The cultural capital of the Chiapas region is an awesome colonial city to visit and one of my favourite stops in all of Mexico!
San Cristobal de las Casas has a population just under 200,000 and the city centre is easy to navigate. The cobblestone streets and graffiti-filled walls make the city a joy to to walk around, while impressive mountainous hillsides loom in the background.
San Cristobal has a distinct bohemian feel to it evidenced by the colourfulness, artwork, and general hippy vibes.
The city has always had leftist tendencies and it was one of seven cities in the Chiapas region to be occupied by the Zapatista movement in 1994. Opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Zapatista’s took control of San Cristobal on the day it was signed, and freed prisoners from a nearby military base.
The movement continues to bubble under the surface today, and if you have the right connections, visiting a nearby city controlled by Zapatista’s is very doable. (Although, don’t expect to get anything more than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers)
Recently, a number visitors from different backgrounds have made San Cristobal their permanent home and you can see a variety of cultural influences throughout the city. While the main Mexican food staples can still be found in abundance, there are plenty of foreign food options to be had as well. This can come in handy if street tacos are starting to get a little tiresome…
- A half chicken with some side dishes costs around 80 pesos ($5 cdn)
- A gourmet burrito will set you back about 70 pesos in San Cristobal. While this is more than street tacos (usually 30-50 pesos for 4), the improved quality will have your stomach and taste buds thanking you for the break ; )
With one of the best markets in all of Mexico, San Cristobal offers just about anything you’d ever need – for insanely cheap prices!
Plan to spend a full day wandering in and out of the market, as its maize like construction makes it hard not to get lost.. Not that you’d want it any other way!
As a bonus, you might even get to witness some sort of halloween festival… I couldn’t begin to tell you what was going on here…
Just down the street from the market lies the most emblematic symbol of the city, the Cathedral. Finished in 1721, this impressive church looks out onto the widespread main plaza square.
Containing European Baroque, Moorish and indigenous influences, the Cathedral of San Cristobal is as unique as it is impressive!
The last main site to check out in San Cristobal is the Guadalupe church, located on the opposite site of the city. From just about anywhere in San Cristobal, you can see this church perched on the top of a hill, overlooking the streets.
From the main plaza, it is only a 15-20 minute walk, although it looks quite a bit more daunting. The Guadalupe church provides awesome views of San Cristobal and it has a less polished feel on the inside.
I found it odd to see Jesus rocking dreadlocks as well.. maybe part of the Dominican influence in the city..
Overall, San Cristobal de las Casas is an excellent city that is friendly for the budget backpacker. Great hostels can be found for $10-13 cdn and meals are generally around $4-8 cdn. In addition, the city is totally walkable (the bus station is a little bit outside of the centre, but still manageable by foot), eliminating the need for public transit.
San Cristobal is generally the main hub to and from Guatemala as it’s a 6-8 hour bus ride from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. This makes it a good spot to stop in if you plan on heading south from Mexico City. I’d advise at least three to four days in the city, and plan on spending a full week if you want to check out some of the surrounding area of the famous Chiapas region.
If you’re going to Mexico, make sure to add San Cristobal de las Casas to your itinerary!
Hasta pronto : )