Free and Sovereign State of Chiapas

Mountain Trogon Trogon mexicanus ©Gábor Orbán Website
Birding Chiapas

Chiapas is the southernmost state of Mexico, located towards the southeast of the country. Chiapas is bordered by the states of Tabasco to the north, Veracruz to the northwest, and Oaxaca to the west. To the east Chiapas borders Guatemala, and to the south the Pacific Ocean. Chiapas has an area of 74,211 km2 (28,653 sq mi). The 2005 census population was 4,293,459 people. In general Chiapas has a humid, tropical climate. In the north, in the area bordering Tabasco, near Teapa, rainfall can average more than 3,000 mm (120 in) per year. In the past, natural vegetation at this region was lowland, tall perennial rainforest, but this vegetation has been destroyed almost completely to give way to agriculture and ranching. Rainfall decreases moving towards the Pacific Ocean, but it is still abundant enough to allow the farming of bananas and many other tropical crops near Tapachula. On the several parallel “sierras” or mountain ranges running along the center of Chiapas, climate can be quite temperate and foggy, allowing the development of cloud forests like those of the Reserva de la Biosfera el Triunfo, home to a handful of quetzals and horned guans.

Chiapas is geographically divided into five zones. These are the rainforest, the highlands, the central valley, the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, and the Soconusco.RainforestThe tropical rainforest of Chiapas, which includes the Selva Lacandona, is quickly being deforested. This is due to population pressures forcing highlanders into the rainforest. These include ladino (Spanish-speaking) landowners, indigenous and mestizo campesinos of the Ch’ol, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Tojolabal and other groups. Migrants from Chiapas are being joined by Guatemalans fleeing the Civil War. These colonists constantly compete with one another for land, with the campesinos seizing or squatting on claimed land while landowners respond with the military or police. The economic activities of both groups contribute to the massive deforestation of the Lacandón. Rain falling on the forest drains into the Usumacinta river, which forms the border between Chiapas and the Petén department of Guatemala. The river flows into the sea in Tabasco, and deforestation may be a cause of the floods which inundated Villahermosa in 2007.

HighlandsThe Central Highlands have been the population center of Chiapas since the Conquest. European epidemics were hindered by the tierra fría climate, allowing the indigenous peoples in the highlands to retain their large numbers. Indigenous peoples provided labor for Spanish conquistadors, who also heavily settled the highlands. Indigenous highlanders were conscripted into labor service on plantations, drafted into debt servitude, which was so widely practiced that Chiapas earned the illustrious title of “Mexico’s slave state” in the late 19th century. Since World War Two, the highlands have benefitted from a boom in the energy and petroleum sectors. However, economic growth in these industries did not reach the subsistence farmers of the highlands. High population and land reform pressured the poor and rich alike to move into the eastern rainforest.

Central ValleyThe Sierra Madre de Chiapas is cut through the middle by the Río Grande de Chiapas, known outside of Chiapas as Río Grijalva. The river flows from southwest to northeast. This area contains six of Chiapas’ seven hydroelectric plants. The construction of these dams flooded hundreds of thousands of hectares, making lakes out of former ejido lands. The capital of Tuxtla Gutiérrez is located in the Central Valley, which enjoys a roughly tierra templada climate.Sierra Madre de ChiapasA continuation of the Sierra Madre del Sur, the Sierra Madre de Chiapas runs from northwest to southeast along the Pacific Ocean coast. It is extremely volcanic, resulting in high peaks, occasional eruptions and earthquakes, and rich soils. The mountains partially block rain clouds from the Pacific, a process known as Orographic lift, which creates a particularly rich coastal region called the Soconusco.SoconuscoThe Soconusco lies in the southernmost corner of Chiapas. It shares many ties with Guatemala, which claimed the territory until 1882. Since it was a part of the Aztec empire, Soconusco has been known for its agricultural products. Then it was cacao, now the main product is coffee, which is grown on large plantations. These plantations were owned by German-Guatemalans and employed indigenous peoples of the Mam group. The tierra caliente climate of Soconusco allowed plantation agriculture to succeed, and in addition to coffee also grows sugar cane, rice, maize, and plantains.


Abbreviations Key

  • BR El Triunfo

    WebpageSatellite View
    El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve (REBITRI) is considered one of the Protected Natural Areas with more species of terrestrial vertebrates. These species represent the 24% at a national level and 47% statewide (Altamirano González-Ortega, 2007)…
  • BR Montes Azules

    WebpageSatellite View
    Located between the Guatemalan border and the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, Mexico, lies a tract of unprotected rainforest in danger of disappearing. This region bordering the Biosphere Reserve now has a chance at survival thanks to a series of conservation efforts established by Montes Azules…
  • BR Montes Azules Reserva Ecológica

    WebpageSatellite View
    The Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve is a protected natural area located in the extreme east of the state of Chiapas , in Mexico . It was decreed as a reservation by the government of Mexico in 1978 . It is located in the central zone of the Lacandona Forest
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Motmot Birding Tours

    Tour Operator
    Motmot Birding Tours offers 7 days birding tours to Chiapas, Mexico: the best places for birding tours: This itinerary is to travel to a broad selection of the best birding habitats, including mangrove estuaries, dry tropical forest and dense lowland jungle. We also visit some of the magnificent archaeological sites, enjoy unique regional cuisine and explore the world of the Mayan culture, which is still alive and well throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, the best places: Palenque, Bonampak, Yaxchilan, Montes Azules Reserve, El Triunfo Reserve, Ocote Biosphere Reserve and the Sumidero Canyon...
Trip Reports
  • 2012 [03 March] - Christoph Moning & Gerlinde Taurer

    PDF Report
    …decided for Oaxaca and Chiapas, which seemed great regions to see as many Mexican endemics as possible. Our travel started and ended at Mexico City, taking us in a wide loop through Oaxaca and Chiapas. In Chiapas we joined a group, to spend a couple of days in the reserve El Triunfo. Just before returning to Mexico, we decided spontaneously to drive up to Veracruz, to add another gem, Sumichrast’s Wren, to our already satisfactory list….
  • 2017 [01 January] - Ross Schaefer - Oaxaca & Chiapas

    My Father and I just got back from a successful trip to the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas in Mexico. The trip consisted of 8 full days birding, and we had a total list of around 281 species, depending on which taxonomy authority you use....
  • 2019 [03 March] - Nick Athanas - Oaxaca & Chiapas

    PDF Report
    March in much of the Northern Hemisphere was rather dreary, but in southern Mexico we enjoyed day after day of warm, sunny days and cool, pleasant evenings – it was a wonderful and bird-filled reprieve from winter for the whole group including me.
Places to Stay
  • Casa Felipe Flores

    This historic landmark bed and breakfast located in Mexico`s most charming colonial city
  • SOL y LUNA Guest Inn

    Enjoy the warm hospitality of Mexico in the colonial splendor of SOL y LUNA Guest Inn & Breakfast while visiting the mountains, gardens and indigenous villages that surround San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

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