View from near El Aguacero waterfall. View from the river. El Aguacero waterfall. El Aguacero waterfall.
Cañón Río La Venta is situated within the 'Reserva Especial de la Biosfera El Ocote' in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico. It’s about 60 km west from the state capital Tuxtla Gutiérrez. This canyon is one of the most beautiful areas you’ll see in the whole of Mexico. It cuts through the tropical lowland forest Chiapas is known for, home to an abundance of animals such as the howler monkey, crested eagle, king vulture, tapir, toucan, and painted leopard.
Although the nearby Cañón del Sumidero is more known and has higher walls, the Cañón Río la Venta lends itself more for trekkings and exploring as you walk down the Río la Venta, which isn´t as voluminous as the Grijalva river that created the Cañón del Sumidero. Some sources refer to the Cañón la Venta as the ‘Cañón Sagrado’ (Sacred Canyon) because of the numerous caves in the canyon that were the site of ceremonies in pre-hispanic times.
The whole canyon is some 80 km long and ends at the Presa Nezahualcóyotl (Nezahualcóyotl lake, also called Malpaso lake), which is an artificial lake created by the hydroelectric Malpaso Dam. The La Venta river meets here with the Grijalva river that ends up in the Gulf of Mexico.
The La Venta river that created the Río La Venta canyon gets as wide as 90 meters and as narrow as 10 meter in some places. The highest point of the canyon is at 620m, the lowest, at the Presa Nezahualcóyotl at 170m above sea level.
It is possible to do a trekking through the canyon starting from the Aguacero waterfall all the way down to the Presa Nezahualcóyotl which should take about eight days, taking your tent and enough food. It is advised to do this through an agency and with a guide. Shorter trips go to ‘la cascada de la conchuda’ (through the canyon from El Aguacero) or ‘Los Bordos’ (starts in the Sierra de Ocozocoautla), each taking about three days of hiking round trip. (although I met someone that walked along the river to the Conchuda waterfall as a day hike).
Within the canyon there are several caves that served as shelter for earlier settlers in the area and in several of them ceramics have been found. Most of these have been attributed to the Zoque and date back to pre-hispanic times of about 600 – 1250 AD, when these caves were used during ceremonies.
The easiest way to visit the Cañón Rio La Venta is by visiting the ‘Centro Ecoturístico Cascadas El Aguacero’. The entrance is only 22 pesos. After walking down a long concrete staircase you get to the river from where you can admire a beautiful 70m high waterfall. When the water level is low you can relax on the sandy banks of the river and walk a bit up or downstream to enjoy the high walls of the canyon. Some adventure travel agencies in San Cristobal de las Casas offer day trips to the waterfall, but you can easily visit it on your own.
Sign to El Aguacero at the highway. Entrance sign to the Parque Ecoturístico. Staircase down to the river. Bridge on the trail to the waterfall above the river.
You will probably start from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas of from San Cristobal de las Casas, which draws a lot more tourists, and only one hour further away by bus. In Tuxtla Gutiérrez, take any bus to goes towards Cintalapa or Jiquipilas and tell the bus driver you are going to El Aguacero. He’ll drop you off at the entrance road where there is a big sign.
Buses from Tuxtla Gutiérrez to Cintalapa or Jiquipilas go from the bus terminal 'Dr. Rodulfo Figueroa' at 4ª Pte. Sur between 9ª y 10ª Sur, which is a bit far from the city center if you are staying there, so you might need to take a taxi there. Alternatively, you could take a R1 (route 1) bus from the Parque Central (since this year, the 'Conejobus' has been introduced do diminish the number of collectivo's on this route) and get off at the shopping mall called 'Liverpool'.
At this bus stop, below a bridge for pedestrians, you could get on any bus that says Cintalapa or Jiquipilas. You could also take a bus to Ocozocoautla (also called Coita) and change buses there, but it will take you longer to get there. The bus ride takes about an hour and a half.
From the highway it is about a half an hour walk to the Centro Ecoturístico. After some twenty minutes you’ll get a great view of the canyon below. There is a restaurant near the entrance, but it is not always open. It is more likely to be open on weekends. When we were there on a Wednesday it was closed, and we couldn't even get biscuits or drinks. So you better bring your own food.
From the Centro Ecoturístico there is a staircase going down to the river which will take you about another half an hour. Along this trail you’ll pass by two small caves, the ‘Cueva Santa Cruz’, and the ‘Cueva Casa de la Virgin’ (named after the shape of a rock within the cave the resembles the virgin Mary). A couple of meters before touching ground, a trail heads left through the forest towards the actual waterfall although most visitors head straight for the river and walk towards the waterfall on the trail on the river bank.
Red Tape & Camping
Río La Venta. View of the canyon from above.
There is an entrance fee of 22 pesos at the entrance of the Centro Ecoturístico Cascadas El Aguacero. You can camp in the park, and there are several areas along the river where you could pitch your tent, especially in winter (roughly November till March), when the water level of the river is lower.
If you are visiting the canyon as a day trip, it is best to stay in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. Hotel Casablanca as mentioned in LP is a nice and cheap place to stay near the Parque Central at 2a Av. Norte Oriente 251.
When and where else to go while in the area
Sima de las Cotorras. Cañón del Sumidero from La Ceiba viewpoint. Cañón del Sumidero from La Ceiba viewpoint. Cerro Huitepec near San Cristobal de las Casas.
You can visit the canyon year round by going to the Aguacero waterfall. I you want to go trekking through the canyon, take into consideration that the water volume increases significantly during the rainy season from July to October. It will be hot any time of the year, although the heat might be more bearable November to March with day time temperature in the mid twenties. April to June are known to be the hottest months with temperatures of thirthy degrees Celsius and above.
On your way back to Tuxtla Gutiérrez you could go to the 'Sima de las Cotorras' or 'abyss of the parrots', which is a near perfect round sinkhole in the ground about 140 deep with a diameter of 160 meter. From roughly October till March groups of parrots fly out of the abyss in the morning, hence its name. You can rappel down into it, and see of pre-hispanic drawings on the walls. There is a campsite and two cabins for rent next to the restaurant. It is a bit hard to get to without a car from Ocozocoautla.
Not to be missed is the Cañón del Sumidero
near Tuxtla Gutiérrez. You can visit this canyon by boat from Chiapa de Corzo, or drive to the five viewpoints within the Parque Nacional Cañón del Sumidero (to be reached from the museum of Anthropology where the road to the viewpoints is indicated).
The Huitepec Ecological Reserve
near San Cristobal de las Casas is a beautiful cloudforest up around volcano Huitepec (2750m). There is an interpretative trail through the forest, entrance fee to the reserve is twenty pesos.
Info on Sima de las Cotorras: http://www.cdi.gob.mx/ecoturismo/chiapas_sima_cotorras.html
Chiapas state government department of tourism website: www.turismochiapas.gob.mx