There’s a vibe in San Cristóbal de las Casas that makes you feel instantly relaxed and at home. Pedestrianised streets like Real de Guadalupe are lined with places to eat, drink and shop making them perfect for ambling and enjoying the relatively slow pace of this highland Mexican town.
Not surprisingly it’s the most popular destination in the Chiapas region attracting both local Mexican tourists and those from further afield, some of whom seem to have found it hard to leave, particularly those attracted by the chilled out (bordering on hippy) lifestyle the city offers.
If you stay near to the town centre getting around is easy on foot though cycling and horse riding are options too. Getting out to visit the nearby indigenous Indian villages is a must for a fascinating insight into a very different way of life as you can read in a separate post about my trip to two of the villages.
See and do
A good place to start seeing the sights of San Cristóbal is the large Plaza 31 de Marzo at the centre of town. There’s an iron bandstand in the middle and if you’re lucky a few locals will be dancing to a band playing a Mexican tune which you can watch while you have your shoes shined…it seems having shiny shoes is a must in Mexico as there are shoe shine stalls everywhere!
Two pedestrianised roads lead straight off the square while the third runs from the square around the corner which is home to the town’s cathedral. With its yellow façade and large cross in front it’s a familiar image used to promote San Cristóbal.
At the end of Real de Guadalupe you can climb the steep steps to the lookout Cerro de Guadalupe for great views of the town and if that hasn’t worn you out, its twin Cerro de San Cristóbal offers the same if you veer off Av Hildago just before Arco de El Carmen. As with many colonial cities the arc was once the gateway to enter it. Next door is a lovely former convent which is now a cultural centre set around a beautiful and peaceful courtyard garden overflowing with foliage. You’ll likely see a couple of people weaving in one corner while doors off the courtyard reveal all sorts of cultural activities underway.
Heading down the third pedestrianised street from the cathedral you’ll eventually come to the busy market that surrounds Templo de Santo Domingo. The church is rather buried by the multitude of colourful stalls all around it but you can still see its beautifully carved baroque façade.
The market is great and features a huge array of multi coloured bags, cushion covers, tablecloths, clothes etc. The purple and pink embroidered fabric worn by the people of nearby Indian village San Lorenzo Zinacantán is very much in evidence as are the cotton products made there. If you’re looking for presents to take home this is a good place to buy with lots of nice locally made items and plenty of cheap t-shirts which only cost about £3. There’s lots of food and drink on offer at the market too, including piles of fruit on the back of trucks that just pull up in Calz Lázaro Cárdenas and voilà they are a market stall!
Eat, drink, sleep
There are plenty of places to stay in San Cristóbal. My hotel was Parador Margarita, JF Flores 39, which was a good location being in a quiet street but a just short walk to Real de Guadalupe where I found the best eating, drinking and shopping options. It also has a lovely courtyard, which is perfect for a bit of R & R when the sun is shining. Incidentally I found the sun did shine in late March but being at quite high altitude it could be chilly a night. The rooms at the Parador were a nice size but a bit gloomy as featured both dark walls and furniture. The breakfast was good though and the staff very helpful.
Eating and drinking options in San Cristóbal are pretty plentiful. My favourite find for drinks was La Viña de Bacco on Real de Guadalupe, an excellent little wine bar which had the best selection of wine on the trip so far and offered up a free tapas with each drink ordered. It wasn’t just wine ether, the drinks menu included all the usual suspects too including Flor de Cana rum which I’ve only ever drunk in Nicaragua so I had to have one for old time’s sake!
For eating they have great pizzas at Pizzeria El Punto on Real de Guadalupe and a few doors away a delicious buffet lunch was on offer for 100 pesos (less than £6) at courtyard cafe, La Casa del Pan Papaloti. It’s vegetarian but I think even my most meat loving friends would struggle to not enjoy it! Another nice option on this street is La Lupe where I had the best guacamole of the trip.
All in all I’d definitely recommend San Cristóbal as a really good place to spend a chilled out couple of days when travelling through Mexico.
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