What to do in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico?

by Deborah Durrfeld

San Cristóbal de las Casas in Mexico is a typical colonial town with colored houses, beautiful facades and atmospheric streets. The city is located at 2100 meters, in the Chiapas state, a mountainous environment with jungle and rainforest. San Cristóbal is also the perfect base to explore the beautiful surroundings. Find out what to do in San Cristobal de las Casas Mexico, including a list with my favorite cafes and things to do in San Cristobal surroundings, such as a visit to the indigenous villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan and one of the deepest gorges in the world.

Welcome in San Cristóbal de las Casas

San Cristóbal is the former capital of the Chiapas state. Chiapas is inhabited by different indigenous groups, descended from the Maya, who still live according to their own traditions. It is therefore the state with the highest amount of indigenous people. And this is something beautiful, you will be able to observe in the city. People are dressed in colorful and traditional costumes. From the patterns, style and colors of their clothing, you can see to which group they belong. The town is being visited more and more and nice cafes, good restaurants and shops keep on opening. Discover some of the best things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas in this article.

What to do in San Cristobal de las Casas Mexico

1. Explore the colonial center

The Zócalo is the central place. Here you will find the yellow cathedral that is depicted in almost all travel guides. Make sure to take a look at the Santo Domingo church and the monastery. In the square in front of the church you will find hundreds of market stalls, a good place if you want to buy Mexican souvenirs. Real de Guadaloupe and the Andador Turistica are two important main streets with many shops, coffee shops, restaurants and Mexican delights.

2. What to do in San Cristobal evenings

Due to the height it can cool down in the evening. Therefore it is wise to be prepared with some extra clothing. In the evening, indigenous people from the area come together on the Plaza to sell their products: Typical huipiles (embroidered blouses), scarves, cloths and souvenirs. The square turns into a true night market. Many times, local people gather for some dancing under the columns of the town hall. Seats are placed, a sound system is switched on and people know how to find each other on the dance floor. I love this vibe and energy!

3. Viewpoints in San Cristobal

San Cristóbal has two viewpoints you can visit: Cerro de Guadalupe and Cerro San Cristóbal. A long staircase leads you up in both cases, where you can visit a church and have a view of San Cristóbal! Nice places to settle down!

things to do in San Cristobal - viewpoint

4. Learn about the Zapatistas

Photographs and souvenirs of armed men with black cloths in front of their faces including slogans such as “Ya Basta” are things that you see a lot on walls and in shops. Something that does not necessarily make you happy. Yet it is important to pause for a moment. The state of Chiapas and San Cristóbal in particular has a grim history. In the 90s it escalated enormously in the area and streets were dominated by armed soldiers, paramilitaries and police.

Who were the Zapatistas?

In the 90s, a guerrilla movement called the Zapatistas, occupied various buildings and squares to draw attention to the rights of the Indians. The indigenous population (Indians) in the region was exploited, humiliated and had little to no rights. According to the Zapatistas, this had to change. The occupation by the Zapatistas hit hard and caused many confrontations and a grim atmosphere in the cities and the countryside for years. The unrest in the region can still blow up. Various shops and art galleries started to exhibit and sell art, inspired by the Zapatistas movement. Personally I am very interested in these social and political issues and I think art is a great way to learn and understand more about this.

5. Visit Casa Na Bolom | What to do in San Cristobal

If you want to learnm more about the history of the state of Chiapas and the various indigenous peoples that inhabit(ed) the area, you should definitely visit Casa Na Bolom. An interesting museum and research center founded by an anthropologist and photographer. They spent years researching different cultures, including the Maya, the archaeological sites in the area and created an interesting photo exhibition. The museum is slightly outside the center but is easily accessible by bus or taxi. It is for sure one of the things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas if you are interested in the history and culture of the province.

What to do around San Cristobal de Las Casas Mexico

1. Visit the deepest gorge in the world: El Canyon del Sumidero.

A few hours away from San Cristóbal, near the village of Chiapa de Corzo, you will find one of the deepest gorges in the world: El Canyon del Sumidero. This gigantic gorge stretches up to 1000 meter. The best way to visit is by boat. It is wonderfully quiet and there is a good chance that you will see crocodiles and iguanas along the way. Of course you can go on a group tour, but better is to go by private boat. You can sail to “Arbol de Navidad” (the Christmas tree), because of the mossy green shape on the rock, or continue to the dam. Boarding point Cahuare is not that busy as the other docks. Try to avoid the weekends anyway, as it will be very crowded with Mexicans.

Canyon del sumidero

2. Visit the Tzotzil villages of Zinacantán and San Juan Chamula

One of the most interesting things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas is to visit the surrounding indigenous villages, such as Zinacantán and San Juan Chamula, inhabited by the Tzotzil.

San Juan Chamula

The village of San Juan Chamula is located about 5 km away from San Cristobal, known for its weekly colorful market. But the real reason to visit this village is because of Iglesia de San Juan. A church in the middle of the square, which shows the unique mix of the Catholic and indigenous religions. Countless people find their way to the church only a daily base, to make sacrifices, perform rituals and to worship their saints. It is dark in the church, the niches contain saints, surrounded by mirrors and the floor is covered with pine needles. Families take their seat on the ground, burn their candles, drink pure alcohol, shout at their saints while turning the necks around their chickens. A visit to this church is an impressive and intense experience but not for everyone. It is absolutely not done to take photos inside.

Zinacantán

Zinacantán is famous for its flowers and weekly flower market. You can also visit the flower church on the square and visit a local family. Of course this visit is a bit commercial but if you meet a nice family it can be an interesting visit and create beautiful memories. It is best not to go on an organized tour but to visit the village by yourself. Walk around, explore the town and walk in with the people who are inviting you at that moment.

Discover my favorite restaurants & cafes

San Cristóbal in Mexico has many nice places for a bite, dinner and a drink. Here are a few of my favorite places.

  • La Casa del Pan is a nice place where you can eat delicious vegetarian food. On the street side are a few small tables where you have a nice view of the main street and people passing by. Inside is a covered patio where you can easily open your laptop and do some work.
  • Cafeología won several awards and is still one of the best places for coffee. But also a nice cup of tea is on the menu. It is a small cafe where you can sit down or order a “to-go”.
  • Oh la la, is one of the very best French patisseries in San Cristóbal. The shop windows are full with the most delicious fresh rolls, croissants, pies, macarons and other sweets. It is usually very busy so be patient if you want to get a table.

Did you like reading this article with what to do in San Cristobal de las Casas Mexico? Interested in reading more about Mexico? Check out the article about what to do in Oaxaca, discover the house of Frida Kahlo in Mexico city: Casa azul, the archaeological site of Yaxchilan and Monte Alban. Interested in learning more about archaeology and places to visit? This is an overview with the best and most beautiful ruins to visit in Mexico.


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