Lagunas de Montebello National Park is in Chiapas in the southern part of Mexico, near the border with Guatemala. It is famous for its many colorful lakes (CONANP says more than 60, some other sources say 59). The lakes are remarkable for the wide range of natural water colors they exhibit; colors that range from light aquamarine to a brilliant deep purple. Some lakes are green, others blue, a few red. The park is a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
The lakes of Montebello are a fragile ecosystem that has become threatened in recent decades by a combination of global climate change and human commercial exploitation. Threats to the park manifest themselves through deforestation in nearby communities as well as pollution of tributary water sources for some of the lakes. Raw sewage, commercial contaminants, and agricultural runoff have changed the water chemistry of some lakes, destroying their brilliant clarity and colors and killing aquatic life in those lakes. Most lakes are still spectacular to behold, but don't be shocked to see some muddy, dull lakes where nothing grows or thrives.
This is a large park with an area of about 6,000 hectares.
Much of the population of nearby villages are indigenous peoples, who maintain cultural traditions that differ from mainstream Mexico. The predominant indigenous group in the park area are the Chujs.
Parque Nacional Lagunas de Montebello (its official name, and the one you'll see on road signs in the area) was included in the Mexico national parks system in 1959. The park is administered for the federal government by CONANP.
The park is set on a high plateau with an elevation of about 5,000 feet. The terrain is rolling hills of pine forest with a dense concentration of streams and lakes.
Flora and fauna
The principal ecosystems represented in the park are coniferous forest, cloud forest, aquatic, and sub-aquatic vegetation. The park constitues a wetland with the many colorful lakes as its foundation.
The park is an important biological corridor in the Americas representing both habitat to resident species and a vital migratory path for species that move between the North America and South America continents. Naturalists have spotted at least 277 species of birds, 65 species of mammals, and 35 species of reptiles in the park. Vegetation includes 208 species of trees, 50 species of orchids and a large number of ferns and other small ground shrubs. 106 species in the park are recognized as endangered and 27 as endemic, according to UNESCO.
Mammal species include ocelots, jaguars, bobcats, deer, white-nose coatis, raccoons, squirrels and more.
Warm, humid conditions prevail throughout the year. Frequent rain, particularly in summer and early autumn. Rain showers are frequent, but often of short duration. Average annual rainfall in the park is 1862mm.
The national park is in a remote area on Mexico's southern border with Guatemala. The easiest way for a traveler to visit the park is to fly into Tuxtla Gutiérrez (TGZ). Several daily flights are available from Mexico City (MEX) on Aeromexico and a few flights on Viva Aerobus and Volaris. In Tuxtla Gutierrez, you can rent a car, or take a bus to Comitán. Buses between Tuxtla Gutuierrez and Comitan are operated by Omnibus Cristobal Colon (OCC), depart every 3 hours, and cost M$150 to M$400, depending on bus class and time. From Comitan, it's an inexpensive taxi ride to the national park. There may also be local buses or tour buses to the park.
If you rent a car in Tuxtla Gutierrez, it's about a 2-1/2 hour drive to Lagunas de Montebello National Park. From Tuxtla Gutierrez, drive east on MEX highway 190 (towards San Cristobal de las Casas / Comitán. Continue on Highway 190 for 15km to the town of Trinitaria. Turn left onto Highway 307 (Carreterra Trinitaria-Palenque). The entrance to Parque Nacional Lagunas de Montebellow is at the kilometer 36 marker.
Fees and permits
Park entrance fee is M$36 per person. Additional fees are charged to enter the village, or to rent balsa log rafts or canoes or kayaks.
Hiking is the best way to get around the park. Horseback riding is also available.
- Chinkultic is a little-known Mayan archaeological site in the western section of the park. The once moderate-size city was abandoned around the 13th century AD. Most of the site has been unexplored with only a few archaeological digs in modern times. Few tourists visit the site, and even though the INAH maintains visitor facilities on the site, they are likely to be closed if you visit at a particularly light time of year. The highest point at the site is called the Acropolis and it serves as the site for a pyramid temple and a vantage point for views of the surrounding lakes. During the rainy season, low lying areas of the site flood, cutting off access to the Acropolis. The site is open 08:00 to 15:00 and no admission fee is charged.
- Grutas San Rafael del Arco is an area of the park with several limestone caves and two cenotes (underground sinkholes).
- Rafting (balsa log rafts for rent--padrisimo!)
- Nature watching
- Horseback riding
- Guided tours (guides available for hire at the park entrance)
The nearest place for shopping is the town of Comitan.
Food is available in the park at Tziscao. Better, and wider choices are available in the town of Comitan.
Bring bottled water.
Hotels and boutique inns are available in the town of Comitán (about 30km from the park). Rustic lodging and camping are available inside the national park.
Cabins are available for rent in the park for M$300 per night. A small village, called Tziscao, is located on the shores of one of the larger lakes in the park. The village has some small hotels and a hostel offering overnight accommodations.
Camping is allowed in several areas of the park. Inquire at the park entrance. There is also a campground in the village of Tziscao.
Mosquitos and other insects are common in the park, with its high humidity and many wetland areas. Bring repellant.
Sunblock is recommended while you're doing land-based activities, but remember that sunblock is an environmental hazard in lakes or cenotes. Park regulations ban use of sunblock while in or on the lakes.
A couple of nearby towns are designated as Pueblos Magicos by the Mexican government. Both are picturesque small towns with boutique hotels and good quality restaurants offering regional cuisine: