Getting to Chiapas

Chiapas is not the easiest place to get to in Mexico and that’s one of the reasons it took us a while to make our first visit. But now that we’ve finally made it and had such a terrific time there; I’m sure we’ll be back.

Depending on where in Chiapas you’re planning to visit, the most convenient airports serving the area are in Villahermosa, about a 2-hour drive from Palenque or Tuxtla Gutiérrez, about an hour by road to San Cristóbal de las Casas. From those airports you can rent a car, take a bus or hire a cab to head in any direction you choose.

There is now also a twice weekly flight into the Palenque city airport from Mexico City.

As an alternative, you can take an overnight bus from Cancun, Playa del Carmen or other points on the east coast, from Merida near the Gulf coast, from Oaxaca City to the west or just from about anywhere else in Mexico and parts of Guatemala.

With low cost carriers now serving both airports, we discovered that by planning ahead we found airfares between Cancun and Tuxtla Gutiérrez that in some cases were actually cheaper than the premium bus.

For our trip, we wanted to seeADO GL exterior the ruins in Palenque as well as spend time exploring the weaving villages around San Cristóbal de las Casas. Since the only way to travel between those 2 destinations is by a 5-6 hour bus ride, we reasoned to avoid spending time doubling back and forth between the two that our best path would be to travel by bus in one direction and by air in the other.

Our journey began in Cozumel so our travels that day started with a ferry over to the mainland to Playa del Carmen where we found our way to the primera classe ADO estationes and boarded a comfortable ADO GL bus around 7:00 PM. A few stops and about 12½ hours later we pulled into the bus station in Palenque at around 7:30 AM or about an hour behind schedule.    

ADO has 3 levels of first class buses.  All have A/C, entertainment of some form and bathrooms. ADO is a comfortable modern bus that usually serves fairly short distances. ADO GL is a step up in comfort with reclining seats and a personal entertainment system. ADO Platino service is even a step up from there and the seats more closely resemble international business class air plane than any other bus I’ve ever been on. PlaADO GL Interiortino is also sometimes referred to as the UNO line.     

When traveling by bus in Mexico; it is always wise to try and buy your ticket at least a day before the trip, which we did for the Playa to Palenque portion of our journey. Likewise, it would have been smart for us to have bought our ticket for Palenque to San Cristóbal de las Casas for our planned bus ride for the next day when we arrived in the Palenque terminal but we were in a hurry to get to the ruins as early as possible that morning and our bus from Playa was only half full so we didn’t bother. That turned out to be a mistake.   

We had originally planned to take the OCC bus at 7:20 AM the next morning but we decided to sleep in a bit and take the 9:45 departure instead. We got to the bus station at 9:30 but when we tried to buy our tickets, we discovered the bus was sold out and the next bus to San Cristóbal wasn’t for another 6-hours. The ticket agent told us our only option for getting to San Cristóbal sooner was at “la otra estación”, which was about 6-blocks away.   In our research we had read stories about travelers taking “a chicken bus” in Chiapas and assumed that’s what we had in store but figured it was better than waiting around all day so we hopped into a cab and set off for “the other station”. What we found was actually the combi (aka colectivo) station. 

In Mexico, a combi is a mini-van that operates much like a bus running a set route between towns and villages. Combis not only stop in towns but also at any point along the road that a passenger requests or to pick up additional travelers waiting by the road if seats are available. We weren’t 100% sure what we were getting ourselves into but figured it was all part of the journey so what the hell. We were told it wasn’t a direct route so we assumed we would need to make a change at some point but didn’t know where that would be; in a station or perhaps just at a crossroads?  Along with the driver, 14 adult passengers plus 2 small kids traveling with their mother were tightly packed into the 14 passenger seats in the van.  

Combi Minivan Palenque to San CristobalThankfully I managed to sit on an isle so I could stretch one leg a bit.   As soon as all seats were filled we headed south out of town on Highway 199. Half an hour later the mother and 2 kids departed the van and soon after we stopped to pick up a man standing beside the road. About an hour out of Palenque, we passed by a crossroad near Agua Azul and the only other English speaking passengers on the combi departed. They were soon replaced at another roadside stop. After about 3 hours on the van, we pulled into the small city of Ocosingo. In our poor Spanish, we asked another passenger where we would be changing vans and he told us it would be in Ocosingo and that he was also going to San Cristobal and we could just tag along with him.Combi on Mexico-Highway-199 

The transition to the 2nd combi was easy but required an additional payment. We had time for a bathroom break and to buy some snacks from local vendors but ss soon as that van was full, we continued our journey to San Cristobal as another combi started to fill up for the next group of travelers. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention just how kind both the employees of the combi as well as our fellow combi passengers were to us. Despite a bit of a language barrier, they helped us understand the process of traveling by combi as well as offered us small snacks. Getting to interact with other travelers sitting near us has become one of our favorite memories of the trip.    

At the completion of our visit to San Cristobal, we hired a car for the drive  to Tuxtla Gutiérrez, which took just under an hour. As we approached the city, we drove over a bridge that spanned a breathtaking gorge formed by the Grijalva River, not too very far from the Sumidero Canyon. It whetted our appetite for a return visit. Our flight to Cancun on a comfortable Viva Aerobus A320 took about an hour for a price that was comparable to taking the bus and we wouldn’t hesitate to take another flight on the carrier. Viva Aerobus A320At check-in, we noticed the airline enforces the weight limit on checked bags but not so much for carry-ons. The Tuxtla Gutiérrez is modern and clean and has a few limited food options in the departure gates area.

English website for Ticketbus
ADO GL website in English
Spanish website for ADO
Viva Aerobus in English