Imagine floating down Sumidero Canyon with cliff walls towering over 2,000 feet above you and crocodiles slowly swimming by. Sounds pretty awesome, right? After taking a boat tour in Sumidero Canyon, Chiapas Mexico we can vouge it is an experience worth having.
In fact, I would go as far as to say a trip to Sumidero Canyon is a must-do activity when visiting Chiapas, Mexico. But there were some things I wish I had known before going.
If you want to visit Sumerido Canyon, this guide will share what you need to know about the experience. Including cost, what to bring, how to get there, what to expect on the tour, and helpful tips to know before going.
About Sumidero Canyon National Park
Sumidero Canyon is one of Mexico’s 67 National Parks. Parque Nacional Cañón del Sumidero encompasses over 84 square miles (nearly 54,000 acres) of jungles, cliffs, and riverways.
The formation of this canyon dates back to 35 million years ago. The same period when the Grand Canyon began forming. The Grijalva River is what flows through the canyon today and is the main water system in the area (including its border country of Guatemala).
The river itself is only about 17 kilometers or 8 miles long. Prior to the hydroelectric dam (more on that later) being built, the river flowed heavily with intense rapids. Today visitors can take a leisure stroll down the river enjoying the breathtaking views along the way.
While it’s a much smaller canyon than its sister canyons north of the border, it’s just as impressive. The canyon walls’ height range from 660 feet to as much as 2,300 feet tall.
This National Park is home to abundant flora and fauna, including crocodiles, migratory and endemic birds, howler and spider monkeys, river turtles, fish, and iguanas. Sumidero Canyon is such an important site for the state of Chiapas it can be found on the state seal, Chiapa de Corzo and brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to Chiapas each year.
How to get to Sumidero Canyon
Sumidero Canyon is located in Chiapas, Mexico just outside of the pueblo magico of Chiapa de Corzo and the capital of Chiapas, Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
Tuxtla Gutiérrez isn’t a super popular place for tourists to visit but it has an international airport, making it an easy spot to visit Sumidero Canyon. We, however, made the trip to the Canyon from the popular town of San Cristobal de las Casas.
It’s about a 1-hour drive from San Cristobal de las Casas to the Embarcadero Cahuare Cañon del Sumidero, (boat launch). If you’re traveling in a rental car from San Cristobal de Las Casas, it’s a straight shot down Mexico Highway 190D. Since we were traveling in an RV, we were able to camp there overnight for $10 USD.
Most visitors won’t have their own vehicle though, so the easiest way of getting to Sumidero Canyon is taking a tour.
There are a ton of tour options on Get Your Guide as well as from local tour companies in San Cristobal de Las Casas. We can’t speak to their quality (since we took the guide at the embarcadero directly), but most have great reviews and offer tours ranging from just over $50 USD to over $85 USD.
Expect the tours to include:
- Transportation to and from San Cristobal de Las Casas
- Stop in Chiapa de Corzo (often for lunch which is not included)
- Entrance to the National Park + boat tour (where a separate unaffiliated boat guide will take you down the Canyon)
If you’re traveling on a budget or simply prefer to go without a tour, you can take a local collectivo or autobus from San Cristobal de Las Casas to Cahuare directly. The bus station will have direct routes to the embarcadero (look for signs for or ask to go to Cañon de Sumidero).
Your ticket should cost around $70 to $75 pesos one way ($4.50 USD) with routes operating between 8:00 am to 6:00 pm (or sundown) running frequently. Then, purchase your 2-hour boat ride down the canyon at the embarcadero directly.
How much does the Sumidero Canyon boat tour cost?
You can pre-purchase tickets for the Sumidero Canyon boat tour in Cahaure online for $235 pesos (just under $14 USD). However, we don’t recommend pre-booking. Tickets purchased at the boat dock are less money, (about $1 USD difference). Plus buying your tickets online beforehand doesn’t guarantee entry at a set time.
The boat operates on a first come first serve basis. If you arrive right when it opens at 8:00 am and there aren’t enough people to fill the boat, you will have to wait until more people arrive to depart. Most tour groups start arriving around 10:00 am, so it’s a good idea to arrive around 9:30 or 9:45 to get on a boat right away. Also, don’t expect a boat tour after 3:00 or 4:00 pm as most tour groups have left for the day.
Pets are not allowed on the tour. In total, expect your tour and transportation to cost $23 to $25 dollars if you DIY with your own transportation and tickets.
What to bring to Sumidero Canyon
Tickets are purchased in effectivo (cash) only. There is also a boat to purchase refreshments and snacks during the tour, so if you want to partake you’ll definitely want cash with you.
There is no sun cover on the boat, so make sure to bring some sort of sun protection.
We are not big fans of sunscreen. Most are actually toxic to your body and known to cause skin cancer. It’s also bad for the environment (if you’re going swimming). But if you must use sunscreen, we recommend this brand, which has no harmful ingredients, uses zinc to block the sun and is environmentally safe.
If you’re okay ditching the sunscreen make sure you have a sun shirt and hat with you. We love Free Fly apparel which uses bamboo and has 30 SPF protection. It’s also a good idea to have a buff to protect your neck and face. Have a tie down for your hat or be ready to hold it while the boat is cruising. It was super windy as we were driving!
There are no bathrooms on the boats or along the canyon. So make sure to use the restroom before leaving. And bring any water or refreshment you may want on the cruise. We take our reusable water bottles with us everywhere as we travel. This Camelbak even has a life straw in it to help filter and remove any unwanted chemicals like chlorine, lead, and organic matter.
There’s a good chance you’ll want to capture the beauty of the Canyon on the tour. There are lots of great birds, river turtles, crocodiles, and spider monkeys that can be found here. We recommend bringing any camera or filming equipment (like a GoPro) with you and a good pair of binoculars if you want to get up close to nature as you see them.
What to expect on the tour
The Sumidero Canyon boat tour is roughly 2 hours long. The boat seats 20 people in total with two people in each row. We thought a seat in the front would give us the best view, but it was actually quite obstructed when the boat got up to speed. We recommend scoring a spot on the side near the middle of the boat if possible for the best view!
The tour guide we had spoke Spanish only and used a speaker phone to explain the sights we were seeing. If you’re not fluent in Spanish the boat ride is still worth experiencing. The canyon views are worth the trip itself. Although, knowing even a little bit of Spanish definitely makes it a more enjoyable experience.
On your boat ride you’ll pass several notable sites that the guide will point out to you as your cruising. Starting with the Christmas Tree waterfall. In the rainy season (May through September), the canyon walls will have several cascadas or waterfalls flowing steadily. The Christmas Tree waterfall is aptly named for its moss which is shaped like a Christmas tree.
There’s also the Cave of Colors which has unique colors on its walls. You’ll notice a small idol of the Virgin de Guadalupe (Mexico’s most famous Virgin and the celebration of Dia de Guadalupe) inside the cave.
The further your ride into the Canyon the larger the cliff walls get and the denser the trees become. We spotted several monkeys from a far distance. At one point we couldn’t fully grasp how massive the walls of the canyon truly are.
You’ll eventually end your boat tour at the Chicoasen Dam. This dam is both a hydroelectric power plant and an embankment dam that helps supply water and power to the region and Guatemala (Chiapas’ neighbor). The damn was established in 1980 and has an impressive 20-mile-long reservoir that encompasses the entire canyon.
This is where you’ll get a chance to purchase refreshments from a floating tienda. They’ll have chips, fresh fruit with tajin and chamoy, micheladas, soda, and other snacks. Remember, cash only!
On our drive back we saw several crocodiles, which made me extra happy we were on such a large boat well away from the water’s edge. This is definitely not a place you’d want to go for a dip.
One thing that really surprised us on our trip was the amount of trash we saw in the Canyon. Because water flows into this canyon (and eventually out to sea) from the surrounding areas of Mexico. As much as 5,000 tons of trash end up in this riverway each year. Sometimes it can get so bad it’s impassable for boats to the heaps and heaps of trash.
Use this as a gentle reminder to be mindful of your waste. Putting your trash in a trash can is only one piece of the puzzle. Reducing waste and minimizing what ends up in a landfill (or river) often goes a lot further. Especially in countries where waste infrastructure isn’t as robust as in other places.
After making the iconic stops and refreshment break you’ll make your way back to the embarcadero. Since we drove our vehicle, we didn’t take time to stop at the nearby pueblo magico Chiapa de Corzo, but we heard it’s a lovely place to stop, shop, or grab a bite to eat.
One thing I wish I would have known about during our visit was the miradores (lookouts). There are six lookout points along the canyon walls which can only be accessed by car.
They offer visitors a totally different vantage point than being inside the canyon walls. If you have your own vehicle we highly recommend adding a stop at miradores La Ceiba, La Coyota, El Roblar, Tepehuaje, Los Chiapas, and Manos on your trip to Sumidero Canyon.
Hopefully, this guide to visiting Sumidero Canyon has shown you that this activity is worth doing. I also hope it helped answer common questions about the boat tour before going. Let us know if there was anything we missed or share your thoughts after taking the tour yourself below.