This trip combines adventure and eco-exploration with relaxation in comfortable charming hotels and historic haciendas, ending at a unique eco-resort on a private island at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Chiapas is the southernmost state of Mexico, an area full of historic sites of pre-Columbian Mayan civilizations. Here we explore lush canyons, canter across large hacienda estates, ride through the dry forests of the highlands and on hidden steep trails that lead us through tropical vegetation down to the coast - ending up on the pristine beaches of the Pacific with its mangrove swamps. The horses are transported between areas by trailer, allowing us to ride the most interesting portions of this long journey from the highlands to the mangrove swaps.
Starting at 7,000ft in the highlands we have time to explore the cobbled streets of the old Spanish colonial city of San Cristobal with our knowledgeable, warm and welcoming hosts, Gloria and Juan.
Then we head to a beautifully maintained very traditional hacienda where we are hosted in style while exploring the surrounding countryside. En-route we stop off to visit local villages, riding at a good pace over sandy tracks, taking in lakes and small villages. If it is hot we can swim with the horses and fish in the Tolcan Dam.
We continue down to Puerto Arista on the coast where we have the chance to ride 10 miles along the Pacific Ocean on pristine deserted beaches and take the horses into the waves. Here we visit the next door turtle preservation centre and in the turtle season (see below) can participate in the emotional release of the baby turtles at night.
We end at an eco reserve with a white sandy beach and take a tour of the mangroves in the early morning to see the innumerable species of birds and wildlife before heading back. A fast ride with a wide variety of experiences and comfortable en-suite accommodation throughout and magical beaches. For more videos see our You Tube Channel.
Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.
Review received from TS of Cirencester on 27/12/2018
Day 1: Arrival
After arriving at the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport, take a shuttle transfer (approx. $22 per car) to Chiapa de Corzo and check into your hotel. Chiapa de Corzo is a peaceful colonial town just 7kms away from the bustling city of Tuxtla. No meals are included today, leaving you free to sample beautiful, homecooked local cuisine from one of the several cafes and restaurants surrounding the main plaza.
Day 2: Cañón del Sumidero - San Cristóbal de las Casas
You'll be met by your hosts at 9am to have breakfast together and the week long adventure begins. We start with a spectacular boat ride along the Grijalva River. Our boat leaves from Chiapa de Corzo and take us on a magnificent ride of 26km (approx. 3hrs) through the famous canyon“Cañón del Sumidero”. If the weather is rainy, it is important to have a waterproof jacket, lightweight clothing or bathing suit at hand. In any case, please make sure to bring your sunglasses and your camera!
The canyon’s creation began around the same time as the Grand Canyon in the U.S. state of Arizona, by a crack in the area’s crust and erosion by the Grijalva River, which was named after the Spanish conquistador, Juan Grijalva. With its vertical walls reaching as high as 1,000m and with the river turning up to ninety degrees during the narrow passage runs, the Sumidero Canyon is one of the most impressive natural spectacles of Mexico! During the tour we will have the opportunity to observe tropical forests in their natural state as well as some animals such as monkeys, crocodiles and numerous species of birds. The boat tour ends at the Chicoasén Dam, one of the most important hydroelectric power stations in Mexico and Latin America.
After visiting the canyon we will transfer (approx. 50 min) to San Cristóbal de las Casas. The town is located in the Central Highlands region of Chiapas. Due to its high altitude of 2,100m the temperatures are lower in San Cristóbal and it is colder than in the canyon, so you may need to change your clothes. We will stay at the Hotel Cortijo la Casona, a charming mountain hotel, which offers a magnificent view of the mountain . After we are settled in, we will drive to downtown for free time and we'll meet at 8pm for dinner.
San Cristobal de Las Casas, founded in 1528 by Diego de Mazariego, has maintained its beautiful Spanish colonial layout, with narrow cobblestone streets, roofs covered in red clay tile and wrought iron balconies with flowers. The facades of the buildings vary from Baroque to Neoclassical and Moorish, painted in various colors. After dinner you have time to explore the historic city centre with its interesting sites like Central Plaza, the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, Arc del Carmen and the indigenous craft markets. Dive into the lively and safe streets of San Cristobal and appreciate the local culture and friendly people! Taste the excellent coffee of the region and visit the best amber and jade jewellery shops in Mexico. At night, many bars and restaurants along the three main streets - Santo Domingo, Guadalupe and Del Carmen - offer live music. Here you can enjoy excellent wines and delicious Mexican food, as well as French, Italian and Argentinean cuisine. Overnight at the Hotel Posada los Morales (D).
Day 3: San Cristóbal de las Casas – Eco-Park “Arcotete - San Cristóbal de las Casas
After a traditional Mexican breakfast at the hotel, we will ride in the arena to get used to the horses and we’ll be transferred up to the mountain on our first 3 hour round trail, riding to the protected ecological reserve called “Arcotete”. On our journey we will cross mountains and encounter interesting paths like narrow roads winding through magnificent pine and oak forests. We will also see several species of birds. We will ride through Tzotziles communities where we have the chance to glimpse the daily activities and work of the indigenous farmers.
Upon arrival at the Ecological Park Arcotete, we will enjoy lunch and take a walk along wood paths towards a stone arch carved by the water of the river “Rio Amarillo”.
After the hearty meal we head back by car, where we have the rest of the day free to relax and explore the beautiful city of San Cristobal de las Casas. Overnight at the Hotel Cortijo la Casona (B, L, D)
Day 4 San Cristóbal de las Casas – “Sima de las Cotorras”
After savouring a delicious breakfast, we are transferred (approx. 1.3 hrs.) to Ocozocoautla where we reach the access road to the “Sima de las Cotorras”. Here the horses are already waiting for us and we will start our 4 hour journey of the day. We'll enjoy gallops on dirt roads and ride through rural communities and cultivated agricultural landscape, getting to know the daily life of local farmers. We also bypass the rock “El Cerebro”, the so-called “Brain”, which is a unique rock formation, consisting of eroded sandstone.
Finally we arrive at the famous “Sima de las Cotorras”, a gargantuan sinkhole known as “sima”. Almost perfectly circular, the sinkhole is 160m across and a stomach-lurching 140m straight down – like a giant round hole cut into the limestone crust. At the bottom is a small forest, which seems like a lost rainforest due to its lushness in contrast to the dry surrounding environment. This place is a naturally protected summer nesting area for the sinkhole’s namesake residents: thousands of parrots, which translated means “chatterbox”. As the name indicates, the air is filled with the noises of several thousands of these restless parrots! Enjoy this natural spectacle and watch them flying gracefully in spirals out of the sinkhole to the surface. Nearly as impressive are a set of ancient cave paintings, such as painted handprints in red and black colours, as well as drawings of the moon and other figures of the cosmos.
After enjoying lunch in a restaurant nearby, we will ride back on the same trail for 1 hr until we are transferred by car to the ancient Hacienda “La Valdiviana”, which was founded in 1902. The charming hacienda provides a pool, it is the perfect place to rest your body after a day on horseback. Enjoy the hospitality and culinary skill of the owners, who will prepare a delicious dinner for us.
Overnight at the Hacienda La Valdiviana (B, L,D)
Day 5: Hacienda La Valdiviana – Tolan dam
We start the day with a delicious breakfast of fresh fruits and local dishes before starting our 5-hr ride to the Tolan dam.
We enjoy long trots and gallops on smooth, sandy and flat roads and marvel at the valley and surrounding mountains. During the ride we will pass several hacienda ruins and we will have the chance to observe different species of birds, such as bearded vultures, magpies and many more until we reach the agricultural community of Villa Morelos. Here we take a break and we will be invited by a local family to join them for lunch. We will have the opportunity to test our ability to prepare our own handmade tortillas.
After the lunch break we continue our journey to the village of Rosendo Salazar, where the Tolan dam is located. Enjoy this peaceful place with its beautiful view of the mountain range “Sierra Madre de Chiapas” here you can enjoy swimming in the lake with the horses. In the afternoon you will be transferred back to the Hacienda La Valdiviana (approx. 30 min), where we will have dinner and spend the rest of the evening. Overnight at the Hacienda La Valdiviana (B, L, D) or similar
Day 6: Hacienda La Valdiviana – Reserve “La Sepultura” – Puerto Arista
Breakfast will be prepared by our hosts, whose flavours will certainly spoil your palate! Afterwards you will be transferred back to the Tolan dam, ready to head towards the community Valle de Corzo. We will ride on a loop around 4 hrs to the community which is located in the coastal plain of Chiapas, we will pass the biosphere reserve “La Sepultura”, undoubtedly a place of stunning natural beauty! We will also visit the remains of an old textile factory from the 1920s, which became important in the textile industry of Central America. Afterwards we will ride on a loop (dirt road) always surrounded by beautiful pine forests, until we reach the “Corzo Valley”, where we will take a break
The vista is stunning and you will have the chance to see different kinds of birds and animals that live in the surrounding highlands and low-growing forests, on a path that was once used as the royal road to Chiapas.
Later that day we will be driven (approx. 2:30 hrs) to the seaside village of Puerto Arista. After checking into the hotel, which is located in front of the beach. Overnight at Hotel in Puerto Arista (B, L, D)
Day 7: Puerto Arista - Madresal Ecological Centre
This morning we start with an early morning ride along soft and sandy beaches, enjoying long canters and wonderful riding for 15km (around 2 hrs)! With a bit of luck we may be followed by a pod of dolphins just beyond the wave line, or a flock of curious birds. Enjoy the freedom of the horses and the nice sea breeze as the horses play in the waves – one of the best experiences for true horse lovers.
Later we will have a delicious seafood brunch, before transferring to “Madresal Ecological Center”, which is about 1 hour drive away from Puerto Arista. In order to reach Madresal, we have to cross the estuary by boat, giving us the opportunity to see the mangroves. Madresal is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful beaches in Chiapas. A lost paradise in the Mexican Pacific, it is a wonderful place surrounded by nature and full of kind respectful people. It is overseen by the community of Ponte Duro, which has built a restaurant and comfortable “palapas” (open-sided dwellings with thatched roofs made of dried palm leaves) where we sleep in a clean bed or in a hammock. Upon arrival, we have some time to relax on the beach, go for a swim,
During "Turtle Season" you can participate in the release of the “Tortugas golfinas”, the most numerous species that spawns on the coasts of Chiapas. Participating in the release of the baby turtles is a very emotional experience. The ceremony is performed at night, facing the beach where the baby turtles are freed and wished luck at sea. Only a small percentage (less than 10%) will reach adulthood and return to the beach where they hatched, in order to spawn. Overnight at Madresal Ecological Center (B, L, D)
Day 8: Madresal Ecological Centre - Tuxtla
Today we get up early to take a 2+ hr canoe tour to observe birds and crocodiles through the mangrove forest with wonderful opportunities to photograph wildlife. When we return, we have some time to relax on the beach. After a late lunch we transfer back to Tuxtla by late afternoon. We check into a local hotel. At this point we will say goodbye not before we help you to organise your taxi back to the airport for the next morning (B,L). Dinner is not included today, leaving you free to explore the local restaurants.
Day 9:Tuxtla - Tuxtla Gutierrez airport
After a continental breakfast at the hotel you can be ready to transfer by taxi to the airport (B).
Turtles arrive to the beaches on Peurto Arista all year round but the majority of the activity takes place between July and November. We arrived in March and were able to participate in the release of 3 nests of turtles. Please download our further details for more information on the turtle sanctuary.
The horses are transported between destinations and this is not a traditional point to point ride where you ride from one overnight place to another, arriving at each one on horseback the terrain does not allow for this. There is a lot of emphasis on historical/cultural and eco points of interest. You see and do a lot on this trip, so while the hours in the saddle are not huge each day is busy.
We're avid readers here at Unicorn Trails and have selected several books connected to this ride. If you're interested in reading more about the area before you travel, or want to get into the cultural background, here are some suggestions that may inspire you. Click on the links for more information.
Sons of the Shaking Earth - Eric Wolf. A wonderfully readable introduction to Mexican history.
The Maya (Ancient Peoples and Places) - Michael D Coe
Aztecs: An Interpretation - Inga Clendinnen. A fascinating, thought-provoking and vividly dramatic look into the heart of Aztec society.
Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans - Alan Riding, is an excellent guide to understanding modern Mexico and its love-hate relationship with the United States.
So Far So God: A Journey to Central America - Patrick Marnham. A vivid account of a trip from California, through Mexico to the badlands of Central America. The title comes from the saying 'Poor Mexico! So far from God, so close to the United States.'
Like Water For Chocolate - Laura Esquivel. This book created a huge interest in things Mexican when it was published in 1989. Set in rural Mexico at the time of the revolution, the novel manages to combine fantasy with recipes.
All the Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy. A poetic tale of three young latter-day cowboys riding south of the border.
European novelists have long been attracted by Mexico. Graham Greene's 1930s travelogue The Lawless Roads and his great novel The Power and the Glory; Aldous Huxley's Beyond the Mexique Bay and DH Lawrence's burdensome The Plumed Serpent, which is intent on asking all the big questions about Mexican life.
The Mango Orchard: The extraordinary true story of a family lost and found A young Englishman who travelled in Columbia, Guatemala and Mexico, in part to trace the fascinating story of his great grandfather's adventures in Central America a century ago. There is a great twist at the end, which we won't spoil.
Of course a mandatory copy of Lonely Plant Guide is invaluable.
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
There are 30 riding horses available varying in size from a 13.2hh Spotted Pony to a 16.1hh Warmblood X. There are pure Arabs and crosses, Quarter Horse crosses and Mexican Criollos. The horses are all extremely fit and well cared for. They are well shod and ridden in English saddles, although there are a few western saddles available if necessary. The pace of the ride is above average and the western saddles are not ideal for the long trots and canters. The horses are all extremely kind and well loved and schooled in English style. Their nature varies from fast and sensitive to sensible but all are extremely willing, fit and surefooted.
Riders should be accustomed to English style riding and have a secure seat at a walk, trot and canter. Riders should be fit enough to ride for up to 5 hrs with a good amount of trotting and cantering. Children are welcome from about 12 years, younger children will find this trip too physically tiring. There is some walking on this tour to visit scenic and archeological sights, walking for up to an hour at a time over uneven terrain and steps. There is always help at hand to mount/dismount and the horses are taken care of by grooms.
The weight limit for this ride is 220 lb/100 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
On the arrival day accommodation is in a hotel 35 minutes from the airport to facilitate differing arrival times. You will take a taxi shuttle from the airport on arrival payable on-site (please check with your consultant for a price). Accommodation is comfortable with double rooms and en-suite bathrooms. The hotel has a swimming pool and is situated in the small town of Chiapas del Corso. WIFI is available.
The hotel in San Cristobal is centrally located in the old town, perfect for exploring. Rooms are very large and well furnished with en-suite, there is WIFi.
The historic Hacienda Vivaldiana (or similar) has 5 very spacious rooms with a king-size and double bed in each and en-suite bathroom. There are 2 swimming pools. The hacienda has various restored rooms, verandas and seating areas as well as WIFI although mobile telephone reception is poor.
The hotel in Puerto Arista is a 70’s style hotel with smaller but perfectly adequate rooms with 2 double beds, en-suite bathrooms and air conditioning. There are 2 swimming pools in the hotel complex and the hotel is right on the beach and right next to the turtle conservation centre (which is the last building in the town). There is WIFI.
Madresal Eco resort offers rustic palm covered chalets enclosed in mosquito netting with fans and 2 double beds, en-suite and porch with hammock. There are various outdoor palapas (palm thatched roofs) acting as restaurants and seating areas on the beach. Sun loungers are available. There is very little mobile phone reception here and no internet.
Please note: bathroom in Mexico usually means a toilet and shower, double room usually means 2 double beds or a double and single bed.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip. If Visa’s are required the requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country. Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate on request.
At the time of going to print visas are not required for UK passport holders, check www.fco.gov.uk or call on 0207 008 0232/0233 for up to date travel advice.
In Mexico City the UK high commission is at Rio Lerma 71, Col Cuauhtemoc, 06500 Mexico City, Rio Lerma 71,Col Cuauhtémoc ,06500 México City. Tel: (52) (55) 5242 8500 Fax: (52) (55) 5242 8517.
The Mexican Embassy in the U.K is at 16 St George Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 1LX. Tel: 020 7499 8586 Fax: 020 7495 4035 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to altitude at 7,000ft above sea level, San Cristobal is usually cool in the day and cold at night. As soon as you descend even 1500ft to Tuxtla or the canyons the temperature is immediately far warmer. In general Chiapas has a dry and wet seasons with the dry season.
At Unicorn Trails, the health and safety of our customers is of paramount importance.
Although there are no compulsory vaccinations it is recommended you see your local doctor for up to date information. Air pollution in Mexico City is extremely high between November and February. Water must be purified or boiled.
For up to date information on specific health concerns please contact the Medical Advisors For Travellers Abroad. Their website can be found at www.masta.org. You can also check the Department of Healths website at www.dh.gov.uk.
There are no specific health problems on this ride. Strong sun protection is advised. On the walk in the Reserve La Seputura on Day 6 there may be small ticks in the long grass, so we suggest to bring a spray on insect repellent for boots/trousers and a change of clothes for after the walk. These ticks do not carry disease but can be uncomfortable if you are bitten.
110V, 60Hz as in the USA, appliances may require an adaptor before being pugged in as well as an international adapter. Check the voltage inout of the appliance.
There is electricity on most nights for charging cameras and laptops and telephone reception on most days at some point. Once out of San Cristobal it is hard to buy film and batteries.
Pack one set of warm clothes for the time in San Cristobal, the rest of the time it will be warm to hot and sometimes humid on the coast.
Jodpurs and spares
Riding boots suitable for walking in
Half leg chaps
T-shirts and some cool long sleeved shirts to keep the sun off
Riding helmet with brinm
Camera with zoom for wildlife
9d/8n set dates all year round except at Easter or Christmas, please enquire for dates not listed.
Other dates available on request
The tour incorporates many must see sights in Chiapas such as boating on the Canyon Sumidero walks in various ecological areas selected to showcase the variety of ecosystems Chiapas is famous for. In addition a boat tour of the mangrove swamps and beach/water activities are included.
We recommend extensions to see the impressive archeological site of the Mayan city state Palenque. This a the foremost Mayan site in Mexico and not to be missed. The villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán are culturally unique. They are inhabited by Tzeltal Indians who still preserve the indigenous traditions and clothing. The church of San Juan Chamula has no priest serving mass, instead an autonomous religion has been developed where offers are being placed to the Virgin Mary, Christ and the saints San Juan and Santiago.
Your hosts are avid wildlife enthusiasts. The multitude of rare birds to be see on this tour is truly amazing, the variation in ecosystems from the highlands down to the tropical mangrove swamps enables you to see a huge variety. Larger mamals such as crocodiles in the swamps and many different species of turtle on the beaches can also be observed. The visit to the turtle sanctuary and participation in the nightime release of newly hatched turtle is a highlight of the tour for many.
Puerto Arista turtle sanctuary a state-sponsored turtle protection and preservation programme, located 2.5 km west of town next to the Villa Murano Hotel. It is located on a property with 500 hectares of mangroves and beaches. It is one of four sanctuaries in the area along with those in Boca del Cielo, Costa Azul, and Barra de Zacapulco.
Puerto Arista is one of the 144 beaches in Mexico where sea turtles come to lay eggs. It is also one of twenty two beaches where these nests of eggs experience a high risk of being pillaged. In addition, marine turtles have turned up injured or dead on these shores, generally blamed on illegal fishing, especially shrimping, with nets in prohibited areas. There is still some illegal hunting of turtles and turtle eggs despite a federal ban.
The sanctuary’s main function is to patrol the beach by foot and ATV for fresh turtle nests in order to relocate the eggs to protected enclosures. Later, the hatchlings are released back into the sea. It allows visitors to participate in both the collection of eggs and liberation of hatchlings. Activities take place all year round but most turtles come here to nest between July and November. In 2008, the governor of Chiapas visited the sanctuary to participate in the liberation of over 7,000 hatchlings for the inauguration of the Centro Integral de Conservación. In that year, about a half a million were released, with 25,000 visits. In 2010, the sanctuary was nearly abandoned with almost no personnel and deteriorated facilities. However, since then, there have been rehabilitation efforts. In addition to the egg hatching and release programme, injured turtles are taken in all year round.
Mexico is a vast country. The Sierra Madre and Rocky Mountains run south from the border with the US. The interior consists of an elevated plateau. Northern Mexico is dry and desert-like, while the south is mountainous jungle containing the ruins of ancient Mayan and Aztec city complexes. These indigenous civilizations are credited with many inventions including: building pyramid-temples, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, highly-accurate calendars, fine arts, intensive agriculture, engineering, an abacus calculation, a complex theology, and the wheel. Without any draft animals the wheel was used only as a toy. The only metals they apparently knew how to use were native copper and gold.
The people of Mexico today are a mixture of descendants from Spanish and other immigrants, mainly Europeans, who settled in Mexico from the sixteenth century onwards, and mestizos - mixed European and indigenous ancestry, as well as the many indigenous groups. It is a nation where affluence, poverty, natural splendour and urban blight rub shoulders. It is also one of the worlds most bio-diverse countries with an incredible and colourful array of fauna and fauna.
Mexico is six to eight hours behind GMT and they use the metric weights and measures system, so kilometres and kilograms instead of miles and pounds. There is approximately 1.6 kilometres in a mile and 2.2 pounds in a kilogram.
The international dialling code is +52.