I woke with a start. The gentle swaying of the bus must have lulled me to sleep because it was now 9am in the morning and we were a long way from Mexico City. The twisting mountain roads of Chiapas highlands led us through the morning mist and as I looked down towards Tuxtla, it had disappeared beneath the vapored sky.
After a long 15-hour bus ride, I clambered out, stiff and bleary-eyed while the bus crawled off through the narrow streets. We had arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas, a colonial town in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
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COLONIAL SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS
The fresh highland air and the bright, lively colors of San Cristobal de las Casas have drawn tourists in flocks for many years, and we had come during high season expecting to integrate with the crowds.
I was excited to visit San Cristóbal.
Most of all because it’s so rich in indigenous culture and history, which gives the town a cultural flair. The Tzoltzil and the Tzatzal people, who are descended from an ancient civilization, are a strong presence in and around the city. In fact, this area contains one of the largest indigenous Mayan populations in Mexico.
The city sits in a small valley surrounded by green hills, pine trees and thick white clouds. And the views.. They are heart-breakingly beautiful.
But that’s not all, folks.
One big advantage that San Cristobal de las Casas has over other parts of Mexico is the climate. I’m married to a true viking who loves freezing weather and is miserable in the hot sun. But – since San Cristobal is positioned in an altitude of 2,200m, the air is always fresh and clean, and there’s a comfortable temperature (we visited in August and it was 24C in the day and quite chilly in the evenings). It’s not like humid Palenque or tropical Cancun – we wore socks and warm sweaters every night.
OH, THOSE COLORS OF MEXICO
The day that we arrived, we strolled around the main square and historic center. Much of the city has maintained its Spanish colonial style with narrow cobblestone streets and roofs covered in red clay tile. It’s so pretty.
Walking through a Mexican colonial city, you feel like every day is a sunny one – and usually they are. The beautiful archways and stonework are highlighted by bright blue, yellow and deep red colors.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF CHIAPAS, MEXICO
Speaking of colors… Chiapas state used to be a part of Guatemala which is largely inhabited by the Mayan people. They still wear traditional dresses, and they’re very colorful. The indigenous people of Chiapas are also known for their fantastic weaving skills so you can find colorful blankets, scarves and clothing for sale all over the city.
San Cristobal de las Casas is a great market place. Not just food markets, but also art and textile markets. My favorite market was the one next to Iglesia Ex-Convento Santo Domingo where there were all sorts of handmade clothes and shoes.
CHURCHES IN SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS
As we walked around town, I couldn’t help notice how religious San Cristobal de las Casas was, despite belonging to the least Catholic state in Mexico. There are churches on just about every other street corner.
My favorite church was San Cristóbal de las Casas Cathedral, which overlooks the main plaza in the center of town. Another beautiful church (if you don’t mind the many stairs), is the Guadalupe Church. You’re rewarded with an epic view at the top.
Overall, San Cristobal de las Casas is fantastic. It’s not the easiest place to get to, but when you arrive, it’ll all be worth it. I promise.
3 DAY TRIPS FROM SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS
San Cristobal de las Casas is a visit worth on its own. But if you like waterfalls, jungle, ancient Mayan temples and crocodile-filled canyons, you’ll enjoy the day trips you can take from there.
Just a 45-minute drive away is the impressive Sumidero Canyon. I say impressive because the cliff walls in this canyon are a whopping 1000m high. That’s 1 km. And they are massive!
A small motorboat will take you on a 2-hour ride through this impressive canyon where you’ll spot crocodiles, birds and a very unique waterfall (you’ll see it from below and get up-close). It’s easiest to visit Sumidero Canyon on a day trip, which I’ll tell you all about in my next post.
Palenque jungle ruins
If you like mystical temples, you’ll LOVE Palenque! These ancient Mayan ruins are set deep in the jungle and date back to 226 BC. Climb the main temples to get a birds-eye view or explore the nearby temples that have been swallowed up by the jungle.
It takes 4,5 hours to get to Palenque so you might consider to stay overnight. But if you’re short on time, you can join an organized day tour from San Cristobal. The tour lasts all day (the minibus leaves at 5am and returns at 10pm), but it includes a stop at Misol-Ha and Agua Azul waterfalls. If you ask me, it’s worth it!
Misol-Ha and Agua Azul waterfalls
Misol-Ha and Agua Azul are two separate waterfalls that are often visited in combination with Palenque. At the 35m high Misol-Ha waterfall, you can walk in the caves behind the stream. Agua Azul is a series of waterfalls and bright blue pools (hence the name, which in English means Blue Water).
The best part? You can swim in both waterfalls!
Have you been to San Cristobal de las Casas? Any tips for others?
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