San Cristobal de las Casas – the cultural capital of Chiapas
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.
This post contains referral links for products I love. Adventurous Miriam earns a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. Thank you for your support ♡ Learn more
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?
Read more posts about Mexico
- Where to stay in Mexico City for first-timers visitors
- 36 hours in Mexico City: A guide to Mexico’s misunderstood capital
- Swimming with whale sharks in Mexico
- Mexico’s best beaches by the Caribbean Sea
- How to plan an awesome day trip to Teotihuacán Pyramids, Mexico
Wow, those colours are so extremely vibrant. It exudes joy and happiness just to see them. And such magnificent scenery. Would love so much to go on any of those day trips. 🙂
It does, doesn’t it? A trip to Mexico can brighten up any day 😀
Wow love the vibrant nature, a great way to get across the spirit of Mexico. Your latest posts on the country have certainly bumped it up on your travel list!
I’m glad to hear that, Will! Mexico is super diverse with lots to see – it definitely deserves a visit.
Wow! Never heard of San Cristobal de las Casas but after your post, it is for sure on my Mexico-wish-list 😉 I’m completely in love with all these kind of small colorful colonial-styled villages around Latin America. And the surrounding nature of San Cristobal de las Casas just adds on an extra plus. Thanks for sharing!
Great idea, Becci 🙂 It was one of the highlights of my Mexico trip since it’s so different than the typical beach or big city destinations.
Wow! Blown away by the life and colors. We’ve only done Cancun as we were a little weary of going deeper into Mexico. But you’re making us rethink for sure!
Oh, you can easily travel around Mexico. Sure, some places best be avoided, but touristy places like San Cristobal are very safe.
Looking forward to going in January 2018 . Thank you for your posts!
Yay, I wish it was me 🙂 Have a great time in San Cristobal!
In my opinion this is the best area in Mexico. Memories are coming back 😉
It’s an amazing area and so different from the touristy coast. I’d love to return!
Just came back from a week in Oaxaca and was amazed. Now people are urging our next trip to be in Chiapas and Palenque. We are 60 years old and seasoned travelers. Is Chiapas safe if we take standard international precautions? It would appear you didn’t have any major issues or concerns.
Yes, Chiapas is safe if you take standard precautions. We never felt unsafe or vulnerable in San Cristobal or Palenque – quite the opposite actually! Palenque is very humid in contrast to San Cristobal though, so be prepared if you’re traveling in the hot season.
I hope you go. It’s such a beautiful area of Mexico.
Hi! We are going next week. You mentioned socks and sweaters at night. What did you wear during the day?
I would always check the forecast online to be sure, but dressing in layers is always a good idea. Especially for the mountains/highlands.
I am seriously contemplating a move to San Cristobal. I will be making a ‘test drive’ trip from san the san Francisco area I thought it was a small village, two small to meet my cultural needs because they don’t have an orchestra or theater etc.. I was told yesterday by someone who lives there that it’s a very cosmopolitan city with a lot going on. Did you find that to be true? And any other tips about moving there would be greatly appreciated, Robin
Moving to San Cristobal sounds like an exciting step if you decide to go for it.
I unfortunately only spent a week there and didn’t explore the cultural scene, so I don’t feel fit to advise in your decision. However, I can tell you that I really liked the city and that it seemed very authentic as opposed to many other touristy Mexican cities. My best advice would be to visit yourself for a period of time and get a sense of the town. Then it’ll be much easier to determine what to do.
Best of luck.
Hello! I’ll be traveling to Chispas in November, I am exited. I would like to know what to pack ?
Hi Luqita, I would pack warm clothes. Jacket, fluffy socks, warm sweaters and maybe even a scarf. Better have too much clothes and then not need it than the opposite.
Le filtre bleu fait peut être “joli” mais seuls des béotiens peuvent les admirer tellement la modification est grossière et
dénature la réalité des couleurs!
Heureusement la prise de vue est très bonne.
Sans rancune, Jean Remy 🙂
Hi Miriam, great post and great pics! 🙂 Your blog looks great!!!!! Myself and my gf are planning on going in August as you did I think? If so did it rain much un august when you were there? When i look on the internet it sats aug and sep are the rainiest months? Was the rain very bad, should we look at other options? Or is it just one big downpour everyday? And the rest of the day is fine? Any info would be massively appreciated!!!! Keep up the good work!!!!
Hi Paul, thanks so much. We actually didn’t get any rain. You might be unlucky, of course. But the chances of rain every day from morning to evening is quite unlikely. Bring a rain poncho or rain jacket and I’m sure you will be fine.
Have a great trip 🙂