
Sumidero Canyon boat tour in Chiapas, Mexico
High cliffs as seen on a boat tour of Sumidero Canyon

What to Expect on a Sumidero Canyon Boat Trip

Cruising along, our captain made an abrupt stop at a group of trees on the water. Look there, he said, there’s a monkey!  Sitting up about 30 feet off the water was a small monkey hanging out in a tree. He drove up close (and harassed the monkey a bit by clapping so it turned to face the boat – not our favorite moment) and the entire boat went a bit giddy with joy. We slowly cruised under the monkey for a minute or two listening to the sounds of cameras clicking away, then set off.

Back down the winding river, the canyon walls kept growing. It’s hard to believe. How much taller can these get?! The sheer rock faces come straight down to the water in some areas, with only a bit of moss or small bushes growing on the side. I’d imagine these would be a rock-climbers paradise.

Shortly after that on our Sumidero Canyon boat trip, we stopped again in a small cove. I knew what was coming. The murky waters, the wide shoreline, and the perfect place for a predator to be. And sure enough, we saw it: a crocodile. Swimming off of the bow of the boat, slithering through the water, the creature made its way to shore.

A monkey in Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas Mexico
Crocodile on a Sumidero Canyon trip
Michael from Off Path Travels on a boat tour in Sumidero Canyon
Beautiful scenery on a boat tour of Sumidero Canyon

We stuck around, spotted one more of similar size on shore, then two more, the biggest of the day at around 10 feet (3 m) long. They were baking in the sun’s rays with jaws open, trying to intimidate – successfully – and ready to pounce on whatever climbed in. The guide sarcastically invited all of us to disembark and get a closer look. Kristina, always up for an adventure, nearly got off the boat. Thankfully, she realized it was a joke (much to her disappointment).

Back on our way downriver, we soon approached the largest cliff-face sticking out nearly 2,600 feet (800 m) above. And here’s the dark part of this trip. During the early 16th century, the Spanish attempted to conquer the area. One of the indigenous groups here, Chiapanecas, did not wish to bow down to the Spanish. Rather than relinquish their culture or be enslaved, they decided to commit mass suicide by going over this giant cliff’s edge. A somber moment on this beautiful boat tour.

Christmas Trees and Jesus

As tides turn, so did the emotion of the tour as we approached the next point of interest. One of the most magnificent natural spectacles I’ve ever witnessed. Seriously. A stream of water flows out of the cliff side, about halfway down the wall – high above the water. It spills out on top of a mossy umbrella-like overhangs and the majority falls into a small waterfall, which then vanish to mist due to the extreme height. Some water, however, continues down the cliffside onto layer after layer of vibrant-green, mossy shelfs.

Our captain led the boat slowly underneath. As we approached, the mist started to hit our skin. We looked up and see a forest of hanging roots, fresh soil, and dripping water. Luckily for us, the sun was shining from other side igniting the whole array with brilliant light. It was something to remember.

Stunning views of Sumidero Canyon
Christmas Tree at Canon del Sumidero
Underneath the Christmas Tree in Sumidero Canyon Chiapas, Mexico

The guides calls this the Christmas Tree (Árbol de Navidad) because the formation resembles a large pine tree. Just around the corner there is a small cavern with pink rock inside and a formation which slightly resembles Jesus on the cross. There’s also a statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe and a plaque commemorating the founder of the national park. Not a surprise to find a couple of religious figures in the sights here (around 85% of Mexican adults are Catholic).

The Dam End (with Snacks!)

The boat kept going and eventually the walls receded to a flat landscape. That day, the water was choppy. White caps everywhere. But don’t worry – it didn’t slow down our captain at all. I would have liked an extra life jacket for my butt at this point since the seats are just molded plastic.

We reached the end of the Sumidero Canyon boat trip at a large hydroelectric dam. This is the last of four dams along this river – Rio Grijalva – which starts in Guatemala, flows north through Chiapas, and finally out into the Gulf of Mexico.

Boat tour of Sumidero Canyon near Chiapa de Corzo

We docked up to another boat who offered a small selection of drinks and snacks, then filled up with gas, and started back for Chiapas de Corzo. The ride back was fast. About 40 minutes later and we were back on solid ground.

We saw a few more sights in town and found transportation back to San Cristobal. There is a small ruin site just outside of the main city area in Chiapa de Corzo, so make sure to make time for this if you want to see it as well.

With stunning canyons that reach high above head, a lovely river full of wildlife, and plentiful sights to see along the way, a Sumidero Canyon boat trip is a very enjoyable experience. Grab a tour, grab a taxi, or drive yourself and see an incredible testament to the power of water.

Are you up for this adventure, crocodiles and all?! Tour group or on your own? Let us know in the comments below!

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Sumidero Canyon Boat Tour in Chiapas Mexico

2 thoughts on “Tour the Magnificent Sumidero Canyon: Boat Trip”

  1. Hola! I would like to know if you are doing tours during Christmas vacation? I am looking at going around the 27th of December.

    1. Hola, Niamh! We do not personally guide tours at this time, but I am certain that plenty of tours will be available during your visit. It’s one of the best times to visit Chiapas! Just don’t go too late on December 24th as many people celebrate the holiday that evening.

      You can check out the Viator information for more details on tours available online. This is one of those rare cases when booking the tour in advance with a group can actually save you money.

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