Tabasco Mexico – Maps, History and Culture

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The Chiapas and Tabasco Mexico map has coastal borders on both the Gulf of Mexico as well as the Pacific Ocean. It is the only region of Mexico, aside from Northern Mexico, that has coastal borders on both sides of the country.

The Chiapas and Tabasco region borders Veracruz and Oaxaca to the west and the Yucatan Peninsula to the east. To the south is the South American country of Guatemala.

Chiapas and Tabasco cover a total area of nearly 38,000 square miles, making it one of the smaller regions in Mexico.

List of Cities

  • San Cristobal de las Casas
  • Comitan
  • Palenque
  • Paraiso
  • Tacotalpa
  • Nacajuca
  • Balancan
  • Cardenas
  • Centla
  • Comalcalco
  • Emiliano Zapata
  • Jalpa de Mendez
  • Teapa
  • Tenosique

Quick Facts

  • Population: ~ 7.6 million
  • Languages: Spanish, Zoque, Tzotzil Mayan, Tzeltal Mayan
  • Ethnicities: Spanish, Mixe-Zoque, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Mestizo, Afro-Mexican
  • Capitals:
    • Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas
    • Villahermosa, Tabasco

Brief History

Like much of southern Mexico, Chiapas, and Tabasco was inhabited by many indigenous groups. The first indigenous group to settle the region was the Mokaya tribe, a pre-Olmec culture that created the first recorded tools and weapons in the region.

Evidence of the Mokaya in the Chiapas and Tabasco region also indicates that they were the first prehistoric tribe in Mesoamerica to create houses with divided rooms and living quarters. While the Mayans are credited with inventing the calendar, it was discovered that the Mokaya tribe created a calendar system approximately 300 years before the Mayans. This calendar system was dated 36 B.C. and is considered to be the oldest ceramic calendar to date.

The Olmecs were predominantly in Tabasco while the Mayans were predominantly in Chiapas; however, Olmec evidence and influence can be seen throughout the entire region. In Chiapas, the Olmecs used many of the fossilized rocks to form their style of sculpture and art. These relics have been found throughout the entire region, which indicates that the Olmecs were once a dominant tribe in the region.

In the state of Chiapas, the Mayans were formed around 300 A.D. and lasted until 900 A.D. when they inexplicably collapsed. During their reign, the Mayans were well-developed in essentially all areas of society. They had created mathematics, astronomy, a writing system, and a calendar system.

The Mayans also understood the importance of trading during this time. They traded various agricultural goods, including livestock, animal skins, fossilized rocks, and vanilla. Unfortunately, the Mayan civilization came to an end around 900 A.D.

Between 900 A.D. and 1500 A.D., the region was essentially stagnant. The complex systems that the Mayans had created remained in place, but no work was done to advance them further. Smaller descendant Mayan tribes began to form throughout the region, but they merely survived. None of them flourished into the success and dynasty that the Mayans once had.

In the early 1500s, Spanish conquistadors arrived on the Gulf Coast of Mexico looking for better trade routes and opportunities in the western New World. When they arrived in Mexico, they found a variety of different indigenous tribes that had derived from the Mayans. These tribes attempted to resist the Spanish army’s strength, but they couldn’t compete with the power and numbers that Spain brought to the region.

Ultimately, the indigenous tribes were overtaken by the Spanish, giving Spain control of the region. To make matters worse, the Spanish brought many diseases to the area, causing many indigenous tribes to die from sickness. The tribe members who survived had to either conform to Spanish rule or flee to nearby uninhabited lands.

The number of indigenous people who had died or fled from the area caused Spain to bring in slaves from Africa to redevelop the region. Spanish settlers had not yet begun to arrive in Mexico, and the region needed immediate help to grow, especially agriculturally.

By the 1700s, African slaves had helped create a vast agricultural economy from working on the plantations.

They harvested corn, beans, cotton, cattle, and cocoa. The presence of African slaves also led to creating a new mixed-race known as Afro-Mexican, a mixed-race between Africans and indigenous Mexicans.

By the early 1800s, Mexico had grown to become a wealthy and successful region so much that they desired to be out from under the control of the Spanish monarchy. This led to the Mexican War of Independence that began in 1808. Unlike many of the other regions of Mexico, the region of Chiapas and Tabasco was essentially spared during the war.

Spain focused on other areas in Mexico that had more to offer than this region, which caused Chiapas and Tabasco to avoid the destruction of war. In 1810, Mexico won its bid for independence from Spain, and Tabasco was officially declared a state in 1815, whereas Chiapas did not become a state until 1828.

By 1857, the Reform War had broken out between the divided country of Mexico. Some Mexicans wanted to continue following Spanish influence while others believed in following the Mexican army and the Catholic church. The war ended in 1860 but not before the Mexican economy had been badly damaged.

Mexico was unable to pay the debts they owed to France, which led the French to invade the area for a period of time beginning in 1861. During this time, French forces led by French Emperor Maximilian I arrived in eastern Mexico and attempted to conquer the region as their own. Ultimately, the Mexican army was able to resist the invasion, reclaiming Mexico once again as their own.

Once Mexico was able to regain their land, they began to salvage their economy. The region of Chiapas and Tabasco focused mostly on maximizing the agriculture industry, although communication and transportation were also improved during this time.

However, agriculture was the primary focus, which included, but was not limited to, harvesting coffee, fabric dye, and agave. The indigenous tribes that remained in the area helped work on plantations, which is how the economy could survive.

By the mid-1900s, the population in the region significantly increased. This meant too many people per capita for the jobs and provisions that were offered in the industrial area of the region. The indigenous tribes were the ones who chose to leave, trading industry for serenity by relocating to the undeveloped forests of the Yucatan Peninsula. This new area that the tribes called home was perfect for harvesting livestock, crops, and timber.

Chiapas and Tabasco remained industrial and is home to many Mestizos, but it is not uncommon to see and hear indigenous tribes throughout the area today.


The primary language of Chiapas and Tabasco is Spanish, but there are strong indigenous language influences that are still heard today. These indigenous languages are all part of the Mayan language family and include Zoque, Tzotzil Mayan, and Tzeltal Mayan.

These languages survived because there were members of these tribes that remained in the area and helped the Spanish colonize the land. This allowed their language to be preserved and ultimately merge with the Spanish language. Although Spanish is the primary language that is spoken, heard, and taught in the region, the Zoque, Tzotzil Mayan, and Tzeltal Mayan languages can still be heard.


In addition to language, the Spanish also brought their belief system into Mexico. The Spanish practiced Roman Catholicism in Spain, and that continued once arriving in Mexico. The Spanish believed in evangelism, which is preaching and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In doing this, they were able to expand Roman Catholicism throughout the country. Today, between 80 and 85% of Mexico practices Roman Catholicism, while the remainder practices another form of religion or no religion at all.


What made Chiapas and Tabasco so successful in the Mesoamerican era was the diverse geography throughout the region. The mountains, jungles, and costs all presented the indigenous tribes with an endless number of industrial opportunities to create. Agriculture, transportation, residential, and cultural areas were all developed because of what the geography had to offer, and the indigenous tribes took advantage of that. They used fossilized rocks for weapons and art, grassy plains and rich soil for agriculture, and the steep mountain ranges to provide a defense.

The Spanish ultimately settled in the region because of the advancements that the indigenous tribes had made, not because of the geography the region had to offer. There were many areas inland or on the Gulf Coast that had more to offer the Spanish. This likely saved the region from war devastation that other areas of Mexico inevitably experienced.


The Mayans and pre-Mayan tribes that existed in the region had rich beliefs and customs, and they used what they could find around them to put those beliefs into existence. Bones, fossilized rocks, and insect dye were used in weapons, ceramics, and clothing they created. The clothing they wore was mostly influenced by the Olmecs.

The Olmec women wore long skirts or dresses with ruffles that usually embodied vibrant colors. In festivals today honoring Chiapas and Tabasco, these dresses are worn by participants, dancers, and performers.

During the colonial period, the music style called the fandanguillo was created. The fandanguillo was derived from the Fandango, which is a dance that is performed by couples in Spain and Portugal. Because of the strong Spanish influence in the region, the Mexicans took a Spanish dance and made it their own.

Immigration and Migration Patterns

Chiapas and Tabasco saw many migration patterns over the past 2000 years, the first of which occurred around 100 B.C. when the Mokaya settled in the area. Around 300 A.D., the Mayans entered the region, which was another native indigenous tribe. All of the tribes that lived in the region during this time period were indigenous native Mexicans. The region would not experience an influx in migration until the 1500s when the Spanish arrived.

The Spanish were the first immigrants to relocate to the area. Over time, more Spanish settlers arrived and began a new life in the region. This led to the creation of the mixed-race called Mestizo, which is a combination of Spanish and native Mexican people. The Spanish were the dominant immigrants to relocate to the area in both numbers and timespan. They relocated by the hundreds of thousands, and this lasted for around 300 years.

With the amount of growth that was taking place during the Spanish colonization of Mexico, laborers were in extreme demand. This led to an influx of African slaves being imported to the region. African slaves provided Spain with the labor they needed to grow the area.

Another small group of immigrants to arrive in the area were the French. The French did not dominate the region by any means, and their invasion was small and short lived. However, a number of French immigrants arrived in Mexico and still remain today.


Spain dominated the region for centuries, bringing hundreds of thousands of immigrants to the Gulf Coast during this time. The Spanish immigrants often dispersed to various locations throughout Mexico after they arrived on the Gulf Coast. Many Spanish settlers remained in the area in the Chiapas and Tabasco region because of how advanced the region had become during Mayan rule. It wasn’t difficult for the Spanish to build on what the Mayans had started.

Because of this, much of the genealogy that is traced to Chiapas and Tabasco will likely have Spanish heritage. Spanish heritage gives those with its genes dark hair, dark eyes, and dark skin, a prominent feature seen among Mexicans in the region today. The Spanish immigrants eventually created a mixed-race with the indigenous Mexican people. This mixed-race became known as the Mestizo, which is a dominant race seen today.

In addition to Spanish genealogy, there can also be African heritage connected to those in Chiapas and Tabasco. This is because of the number of African slaves that were forcibly relocated to the area during the colonial time period. Like the Spanish immigrants, Africans also created a mixed-race with the indigenous people. This mixed-race is called Afro-Mexican, which can also be seen today.

Afro-Mexicans have dark eyes, dark hair, and dark skin, just like the Mestizos. Those who may assume their ancestry will be traced back to Spain may be surprised to realize their heritage actually descends from Africa.

Finally, Chiapas and Tabasco genealogy may have traces of French heritage, but this is the rarest immigrant connection that may show up in the genealogy. This is because of how few French immigrants remained in Mexico once arriving. While it’s not impossible to have French genealogy in Chiapas and Tabasco Mexicans, it is the least likely.

Caleb Pike
About the author

Caleb Pike is an avid hiker and nature lover, with a passion for exploring the great outdoors. He's a writer, photographer, and adventurer, always seeking new trails to blaze and peaks to conquer.