While the notorious Zapatista rebellion of 1994 shone the spotlight on Chiapas for all the wrong reasons, the southernmost state is still home to Mexico’s second largest indigenous population (after Oaxaca) and traveling through Chiapas offers a vibrant introduction to Mexico’s cultural diversity. From the Mayan-descended Choles found around Palenque to the Tojolabales who inhabit the south and the mysterious Mames of the Sierra Madre, the many ethnic tribes of Chiapas inhabit the state’s highlands and rural areas, each with their own unique customs, traditional dress and languages.
For visitors to Chiapas, the main place to discover the region’s rich indigenous cultures is in San Cristobal de las Casas, which serves as the central market town for the surrounding indigenous villages, where the state’s two largest indigenous groups – the Tzotzils and Tzeltals - reside. Touring the highland villages has become a popular pastime for tourists, with each village boasting its own distinctive identity and many producing exquisite handicrafts like pottery, huipiles (embroidered blouses) and amber jewelry. Back in San Cristobal town, the Maya Medicine Museum also offers a fascinating insight into time-honored indigenous customs and natural medicine, with the opportunity for guests to be healed by traditional practitioners.
Another way to sample Chiapas’ cultural melting pot is to visit during one of the region’s many annual festivals, many of which celebrate indigenous art, music and dance. The Feria de Enero in Chiapa de Corzo is one of the most famous, renowned for the performance of the UNESCO-listed Dance of the Parachicos, while the Tuxtla carnival features traditional dances of the Zoque ethnic group and the Kinta Jimultik carnival in San Juan Chamula is known for its inimitable “Jaguar dance."