Mexico’s San Cristobal de las Casas is commonly referred to as just San Cristobal, and also sometimes by its native name ‘Jovel’. It’s a major stop-off point for those travellers who venture inland from the ever-popular beaches of the Mayan Riviera in search of unspoiled natural beauty and a little peace and solitude.
Not to be confused with a few dozen other ‘San Cristobal de las Casases’ that are dotted around the country, this San Cristobal de las Casas has a few major selling points that help to make it one of the most visited towns in the region.
HIGHLIGHTS OF SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS
1. SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS TOWN
Spanish colonial cities and towns are scattered liberally throughout Latin America and they never cease to impress. San Cristobal de las Casas is, in my opinion, one of the best colonial cities on the continent. It has characteristic cobbled streets and beautifully colourful but minimalist architecture. Buildings are frequently adorned with flowers and flags, and the surrounding hills provide a pretty backdrop.
In a town where it’s possible to scramble down bulldozed streets, witness a model photo shoot and allow a tarantula to walk over your face in just one afternoon, imagine what’s possible with more time to explore.
2. SUMIDERO CANYON
With cliffs on either side of the river stretching as high as 1000 metres, this canyon is a pretty astonishing sight to behold. Half-day trips are very easy to organise from most accommodation or tour agencies in San Cristobal.
From massive waterfalls reminiscent of New Zealand’s Milford Sound to an incredible array of wildlife, there’s a lot to keep you entertained as your guide steers you down the Grijalva River.
Vultures, crocodiles, river turtles and monkeys hang around the banks, while the clouds do their best to resemble other animals.
You can also visit a dam, some impressive caves and rock formations, and a waterfall nicknamed the Arbol de Navidad owing to moss-laden mineral deposits that resemble the branches of a Christmas tree.
3. CATHEDRAL OF SAN JUAN BAUTISTA
San Juan Chamula has made a name for itself on the tourist route thanks to its resident Tzotzil community and, in particular, its church. The inhabitants of Chamula are fiercely independent and almost the entire population speaks an indigenous language.–
The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista has no pews or chairs. The walls are lined with statues of saints and the bare floor is covered with pine needles, soda cans and lit candles held up with melted wax. The candles are constantly replaced and there are so many that its difficult not to set your feet alight as you walk around.
Families dressed in traditional clothing gather in groups on the floor to conduct rituals linked to both Catholicism and pre-conquest Mayan beliefs. Medicine men prescribe remedies in the form of candles, flower petals and feathers. In some cases, they wave human bones over the infirm and it’s not a rare sight to witness a chicken sacrifice.
You have to pay a small fee to enter, but it’s definitely worth it. Photography is strictly prohibited and you will be thrown out if you try to break this rule.
4. SAN JUAN CHAMULA ITSELF
Outside the church, you might still encounter reluctance from the locals if you try to point your lens in their direction. However, it’s well worth exploring the nearby streets and shady markets.
As it’s situated just 10 km away from San Cristobal de las Casas, you can easily reach Chamula by collectivo. Although not the easiest task, if you ask enough locals, you should eventually find the right street corner from which to catch one.
Once you’re done exploring this fascinating place, fear not because there are some incredible stops along the road from San Cristobal to Palenque.