San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico

  • Visited November 2018

San Cristóbal de las Casas, a highland town in the Chiapas region of Mexico, is the perfect place for travellers looking to learn about Mexico’s indigenous population whilst exploring the natural beauty of the area and enjoying art/culture/good food. Many travellers who come here find themselves captivated by the charms of the town and stay longer than they intend to, myself included. Aside from the usual sites that can be found in most Mexican towns and cities, such as plazas, churches and museums, San Cristóbal invites visitors to become involved in the local community and here you are free, and encouraged, to develop your cultural side – whether that be by taking an arts and crafts-based course (learning Macramé is popular), joining a music/dance class or visiting an arts collective. It’s a town where hipster meets local tradition which makes San Cristóbal a very progressive and engaging place to be.

A free walking tour is offered daily, at 10 am and 5pm, in English and Spanish (meets in Plaza de la Paz). This is an excellent introduction to the town and it was also lots of fun – we were taken to a restaurant for local soup, a coffee shop to taste local coffee and a bar to try pox – pronounced posh – the local alcoholic spirit. I’m not a fan of the traditional pox but the flavoured versions are delicious! There is a very good Posheria on Calle Real de Guadelupe if you want to try all the different flavours.    

There are several beautiful churches in town but unfortunately most of them are closed to the public due to earthquake damage (from the earthquake in September 2017), including the iconic yellow-facaded San Cristóbal Cathedral, which is a shame. However, if you walk all the way along Calle Real de Guadelupe, you will find a set of stairs leading up to the lovely Iglesia de Guadelupe. The Interior is pretty and you can take great photos of the view overlooking the town from the top.

Continuing the theme of churches, a must-do when in San Cristóbal is a visit to the nearby town of Chamula and a look inside the San Juan church – this is unlike any other church you will have seen before. In the town you will see locals dressed traditionally but don’t even think about taking photographs. Locals are wary of foreigners and don’t appreciate being photographed – you could even find your camera being confiscated if you do attempt to take photos! Taking photos in the church is completely forbidden. You have to pay a fee of 25 pesos to enter and inside you will find walls of mirrored saints, no seating, with locals sitting on the floor, surrounded by circles of hay, lighting candles on the floor, chanting, drinking fizzy drinks to allow them to burp out evil spirits and possibly the odd chicken or two. Chicken sacrifices do take place but not when I visited – though I did see a dead chicken being rubbed on the wriggling body an infant, a practice meant to cleanse the body and heal it of illness. Like I said, it is unlike any other church. You can get to Chamula by taking a collectivo van (costing 20 pesos).

There are loads of bars and restaurants here and you can party late into the night if you wish. My friends and I spent many a night in La Viña de Bacco, a cool wine bar where you can get a decent glass of wine from 20 pesos and you get free tapas for every drink bought. If you want live music, another favourite of ours was Café Bar Revolución – a great vibe in here every night of the week, a fun place to dance the night away. A good place to taste pox is La Espirituosa. Bangcook offers very tasty Thai food but it’s not cheap so a nice option for a treat meal. For coffee lovers, I can recommend Namandi and Amor Negro Cafe.

You can do many day trips/tours from San Cristóbal but the one I recommend is the day tour to Sumidero Canyon. I booked this with my hostel for 350 pesos and this included pick up from the hostel, a boat trip in the canyon, being taken to two viewpoints for spectacular views and a visit to the town of Chiapas de Corzo for lunch (not included).

Selection of pictures from my stay: