Seen on a general map of Mexico, the Xanil River goes unnoticed. If the focus is on Chiapas, it does not attract much attention either, as this Mexican state is dotted with marshy areas, lagoons and rivers of great importance, such as Usumacinta or Grijalva. At 150 kilometers from San Cristóbal de las Casas, however, this river twists like a worm and generates a set of waterfalls among the most surprising of this Mesoamerican portion. The group of Agua Azul waterfalls is a flora and fauna protection area of great biological and above all landscape importance.
Like all of Chiapas, this territory is jungle, and the riparian forest is lush, accompanying the river at all times, which begins by marking some small waterfalls and pools but which becomes more furious as the kilometers advance in the section located east of the city of Ignacio Allende, forming a series of shallow but vertical canyons, so that the wound in the landscape is even more marked: the emerald green of the jungle contrasts strongly with the deep blue of the water, which in areas where it is agitated becomes white as snow.
150 km from San Cristóbal de las Casas, the Xanil river twists like a worm
The carbonate salts of the rocky material of the area, dissolved in the water, are the source of the bright blue color so characteristic of this area. The effect is much more impressive in the dry season, when weeks go by without a single drop of rain falling on this part of Chiapas – usually between December and April, although this is an uncertain timing.
This means the water head is lower and the waterfalls less spectacular in terms of volume. But the color intensifies. On the other hand, when it rains heavily, nearby tributaries such as Otulún, Shumuljá or Tulijá arrive full of muddy sediments that extinguish the bright blue color. On the contrary, the waterfalls are more thunderous and the bathing areas more numerous and larger.
In Agua Azul there is a long tradition of bathing, as the beauty of the waters invites locals and foreigners alike to enjoy their (cold) touch. Indeed, a good part of the path from the entrance to the natural park is well laid out, with wooden steps and even a few walkways, and also benches where you can change before swimming.
However, it is necessary to be very attentive to the indications which circulate everywhere concerning the currents and the deep basins. A more or less calm backwater becomes, depending on the bather’s approach zone, a whirlpool that can swallow him up and carry him downstream. There are continuous jumps in steps that reach the technical category of waterfalls and pools over eight meters deep.
Not in vain in many of the busiest places there are ropes to hold to enjoy a safe bath. However, accidents of overconfidence are not uncommon. Without going any further, in the summer of 2021 a young Portuguese tourist was swallowed by the Xanil, which brought her lifeless body several kilometers below.
Strictly, there is no established locality near the natural park and the Agua Azul waterfalls. You can, however, spend the night near the Misol-Ha waterfall, which is only a few minutes away and is also a sensational attraction. In this case it is a classic waterfall, in the shape of a ponytail, which usually completes the excursion from San Cristóbal de las Casas or even Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
To visit Agua Azul it is advisable to confide in a travel agency with a certain recognition of one of these cities. Safety is not the most outstanding element of travel on the roads of Chiapas, and experienced drivers who respond to a company are much better advised than to resort to any transport offered on the street, even if they have to pay a little more.
Like all of Chiapas, this territory is a jungle and the riverside forest is lush.