Welcome to Chiapa de Corzo, one of the most beautiful towns in Chiapas and one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos (Magic Towns). 45 minutes from San Cristobal de las Casas and only 15 minutes from the state capital Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapa de Corzo sits on the shores of the Grijalva River where one can depart on boat trips through El Cañon del Sumidero. This town is often only visited as an afterthought by travelers who come to sail through the enormous canyon, but it’s surrounded by many natural wonders, caves and waterfalls and the town itself is decorated with renaissance architecture.
The Cañon del Sumidero is probably on your list of must-see places as you travel through this part of Mexico, and for good reason! Marvel as you travel through by boat and see the incredibly high cliff walls with cascading waterfalls. After your trip through this natural wonder, take some time to stroll around the beautiful central square of Chiapa de Corzo, where you’ll discover many local handicrafts and small local stalls and a piece of history almost entirely forgotten.
The Art of Laca
The primary handicraft that you’ll find in Chiapas de Corzo is laca, or maque, as it was known long before the Spanish arrived. The lacquer technique has been practiced for centuries in this small town, dating back to pre-Hispanic times and is unique to this tiny part of Mexico.
The craft stems from an old Chiapa tradition of using fruit barks or crusts, such as pumpkin and squash, as religious relics, everyday items or containers for objects. They would be decorated with varnishes and paint with flowers, landscapes and delicate patterns and smoothed down to become firm and solid.
There are some different ways of doing this technique but it’s all done by hand. A paint that is oil-like in substance (made from natural stones and minerals) is used and painted on the object by the artist’s fingers to create the patterns without ruining the texture of the surface. Then, a varnish is applied with brushes made from animal hair (often cat hair).
With the arrival of the Spanish, techniques were changed slightly to incorporate a more European and Eastern influence but the style has not changed. The craft almost disappeared at one point but is now advocated by the state who support the local artists. Once again, the art is being passed down through generations and inspiring young new artists to rediscover the tradition.
Where to find Laca in Chiapa de Corzo
You will see art decorated in the laca style in many small shops and handicraft stalls throughout the center of town. They are recognizable by the intricate detail, striking design, the floral patterns and often dark background colors. You can find a variety of objects such as containers, toys, furniture musical instruments and much more.
Visit the Museum of Laca which can be found at the Santo Domingo Church and the adjoining convent building. This was founded in 1952 by the anthropologist Dr Alfonso Caso who wanted to bring together this rare and magnificent art. Now it protects and demonstrates the origins of the craft and its different techniques, materials and products.