Recently Kelly and I took a day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas to Sumidero Canyon, just an hour away. To enter the canyon you have to take a boat down the Grijalva river from the town of Chiapa de Corzo. The cost of the trip on one of the regularly running tourist boats is 150 pesos, about thirteen U.S. dollars.
We arrived at noon on a Tuesday with very few tourists in town and still had a very short wait for the boat to fill to its thirteen person capacity. The boats depart promptly at every thirteen people.
As the boat heads down the Grijalva River you ride under a bridge for the highway and past the outskirts of Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capitol city of Chiapas state. Right next to the bridge there is a set of diving platforms for competition diving that takes place several times a year. Shortly after passing under the bridge, on the right hand side of the boat, you pass by some small Mayan ruins which are currently inaccessible to tourists. The area has been a center of commerce and Mayan life for over 3000 years and the whole town of Chiapa de Corzo is essentially built over what was an ancient Mayan community.
The Sumidero Canyon is home to about three to four hundred American Crocodiles. We spotted 4 on our trip that day sunning themselves and relaxing in the heat of the day. We also spotted some white cranes, birds that appeared to be loons and a beach filled with dozens of vultures. I’ve read that people have also seen spider monkeys in the canyon, but there were none to be seen that day.
Within about 20 minutes we were heading into the steep cliffs of the Sumidero canyon. There is a local legend which is often repeated on travel blogs and even in guide books about a mass suicide of the Chiapeneco Maya when Diego de Mazariegos conquered them in 1528. Like many legends this story is partly true and partly romanticized.
Scholars of the conquest have found no evidence in the Spanish correspondence of the time to support the stories of a mass suicide. The information they have found says that the Chiapanecos did not give up in 1528, but continued to resist with two major uprisings in 1532 and 1533. There is evidence that when the last indigenous insurrection was finally subdued, many of the Chiapanecos fled into the canyon for the safety of its walls and caves. As they fled many of them fell to their deaths in the treacherous terrain and it is possible that some threw themselves into the Sumidero Canyon in despair, but modern scholars have pretty well discounted the story of a mass suicide.
The descendants of those Maya are still living in the town and around the area. The Chiapeneco Maya are still with us and are wonderful hosts in Chiapa de Corzo.