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A Waterfall Lover’s Paradise

Chiapas Community Group Preserves Eco-Trail in Mexico

Waterfall in Eco-Park in Chiapas, Mexico
The Bridal Veil Fall is one of the rewards for completing the mostly uphill hike in Mexico's newest eco-parks.

Although you could spend hundreds of dollars per night to stay in a Mexican eco-lodge, a new community program offers a bargain alternative—one rich with beauty and local history.

El Chiflón, one of Mexico’s newest eco-parks, is located in the state of Chiapas, in the southernmost part of Mexico bordering the Pacific Ocean and Guatemala. The region boasts the country’s two largest rivers and, with its mountainous elevation, makes for a waterfall lover’s paradise. The park’s namesake is one of the most dramatic, with its series of cascades formed by the San Vicente River as it passes through steep limestone canyons.

In 2003, an ejidario or local community co-op created the eco-tourism park to preserve the waterfalls for future generations. Located in the jungle, 30 km west of the colonial town of Comitan de Dominguez, the site is still relatively unknown and most visitors are locals who come to enjoy the 2.4-km hiking trail and natural swimming holes on weekends. Cabins are available for rent starting from $18.

I choose a weekday for my visit, so there were few other hikers on the trail. After a short climb, I reached the Cascada ala del angel or Wings of an Angel waterfall. It empties into a wide pool of water that swirls and eddies until continuing its winding journey downward. Smooth slabs of rock protrude into the water where mangrove trees float like grey alligators at its edge.

The heat builds as the trail climbs more steeply. I duck under an arch of copa de oro—yellow trumpet flowers—and see an opening in a limestone mound hidden in the undergrowth, one of hundreds of caves within the region. Once part of a vast trading area, dating back to 2000 BC and stretching across the Yucatan peninsula to the monumental pyramids of Palenque, Tikal, and Copan, the area holds a rich archaeological history. For the Maya, these cave openings are considered portals to the wet subterranean underworld where rain deities live.

Resisting the lure of exploring further, I glimpse a white snowball above the treetops. It’s the Velo de Novia or Bridal Veil Fall, and like a mirage it sparkles with reflected sunlight. It’s all I need to motivate me up the increasingly steep trail.

A mirador or observation platform juts out over the rapids at the base of the waterfall. Tall and slender like a needle, the falls drop a dramatic 120 meters into the churning rapids below. A rainbow stretches across the gorge.

The rocks are slippery as I try to get closer to the falls. A group of young men, bared to the waist, their shirts tied about their heads like turbans, are facing the falls, hollering with each new gust.

“Give me your hand,” yells one. Much as I’d love to join them, I’m blown back down the trail, my hair, clothes, and camera bag soaked with spray.

This waterfall is no timid bride. With her white watery veil streaming into the churning river, she forces me back to the relative safety of the path. She roars, perhaps proclaiming her agreement with preserving the site for future generations.

For More Info

El Chiflón Eco-park: Open daily from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. A restaurant is on site and rental cabins are available for 12 hours for 200 pesos (about $18) or for 24 hours for 300 pesos (about $27). Tel. 011-963-70-365-84.

Chiapas: The state’s official tourism site is www.turismochiapas.gob.mx.

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