There are few if any cities in Mexico more charming than San Cristóbal de las Casas.
San Cristóbal de las Casas, or simply San Cristóbal, is well known for being a melting pot of Colonial Spanish tradition and indigenous influence.
Founded in 1528 by Diego de Mazariegos, San Cristóbal served as the Capital for Chiapas until the mid-19th century.
Though in “southern Mexico,” San Cristóbal feels like a different world when compared to the Yucatán Peninsula.
For starters, there is the weather. Being over 7,200 feet above sea level, San Cristóbal can actually get quite cold — especially in the mornings and evenings.
Though snowfall in the city is rare, it has actually happened on a couple of occasions, most recently in the winter of 2021.
Unlike Yucatán, Chiapas and the region surrounding San Cristóbal is extremely mountainous. As a result, the city and its countryside are hilly and photogenic.
Another difference between San Cristóbal and cities like Mérida or Valladolid is the architecture.
Architecture in San Cristóbal more closely resembles that of Central American cities like Antigua in Guatemala or Granada in Nicaragua than anything in the Yucatán Peninsula.
This makes sense when we consider that the Soconusco region of Chiapas once actually belonged to Guatemala and for a brief time even declared independence as its own nation.
The entirety of what today is Chiapas joined Mexico in 1824, but Chiapanecos like to joke that they actually annexed Mexico and not the other way around.
Though San Cristóbal is home to a large number of indigenous Maya, it is important to note that these are not the same Maya you will find in the Yucatán Peninsula.
Some of the Maya groups of Chiapas include the Tzotzliles, Choles, Zoques, and perhaps most famously, the Lacandon.
In Chiapas, every major community has its very own traditional dress, often made of wool to help keep warm during cold nights.
The downtown area of San Cristóbal de las Casas is quite large and features colorful city markets where locals and visitors are able to buy just about anything.
Another commonly noted aspect of San Cristóbal is its wealth of wonderful hotels and restaurants.
Cafes are abundant in San Cristóbal de las Casas, as this region of Chiapas produces some of the best coffee in all of Mexico.
Though traditional Chiapaneco food, mostly tamales, can easily be easily found in San Cristóbal, there is certainly no shortage of great international cuisine — including French, Italian, American, and Japanese
San Cristóbal is also home to several great museums, including Museo NA Bolom housed in a brightly colored neoclassical Casona which originally was a seminary when built-in in 1891.
Of the many communities surrounding San Cristóbal, one of the most famous is San Juan Chamula. The town is well known for its “insurrectionist past,” as one of the hubs of the EZLN guerilla who picked up arms against the Mexican state in 1994.
San Juan Chamula is also famous for its church, a rather extreme example of religious syncretism in the modern age.
Walking into the Church in San Juan Chamula is an exhilarating experience, as it is unlikely to resemble anything you have ever seen before. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gract
Taking photos inside San Juan Chamula’s church is strictly forbidden, so don’t even try it unless you want to spend the night in a holding cell.
Within the church, it is possible to see the effigies of local saints presented with offerings including bottles of beer or cola, as well as animal sacrifices, most often chickens.
If you go
Getting to San Cristóbal by land is not hard, but can be a bit of a long haul if you are departing from the Yucatán Peninsula or Mexico City.
As the roads are extremely mountainous, and the weather very unpredictable, we strongly suggest you take a bus if you decide to travel by land.
Though there are few direct flights to San Cristóbal, the airport in Chiapas’ capital of Tuxtla Gutierez is a great option.
If you are traveling by land from Yucatán, it’s perhaps a good idea to spend a night in Palenque, as the bus ride from Mérida to San Cristóbal is over 12 hours.
Another great stop up the mountains to San Cristóbal is the archaeological site of Toniná, a staggering ancient city with one of the largest pyramids in the world.