I don’t know where to begin so I’ll start by saying that I’m obsessed with Mexico and the obsession began with San Cristóbal de Las Casas.
Visiting San Cristóbal was never part of my original plan. In fact, I’d never even heard of it until I was in Nicaragua. It seemed, though, that after one mention everyone I spoke had been there and loved it. I mean, couldn’t-stop-talking-about-it-spent-more-time-than-originally-planned, loved it.
Apparently, I needed to visit.
I’d heard people call San Cristóbal magical, and after nearly two weeks in the small city/large town, I have to agree with the statement.
As I decided on my next move from Guatemala, a friend convinced me that I needed to go to Chiapas – Mexico’s most Southern state and home of San Cristóbal.
The moment I arrived, I knew I’d made the right decision.
Fun fact: the Mexican Tourism Board has a program called “Pueblo Magico,” where towns can apply to be considered “magical.” Supposedly, San Cristóbal is the most magical of them all. Or so they say.
Since learning about this magical magic program, I’m now determined to visit as many magic Mexican towns as possible. That said, San Cristóbal is a special place I suggest you visit.
Immediately Hooked on San Cristóbal
After moving pretty quickly through Guatemala for reasons I will disclose later, I planned to stay at least five days and maybe even a week in San Cristóbal. I needed a minute to be stationary. I needed a place to breath, unpack my backpack, do some yoga, write, read, and take a moment just to hang out.
It was cold and raining when I arrived in San Cristóbal that afternoon, but by the time I’d walked from the colectivo station to my hostel, I knew I was going to like it.
I was hooked, and my stay went from five to 12 days in what is now one of my favorite places in Mexico.
When people hear how long I spent in San Cristóbal, they often ask, “But what did you do the whole time?” Well, I didn’t do much. I just enjoyed the place. I stayed at a great hostel that felt like a family and home. I found a sweet little place to do yoga every day on the cheap.
I ate and drank my way through the place, too.
I explored the small streets and shops doing my best not to blow my budget regularly on pottery, colorful dresses, and art. I read and wrote a lot in bookstores and coffee shops, and even participated in a Temazcal ceremony. Of course, I visited the market almost every day, too.
You’re shocked. I know.
Easy Living in San Cristóbal
San Cristóbal is the type of place that the more you see, the more you fall in love. Nestled high up in a valley of mountains surrounded by trees, its bustling walking streets and charming Spanish colonial tiendas draw you in instantly. The living is easy in San Cristóbal, and I couldn’t bring myself to part from the place. But, I’m not the only one who feels this way.
There’s an expat community that’s developing and continuing to grow in San Cristóbal, and it’s easy to see why.
Life is cheap. People are friendly. It’s easily walkable. There’s a significant spiritual community that’s available but not in your face. Healthy, vegetarian and vegan food is accessible. And, well, it’s just really, really pretty.
After 12-days of soaking in as much magic as possible, it was time to move on but difficult to say goodbye. San Cristóbal left its mark and now holds a place in my heart.
All The Things You Need to Know
I couldn’t help but compile just a few things for you to do and see while visiting San Cristóbal. Keep in mind that this is just a jumping off point to get you started as you begin your adventure exploring.
La Isla Hostel
Ok, I’m going to gush here for a minute. I love this hostel. It’s an interesting setup in that it has six co-owners who each take pride and joy managing the place. Located just three blocks from the main square, La Isla is small, cozy, and a great place for meeting people in a relaxed atmosphere.
Unique art created by past guests cover the walls, and the fireplace is the perfect place to read your book or chat with other travelers on a rainy evening. It has a kitchen, a charming terrace, hot water showers, and a delicious breakfast. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and wants to know you and your story, as well as how you like your coffee in the morning.
A dorm bed is $140 MXP a night, and while there are a few things I’d do a little differently with the place, overall, it’s a great hostel with a homey, family feeling that makes you feel welcome when you walk in the door.
Puerta Vieja Hostel
This was the first place I stayed, and I enjoyed it here, too, although, it was a bit too much of a party scene for me.
Puerta Vieja is centrally located with a decent kitchen, a giant backyard with a pizza oven, and a bar that may or may not give out free drinks sometimes. It also has a delicious communal dinner for $50 MXP, which is a good way to meet people. Beds are comfortable and cozy with thick blankets and a curtain (which I love), and the hostel has some of the best hot showers I’ve had in a loooong time. Dorm beds are a $150 MXP a night with a great breakfast.
Downside: The place tends to be really, really loud at night. As comfortable as the beds were, I didn’t sleep well because people were constantly coming in and out of the room, and the floor boards were noisy.
Do These Things
Free Walking Tour
I love free walking tours. I’ve done them in Medellin, London, and Paris, and I think they’re a nice way to get to know an area quickly while meeting other travelers. I did this tour based on a recommendation from a friend, and I’m beyond happy that I did. Unlike most walking tours that give more of a historical overview of a place, this tour introduces you to the culture of San Cristóbal and Chiapas.
We visited various restaurants, two different food markets, the handicraft market, a bakery, a coffee shop, a cultural center with art and dance classes, and a place for pox tasting – the traditional liquor of Chiapas. As we walked, our guide pointed out restaurants, bars, and cultural centers for us to visit during our stay. I did the tour my first day and walked away more in love with San Cristóbal than I started.
Do Some Yoga
I’d been craving a yoga class by the time I arrived in San Cristóbal. It’d been nearly a month since I’d taken a class and I made it my mission to find a place to practice when I got there. Ananda Yoga was the answer to my prayers.
A bright studio with lots of natural light, classes offered include meditation, Hatha, and Vinyasa. A word of advice: Javier’s classes are tough and recommend for somebody with a more advanced practice, whereas classes with Gabi and Roberto move at a slower pace are more gentle.
Also, unless otherwise requested, classes are taught in Spanish. A drop-in class is $65 MXP. They also offer punch cards, which is a great option if you plan to stay longer.
Temazcal is a traditional Earth-based sweat lodge used by indigenous cultures throughout Mexico to purify the body. The idea is that you’re symbolically reborn and re-enter into the world from the lodge purified and clean. You’re encouraged to let go of things that no longer serve you while in the lodge, from emotional issues to self-limiting thoughts, to addictions. The ceremony takes about two hours and costs around $250 MXP depending on where you go.
If this is something you’d like to try, ask your hostel or hotel for recommendations. It was a powerful experience for me that helped release a lot of personal baggage.
Go to the Market
I know. You’re so surprised to see this here, but this market is so good!
It has all kinds of treasures from beautifully hand-woven shirts, blouses, skirts, and dresses, to colorful bags, backpacks, and purses, to handmade leather bags and backpacks, to colorfully beaded jewelry and hand-crafted pottery. And it’s cheap. This is also a great place to buy some of that cold weather clothing you didn’t bring with you now that you’ve realized it’s definitely not warm at night in San Cristóbal.
Take in the View
San Cristóbal has great viewpoints from two different churches that are easily accessible by foot: Guadalupe Church and Iglesia del Cerrito. You can easily walk from one to the other in the morning or on a sunny afternoon. It’s another nice way to take in the town while wandering in and out of shops along the street.
Eat Street Food
I’ll have a separate post on food and drinks in San Cristóbal, but I”ll say now that you have to indulge in some street food during your visit. In general, street food in Mexico is some of the best in Latin America. Get yourself some tacos, a quesadilla, corn with cheese on it, or a marquesita – a crunchy crepe thing with Nutella, peanut butter or whatever you choose to put inside.
Get Lost in a Bookstore
One of my favorite ways to spend a rainy afternoon in San Cristóbal was getting lost in the bookstores. My favorite is Abuelita’s Book. A friendly Colorado couple bought the place last year and now runs it with love. You can find used books in both English and Spanish ranging from feminism to travel writing to Spanish folk tales. The books are acquired through trades, and if you bring a book to trade, they’ll give you 30% off your purchase.
While you’re there, try the coffee or housemade kombucha.
Do These Day Trips
Canñón del Sumidero
Canyon Sumidero is about 30-minutes outside of San Cristóbal and is a doable half day trip if you’re tight on time. It’s a must-do, in my opinion. The canyon is a protected reserve with 200 to 700-meter high walls and is home to various kinds of wildlife and birds.
For my bird lovers out there, this is the place for you!
I’m sure there are various ways to explore the canyon, but I ended up booking a tour through my hostel for $300 MXP. The price is a little steep to me but I booked last minute, and that’s what you get sometimes for being spontaneous. If budget is an issue, shop around at tour agencies in town because I think you can find a better price.
I’ve also heard you can hike the canyon, which I totally would have done had I known it was an option, but I haven’t confirmed that so ask before you go.
Tours start at 9 AM (Mexican time) and you’ll go on a two-hour boat tour to see the vegetation, wildlife, and birds. If you’re lucky, you might even see a crocodile (or four).
After the canyon, you’ll go to another little village about 15-minutes away for an hour of wandering. There’s very little to see here (I can’t even remember the name of it), but it’s a good place to get cheap tacos or snacks. By the time you return to San Cristóbal, it’s around 2:30 or 3:00 PM and you have the rest of the day to do what you want.
Bring water, sunscreen and a hat. There’s zero shade here, and you will burn if you’re not careful.
San Juan Chamula
Consider a trip to San Juan Chamula if you want to get out of San Cristóbal for a few hours one day.
The town is known for its church, which sacrifices chickens as part of a religious tradition. For $25 MXP you can go into the church, which I did not. Otherwise, you can explore the town, get some tacos for three (yes, three) pesos, shop for souvenirs, and take in the scenery. While the town itself is nothing to write home about, the area around it is gorgeous with green rolling mountains covered by high pine trees.
There are two ways to get to Chamula, as the locals call it. The first is to take a 20-minute colectivo for $15 MXP, or for $200-$250 MXP you can rent bikes for the day and ride two hours to the village. I didn’t do this because it’s a well-known fact that biking is not my thing, but I know people who did and they loved it.
Remember to Soak in the Magic
However you spend your time in San Cristóbal, the most important part is to take the time to enjoy where you are. It’s a special place with so much to offer and the more you see of it, the harder it is to tear yourself away.
Have you visited San Cristobal de Las Casas? What did you think? Did you love it as much as I did? Leave a comment and tell me all about it!
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