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Located in the far southeast corner of Mexico, Chiapas is an amazing off the beaten track place. Being on the border of Guatemala this area of Mexico has a very large Mayan population, which is more then quarter of the total population of just over 4 million people. Most of the state is very poor and rural making life difficult for the natives.
People have lived in the Chiapas area since pre-history. The oldest Maya Long count date discovered, dated to 36 BC, was found in Chiapas. Other large Mayan cities and towns from many different periods are located in Chiapas. The Spanish conquered the area in the early 16th century. Originally part of Guatemala parts of Chiapas were annexed by Mexico in 1842, because of the disintegration of the Central American Federation, and in the 1880s. Although during this period there were several native rebellions that were suppressed by the Mexican army.
In the 1990s the locals in the province got angry again, because of the poverty and discrimination, and formed the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). There were several battles between the EZLN and the Mexican army during the mid to late 90s but the area has settled down again making it safe for travel. If wanting to see remote Mayan ruins and unique rural communities, Chiapas is a great place to visit.
The Chiapas is divided into five distinct geographic zones. The five different areas are rain forest, highlands, central valley, Sierra Madre De Chiapas and the Soconusco. The rain forests in Chiapas are being deforested due to population pressures from highlanders forced into the rain forest and people feeling the civil war in Guatemala. Most of the rain forest is located along the Guatemala border. The Central Highlands have been a major population center in Chiapas since the Conquest. Spanish conquistadors settled in the area and used the indigenous people as indentured servants. Since the Second World War the highlands have been a center for the oil industry in Mexico.
The Central Valley is the area along the Rio Grande de Chiapas that flows from southwest to northeast threw the Sierra Madre De Chiapas. There are several hydroelectric plants along the river. The Sierra Madre De Chiapas run northwest to the southeast along the Pacific Ocean. These mountains are volcanic making for high peaks, occasional eruptions, earthquakes and good soil. The mountains block the rain making the costal region known as a Soconusco. The Soconusco lies in the southernmost corner of the state. This area has a very rich agricultural industry and creates some great coffee.
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The Palenque Ruins are the main reason why people come to Palenque. Although not as massive as Tikal, its rival to the south, Palenque is home to some stunning structures and well preserved wall art that few other major Mayan sites can claim to have. Remember that during the busy season Palenque can have over a 1,000 visitors a day, so it can get awfully crowded.
Although it is possible to take tours to the ruins most of the time the tours do not stay long enough. This is practically true for day tours from San Cristobal de las Casas, which only give 2 hours at the ruins. In order to really experience the awe, wonder and every corner of this ancient city it takes 4 to 6 hours. It is best to bring good walking shoes and plenty of water. As a warning the mushrooms sold by locals near the entrnace in the spring time are of the magic variety.
Although the Day of the Dead is also celebrated in many Latin American countries except Mexico (and also in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa), the Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de los Muertos) is most intensily celebrated in Mexciowhere where it is equal to a National Holiday. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The celebration takes place on November 1st and 2nd, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day (November 1) and All Souls' Day (November 2). Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. Although it is about the Dead, it is also a celebration where eating and partying both are common as well.
Angel Albino Corzo International Airport (TGZ) is a new international airport located near the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez. Currently this airport only has domestic flights manly to Mexico City and a few flights to Oaxaca, Cancun, Guadalajara, Mérida and Puebla.
It is possible to drive a car to Chiapas but remember that all the roads into and to Chiapas are town lane highways.
Long distance buses connect the major cities and towns of Chiapas with all of Mexico and the major cities in Guatemala. During the busy season it best to book your tickets a couple of days in advance, since some towns might only have one or two buses a day.
Along the Guatemala border there are some ferries and shorter boat rides to certain villages. Some of them are scheduled while others operate when someone is around. Some of border crossings don't have offices right them making travellers need to go to nearby towns a register with customs and immigrations offices there.
Although it is possible to rent a car and drive around Chiapas the roads in the mountains are intense and can be very dangerous. Remember some areas, especially near the border can be dangerous because of human and drug trafficking. It is best to avoid the highways after dark.
Most of the towns and cities in Chiapas are connected by a great network of buses. Some of the smaller towns can only be connected by collectivos, which can be a bit uncomfortable although the rides are short. The roads can be bit rough so if you suffer from road sickness it is best to take some drugs and sit up towards the front.
In the major tourist areas there is a good mix of hostels, hotels and high end resorts. While in the smaller or more industrial cities there tends to be high end hotels for business travellers and lower end hotels for people looking for a quick place to sleep.
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