Palenque, Chiapas Attractions
Mexican StateChiapas, the south-easternmost state in Mexico, extends westward almost as far as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, sharing its border with Oaxaca and Veracruz.
To the north it abuts Tabasco and Campeche, the boundary running through the hot and humid lowlands of the Río Grijalva valley. Eastward lies the frontier with Guatemala, the mid-section of which is formed by the Río Usumacinta winding its way through impenetrable rain forest. Further south, high ground in the shape of the craggy foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur dominates the landscape on both sides of the frontier. Though the average altitude is only about 1500 m (4900 ft), individual peaks such as Tacaná rise well above the 3000 m (9800 ft) mark. As it approaches the Pacific, the Sierra drops sharply away to the coast.Marginal area that it is, Chiapas until very recently remained largely unaffected by the modernisation processes at work in the more central regions of Mexico. As a result the rural culture of tribes belonging to the Mayan family of languages (e.g. the Zoque, Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Chol and the Lacandon Indians, whose customs and traditions are very varied) has survived rather better here than in most other parts of the country. A feature of the Chiapas region is that it has a total of 15,178 villages with less than 100 inhabitants.The most important pre-Columbian Mayan sites in Chiapas are found at Chiapa de Corzo (Lagartero), Toniná, Chinkultic, Bonampak, Yaxchilán, Palenque and Izapa.HistoryIn the early period this area was probably settled first by Olmec tribes, replaced in pre-Classic times by the Maya whose culture experienced its heydey between AD 300 and 900. Later abandoning their great cities, the Maya then became dispersed in numerous small settlements, most of which, by the end of the 15th c., were forced to pay tribute to the Aztecs. The Spanish arrived in Chiapas in 1524. Some hard fighting took place before they succeeded in subjugating what is now south-east Mexico.In 1544 Bartolomé de Las Casas was appointed Bishop of Chiapas. He brought Spanish enslavement of the Indians to a halt and, through his influence at court, won a measure of legal protection for the indigenous peoples of the newly conquered areas of Spanish America. Although his endeavours achieved only limited success, he is still revered today as a champion of the Indian cause. From 1543, right up to Mexican Independence in 1822, Chiapas was governed by the Spanish administration in Guatemala. Both during the colonial period and following Independence there were repeated Indian uprisings against the authorities, the last being staged by the Tzotzil and Tzeltal tribes in 1911.On January 1st 1994 the self-styled "Zapatist National Liberation Army" occupied San Cristóbal de las Casas, Altamirano, Ocosingo and Las Margaritas. It took the deployment of a large number of troops to drive the rebellious peasant farmers, most of them again from those same two tribes, the Tzeltal and Tzotzil, back into the mountains, and then only after a violent struggle. An uneasy truce existed until the end of 1997.EconomyTraditional forms of agriculture apart, exploitation of tropical woods (including chicle, the raw material for chewing gum), salt mining and coffee and cocoa cultivation all make major contributions to the economy. In recent years gold, silver and copper mining, and oil extraction in particular, have seen rapid expansion. Tourism too has experienced a strong upturn.
Yaxchilán is only partially excavated while some buildings are still covered in jungle. Of particular note are the elaborate reliefs that are found on various parts of the structures.
To join the coast road (MEX 200), fork right off the main Oaxaca-Tuxtla-Gutiérrez highway (MEX 190) at San Pedro Tepanatepec and head for Arriaga (44km/27mi). Tonalá, 23km/14mi further on (population: 50,000), is a small town with a modest archaeological museum, located in an area of lush subtropical vegetation. From here a turn-off leads south for 17km/10.5mi to the fishing port of Puerto Arista, near which is an archaeological zone with ruins reflecting early Aztec influence.
Beyond Tonalá, the MEX 200 runs south-east for 221km/137mi along the Pacific coast, through Huixtla, to Tapachula (150 m (490 ft); population: 190,000), attractively situated at the foot of an extinct volcano, the 4093 m (13,433 ft)-high Tonaná. Tapachula is the commercial hub of a region in which high-lying coffee plantations are very much in evidence playing a significant economic role. Finds from the Chiapas area, mainly from Tonalá and Izapa, are displayed in the city's Museo Arqueológico de Soconusco. There is also a zoo.
Puerto Madero, Mexico
27km/17mi south of Tapachula lies the small harbour town of Puerto Madero, a popular holiday resort. The Guatemalan frontier can be crossed at either Puente Talismán or Ciudad Hidalgo, 18km/11mi and 20km/12.4mi beyond Tapachula respectively.The railway line from Salina Cruz via Tehuantepec to Guatemala runs roughly parallel with the coast road.
Of the over 300 species of birds that call this area home, some of them can only be found here. This forest is on the slope of a volcano which is now extinct.