Identification. Zinacantan is one of twenty-one Tzotzil-speaking municipios in the state of Chiapas in southeastern Mexico. The name "Zinacantan" derives from the pre-Columbian epoch when Aztec traders named the region and its people "Tzinacantlan," meaning "place of bats" in Nahuatl. Zinacantecos refer to themselves as "Sotz'leb," meaning "people of the bat" in Tzotzil.
Location. The municipio of Zinacantan, an area of 117 square kilometers, is located along the north and south sides of the Pan-American Highway approximately 10 kilometers west of the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas in the central highlands of Chiapas. These rugged limestone and volcanic mountains rise to over 2,900 meters. The ceremonial and political center of Zinacantan is located at 16°45′ N and 92°42′ W. Chiapas has marked wet and dry seasons. During the winter dry season, the days are sunny and warm and the nights cold, with occasional frost. During the summer, the heavy rains provide a mean annual rainfall of 129 centimeters, the sky is frequently overcast, and it is generally cool. Magnificent stands of pine and oak cover the higher elevations. At lower elevations, oaks replace the pines, and the oaks in turn give way to tropical broadleaf forest and savanna in the hot lowlands of the Río Grijalva.
Demography. In 1994 Zinacantan had an estimated population of 22,000, a dramatic increase over the 7,650 Zinacantecos reported in the national census of 1960.
Linguistic Affiliation. Tzotzil is one of the twenty-nine Mayan languages spoken by over 5 million Indians—the descendants of the ancient Maya—who live in Chiapas, the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Tzotzil is most closely related to the Tzeltal that is spoken in municipios to the east of the Tzotzil area in the Chiapas highlands. Linguists classify the two together as the Tzeltalan languages.