Perched 2,200 metres high in the Central Highlands of Chiapas, San Cristobal de las Casas is a chilled city popular on the route through southern Mexico to Palenque. It’s cobbled streets and colonial buildings offer a relaxing refuge from the mountainous roads through the region and the historical centre is filled with cafes, shops and restaurants which offer a multitude of cuisines.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at an Airbnb home, within the historic centre. The owners provide four choices of private accommodation, 3 cottage like homes and an ground floor apartment all set in a beautiful garden. The location was perfect, with shops and the main touristic centre nearby. To get £25/$35 off your Airbnb booking, click here.
The centre of San Cristobal is nestled in a valley, surrounded by the mountains and if you are coming from elsewhere in Mexico, you will notice that the evenings are quite a bit cooler. For farther places away from the city, we recommend your accommodation has a fireplace or some sort of heating as the temperatures can drop significantly, especially in winter.
As we had booked a longer stay in San Cristobal, we did a lot of cooking for ourselves as the fruit and vegetables are very fresh and very cheap. You can buy fruit and vegetables along with basic cooked meats such as ham and chorizo in the supermarkets, but for chicken you will need to head to a ‘polleria’ and meat can be bought from a butchers or from the large supermarket on the outskirts of town. There are also a few markets and grocer’s where you can get your fresh produce, which is what we tended to do as it was a little cheaper and it was nice to have some interaction with the owners.
ACTIVITIES & SIGHTS
The main sights in the city itself are the various colonial style churches which are scattered around and several, such as Iglesia de Guadalupe offer beautiful views over the city. There are also several interesting museums such as the Chocolate Museum, Jade Museum and Na Bolom. There is also a fantastic botanical garden; Orquideas Moxviquil where you can find many rescued orchids from the surrounding forests and chill in it’s beautiful gardens overlooking San Cristobal.
If you are itching to travel a little further, there are plenty of tour companies on the main street and a few others dotted around. Palenque, with a large Mayan archaeological site and surrounding natural wonders – is a very popular tour from here and can be offered as a day trip. It would be better to base yourself in Palenque (after San Cristobal) due to its long distance and multitude of things to do there. Other ideas include la Sima de las Cotorras, a huge sinkhole home to thousands of green parakeets, Sumidero Canyon and in the neighbouring state of Tabasco, La Venta, a pre-Columbian settlement of the Olmecs.
DIA DE MUERTOS
The “Day of the Dead” is widely celebrated across Mexico and Latin America and falls on the 1st and 2nd of November. We were here during these holidays, and it gave us an opportunity to learn how the locals prepare and celebrate.
During the festivities, San Cristobal was blanketed with marigold and chrysanthemum flowers. Shops and restaurants decorate with Dia de Muertos and Halloween style decorations. Elaborate floral alters are built in honour of passed loved ones, ranging in different sizes usually with food and drink offerings. Families go to the cemeteries and attend the graves of their relatives the day before the main event; cleaning, repainting, spreading pine needles and adding fresh flowers. The 1st of November is dedicated to the kids, and the 2nd is the for the grown ups. These are traditions that pre dates Colombian times, although the events coincide with Halloween – children can be seen on the streets trick or treating. Don’t mistake this for a morose holiday tinged with sadness, on the contrary, it is bright, loud and filled with loving memories and families reuniting.
The main street of the city has been pedestrianised and is called Real de Guadalupe. It is lined with cafes, restaurants and bars and most places are reasonably priced with a meal costing around MXN200 if you aren’t drinking alcohol. If you head to the end of the pedestrianised zone, you will come to Plaza Central and here you will notice that the prices are higher.
We particularly liked Pachamama on Real de Guadalupe as it’s small and cozy with a good selection of both Mexican and European dishes. If you are feeling the need for some vegetarian or vegan food, check out Te Quiero Verde on Francisco Leon, which offers tasty veggie burgers, curry and Mexican staples and many of these can be made vegan too.
The coffee shops around the city are lovely places to relax and offer WiFi, perfect for passing the time while watching the world go by, or, if you’d rather take a sheltered break from the city, there are several which have pretty courtyards, such as Frontera, Yik and one of our favourites Sweetbeat, where you can also enjoy delicious homemade breads and cakes (try the brownie!).
The easiest way to reach San Cristobal is to fly, however there is no airport by the city itself. The closest airport is at Tuxtla Gutierrez (49 miles away); Aeropuerto Internacional Ángel Albino Corzo aka Tuxtla Gutierrez Int Airport (TGZ). We took advantage of a new route offered by Aeromar to fly directly from Oaxaca to Tuxtla, which took around an hour, saving a good 10 hours had we travelled by bus. The flights can be booked on their website which you can use in English, but if there are any problems, the customer service line is Spanish only (not the easiest conversation we had!).
At Tuxtla Airport there are two bus companies offering transfers to San Cristobal; Mayaland and ADO for MXN200 – 220. The departures are synced with the arrival of the flights and takes roughly one hour to reach San Cristobal historic centre.
San Cristobal is definitely a city to put on your itinerary; after four weeks here, we feel relaxed and ready to head over to the coast before continuing our travels through Central America. It might be an easy place to get to and get around, but it doesn’t feel so easy leaving.
Gallery preview below, to see more of our photos on San Cristobal click here