We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

safety and independent exploration in chiapas

chicago, Illinois
Level Contributor
33 posts
58 reviews
Save Topic
safety and independent exploration in chiapas

We are leavind 5/15 for san cristobal del la casas in chiapas. The area looks delightful with many attractions including Montacello lakes, canyons, national parks, waterfalls and the Palenque ruins. Question....is it safe to procede with a car for two adults without a local guide,? Any problems with kidnappings/theft? Any advice?

Austin, TX
6 posts
Save Reply
1. Re: safety and independent exploration in chiapas

Our family was in San Cristobal for a month (March, 2006), and in the tiny town on Tzajalchen, Chenolo, Chiapas for a month (April, 2006) doing service work. This village is only 7 miles from Acteal where there was a 1998 Government paramilitary massacre of 45 unarmed people in a church. These peaceful and religious mayan descendents truly feared the government.

Most of the time I was there with my 4 children (18, 16, 14, and 10 years) without my husband, as he had to return to work back in Texas.

1) I was driving around between San Cristobal and Tuxtla, San Chris to Pantelo, and San Chris to Tonina without a guide regularly and never felt threatened.

2) We made a weekend trip to El Chiflan and Lagunas de Montegello with a friend/guide and felt very safe (Even slept in a Palupa at El Chiflan). I loved having our friend and guide with us as he offered lots of inside knowledge to our trip, but it didn't seem that safety was an issue.

3) EXCEPTION; when driving from San Cris to Palenque, we had a group of thugs put a 4x4 log filled with nails over the road in our path. This occurred in full light at 2:30 in the afternoon on May 1st, which was a national holiday. They then informed us that we should give a donation of $500 pesos (about $50) to their jar – for the Zapatista cause. The young men pressed in on our car. My husband was with us, but as he does not speak Spanish I did the talking. Frankly, I was outraged as we had spent the last month in service for the church at an indigenous village. In retrospect, we were in a dicey situation. Our Ford Freestyle could not go forward due to nails, and were surrounded by 30 men who were rocking the car and pressing in on all sides. However, after probably 15 minutes of exchange, the frustrated leader tired of trying to “reason” with the 89 pound wildcat and let us passes without payment.

Up the road we discovered that the car had been keyed (paint scraped off) on the passenger side. Evidently, while the head of the bandits argued with me, on of the followers was busy using something sharp on our fender.

We reported it to the police, and a polite, but exhausted deputy took me to the central office in Ocosingo. There a higher up was nice enough, but spent more time going over our documents that asking about the incident.

We were eager to press charges. "They are still out there," I said, "don't you want to send out a patrol car to catch them?". They managed to keep a strait face, and at first said there were not cars, then that it would be difficult to prosecute because I would not be able to identify the men, then it was that I would probably be out of the country. I then told them that we had several sets of perfect handprints on our windows that could be used to identify and prosecute the offenders. They clearly winced, and quickly noted that the nearest fingerprint kit was in Palenque. “No problem, we are going that way!”

Finally the truth came out. Our deputy said that he would love to go arrest them. He elaborated on his frustration of being a policeman where the bad guys ignore him and tear up their tickets/ citations in his face. He said that he longed to be a Texas Ranger where the bandits stop and put up their hands at the command of a Deputy. He confided that

a) The highway “shake down” is regular activity of the community of Floridia, especially on holidays because the men are off work and they figure tourists are traveling to Palenque.

b) The thugs used the money for drugs, alcohol, and ammunition.

c) He was embarrassed to admit that they stop him on the route and charge him EXTRA because he is police. He pulls out the money on a regular basis, and said that he truly thought they would kill him if he refused.

d) His police captain would never let him attempt an arrest because it could stir an uprising. Furthermore the military would not think of intervening for the same reason.

I was glad that I held my ground as I believe that every person that pays a bribe is responsible for another group of victims. That said, I am sure that our paint repair will be MUCH more that the $50 robbery.

It angers me that greedy, hot-headed, thugs will hide behind a cause commit crimes.

I hope that my description helps you in your decisions. Please pass along this story to other travelers. I loved Chiapas and I enjoyed driving there. The people, save the group from Floridia were gracias and kind. However, I would avoid that one road to Palenque where we saw many villages boasting of “Zapatista – in your face” type slogans - and take that alternate route (San Cristóbal to Tuxtla to Villahermosa to Palenque).

Annapolis, Maryland
Level Contributor
34 posts
40 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: safety and independent exploration in chiapas

I agree with the woman who was working with the church about the safety. I feel perfectly safe, but I know that I may be held up on the Ocosingo - Palenque road. However, these are rarely really "zapatistas" getting money for their cause. They are bandits, clear and simple and use the guise of zapatistas to disguise themselves and are wearing masks. It's a perfect disguise and the police don't intervene because they are scared. The government withdrew the military from there first when they promised to demilatarize the whole zone. It was the one area they were wanted and needed, but that was part of the plan. Then the people will ask for the military back, because of the problems with robbery. There is a big problem with paramilitaries in that area and dislocating of the local people. So be careful. Carry some money on you, like 300 pesos -- 30 dollars and have the rest hidden. If stopped just give them the money you have on you. Consider it a road tax. And don't miss Palenque -- it's part of the adventure!

3. Re: safety and independent exploration in chiapas

-:- Message from TripAdvisor staff -:-

This topic has been closed to new posts due to inactivity. We hope you'll join the conversation by posting to an open topic or starting a new one.

To review the TripAdvisor Forums Posting Guidelines, please follow this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/pages/forums_posting_guidelines.html

We remove posts that do not follow our posting guidelines, and we reserve the right to remove any post for any reason.

Removed on: 18 August 2009, 13:18
Get answers to your questions about San Cristobal de las...