Unspoiled, wild and ready to explore, Mexico's Cañon del Sumidero is the perfect start - or finish - to touring the ancient city-state of Palenque...
It is often said that beauty and tragedy go hand in hand. Such is the case of Cañon del Sumidero, one of Mexico's most spectacular and rugged canyons, located in the state of Chiapas where the last of the indigineous people of Mexico fell to Spanish conquest.
Cañon del Sumidero is a place of beauty, tranquility and adventure. Designated as a National Park in 1980, it has been a jewel of Mexico's ecosystem since time began. But in 2003 a beautiful new ecological park was added and opened inside the canyon, an effort to bring more awareness about the local environment, culture and wildlife of the region, helping the local population to interact with the protected area in a responsible way, and to provide ecotouring opportunities in a safe, natural environment.
Eco-travelers will love the adventerous trek to the new park, which requires loading onto a native boat and navigating down a river to reach it. The park, also known as "Tube of the Drain," contains approximately 54,000 acres to explore and enjoy. The trip down the river and into the delicate ecosystem of the park takes visitors through multiple and distinct ecosystems.
Local Indigenous History
The Chiapanecas, who long populated the region before the Spanish conquest, were such a fierce and powerful people, that they even resisted powerful pre-Hispanic, Aztec domination.
And when the Spanish finally arrived in 1528, the Chiapanecas, rather than surrender their culture to the Europeans, committed mass suicide by throwing themselves off the walls of the canyon. Others hid themselves in caves throughout the canyon until the last Chiapaneca leader was captured.
The conquerors tied the disposed leader to a tree in the main square of the nearby village of Chipa De Corza, the entry point to the canyon, and burned him to death. The legendary "burning tree" still stands in the local square today, a monument to these ancient and fiercely independent people.
Travelers heading to this remarkable park will need to take an hour and half long land route from Tuxtla Gutierrez, the very busy capitol city of Chiapas. You can choose to take a rental car, public transit (local bus), tourist bus, or if you are really adventurous, mountain bike.
Along this route you will experience five breathtaking Miradores (vantage points) with awe-inspiring views down into the canyon.
But the real adventure awaits in the canyon itself. The starting point for this water route into the canyon is the historical city of Chiapa De Corzo. The canyon granite walls will take your breath away, the tallest and most impressive measuring some 2,600 feet straight up. These enormous walls were created by the Rio Grijalva which run through the canyon. The waters of this river were once nearly unnavigable, but since the development of the Chicosaen hydro dam, the river has become a Mecca for tour and taxi boats.
The trip down the mighty Rio Grijalva takes you past towering granite walls, lush mountainside foilage, mesmerizing waterfalls and mysterious caves. The wildlife and flora of the canyon appear untouched by man.
In fact the variety of the flora and fauna of the canyon is one of it's most distinctive features. Because of the steep granite walls, mountain slopes and waterfalls, there is a great variance in humidity and sunshine at different levels of the canyon's ecosystem. This creates an interesting biodiversity that encompasses bromelias, ferns, mosses and begonias, as well as high forests of pines, giant ceibas, orejones and ocotes.
Cañon del Sumidero is also home to many species on the verge of extinction, such as the Morely crocodile and the spider monkey as well as threatened species like the jaguarundi, ocelot, anteater and buzzard king. Visitors will also enjoy hundreds of species of birds like herons, vultures, egrets, parrots, toucans and kingfishers.
There are many beautiful places in the canyon to visit by boatas well. The river meanders some 23 miles down the canyon and requires about three hours to navigate the round trip.
Interesting stopping points include Cahuare Island, The Waterfall, several interesting caves, and a highly unusual geological feature called the "Christmas Tree".
At the end of the river journey you come upon the "Prey of Chicoasen", a local term for Mexico's largest hydro-electric plant and the world's fifth tallest dam. Needless to say, this remote dam is an important energy source for a large portion of Mexico, although there was a great deal of controversy over its construction. The dam displaced a number of indigenous people and was heralded as certain death to a few indigenous cultures.
But the river has grown to a depth of approximately 860 feet and has spurred development of a new ecological zone, in spite of the damages it initially caused to the regional environment.
On the trip back to Chiapa De Corza you will be required to make a major decision - go back to the city, or stay in the canyon. One would be well advised to have the boat driver drop you off at the the new Cañon del Sumidero Ecological Park for an overnight (or longer) outing. Plan to stay as long as you can if you want to fully appreciate the natural beauty.
There are so many things to do, the hardest task will be deciding what will fit into your limited schedule. Will it be zip-lining across the rainsforest into the gorgeous canyon vista, kayaking the river, abesailing the cliffs or a taking leisurely swim in the cove? Maybe a visit to the bird and wildlife sanctuary nearby, where you'll see such exotic species of toucans and jaguarundi, is more to your taste.
Find the perfect end to your day at the riverside restaurant, or have a drink by the pool at ther park. When the boat driver returns for your pick up, it will be hard to leave behind all the natural beauty.
The nice part of discovering the park and the Cañon del Sumidero is that upon leaving, there is a definite sense of wanting to return. It is still a much undiscovered treasure of Mexico and an adventure you must include in any planned trip to the region.
Most visitors to the popular site of Palenque are not even aware of the canyon and the park. Be sure to check out the official website of Cañon del Sumidero Ecological Park for rate information and current park conditions.