San Cristobal de Las Casas is a chilled mountain town in the Chiapas state of Mexico, This enchanting and quirky town is bursting with rich culture, prehispanic traditions and incredible valley views making it easy to understand why many travellers stay or keep returning to experience the great vibe in San Cristobal.
Discover the cool things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas including some of the top places to eat and stay in the town. Enjoy your visit to yet another one of Mexico’s incredible Pueblos Magicos.
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Cool Things To Do in San Cristobal de las Casas
Take a free walking tour of San Cristobal de las Casas
Make your first port of call a free walking tour to get acquainted with the city, and what better way to discover San Cristobal de las Casas than through the eyes of a local.
Starting at the Carmen of San Cristóbal in Las Casas, which formerly served as a gateway to the Ciudad Real, the tour took around the main landmarks of the historic downtown. It is jam-packed with background knowledge of the region, the history of the city and tips on where to eat and how to spot the difference between real and fake amber.
Remember free walking tours are not technically free. The guides earn from the tips based on satisfaction so don’t forget to cross their palm with pesos.
People-watching on Real de Guadelupe
There is a real melting pot of folk hanging out in San Cristobal and if you have time to kill. You can easily while away an afternoon hanging out on this calle, sitting with a cerveza or coffee, and watching the world go by.
Not only that, you have fantastic boutique stores that sell clothing, jewellery and souvenirs. Not all are made by local indigenous artisans. so check what you are buying. There’s Kinoki Independent cinema if you fancy kicking back and watching a Spanish film.
Real de Guadelupe is a great navigation marker to find your way around as you can find Plaza de la Paz and Iglesia de Guadelupe.
Climb up to Guadalupe Church
Keep wandering up Real de Guadelupe to start your climb of 97 steps to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the crown of this city overlooking the Guadalupe Neighbourhood.
The temple of Our Lady of Guadalupe began its construction in 1835, on a small hill that surrounded the former Cuidad Real (today San Cristobal de Las Casas). The yellow and white temple stands out on Guadalupe Hill, and the interior adorns coordinating colours with a simple altar with a neon framed painting of Our Lady.
If you can time your visit on the 12th of December, you will catch the fiesta Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe in honour of the patron Our Lady of Guadalupe. The devout Catholics that cannot reach Mexico City will make the pilgrimage to Iglesia de Guadeloupe and it is a celebration to remember with chanting, drinking and fireworks.
Explore Plaza 31 de Mayo & Plaza de La Paz
There are two main squares in San Cristóbal de las Casas located in the Zona Centro – Plaza 31 de Mayo and Plaza de la Paz.
Plaza 31 de Mayo (Zocolo) has a centrepiece of a two-storey kiosk, that is buzzing with marimba music at fiesta time. Look out for Iglesia de San Nicolás, City Hall (Palacio Municipal of San Cristobal de las Casas), Casa Mazariegos and Los Portales’ which houses shops and cafes amongst the many arches.
Plaza de la Paz (Peace Square) is clearly recognisable by the bright yellow Catedral de San Cristóbal de las Casas which dates back to 1528. The wooden cross, Cruz Atrial, sits in front of the cathedral in the wide-open square which is a hive of activity with street vendors selling souvenirs and snacks (including grasshoppers), flying pigeons and buskers.
Step up to Iglesia de San Cristóbalito
Catholics built on hills to be nearer to their God so it’s no surprise to find another church in San Cristobal to trek up to. Iglesia de San Cristóbalito, often referred to as El Cerrito, was built in the 18th-century. The stairway of 240 steps begins between the neighbourhoods of La Merced and San Antonio. If you don’t fancy making the trek, you can get a taxi up. there to admire the views.
Visit on the 25 July and you will catch the Fiesta de San Cristóbal, the festival of the patron saint of the city and of travellers. Traditionally, drivers form a procession of their decorated vehicles to be blessed along with the lights, fireworks, music and food.
Visit Casa Na Bolom
Casa Na Bolom is a museum not to be missed on a visit to San Cristobal de las Casas. Frans Blom was a prolific explorer in the Lacandan Jungle, Guatemala and the Yucatan peninsula to collect data, and continued to publish detailed maps related to the archaeology and topography of Chiapas.
Frans met his wife Gertrude Loertscher in Ocosingo as she had been invited by the governor to investigate the Lacandan tribe of whom little was known. Together they founded Na Bolom as a Research Centre for the Maya area.
Casa Na Bolom is the first neoclassical building in the city and houses many artefacts, maps and photographs documenting the lives of the Lacandans as well as seeing how the couple lived. The museum was fascinating and one of the best things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas, and for a fully immersive experience you can stay in Hotel Na Bolom.
Sample the coffee of Chiapas
Chiapas is by far the biggest producer of coffee in Mexico. It would be wrong to miss savouring the unique blends of coffee when you visit San Cristobal.
Start with Musee de Cafe is a tranquil cultural space to get a little history and how coffee arrived in Chiapas before ordering a cup of the finest. The exhibition is written in Spanish.
The city is awash with wonderful coffee shops but if you only have a few days and a caffeine limit, you should try La Tostador, Carajillo Cafe and Cafeolgia, all found on Real de Guadalupe.
San Cristobal de las Casas has a thriving digital nomad community, you could easily choose a new café every day for weeks sampling coffee whilst tapping away on your laptop.
Go crazy on the cacao
Cacao seeds were used as units of currency back in the Mayan times and still remain an important part of the culture and traditions in Chiapas, it’s much more than just a commodity.
There are many places to get your cacao fix in San Cristobal de las Casas so check out the companies that support responsible work with farming communities and responsible production.
Cacao Nativa is a chain, so you are never too far from a Cacao Nativafor a top-notch hot chocolate. You can drink it hot, cold, or foamy frappé with a mouth-watering selection of artisan cakes and cookies on the side.
Jangala Cacao & Selva Shop is a chilled-out vibe to relax and savour the flavour of your chocolate refreshments. They also run chocolate professional courses, fun tasting experiences and trips to meet cocoa producers and their plantations.
Why not immerse yourself in all-things cacao and join a workshop to discover the art of Mayan chocolate? You will discover its’ ancient origins, and learn the process of how to make your own by selecting, roasting, and grinding the cocoa.
Explore the Art Scene in San Cristobal
Street art depicts the struggles of indigenous communities in Chiapas and the 12-day rebellion by the EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army) that started on 1st January 1994 in San Cristobal de las Casas. The Zapatista uprising has allowed over 1,100 communities in Chiapas such as San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan to organise federally into 32 autonomous municipalities where power lies at the base.
Emiliano Zapata was a key figure in the revolution of 1910, and his inclusion in the murals of San Cristobal shows the current-day Zapatistas still draw inspiration from this Mexican revolutionary.
Where there’s street art, there’s a creative community. San Cristobal is listed as a UNESCO Creative City and has a wonderful selection of art galleries for both emerging and established artists. Some galleries focus on contemporary art (LeK Museum & Gallery), and some on local indigenous or Mexican artists (Arteria Chiapas, Galería MUY, Colectivo Mudra). Whatever your taste, you will find an art gallery to capture your imagination.
Buy handicrafts at Mercado de Artesenias
Located by the Santa Domingo Church, just north of the town centre, there is a warren of stalls selling textiles and handicrafts. The best area was in front of the church and the Textiles Museum, as we recognised the style of embroidery from the villages of Zinacantan.
Don’t forget to look up at the glory of the Santa Domingo Church amidst the sea of artisan stalls. Built in the late 16th Century, it was named after the Spanish monk who founded the Dominican order. The baroque-style building was fully restored in 1999 but suffered further damage from the earthquake in 2017 so we were not able to see the beauty of this church inside.
Cool Tours from San Cristobal de las Casas
Take a tour to Zinacanten and San Juan Chamula
Visit the indigenous towns of Zinacanten and San Juan Chamula where the Tzotzil is a unique syncretic culture combining Catholic with Maya belief systems. The tour is a fascinating insight into this sacred world, be prepared for an overwhelming experience.
The mysterious happenings behind these church doors include healing rituals with purging burps from coca-cola and chicken sacrifices. No photos are allowed inside this church as it is believed that photographs steal the soul. The town has their own laws, Mexican police couldn’t help if you broke the rules!
READ ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE AT SAN JUAN CHAMULA
Take a boat ride in Canon del Sumidero
The 2-hour trip down Sumidero Canyon with huge cliffs that rise more than 1000 metres is a must-do when you visit Chiapas. Spot the river crocodiles, listen to the monkeys and marvelled at the endemic birdlife as you ride down the Grijalva River.
When choosing your tour of Sumidero Canyon, make sure it includes the panoramic miradors and a visit to the magical town of Chiapas de Corzo.
Watch the January Feast of Chiapa de Corzo
Time your trip to Chiapas well to see the wonderfully vibrant and traditional January Feast in the town of Chiapa de Corzo. La Fiesta Grande or la Fiesta de Enero de Chiapa happens from 4 to 23 January every year and has earned a place on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List alongside the Day of the Dead.
The town comes to life as the parachicos congregate in honour of three Catholic saints: Saint Anthony Abbot, Our Lord of Esquipulas and, most importantly, Saint Sebastian. You can’t miss the colourful parachicos as they wear painted wooden masks with European features. This celebration of music, dance, handicrafts, religious ceremonies and feasting (and drinking) is a big event onthe calendar.
Tour to Palenque Ruins
Palenque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an astounding ancient Maya city and well worth a visit. Historians believe Palenque dates to the Early Classic of AD 200-600 and has approximately 1,400 documented buildings belonging to the archaeological site. It is thought there less than 10% have been discovered making the buried temples a mystery.
Ideally, it is best to travel to Palenque to explore without being on a time schedule. It is possible to take a full-day tour to Palenque from San Cristóbal de las Casas which also takes in Agua Azul and Misol Ha, the highest waterfall in Mexico.
Tips for visiting San Cristobal
ATMs in San Cristobal
There tend to be long queues from some local banks as people claim their government contributions so it’s worth planning ahead if you need cash in a hurry. Also, I got stung by higher fees to withdraw MXN Pesos with some of the local banks so choose your ‘cajero’ wisely.
Where to stay in San Cristobal de las Casas
BUDGET: Posada del Abuelito is an award-winning hostel near Na Bolom MuseumandSanta DomingoChurch. It has a garden, a terrace and a shared kitchen. furnished in rustic Mexican style. >> READ THE REVIEWS
MID-RANGE: Hotel Posada Primavera has super cosy rooms with big blankets to snuggle with when the temperature drops at night. The rustic-style décor and pretty courtyard garden are the perfect settings when the sun is out. >> READ THE REVIEWS
LUXURY: Casa Lum is a stylish 4-star boutique hotel if you have a few extra pesos in your pocket. The hotel is EarthCheck Certified with 8 eco-chic rooms, a restaurant, a garden and a terrace with a panoramic view. >> READ THE REVIEWS
Where to eat in San Cristobal
There’s no shortage of wonderful restaurants in San Cristóbal de las Casas but with the colonial-style architecture, you need to keep nosing into the open doors or get some recommendations. Here are some of my favourite eateries in the city:
- Trattoria Italiano – Mediterranean cuisine
- El Cau – Wine bar and tapas
- Belil – Organic and healthy
- Sarejevo Cafe Jardin – Breakfast, brunch and amazing ‘menu of the day’ deal
- La Lupe – Mexican. and local cuisine (they kindly brought me a birthday cake and a song too)
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