Tuxtla Gutiérrez is a gateway to Chiapas. Tourists arrive at its airport and go straight to San Cristóbal de las Casas. But what if you had to spend a night here? Tuxtla is a lot more fun than it's given credit for.
Surprisingly, you could have a jolly good night here, to make the most of it. We had to stay here on our way back from Villahermosa in April 2017, to catch our flight back to Cancún the following afternoon. We stayed in Hotel del Carmen, mainly for its downtown position. That is what you need to do if you have only one night in the place. It is a good choice if you are budget-minded: a basic clean hotel, located in a colonial building. The central atrium inside with balconies along the rooms gives it atmosphere. In the photo I am having breakfast with one of our party, John, as the balconies overlook the breakfast restaurant.
The hotel is two blocks from the central Marimba Garden Park (Parque Jardín de la Marimba). While the city has a number of notable parks, I dare say that this park is the jolliest and liveliest central square park I have encountered in Mexico so far. On our night out it was packed with people and the locals said it always was like that. Built in 1993 as a meeting place for families with children, it has numerous trees, colonial-style benches and an elegant central bandstand. It is surrounded by colonial buildings with restaurants but the fun is on the streets around the square and in the park. Marimba bands play here, which often attract couples who come to dance. You can join them, nobody cares. Everybody is absorbed with their own good time.
We had asked the hotel staff to recommend a place to eat but they obviously misread our needs. They directed us to an elegant, airconditioned, international, obviously expensive and totally empty restaurant. All four of us reacted instantly and turned back towards the square, the life, in short: Mexico! There were plenty of food stalls offering tacos, tamales, enchiladas, gorditas, chamoyadas, elote (corn on the cob), candy floss, balloons and crafts by indigenous people. Look out for tamales flavoured with the local spice chipilín (it's fragrant, not hot), the local snails called chute, and if you're feeling really adventurous, bee larvae (a traditional source of protein in Zoque cuisine). If you find it, let me know what it's called! What a buzzing community!
As for the people, I was on the lookout for the indigenous Zoque people who settled here first. They called it Coyatoc, home of the rabbits. Later, the Aztecs moved in and called it Tuchtlan. Under Spanish rule, the name evolved to Tuxtla. Tuxlecos today are mostly mestizo (mixed) people, busy with their everyday activities. The Zoque language is now practically extinct in Tuxtla. In 1982 the volcano Chichonal destroyed a central part of the Zoque core area. Many people were displaced or relocated to other areas of Chiapas. In 1994 the Zapatista National Liberation Army seized the highland towns in Chiapas to protest poverty, globalisation and racism against indigenous people. But 23 years later, I am not sure how successful they were. We did not see any of the Zoque traditional dresses worn by women either, in striking contrast with the indigenous traditions (for example those of Tzotzils) in San Cristóbal and the rest of Chiapas. I am not sure if that is due to a loss of identity or if modernisation and integration into society is at work more than elsewhere in this mountainous state.
If you want to see more of the town, go to the square called Plaza Cívica, which is surrounded by government buildings (as Tuxtla is the seat of the state government). If you happen to be around 5a Norte Avenue, then you will experience the green Madero Park. Along this corridor, there are various museums and cultural centres, a botanical garden and a natural history museum. Of all the options, we opted to go out of town on our last morning, to the icon of Chiapas, Sumidero Canyon.
How to get there:
You can fly to the modern airport from Mexico City, Cancún or six other Mexican destinations. Tuxtla is also a major hub for express coach services. By car, take road 187 from Villahermosa.
Mix & Match:
I certainly recommend the Sumidero Canyon if you have half a day. Otherwise, aim straight for San Cristóbal de las Casas.