Tap into Tapachula, Mexico
Tapachula, near the Mayan ruins of Izapa, is a modern yet charming city in southwestern Chiapas, Mexico. The historic center features classic architecture like that seen in this photo of the Casa de la Cultura.
Most buildings in the historic center date from the early 1900s, but some were built in the Sixties and reflect Art Deco and other influences.
Tours to Mayan ruins, the Tacana Volcano, various eco-parks and other attractions make Tapachula a great destination for a Mexican vacation in Chiapas, or as part of a vacation that includes the Palenque ruins or nearby Guatemala.
(Prices in this story are from August, 2012.)
Parque Hidalgo in Tapachula
The zocalo, or main park, has entertainment at the bandstand on many evenings and during the day on weekends. A marimba group or other musicians might play, or Mexican folk dances and other cultural events will take place. And it's all free!
A 60-foot fountain helps you cool down in the afternoon heat and pick up some positive ions. Nearby, a digital clock counts down the seconds, minutes and hours to December 21, 2012.
Izapan carvings, stelae and artifacts, such as a skull decorated with turquoise, are on exhibit in the Soconusco Archeological Museum beside the park. The tourism office is next-door. Only Spanish is spoken.
The Olmec-Mayan Ruins of Izapa
One of the most ancient sites in Mesoamerica, Izapa began as an Olmec city and shifted into the Izapa culture before winding up Mayan. Open Wednesday-Sunday, Izapa charges no entry free.
Guided tours are available from Tapachula travel agencies, but not at the site. The 20-minute shuttle ride costs 10 pesos from the station near the main park. See Izapa Ruins for more information.
Tours to Tacana Volcano, Other Attractions
Visible from Izapa as well as the city, Tacana Volcano is an active volcano 13,120 feet high, with a fine view of the area. You'll witness an assortment of exotic birds and animals, as it in a protected biosphere.
Day trips are available. For the "full Monty, take a two- to three-day trek. A guide is highly recommended.
Other popular tours go to La Encrucijada Reserve, the Cuilco River cascades and El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve.
More Ancient Ruins Near Tapachula
A few hours away, the first known Mesoamerican ball court was found at Paso de la Amada. Built by a pre-Olmec culture, the Mokaya, it is 230 feet long and is bigger than the ball courts at Izapa and Palenque. A rental car and a map is currently the only way to visit Paso de la Amada, which local travel agencies do not even know exists.
Travel agencies can, however, book trips to Yaxchilan and other Mayan ruins along the Usamacinta River, which requires a brief flight east of Tapachula. Another tour goes to Takalik Abaj in nearby Guatemala. Takalik Abaj, with an observatory and several royal tombs, is more ancient than Chichen Itza and Tikal.
More Things to Do in Tapachula
Parque Hidalgo is a lively hangout for locals, with concerts and other entertainment on weekend. Recently the town hosted a Oaxaca Fiesta. Annual events include Chinese New Year, the Feria Tapachula, San Agustín and various religious and other celebrations.
Playa Madera, the beach at Puerto Chiapas , a cruise ship port, invites you to enjoy fun in the sun and fresh Pacific seafood. It's 30 minutes away by shuttle. A planetarium is available for those who like to watch the stars.
Shopping for clothes and souvenirs in the many shops is a popular thing to do in Tapachula. Clothing stores abound around the park and surrounding blocks. Milano's is popular with men and women, and price are good. Amber jewelry is sold at several shops.
The local market is next to a picturesque 18th Century cathedral that is still in use.
Dining in Tapachula
Several choice restaurants at one end of the park are a good place to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. El Rancho serves first-rate food at good prices, and it’s authentic Mexican food that you can’t get in Guatemala: chilequilas, chicken molé and other earthy specialties.
Chinese buffets and restaurants abound. The spicy shrimp, big and tender, are fresh and tasty.
For Mexican food, don't miss La Mexicana's cheap chilequilas, enchiladas with mole sauce and full dinners for 45-pesos. Street side mariachis play some afternoons, especially on weekends. A favorite with Tapachulans, La Mexicana is budget Mexican dining at its most authentic. (Check out that pick-up with no hub caps —this is the real Mexico!)
Around the corner from La Mexicana and in other locations, La Cocina de Mariana serves chinita pibil, a Yucatecan Maya dish reminiscent of pulled pork, in 8-peso tacos or as a full dinner. Enchiladas, chilequilas and lots more are on the menu, with great daily specials such as five tacos pastor for 20 pesos.
Chinese buffets appear on almost every block around the historic center. Buffets cost 38 pesos for one item and rice, and 10 more for each subsequent item. Portions are usually generous (go for the spicy shrimp!).
Mid-range and upscale hotels have more expensive restaurants with a variety of fare .
There are tons of cheap street food vendors in the area down the hill from La Mexicana. Facing Oxxo at the park, turn right and go left downhill.
Tapachula Hotels and Rooms
Hotel Plaza Guizar, with shiny-clean rooms, cable TV, Wi-Fi and ceiling fans, is two blocks from the park—an excellent location. Oxxo the 24/7 convenience store downstairs, sells cold beer and snacks.
A single at Guizar costs 210 pesos, and they accepts dollars and quetzales. Rooms with air conditioning cost more.
More upscale hotels include the Felix (same block as Guizar) and the Michel (a half-block from the park). Budget rooms are found around uphill from the shuttle terminal and cost 150 pesos for a single with fan, cable TV and "sometimes" hot water.
Currency Exchange, Money Matters
The best exchange rates for dollars and Euros is at HSBC banks, open until 5 PM on weekdays. Banco Santander does not currency exchange on Saturdays. When the peso goes over 13 to the dollar, banks may not change dollars at all. The casa de cambio a block from Parque Central and a half-block from the Banco Santander was giving 11.7 for a dollar in November, 2012, when the real rate was 13.2. In May 2014, the bank rate was 1.67 pesos for one quetzal.
Quetzales and Euros can also be exchanged at the casa de cambio. Oxxo convenience stores accept US $20 bills and smaller. Some hotels and restaurants also take dollars and quetazles.
Canadian Alert!: There is a Scotiabank beside Parque Hidalgo.
Taking Off from Tapachula
From Tapachula, it's a half-hour shuttle to the Guatemala border, then four hours by pullman to Guatemala City, Xela or Lake Atitlan. It's an eight hour bus ride from San Cristobal de las Casas, the jumping off point for Palenque and Tonina.
Shuttles and Taxis
The shuttle terminal is down the hill from Parque Hildalgo on the street beside the cathedral. Taxis around town start at 20 pesos.
From Lake Atitlan and Antigua to Tapachula
The easy way to get to Tapachula from Lake Atitlan is a local bus from Santiago to Coqales (Q15). Then hop on a pullman bus to Tecun Uman (Q50-60). Shuttles leave from Panajachel. Either way, it’s a seven- to eight-hour trip into Tapachula.
From Antigua, take a local bus to Esquintla and pick up a pullman to Tecun Uman. Shuttles also go from Antigua to Tapachula.
At the bus terminal in Tecun Uman, hail a pedi-cab to the migracion office (Q10 per person). Getting your passport stamped goes much faster than at San Cristobal de las Casas, for few tourists cross here. (That was the best part of the trip for This Travel Writer—four days in in Tapachula, and not an American, Canadian or European in sight!)
Walk or pedi-cab across the bridge to Hidalgo, take a right into Mexican migracion, then walk left a block or so into town, where shuttles to Tapachula cost 20 pesos.
The cambio at the bus terminal at the border has good exchange rates when buy pesons, but not always when you sell pesos for quetzales. Be sure to confirm the rate first; they agent will show it to you on a calculator. Change just enough money in Hidalgo or at the bridge to get into town, with several casas de cambio.
Arriving in Tapachula by Shuttle or Air
From the shuttle terminal, turn left and go uphill two blocks to Parque Hidalgo at the center of the historic center.
Various Mexican airlines fly to and from Mexico City. Taxis and shuttles go to the city.
Climate, Best Time to Go , Events
Weather is warm to hot most of the year, with lots of rain from July through August. Best time to visit is December through May, and June-July.
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