In a land far, far away there exists a town rich in history, agriculture, and culture. So far away, in fact, that it is considered Mexico’s southernmost city – nestled alongside the Mexico-Guatemala border. Known as the “Pearl of the Soconusco”, the modest city of Tapachula, Mexico exudes an interesting combination of urban sophistication and tropical tempo. One of the region’s most important commercial centers and cross-border trade destinations with Guatemala – Mexico’s southern neighbor – Tapachula has been known for its abundant natural resources and to have the highest per capita income in the state of Chihuahua.
Having been occupied by a number of native tribes prior to the arrival of the Spaniards and home to a lush, tropical landscape, this less-known Mexican city has quite a story to tell – one steeped in ancient cultures, Spanish influence, and an abundance of wealth. For the visitor willing to make the trek south, the city of Tapachula is sure to yield a few pleasant surprises. While its not famous for its upscale resorts or world-renowned beaches, this modest southern city captivates its guests through a vibrant past and lively landscapes – which are home to both the region’s largest money-making commodity as well as eco-friendly tourism.
If this sounds like an interesting option to you, why not take a closer look? Sometimes the best experiences are those tucked away and out of sight. To help you get to know this hidden gem, take a look at the following 5 interesting facts about the little known Tapachula.
1. Tapachula has a long, vibrant history stemming back to pre-hispanic times
Just by looking at where Tapachula is located, one can assume that it’s lands were once inhabited by a number of Mexico’s thriving, ancient indigenous populations. While it was the mighty Aztec empire that officially founded Tapachula in 1486 as a means to collect tribute (taxes) in the form of cocoa, feathers, and precious stones among other commodities within the Soconusco region (the fertile coastal plain named after the Aztecs’ 15th-century province of Xoconochco), various tribes such as the Mames, Olmecs, and Toltecs once called these lands home. This can be seen in the study of ancient artifacts recovered in the region, which is said to have been a very multi-lingual region of the country, once home to Zapotec, Huave, Chiapanec, and Mayan speaking communities.
There is no better way to learn about the region’s vibrant, pre-hispanic history than to visit the local Archeological Museum of Soconusco. Here, guests can learn all about the complex history of the region, beginning with the earliest inhabitants known as the Mokayas, up until the Aztec acquisition of the territory during the 15th century. View and learn about ancient artifacts found within in the region, many of which came from the nearby site of Izapa.
That’s right! The ancient archeological site of Izapa is located just (11 kilometers) from Tapachula city limits. Founded around the year 600 B.C. by the Mize-zoque people, Izapa was once the most important ceremonial, political, and religious center of the Pacific coast. Its importance was due to commercial factors, as well as for being the region’s religious center. With such a pristine location, it was often used as a migration route and for the trade of valuable resources such as jade, cocoa, and obsidian. Even more interesting, the layout of this ancient city is full of astronomical references, leading many archaeologists to believe that Izapa had a key role in the construction of Mesoamerican calendars, including the famous Mayan calendar itself. Holy smokes!
Simply put – Tapachula is much more than a present-day agricultural powerhouse for the state of Chiapas – it has long played an important role for the survival and economic prosperity of its local inhabitants. In order to fully appreciate where we are, sometimes it’s necessary to learn about where it all began.
2. Tapachua’s biggest commodity is its world-famous coffee
Yup. That’s right. The region’s hottest commodity – and biggest money-maker – is its world-famous delicious coffee. After the Spanish conquest reached the city of Tapachula, it rather quickly transformed into the region’s principal site for the development of cacao. Remember how the ancient civilizations that once inhabited its lands also used cocoa as a means to pay tribute? Well, it turns out that the same tribute item is rather delicious when brewed just right.
Upon becoming the key player of an agriculturally rich region that produces internationally acclaimed coffee, Tapachula quickly began to reap the benefits – boasting the highest per capita income in the state of Chiapas. While bananas and sugarcane are other principal products of the region, cocoa takes the prize.
In fact, it was the establishment of its large coffee plantations that gave way to the region’s economic boost. Such a growth in the local coffee production industry has led to the migration of individuals and companies looking to cash in on the profits. With large Asian and German populations now calling Tapachula home, the city represents a unique fusion of indigenous, European, and Asian cultures.
In fact, there are numerous coffee exporting companies located in Tapachula that specifically cater to the needs of coffee drinkers world-wide. With popularity in Europe on the rise, high-quality Mexican coffee from Chiapas is mostly exported to European countries, while less premium (yet equally delicious) coffee is sold to the U.S. Europeans can enjoy Mexican brands such as Germanis, Irlandia, Santa Catarina, and Liquidmabar, all of which are making a splash in the international coffee market. Whether you’re looking for a mild, light-bodied brew, or a nutty, light brew with traces of chocolate, Chiapas coffee is sure to impress.
When visiting Tapachula, you mustn’t forget to experience the famous Coffee Route Tour – one of the most fascinating experiences when it comes to alternative tourism in Chiapas. Guests will be given the opportunity to walk the jungle roads that lead to the lush vegetation surrounding local coffee plantations. Here, you can learn about the production processes and, if lucky, even enjoy a nice cup the best Mexican coffee. Now, doesn’t that sound nice?
3. Tapachula is home to stunning European architecture dating back hundreds of years
With such a vibrant history, it’s no surprise that the city of Tapachula is home to some incredibly beautiful architecture, influenced by both local and foreign culture alike. While pre-hispanic structure are mostly found at ancient archeological sites such as Izapa, the city offers guests a walk through time as they wander through its quaint, cozy streets.
Right at the heart of the city, visitors will find the bustling plaza known as Parque Miguel Hidalgo (Miguel Hidalgo Park). Lined with trees and home to an octagon kiosk with Baroque ironwork of Moorish influence, this lively park acts as the city center – surrounded by both old and new municipal palaces. On weekends, the park fills with families and friends who gather to enjoy “un helado” (ice cream) and listen to the local marimba music, often located front and center on the plaza’s kiosk.
As you walk around the plaza you will see other nearby structures with striking architecture – including the city’s most famous church, the San Agustin Parish. Dating back to the 18th century, it was erected in honor of the city’s patron saint, St. Augustine. A modest construction sporting a red Spanish tile roof, the Neoclassical facade of the church is simple yet mesmerizing. Equipped with two, large bell towers that overlook the plaza below, its design is based on the Teopisca church. It acted as the Tapachula diocese for many years, beginning in 1958 and up until recently in 2009, when the San Jose Cathedral was chosen as the new Tapachula diocese.
Nearby at the Antiguo Palacio Municipal, visitors will not only have the opportunity to visit the Casa de Cultura de Tapachula (Tapachula Culture Center) and the Museo Arqueologico de Soconusco (Archeological Museum of Soconusco), but will also witness its stunning exterior. A beautiful white building with frets on its facade, this building once served as the Municipal Palace. Built in 1926, its architecture encapsulates both the traditional Spanish colonial look as well a sleek, modern structure of importance. Many of the city’s photos revolve around this central favorite.
Just as in most Mexican cities, the city of Tapachula expresses its complex and rich history through its local architecture. It doesn’t always take a thrilling nature excursion or luxury resort to entertain us – sometimes all we have to do is stop, look around, and enjoy the views.
4. Tapachula is in close proximity to some of Chiapas’ greatest natural wonders
Remember when we spoke about the incredibly hot, tropical climate that gave rise to the lush natural resources of the Soconusco region? Well, that same climate is what makes the Mexican state of Chiapas so vibrant and green – and, well, home to an incredibly diverse wildlife and eye-catching natural wonders.
With an annual rainfall of about 153 inches (3,900 millimeters), the Soconusco region is one of the rainest destinations in the entire world. This is great news for those coffee producers, as well as for those who enjoy to explore tropical landscapes.
There is a popular hiking route known as the “Route of the Volcano”, due to its close proximity to the Tacana Volcano, that offers travelers the opportunity to explore the incredible natural landscape of the Soconusco region, including visits to the above mentioned Izapa Archeological site. For those looking to actually visit the volcano itself, well you’re in luck. Known as “La Linea”, the volcano trial is for those who truly love an adventure. Afterall, Tacana is the second highest volcano peak in Central America, situated smack dab on the border of Mexico and Guatemala. From the summit, hikers can see the tallest volcano peaks in Guatemala and even additional peaks in Mexico. Talk about views! In addition, on a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. Considered to be an active volcano, hike with caution. It was last active between January 1986 and February 1988.
Speaking of the ocean, have you ever heard of Playa Linda (Pretty Beach) and the Los Pozuelos Lagoon? Well, that’s all about to change. Considered a local favorite due to its ample size and fine sands, Playa Linda is every beach lovers dream. Home to extensive stretches of uninterrupted beaches, few resorts, and just the right amount of waves to make for a great water sport location, this southern tropical gem is one to remember. While it is less populated and less commercial than a number of Mexico’s most famous beaches, it is equally breathtaking – and hey, less people means more sun for you!
The best part – the beach ends at a place known as the Pozuelos Lagoon, where local mangroves take over and provide a tropical paradise for herons and a great diversity of aquatic birds to live. This is especially good news for the avid nature lover.
Whether hiking tropical mountain trails, enduring a climb to the tallest volcano peak in Central America, or enjoying a quiet day on a pristine, fine sand beach, the city of Tapachula and the surrounding Soconusco region has something to offer all nature lovers. Now, the question that remains is, what kind are you?
5. Tapachula deserves way more attention
We often get so distracted by what’s hot, what’s new, and what’s most popular that we forget to stop and take a look around us. Often times when we travel, it is the smaller, less known places that we should be focusing on – especially when our goal is to relax, enjoy ourselves, and experience something new. Thes best locations are often those that offer us a little bit of everything – and Tapachula does just that. So, when asked, “what to do in Tapachula?” remember its vibrant history, beautiful architecture, thrilling nature excursions, and of course, some of the world’s best coffee. This all makes it seem like a no brainer. A visit to the modest, yet lovely Tapachula, Mexico is a must – even if just for a bit. Only as more visitors discover its rich history and culture will this southern tropical gem gain the attention that it deserves.