San Cristobal de las Casas, or just San Cris to locals, located in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico, is a captivating destination that offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. This charming pueblo magico (magical town) has become increasingly popular among travelers seeking an authentic and enriching experience.
In this article, we will explore ten compelling reasons to visit San Cristobal de las Casas and why it should be on every traveler’s bucket list. And by the end, you should understand why this place was the first town written on our must-visit list when we were planning our epic Mexico road trip.
Where is San Cristobal de las Casas?
1. What makes San Cristobal de las Casas a Pueblo Mágico?
San Cristobal de las Casas is often hailed as one of, if not the most, beautiful towns in Mexico, and it’s not difficult to see why. This charming colonial town nestled in the highlands of Chiapas exudes an undeniable allure that enchants visitors from the moment they set foot on its cobblestone streets.
San Cristobal de las Casas is not just any ordinary town—it has earned the prestigious title of “Pueblo Magico,” which translates to “Magical Town.” And indeed, it lives up to its name in every sense and captivates visitors with its unique blend of rich cultural heritage, picturesque landscapes, and vibrant atmosphere.
One of the main reasons why San Cristobal de las Casas holds the title of Pueblo Magico is its deep-rooted cultural heritage. Walking through its cobblestone streets feels like stepping back in time. The town’s colonial architecture, adorned with colourful facades and ornate details, creates a whimsical ambience that transports you to another era.
The indigenous communities that call this place home add a layer of authenticity and diversity to the cultural tapestry of the town. Their traditions, ceremonies, and crafts are a living testament to the region’s fascinating history.
Beyond its cultural allure, San Cristobal de las Casas boasts breathtaking natural landscapes that further enhance its magical charm. Surrounded by lush valleys and majestic mountains, the town is a gateway to explore the wonders of nature.
The vibrancy of San Cristobal de las Casas extends to its lively markets and handicrafts. The bustling Mercado de Santo Domingo is a treasure trove of traditional textiles, intricate woodcarvings, and vibrant handicrafts created by local artisans.
Exploring these markets is an immersive experience where you can engage with the local culture, indulge in delicious street food, and find unique souvenirs to take back home. The fusion of colours, aromas, and sounds in these markets creates an atmosphere that is truly magical.
In essence, San Cristobal de las Casas embodies the essence of a Pueblo Magico—a place that captivates the hearts and imaginations of all who visit. Its rich cultural heritage, stunning natural landscapes, vibrant markets, and warm hospitality create an enchanting experience that leaves a lasting impression.
Whether you wander through its historic streets, immerse yourself in its indigenous traditions, or marvel at its natural wonders, San Cristobal de las Casas promises an unforgettable journey into the magic of Mexico.
2. San Cristobal de las Casas is Mexico in one small package
We have been to Mexico six or seven times now which may not seem a lot to some people, but when you consider it takes at least 30 hours to get there from our home in Australia, you might get a better understanding of how much we love this country.
When people ask us why we have been to Mexico so often, especially when there are other incredible places in the world that are far more convenient to visit, we have a long list of reasons to visit Mexico. While the food is an obvious reason, being plentiful, cheap, and delicious, we also love the community focus of the people and how willing they are to make you feel welcome.
But there are also the colourful and historic buildings of the towns, the festive decorations that hang above many streets, and the Sunday evening celebrations of families in town squares across the nation. There is an incredible history on display no matter where you go, and a desire to share that history with visitors.
We have visited maybe 60 or more towns and cities across Mexico but would have to think long and hard to think of a town that incorporates all that we love about the country than San Cris. And to top off the experience of visiting this remarkable place is that it still flies pretty much under the radar as far as tourism goes.
Sure you will find hostels with plenty of backpackers and a smattering of our fellow road trippers, but what you won’t find are lines of tour buses or massive crowds of tourists jostling for entry into the same few “guidebook-worthy” locations. San Cris is a hidden gem, so get there and see it yourself, but don’t tell anyone else… we don’t want to ruin the secret!
3. Authentic Indigenous Communities: Embrace Cultural Diversity
San Cristobal de las Casas is not only known for its architectural beauty and natural wonders but also for its close connection to authentic indigenous communities. The town serves as a gateway to the vibrant cultures and traditions of various indigenous groups that call this region home.
Exploring these communities offers a unique opportunity to witness their rich heritage and gain a deeper understanding of their way of life.
One of the most prominent indigenous groups in the area is the Tzotzil Maya. The Tzotzil people have a strong presence in San Cristobal de las Casas and the surrounding villages. Walking through the streets, you’ll encounter locals dressed in traditional attire, adorned with intricate textiles and vibrant colours.
The Tzotzil Maya have preserved their ancient customs, language, and spiritual beliefs, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in a world that feels both ancient and alive.
Walking through the local markets we noticed many women wearing the traditional raw woollen skirts made from the thick fleece of long-haired black sheep. Our guide explained that the longer the skirt, the higher the woman’s social standing.
San Juan Chamula, a nearby village, is a prime example of the cultural richness of the indigenous communities. The village is known for its unique religious practices that blend elements of Catholicism with traditional Mayan beliefs. The vibrant market in San Juan Chamula is also a must-visit, offering a glimpse into the local handicrafts and traditional products created by indigenous artisans.
Another significant indigenous group in the region is the Tzeltal Maya. San Cristobal de las Casas serves as a hub for many Tzeltal communities, and visiting these villages provides a firsthand experience of their daily lives and cultural practices.
Zinacantan, for instance, is a Tzeltal village renowned for its intricate textiles and weaving techniques. Here, you can witness women skillfully crafting beautiful garments using traditional backstrap looms, a practice passed down through generations.
Engaging with indigenous communities goes beyond observation; it offers an opportunity to support local initiatives and sustainable tourism. Many communities welcome visitors to participate in workshops where you can learn traditional crafts, including pottery, weaving, and natural dyeing.
These hands-on experiences foster a deeper appreciation for the artistry and skills preserved by these communities and provide a meaningful way to support their economic development.
San Cristobal de las Casas is truly a cultural melting pot, and its indigenous communities play a vital role in preserving the region’s rich heritage. Exploring these communities allows you to connect with the living traditions, ancient wisdom, and resilient spirit of these indigenous groups.
By immersing yourself in their customs, supporting their artisans, and engaging in respectful interactions, you can contribute to the preservation and celebration of their unique cultures for generations to come.
4. Local Markets and Handicrafts in San Cristobal de las Casas
San Cristobal de las Casas is a haven for vibrant markets and exquisite handicrafts, making it a paradise for art lovers and souvenir enthusiasts. The town’s bustling markets are a treasure trove of colourful textiles, intricate jewellery, handmade pottery, and an array of unique crafts that showcase the rich cultural heritage of the region.
One of the most renowned markets in San Cristobal de las Casas is the Mercado de Santo Domingo. This bustling market is a feast for the senses, with its lively atmosphere and a vast array of goods on display. Here, you’ll find a diverse range of traditional textiles, including intricately woven huipiles (traditional blouses), shawls, and embroidered garments, each telling a story through its vibrant patterns and symbols.
The market is also a great place to discover handcrafted leather goods, wood carvings, and beautiful ceramics created by skilled artisans.
For those seeking a more immersive experience, the Mercado de Dulces y Artesanías is a must-visit. This market specializes in sweet treats, offering a delightful array of candies, chocolates, and traditional pastries. It’s the perfect place to indulge your sweet tooth while also exploring the stalls selling an impressive selection of handicrafts.
From delicate beaded jewellery to intricately carved wooden figurines, the market showcases the immense talent and creativity of local artisans.
A visit to San Cristobal de las Casas wouldn’t be complete without exploring the Tianguis de los Martes (Tuesday Market) in the nearby town of San Juan Chamula. This traditional open-air market is a vibrant spectacle where indigenous communities gather to sell their goods. Here, you’ll find an extraordinary variety of handicrafts, such as handwoven baskets, ceramics, textiles, and vibrant traditional clothing.
The market offers a glimpse into the everyday life of the indigenous communities and allows visitors to support local artisans directly.
In addition to the markets, San Cristobal de las Casas is home to numerous artisan workshops and galleries where you can witness the craftsmanship firsthand. These spaces provide insights into the creative process behind intricate textiles, pottery, and other handicrafts. Many workshops offer hands-on experiences, allowing visitors to try their hand at traditional techniques under the guidance of skilled artisans.
Exploring these vibrant markets is an opportunity to support the local economy, engage with the artistic community, and take home cherished pieces that embody the spirit of San Cristobal de las Casas.
5. Gastronomic Delights: A Feast for Foodies
San Cristobal de las Casas is a culinary delight, offering a food culture that tantalizes the taste buds and celebrates the rich flavours of Chiapas. The town is a haven for food lovers, with a wide range of dining options that showcase the region’s traditional cuisine and international influences.
One of the highlights of the food culture in San Cristobal de las Casas is the abundance of local markets where fresh produce, spices, and ingredients take centre stage. The Mercado de Santo Domingo is a must-visit for those seeking an authentic gastronomic experience.
Here, you can immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and aromas of the bustling market while exploring a variety of stalls selling everything from fruits and vegetables to fragrant herbs and spices, from a multitude of meat options to insects like grasshoppers and “booty” ants! From the photo below you won’t have any trouble working out where they get their name.
The market is also home to small food stands and eateries where you can sample traditional dishes such as tamales, pozol (a refreshing corn-based beverage), and sopa de chipilín (a flavorful soup made with local herbs).
The culinary scene in San Cristobal de las Casas also embraces international flavours, with a range of restaurants and cafes offering diverse cuisines. From cozy cafes serving up freshly brewed Chiapan coffee to charming bistros with international fusion menus, there’s something to suit every palate.
You can savour delicious Mexican classics like mole, enchiladas, and cochinita pibil, or explore global flavours with Thai, Italian, or Middle Eastern cuisine.
For those looking to delve deeper into the local food culture, food tours and cooking classes are a fantastic way to learn about traditional ingredients and cooking techniques. These experiences allow you to interact with local chefs and artisans, gaining insight into the culinary traditions and flavours that define the region.
You can join a guided tour to sample street food favourites, visit local chocolate factories to learn about the production process, or even participate in a hands-on cooking class to prepare traditional dishes alongside expert instructors.
We did a market tour and cooking class with an amazing lady who taught us her grandmother’s recipes for a mole verde, and a mole rojo (pork in a green sauce and chicken in a red sauce). While the food and cooking class was a highlight of our six months in Mexico, the experience of shopping in the markets with a local took the day to a whole other level.
San Cristobal de las Casas is also known for its vibrant nightlife, and the town comes alive with street food vendors offering delectable snacks to satisfy late-night cravings. From tacos and quesadillas to elotes (grilled corn) and marquesitas (sweet-filled wafers), the streets are filled with irresistible aromas enticing locals and visitors.
Whether you’re exploring the local markets, dining in cozy restaurants, or sampling street food delicacies, San Cristobal de las Casas offers a culinary adventure that celebrates the region’s flavours and traditions. From traditional Mexican dishes to international fusion cuisine, the town’s food culture is a testament to the vibrant and diverse culinary heritage of Chiapas.
6. Architectural Splendour: Where Beauty Meets History
San Cristobal de las Casas is a city steeped in architectural history and beauty, with its charming streets lined with magnificent colonial buildings that showcase a rich blend of indigenous and European influences. The town’s architecture tells a captivating story of its past, transporting visitors to a bygone era.
The city’s architectural heritage dates back to the Spanish colonial period, evident in the grand structures that adorn the streets. The colonial architecture features colourful facades, ornate balconies, and intricate stonework, reflecting the Baroque and Neoclassical styles prevalent during the time. Walking through the historic centre, you’ll encounter stunning churches, plazas, and mansions that have stood the test of time.
One of the architectural gems of San Cristobal de las Casas is the Cathedral of San Cristobal. This imposing structure dominates the main square, adorned with intricate details and a towering bell tower.
Inside, visitors are greeted with a sense of awe as they admire the ornate altars, beautiful stained glass windows, and the peaceful ambience that permeates the space. The cathedral is a testament to the town’s deep religious roots and architectural splendour.
The city is also home to numerous elegant mansions that reflect the wealth and prosperity of past centuries. These mansions, often converted into hotels, restaurants, and museums, provide a glimpse into the grandeur of the bygone era.
San Cristobal de las Casas is not only characterized by its colonial architecture but also showcases a unique blend of indigenous and European influences. The town’s streets are lined with buildings that incorporate traditional Mayan elements, such as intricate carvings and colourful murals, creating a fascinating fusion of cultures. These indigenous touches add a distinct charm and authenticity to the architectural landscape of the town.
Exploring the architectural beauty of San Cristobal de las Casas is like stepping into a living museum. Each street and building tells a story, showcasing the rich history and cultural tapestry of the region.
7. Festivals and Celebrations: Colors and Rhythms Galore
It may be in one of Mexico’s poorest states but San Cristobal de las Casas is a town that knows how to celebrate, with a vibrant calendar of festivals and cultural events that showcase the rich traditions and colourful heritage of the region. Throughout the year, the town comes alive with music, dance, and exuberant festivities that bring locals and visitors together in joyous celebration.
One of the most anticipated festivals in San Cristobal de las Casas is the Fiesta Grande de Enero, held in January. This week-long celebration honours the town’s patron saint, San Cristobal. The streets are adorned with decorations, and lively processions wind their way through the town.
Colourful traditional dances, such as the famous Parachicos, take centre stage as locals don elaborate costumes and masks, paying homage to their ancestors. The festival is a vibrant showcase of indigenous rituals, music, and dance, creating an unforgettable experience for all who participate.
Another highlight of the festival calendar is Semana Santa (Holy Week), which takes place in the weeks leading up to Easter. This religious celebration combines solemn processions, intricate street carpets made from coloured sawdust, and elaborate reenactments of biblical scenes.
It’s a time when the town is filled with religious fervour and visitors can witness the deeply rooted traditions that have been passed down through generations.
For music enthusiasts, the Cervantino Festival held in October is a must-attend event. Named after the famous Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, this festival brings together artists from across Mexico and the world to showcase their talents in music, theatre, dance, and visual arts.
The streets and venues of San Cristobal de las Casas come alive with performances that range from classical concerts to contemporary theatre, offering a diverse and captivating cultural experience.
Throughout the year, various local festivals and celebrations provide a glimpse into the indigenous traditions and customs of the region. The Guelaguetza Festival, held in July, showcases the vibrant culture of the indigenous communities in Chiapas through music, dance, and traditional attire. Visitors can witness captivating performances that celebrate the diversity and heritage of the indigenous groups in the area.
Beyond these major festivals, San Cristobal de las Casas hosts a myriad of smaller events and celebrations that add to the town’s festive atmosphere. From traditional Mayan ceremonies to local fairs and markets, there’s always something to celebrate in this vibrant town.
On one occasion we were swept up in an incredibly joyous and colourful wedding procession which had taken over an entire street as the party made its way from the church to the town square. 8-foot-tall effigies of the newlyweds lead the procession as the wedding guests and a variety of musicians danced and drank mezcal. What an experience, and what a way to celebrate a wedding!
Whether you’re immersed in the rhythmic beats of traditional music, marvelling at the elaborate costumes of the Parachicos, or witnessing the solemn rituals of Semana Santa, the festivals and celebrations in San Cristobal de las Casas offer a captivating glimpse into the cultural richness and spirit of the town.
These joyous gatherings provide an opportunity to connect with the local community, witness ancient traditions, and create lasting memories of the vibrant and festive spirit that permeates the town throughout the year.
8. Rich Cultural Heritage: Where History Comes Alive
San Cristobal de las Casas is a town deeply rooted in cultural heritage, where the rich tapestry of indigenous traditions, colonial influences, and contemporary expressions come together to create a unique and vibrant cultural landscape. The town’s cultural heritage is evident in its architecture, art, language, cuisine, and the daily lives of its inhabitants.
The indigenous heritage of San Cristobal de las Casas is deeply ingrained in the fabric of the town. It is home to a diverse array of indigenous communities, each with its own distinct languages, customs, and beliefs.
The indigenous groups, such as the Tzotzil and Tzeltal, have preserved their cultural traditions for centuries, and their influence can be seen and felt throughout the town. From the colourful traditional attire worn by locals to the intricate handicrafts and artwork on display, the indigenous heritage is celebrated and cherished.
The colonial legacy of San Cristobal de las Casas is evident in its architecture and historical sites. The town’s historic centre is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, with its cobblestone streets, grand churches, and elegant mansions dating back to the Spanish colonial era.
The influence of Spanish colonization can be seen in the ornate facades, baroque details, and religious symbols that adorn the buildings. The architectural beauty of San Cristobal de las Casas is a testament to its colonial past and serves as a tangible link to its history.
Art and craftsmanship also play a significant role in the cultural heritage of the town. San Cristobal de las Casas is renowned for its vibrant arts scene, with numerous galleries, workshops, and art collectives showcasing the works of local artists.
From traditional folk art, such as intricately woven textiles and pottery, to contemporary expressions in painting and sculpture, the artistic heritage of the town is diverse and ever-evolving. Visitors have the opportunity to witness the creative process firsthand, interact with artisans, and acquire unique pieces that reflect the cultural richness of the region.
The cultural heritage of San Cristobal de las Casas is also celebrated through festivals, music, and dance. The town comes alive with traditional celebrations that honour indigenous rituals, religious traditions, and historical events.
These festivals provide a glimpse into the deeply rooted customs and beliefs of the local communities, allowing visitors to witness captivating performances, colourful parades, and age-old ceremonies.
Beyond the tangible expressions of cultural heritage, the intangible heritage of San Cristobal de las Casas lies in the daily lives and customs of its people. The town is known for its warm and welcoming community, where traditions are passed down through generations and shared with visitors.
Whether it’s savouring traditional cuisine, participating in a traditional Mayan ceremony, or engaging in conversations with locals, the cultural heritage of San Cristobal de las Casas is a living and breathing experience.
9. Warm Hospitality: Where Strangers Become Friends
San Cristobal de las Casas is renowned for its warm and welcoming hospitality, where visitors are greeted with open arms and genuine kindness. The town’s residents take great pride in their community and are known for their friendly nature, making every visitor feel like a valued guest.
From the moment you step foot in San Cris, you’ll be met with warm smiles and helpful gestures. Whether you’re seeking directions, recommendations for local attractions, or simply engaging in conversation, the locals are always eager to assist and ensure your experience in their town is a memorable one.
The hospitality in San Cristobal de las Casas extends beyond basic assistance. The residents take joy in sharing their cultural heritage, traditions, and stories with visitors. You’ll often find yourself engaged in lively conversations, learning about the town’s history, and gaining insights into the local way of life.
This genuine interest in connecting with visitors creates a sense of belonging and fosters a deeper appreciation for the community.
The warmth of the people of San Cris is also evident in its accommodations. The town boasts a range of charming hotels, guesthouses, and bed and breakfast establishments, each offering a personal touch and attentive service.
Whether you choose to stay in a boutique hotel with cozy rooms and quaint courtyards or opt for a homestay experience with a local family, you can expect to be treated like an honoured guest, with a level of care and attention that goes above and beyond.
We stayed in an Airbnb with the owner living in the other half of a duplex unit and she exemplified this warmth and personal contact in many ways. From helping with food and entertainment options to offering to do our laundry rather than us taking it to a neighbourhood lavendaria, she made us feel like family and not just a tenant.
Another aspect of San Cristobal de las Casas’ hospitality is the culinary scene. The town is known for its delicious cuisine, and local restaurants and food vendors take great pride in serving up traditional dishes made with love and passion.
This hospitality creates an atmosphere of genuine connection and cultural exchange. San Cris is a place where strangers quickly become friends and where visitors are embraced as part of the community. Whether you’re exploring the town’s historic centre, wandering through local markets, or participating in festivals and celebrations, you’ll be met with the warmest of welcomes and an experience that will leave a lasting impression.
In San Cristobal de las Casas, warm hospitality is not just a gesture; it’s a way of life. The town’s residents are passionate about sharing their home and culture with visitors, creating an environment that is inviting, inclusive, and full of heart. Whether you’re a first-time traveler or a seasoned explorer, the warm hospitality of San Cristobal de las Casas will make you feel like you’ve found a home away from home.
10. Best day trips from San Cristobal de las Casas
San Cristobal de las Casas serves as an excellent base for exploring the surrounding natural and cultural wonders of Chiapas. With its strategic location in the highlands of Mexico, there are several interesting day trips that can be easily accessed from the town, allowing you to experience the diverse beauty of the region.
Here are some of the best day trips from San Cristobal de las Casas:
Sumidero Canyon: Just a short distance from San Cristobal de las Casas, near the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez, Sumidero Canyon offers a breathtaking natural spectacle. Embark on a boat tour along the Grijalva River, surrounded by towering cliffs and stunning rock formations.
Keep an eye out for wildlife such as crocodiles and a variety of bird species. The dramatic landscapes and the sense of tranquility make this a must-visit destination.
Palenque Archaeological Site: A visit to the ancient Mayan city of Palenque is a journey back in time. Approximately 3 hours from San Cristobal de las Casas, this archaeological site is renowned for its well-preserved structures, intricate carvings, and lush jungle surroundings. Explore the temples, pyramids, and palaces that offer a glimpse into the grandeur of the Mayan civilization.
Agua Azul Waterfalls: Located about 2 hours from San Cristobal de las Casas, the cascading turquoise waters of Agua Azul Waterfalls are a true natural wonder. Marvel at the series of cascades and pools that create a stunning display of colours. Take a refreshing swim in the crystal-clear waters or simply enjoy the serene beauty of the surroundings.
Misol-Ha Waterfall: Another captivating waterfall in the area is Misol-Ha, known for its impressive 35-meter drop into a deep pool below. The cascading waters create a misty atmosphere, adding to the enchantment of the place. Take a walk behind the waterfall for a unique perspective and capture memorable photos of this natural wonder.
San Juan Chamula: Immerse yourself in the rich indigenous culture by visiting the town of San Juan Chamula, located just a short distance from San Cristobal de las Casas. This traditional Tzotzil community offers a glimpse into the daily lives and rituals of the locals. Visit the San Juan Bautista Church, where a fascinating blend of Catholic and indigenous beliefs and practices can be witnessed.
Montebello Lakes: Nature lovers will be captivated by the Montebello Lakes, a collection of stunning turquoise lakes nestled in the Montebello Lakes National Park. Embark on a scenic hike or rent a boat to explore the various lakes, each with its distinct beauty and charm. The picturesque landscapes and vibrant colours make it a paradise for photographers and outdoor enthusiasts.
These day trips from San Cristobal de las Casas offer a diverse range of experiences, from natural wonders to archaeological sites and cultural encounters, these day trips provide a glimpse into the remarkable beauty and cultural richness of Chiapas.
Common questions about San Cristobal de las Casas
How do I get to San Cristobal de las Casas?
Getting to San Cristobal de las Casas is an exciting part of the journey, as it allows travelers to immerse themselves in the stunning landscapes of Chiapas. Here are some of the options available for reaching this charming town:
By Air: The nearest airport to San Cristobal de las Casas is the Ángel Albino Corzo International Airport (TGZ), located in Tuxtla Gutierrez, approximately 75 kilometres away. From the airport, you can hire a taxi or take a shuttle service to San Cristobal de las Casas.
By Bus: Buses are a popular and convenient mode of transportation in Mexico. Several bus companies provide services to San Cristobal de las Casas from major cities such as Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Tuxtla Gutierrez. The journey may take several hours, but the buses are comfortable and offer a chance to enjoy the scenic views along the way.
By Car: If you prefer the flexibility of driving, renting a car is an option. The roads leading to San Cristobal de las Casas are well-maintained, and the drive offers breathtaking vistas of mountains, forests, and charming villages. It’s important to note that driving in Mexico requires familiarity with local traffic rules and regulations.
By Shared Shuttle: Shared shuttles are a convenient option, especially for those traveling in a group or looking for a more personalized experience. These shuttle services operate between popular destinations like Tuxtla Gutierrez, Palenque, and San Cristobal de las Casas, offering door-to-door transportation.
By Tourist Bus: Tourist buses are available from certain cities, providing guided transportation services with stops at key attractions along the way. This option allows travelers to sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey while knowledgeable guides provide insights into the region’s history and culture.
It’s important to plan your journey in advance and consider factors such as travel time, budget, and personal preferences. San Cristobal de las Casas’ strategic location in the highlands of Chiapas makes the journey to this enchanting town a memorable part of your overall experience.
Whichever mode of transportation you choose, you’ll be rewarded with stunning landscapes and a sense of anticipation as you approach this magical destination.
What is the best time to visit San Cristobal de las Casas?
The best time to visit San Cristobal de las Casas is during the dry season, which typically extends from November to May. This period offers pleasant weather with mild temperatures and lower chances of rainfall, making it ideal for exploring the town and its surrounding attractions.
In particular, the months of December to February are popular among visitors due to the festive atmosphere during the Christmas season and the vibrant celebration of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in early November.
During these months, you can witness colourful parades, traditional rituals, and beautifully decorated streets.
It’s important to note that San Cristobal de las Casas is located at a high altitude, which means that temperatures can be cooler compared to other parts of Mexico. It’s advisable to pack some warm clothing, especially if you’re visiting during the winter months.
The rainy season in San Cristobal de las Casas runs from June to October, with July and August experiencing the highest rainfall. While your stay in the town may still be enjoyable during this time, it’s important to be prepared for occasional showers and plan outdoor activities accordingly.
Where should I stay in San Cristobal de las Casas?
When it comes to choosing accommodations in San Cristobal de las Casas, you’ll find a wide range of options to suit different preferences and budgets. Here are a few popular areas to consider for your stay:
Historic Centre: The Historic Centre is the heart of San Cristobal de las Casas, offering a charming atmosphere with its cobblestone streets, colonial architecture, and vibrant markets. Staying in this area puts you in close proximity to major attractions, restaurants, cafes, and shops. You can choose from boutique hotels, guesthouses, and hostels that capture the essence of the town’s rich heritage.
Real de Guadalupe: This area, located just a short walk from the Historic Center, is known for its picturesque streets lined with colourful buildings. Real de Guadalupe offers a quieter and more residential ambience compared to the bustling centre. You’ll find a variety of accommodations ranging from cozy bed and breakfasts to boutique hotels with beautiful courtyards and gardens.
Santo Domingo: Located a bit further from the centre but still within walking distance, Santo Domingo is an up-and-coming neighbourhood with a bohemian vibe. Here, you’ll find trendy cafes, art galleries, and boutique hotels that cater to a more artistic and alternative crowd.
Barrio de Guadalupe: This neighbourhood is known for its artistic and cultural scene, with numerous art galleries, craft shops, and workshops. It’s a great area to stay if you’re interested in exploring the local art scene and interacting with artists. The accommodations here range from cozy guesthouses to small boutique hotels.
La Quinta: If you prefer a more tranquil and residential setting, La Quinta neighbourhood might be a good option. It’s located a bit further away from the centre but offers a peaceful atmosphere and beautiful views of the surrounding hills. You’ll find a mix of budget-friendly guesthouses and mid-range hotels in this area.
Ultimately, the best place to stay in San Cristobal de las Casas depends on your preferences and the experience you’re seeking. Whether you prefer to be in the heart of the action or in a more serene neighbourhood, you’ll find a variety of accommodations that cater to different tastes and budgets.
It’s recommended to book in advance, especially during peak travel seasons, to secure your preferred choice of accommodation.
Are there any local customs or etiquette I should be aware of?
When visiting San Cristobal de las Casas, it’s helpful to be aware of the local customs and etiquette to ensure a respectful and enjoyable experience. Here are some key points to keep in mind:
Respect for Indigenous Culture: San Cristobal de las Casas is home to various indigenous communities, and it’s important to show respect for their customs and traditions. When interacting with locals, approach them with an open mind and a willingness to learn about their culture. It’s polite to ask for permission before taking photographs, especially in indigenous markets or during traditional ceremonies.
Dress Code: San Cristobal de las Casas has a relatively conservative atmosphere, so it’s advisable to dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites or rural communities. Avoid wearing revealing clothing, and opt for modest attire that covers your shoulders and knees. This shows respect for local customs and helps you blend in with the local culture.
Greetings: Polite greetings are appreciated in San Cristobal de las Casas. When meeting someone, a handshake is a common form of greeting, accompanied by a friendly “buenos días” (good morning), “buenas tardes” (good afternoon), or “buenas noches” (good evening). If you’re familiar with basic Spanish phrases, using them to greet locals will be warmly received.
Personal Space: Mexicans generally appreciate personal space, so it’s important to be mindful of this when interacting with others. Maintain an appropriate distance and avoid standing too close unless you have a close relationship with the person.
Politeness and Courtesy: Being polite and courteous is valued in Mexican culture. Use “por favor” (please) and “gracias” (thank you) when interacting with locals, whether it’s in restaurants, shops, or during any other interactions. Showing gratitude and using basic Spanish phrases can go a long way in creating positive connections.
Tipping: Tipping is customary in San Cristobal de las Casas. It’s customary to leave a tip of around 10-15% of the total bill in restaurants, cafes, and bars unless a service charge is already included. Tipping hotel staff, tour guides, and taxi drivers is also appreciated for their service.
By respecting local customs and practicing cultural sensitivity, you’ll create a positive impression and foster meaningful connections with the locals in San Cristobal de las Casas. Embracing the local customs and etiquette adds depth to your travel experience and shows your appreciation for the rich cultural heritage of the region.
What about the food scene in San Cristobal de las Casas?
One quick note here that’s not exactly food related but it can have a big effect on your enjoyment of trying the local cuisine, the water in San Cristobal is definitely not safe for drinking as the limited local water supply is known to contain a parasite which will give you a nasty dose of Montezuma’s Revenge! Only drink bottled water and also use it for brushing your teeth.
San Cristobal de las Casas boasts a vibrant and diverse food scene that will delight any food lover. From traditional Mexican cuisine to international flavours, the town offers a wide range of culinary experiences. Here are some highlights of the food scene in San Cristobal de las Casas:
Regional Mexican Cuisine: San Cristobal de las Casas is a fantastic place to indulge in the flavours of Chiapas and regional Mexican cuisine. You’ll find an array of delicious dishes featuring ingredients like corn, beans, chili peppers, and local herbs.
Try traditional specialties such as tamales, cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork), and sopa de chipilín (soup made with local greens). Don’t miss the opportunity to sample the local cheeses and chocolates, which are highly regarded in the region. And for a unique experience try some insects from the local markets!
Street Food: Exploring the street food scene is a must in San Cristobal de las Casas. Wander through the bustling markets and street stalls to discover an abundance of mouthwatering treats. Tacos, quesadillas, empanadas, and elotes (grilled corn on the cob) are popular street food options.
Be adventurous and try the local street food delicacies, but make sure to choose clean and hygienic establishments. Look for a place called Donki Burrito a few blocks from the town centre, which we rate in the best two burrito places in Mexico!
International Cuisine: San Cristobal de las Casas also offers a range of international dining options. You’ll find restaurants serving Italian, French, Asian, and fusion cuisine, catering to diverse palates. These establishments often combine local ingredients with international techniques, resulting in unique and flavorful dishes.
Coffee Culture: The town is known for its thriving coffee culture. Numerous cafes serve high-quality Chiapas coffee, offering a cozy ambience to relax and enjoy a cup of java. You can also visit local coffee plantations to learn about the coffee production process and sample freshly roasted beans.
Food Markets: Visiting the local food markets, such as Mercado de Santo Domingo and Mercado 20 de Noviembre, is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the food culture of San Cristobal de las Casas. These markets are bustling with activity and offer an incredible variety of fresh produce, spices, meats, and traditional dishes. Grab a bite to eat from the market stalls and experience the vibrant flavours of the region.
Is it necessary to know Spanish to visit San Cristobal de las Casas?
While it’s not absolutely necessary to know Spanish to visit San Cristobal de las Casas, having some basic knowledge of the language can greatly enhance your experience and make it easier to navigate through the town. Here are a few points to consider:
Language Barrier: English is not widely spoken in San Cristobal de las Casas, especially outside of tourist areas. Most locals primarily communicate in Spanish. While you may encounter some individuals who speak English, particularly in hotels, restaurants, and tourist establishments, it’s always beneficial to have some Spanish language skills to communicate with the majority of the population.
Interaction with Locals: Learning a few key phrases in Spanish, such as greetings, basic questions, and expressions of gratitude, can go a long way in creating a positive interaction with the locals. It shows your interest and respect for their culture, and the locals will often appreciate your efforts to communicate in their language.
Exploring Off the Beaten Path: San Cristobal de las Casas is known for its indigenous communities and cultural heritage. To fully immerse yourself in these experiences, speaking at least some Spanish can be invaluable. It allows you to engage in conversations, learn about their traditions, and gain deeper insights into their way of life.
Getting Around: While there are signs and information available in English in some tourist areas, having a basic understanding of Spanish can make navigating the town and using public transportation easier. It enables you to ask for directions, negotiate prices with taxis or vendors, and understand public transportation instructions.
Language Learning Opportunities: If you’re interested in learning Spanish, San Cristobal de las Casas can be an ideal place to practice and improve your language skills. Many language schools and cultural centres offer Spanish classes and immersion programs, allowing you to combine language learning with exploring the town and its surroundings.
Even if you have limited Spanish proficiency, don’t let the language barrier discourage you from visiting San Cristobal de las Casas. The locals are generally friendly and accommodating, and you’ll often find ways to communicate through gestures and expressions.
However, learning some basic Spanish phrases and carrying a pocket dictionary or translation app can significantly enhance your travel experience and facilitate meaningful interactions with the local community.
Are there any markets or shopping areas in San Cristobal de las Casas?
San Cristobal de las Casas is renowned for its vibrant markets and shopping areas, offering a wide array of unique handicrafts, textiles, and local products. Here are some of the notable markets and shopping areas you can explore:
Mercado de Santo Domingo: Located near the city centre, this bustling market is a treasure trove of local delights. You’ll find a wide range of handicrafts, including colourful textiles, embroidered clothing, handwoven rugs, and traditional pottery. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in the local culture and shop for authentic souvenirs.
Mercado de Dulces y Artesanías: Known as the “Sweet Market,” this market specializes in local sweets and candies. You can indulge in a variety of traditional treats, such as cocadas (coconut candies), candied fruits, and homemade chocolates. Additionally, the market also offers a selection of handicrafts and artisanal products.
Mercado 20 de Noviembre: This bustling market is a favourite among locals and visitors alike. It features a vibrant food section where you can savour traditional Mexican dishes, including tamales, quesadillas, and empanadas. The market also offers a variety of fresh produce, spices, meats, and local products. It’s a great place to experience the lively atmosphere and sample authentic flavours.
Casa de las Artesanías: Located near the main square, this government-run store showcases a wide range of high-quality handicrafts from the region. It’s an excellent place to find intricately woven textiles, wooden carvings, masks, and other traditional crafts. The store supports local artisans and ensures the authenticity and quality of the products.
Calle Real de Guadalupe: This picturesque street is lined with charming shops and boutiques selling a variety of handicrafts, clothing, and jewellery. You’ll find unique items crafted by local artisans, including silver jewellery, woven bags, and indigenous-inspired clothing. It’s a pleasant area to stroll, shop, and soak in the vibrant atmosphere.
These are just a few examples of the markets and shopping areas in San Cristobal de las Casas. Exploring these places will not only allow you to discover beautiful crafts but also support local artisans and immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of the region.
Don’t forget to hone your bargaining skills and enjoy the experience of finding one-of-a-kind treasures.
Is San Cristobal de las Casas safe for travelers?
Yes, San Cristobal de las Casas is generally considered a safe destination for travelers. However, like any other place, it’s important to exercise caution and be mindful of certain safety measures. Here are some key points to consider:
Tourist Areas: The main tourist areas of San Cristobal de las Casas, such as the city centre and popular attractions, are generally safe and well-patrolled. These areas are accustomed to welcoming visitors and have a visible presence of police and security personnel.
Personal Safety: It’s always advisable to take standard precautions to ensure personal safety. Keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded areas and markets. Avoid displaying valuable items openly and be aware of your surroundings. It’s recommended to use reliable transportation options, such as registered taxis or reputable transportation services.
Street Smarts: While San Cristobal de las Casas is considered safe, it’s still important to exercise street smarts. Be cautious when exploring unfamiliar neighbourhoods or venturing out at night, particularly in less crowded areas. It’s advisable to travel in groups, especially during late hours.
Local Customs and Etiquette: Respecting local customs and cultural norms is important for a positive and safe experience. Familiarize yourself with the local customs, dress modestly when visiting religious sites, and be respectful towards the indigenous communities and their traditions.
Health and Well-being: It’s always recommended to take necessary health precautions when traveling. Stay hydrated, consume safe and clean food, and carry any required medications. It’s also a good idea to have travel insurance that covers medical emergencies.
Updated Information: Stay informed about the latest travel advisories and guidelines issued by your country’s embassy or consulate. It’s essential to be aware of any specific safety concerns or precautions related to the destination.
It’s worth noting that while San Cristobal de las Casas is generally safe, it’s essential to stay informed, use common sense, and trust your instincts while traveling. By taking the necessary precautions and being aware of your surroundings, you can enjoy a safe and memorable experience in this beautiful town.
We spent five nights in San Cris and never felt unsafe in any part of town, even when we were walking at night. However, like any town anywhere in the world, you should be aware if there are certain areas recommended to avoid.
Road Trip Possibilities
San Cristobal de las Casas is ideally situated to be a major attraction on a road trip through the state of Chiapas. It is unlikely to be your starting point but it should be top of the list of the must-see places.
Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas, has an International Airport making it the ideal location to be the starting point of an amazing road trip through this beautiful state. A road trip that takes in some of Mexico’s most stunning scenery, incredible historic ruins, and a few of the prettiest pueblos mágicos.
Take a couple of easy driving weeks and discover ancient cities like Palenque and Tonina, get swept up in the natural beauty of Sumidero Canyon, Cascadas Roberto Barrios, and the imposing El Chiflon waterfalls, and experience a simpler way of life in the enchanting towns of Comitan and San Cristobal de las Casas.
We did the majority of this itinerary as part of our 5000 km epic Mexico road trip that began in Queretaro. Before arriving in Tuxtla we had been in Oaxaca, and then after Palenque we headed east to the coast to see Bacalar and more of the Yucatan.
This suggested plan heads to the nearest airport after Palenque for those of you who wish to experience the best of Chiapas but have time constraints. I wouldn’t use Villahermosa as anything but a departure point as, from what I have read, it offers very little to appeal to travelers.
This entire road trip is only 550 km / 350 miles and it is possible to squeeze the highlights into a 7-day vacation, but to do justice to this magnificent state you should allow two weeks. And even then there are places you will wish you could have spent more time.
Our opinion of San Cristobal de las Casas
When we initially decided to return to Mexico, and started creating a list of things to do and places to visit, so many options opened up and it was a little overwhelming. But two places stood head and shoulders above everything else… we had to include the stunning Laguna Bacalar, and we had to spend a decent amount of time in a beautiful little town called San Cristobal de las Casas.
Expectations were sky-high for this place, which can often lead to some disappointment on arrival, but San Cris not only lived up to expectations but exceeded them on every level!
Many of the streets throughout the town are cobblestones and the buildings match that rustic style perfectly, adding to the overall effect are their multi-coloured facades and interesting doors. Many of these beautiful old buildings are restaurants, shops, or galleries, giving you a chance to see that the overall look is more than skin deep.
Every one of the locals we had the chance to interact with was humble, gracious, and friendly whether they were Police offering directions, market vendors talking up the quality of their goods and partaking in a bit of bartering, or staff at any of the galleries or restaurants we visited.
Three experiences stand out from the many wonderful memories we have from our time in San Cris, perhaps you won’t be surprised to find out that two of these are food related!
On the afternoon we first arrived in town we noticed it was still a bit early to expect our accommodation to be ready for us and so we decided to have some lunch. We generally find deciding where to eat in a new town in Mexico can be a difficult and long-winded process. We know most of the food will be good or great, but we don’t want to waste a meal on something not so good.
This time, however, Dana had been talking up burritos for a couple of days and we found a place that was highly rated on every search platform, it’s called Donki Burrito and it now firmly has a place on our Mexican food wall of fame!
The burritos here are huge, have some great, and unique, filling options, and are reasonably priced for what you get. We ordered two Donkis (giant burritos) and a Guacadonki (guacamole and chips), with one of the Donkis upgraded to Super which meant the whole burrito was wrapped in bacon. No way could we eat it all between the three of us, but Hot Damn!, we had made the right lunch decision and we would go back a few days later for round two.
Next on our highlight list was a walking tour of the town with Free Walking Tours San Cristobal. We have done several of these tours around the world and always found them informative and fun. Our guide was a local artist, which was great for us as we all love street art, and she was a wealth of knowledge about the local street art scene and its history.
The tour took in many of the most interesting parts of the city and we finished at a small gallery that features local artists, including our guide, and then a place where we celebrated the tour with a few tastings of the local spirit, Pox (pronounced posh). The unflavored variety… ahhh, no thanks, not again, but some of the flavoured versions are absolutely delicious.
The third stand-out experience has to be considered the best of our time in San Cris, and easily top five for our entire six-month trip. And the award goes to El Tzitz, an absolutely perfect cooking class and market shopping experience with our friendly, knowledgable, interesting and fun host, Irma.
Irma took the time to explain to us the different fruits and vegetables in the markets, she helped us to interact with the vendors and had the bravest of us trying some of the more unusual items like grasshoppers and “booty” ants. She also took the time to tell us about the history of local cuisine.
Back at her beautiful house, we made our way to the kitchen to start prep work for the dishes we were to prepare and eat. Irma explained the dishes and that the recipes had been passed down from her grandmother to her when she started cooking.
This entire experience with Irma will live with us forever and we can’t recommend El Tzitz cooking class more highly. Even if you are a budget traveler, save a few dollars elsewhere and have this experience. You won’t regret it.
So, to sum up our opinion of San Cris in a single sentence… San Cristobal de las Casas is an essential stop on any trip to Mexico for those that want to be enveloped by the history, charm and culture of Mexico, without having to share it with busloads of tourists.