Best Off-the-Beaten Path Trip

Chiapas, Mexico

Las Golondrinas waterfall, Chiapas, Mexico     Photo: Chico Sanchez/Aurora

Until recently, Mexico’s southernmost state was considered a backward land of masked, murderous Zapatista rebels. What gets overlooked: the region hasn’t seen violent conflict since 1994, making its mountainous landscape ripe for exploration. Chiapas isn’t even mentioned in the U.S. State Department’s Mexico travel warning. Your biggest worry here is how to fit in all the rugged wilderness— 3,300-foot cliffs for climbing near Tuxtla Gutiérrez; the 13,200-foot Tacaná volcano, straddling the Guatemala border; Class III whitewater on the Lacanja River, in the 818,413-acre, jaguar-populated Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve; and hiking and mountain biking on trails packed down by centuries of use by the indigenous population, many of whom have rarely seen outsiders. Fly to the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez; hop on a bus for the one-hour ride to San Cristobal de las Casas, a 16th-century colonial city sitting at 7,218 feet; base out of the centrally located Diego de Mazariegos hotel (doubles, $96); and piece together your own adventure with local rafting and biking guides. Los Pingüinos rents mountain bikes in San Cristobal de las Casas ($14 per day) and offers guided six-hour bike tours of nearby Maya villages, like Chamula ($50 per day), and four-hour hiking tours of the cloud forest ($17). Heads up: Chiapas is untapped for adventure tourism, so you won’t find outfitters with the latest gear on every corner. For an excellent eight-day immersion, the Muddy Boot offers a trip that includes visits to the seventh- and eighth-century ruins Palenque and Yaxchilán, a stay at a jungle lodge on the Lacantún River, a visit to a biology research center in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, and time to explore San Cristobal de las Casas ($2,555 based on double occupancy). 

RUNNER-UP
Central Black Sea Coast, Turkey
Turkey sees some 30 million tourists each year, but very few of them ever make it to the remote central Black Sea coast, a four-hour drive north from Ankara. Which is good for you, because the region’s mile-long beaches, empty coastline dotted with ancient cities like Amasra, and absurdly good seaside restaurants remain undiscovered. Even fewer people make it to Kure National Park, a pristine enclave of forests and gorges with a series of hiking trails recently crafted from ancient footpaths. English speakers are hard to come by, even in hotels. Brave it on your own or hire a seasoned Turkish guide, like Turan Kirac, who runs BikeHike trips in Turkey but guides independently in this region. He’ll lead you on a custom road trip from the Ottoman-era, Unesco World Heritage town of Safranbolu, along the dramatic California-like seashore, to the ancient mountain village of Azdavay (from $120 per day; kiracturan@hotmail.com).

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