When you think about what $20.00 can get you back home, many things will spring to mind. A boat trip up a breathtaking canyon however , in this instance, Cañón del Sumidero (Sumidero Canyon) is probably not one of them, and most certainly not if it as part of a tour.
That however, when we were collected at around 09:00 on our second morning in San Cristobal, is precisely what we were doing, although at that time, we’d had no way of confirming the spectacular bit.
It was a grey morning, and when leaving the city through the surrounding hills via cloud enshrouded roads, we were a little skeptical as to what we might even be able to see.
Thankfully, as we began to descend the opposite side of the hills, the weather improved and by the time we reached the dock, our mini van sized posse of about 13 people was donning life jackets under warm sunshine.
Sensing that the time to board was near (besides we weren’t really doing much else), Sarah and I loitered the dock, enabling us to board the vessel first and assume positions in the prime viewing location at the front of the boat!
We immediately set off, the helmsman who also doubled as the guide for the trip perched atop the back of the boat, and us keenly gazing forwards from the front. The combination of this distance, the roar of the engine, plus the fact that all his talking was done in Spanish, meant we really didn’t hear a word of what he had to say.
But worry us at all, that did not, for the views were pretty impressive from the outset.
Whilst the skies were predominantly clear, the deeper we got into the canyon, there remained some smaller patches of cloud that lingered still, giving the place an almost mystical feel.
The deeper into the canyon we travelled, the more imposing the scale and grandeur of the canyon around us.
Aside from the impressive surrounding cliffs which gave the canyon its depth (about 1000m at its deepest point), the highlights of the journey were clearly the waterfalls, the first of which was reached reasonably quickly.
The first waterfall was nice, not the most impressive you’ll ever see, but given the location, certainly earned a few exclamations and plenty of photographs from those on board.
What it gave us no clue to however, was the polarising effect seeing the second large waterfall of the canyon would have.
These falls were beautiful, however their location also shared the same point along the river where the upward tidal flows from the sea, met the downward flowing fresh water from up river where they spew forth from their hydroelectric dam.
What this has created, is essentially a point in the river of stasis, where no water is flowing in either direction.
So it this point collects all of the flotsam washed out of the hills, loose soil, logs and leaves, but also a horrible collection the highlights the Mexicans flippant attitude towards waste disposal… it was pretty shocking!
I later learned that the guide tried to explain it away, claiming it is the fault of the Guatemalans which to me, and pardon the pun, sounds like rubbish!
From what I can tell, at no point does the river flow through Guatemala, and the terrible attitudes witnessed by Mexicans during our travels through the majority of the countries states, has me believing it is solely a problem of their own making.
Still, until people stop coming to the canyon for this reason, the will never fully perceive it for the problem and horror that it truly is.
Travelling at a much slower speed, our boat navigated its way through, and we continued further up river, passing flocks of pelicans, often perched 4 to a branch, observing us from trees along the shoreline.
Although would be another beauty to follow it, we then came to the piece de resistance of the canyons waterfalls.
A towering colossus whose waters spewed directly out of the rock walls above.
We lingered, we photo’d, we filmed.
Eventually it was time to move and as a finale, our boat whizzed as close to the falls as it could get, showering the boat and most of us with spray (expecting such a move, I’d tucked the camera quickly away).
The trip was rounded out with a cruise through a lake, essentially the approach to the hydroelectric dam (complete with communist looking workers monument) directly ahead.
We pulled up alongside a strategically placed hawkers boat, pretty much a floating convenience store where we lingered long enough in the hot sun that several people eventually conceded and purchased cold beverages.
At least our return journey took us back through the canyon, so we were able to experience all of the highlights once again, but with one addition.
The warming sun was now luring many creatures from the reptilian world out from their slumber, so it was to the delight of many that at various points along the bank, crocodiles could now be sighted (some small and some large) sunning themselves!
With the trip completed, we were granted an hours time to grab some lunch in the town of Chiapa de Corzo, where we were able to munch on some average tacos and indulge in a cooling icecream each…
* We shopped around for our tour the day earlier, settling for an operator on Real de Guadelupe at $250.00 pesos per person. There are a plethora of operators running the same tours, with most prices seeming to range between $200.00-$300.00 pesos per person.
* It seems very easy and possible to do this trip independently taking a local bus from San Cristobal de las Casas to Chiapa de Corzo (from where the boats launch), however when the cost to do it by tour was so small, it didn’t seem worth the effort.