For me, a week wasn’t nearly enough to explore this gorgeous town—I would have stayed a whole month there! San Cristobal de las Casas was my favorite town in Mexico so far. Why? Well, if you know me, I have always liked an “alternative” environment; thus, when I saw that most of the restaurants and cafes served organic, gluten-free, and vegan and vegetarian (even though I’m neither of them) food, I already knew what kind of place I was visiting. Obviously those weren’t the only reasons why I completely fell for San Cristobal (I do spend my time doing other things besides eating…) but the place was a mixture of ancient Mexican cultures with newer European ones: native Mexicans and Europeans walked around the calles, local food was served in the same places where vegan/vegetarian dishes were served, hippies were spotted at antique Catholic churches, and so on. As you may have noticed, lots of contrasts! It was extremely hard to explain how truly charming everything was, so I’ll just briefly describe the historic downtown of San Cristobal (where we spent most of our times at). First of all, the town was composed by a variety of low, colorful houses, and big cathedrals whose domes were spotted here and there; most of the buildings were cafes, bakeries—whose freshly baked breads could be smelled from miles away—and some French pastry shops, hotel boutiques with beautiful interiors, and crafts shops which offered numerous products (from native seeds to fancy clothes). Another thing that called my attention were the street fairs at night, all of the sellers being from regional tribes.
Before we dive into tips and where-to-goes, I’ll write a little about the interesting history of San Cristobal:
San Cristobal de las Casas was founded in 1528 by Diego Mazariegos and at that time it was named Villa Real. Because the region was already occupied by the indigenous people, who called the place “Jovel”, Europeans and native tribes lived in the same area; however, they kept themselves separated. At the center of Villa Real resided the Spaniards, the criollo elite occupied streets from Carmen’s Arch until the Santo Domingo’s Temple, meanwhile, the indigenous population lived on neighborhoods in the outskirts of town. During the colonial times, Villa Real was the heart of the indigenous trade, and it was also a stop for travelers between Mexico and Guatemala; furthermore, the city was Chiapas’s capital until 1892, now it’s considered to be the cultural capital of the state.There was much more to see in San Cristobal besides the historic downtown; however, that was where we spent most of our days at. The main calle stretched out from the Iglesia del Cerrito, located on the top of a hill, and went down on a slope all the way to Plaza 31 de Marzo, which was surrounded by charming boutiques and delicious restaurants. It was worth walking through this pedestrian-friendly calle a few times, visit the cathedral and take in the view of the city from above there, and spend a few hours exploring the tiny stores on both sides of the street. The exploring of San Cristobal should definitely go beyond its zocalo, there were many parallel pedestrian streets, cathedrals, and museums hidden away in the small calles.
Restaurants and Cafes
Since the city had great restaurants, I’ll start by giving some of my favorite ones’ names away:
Natura—located at the popular pedestrian-only calle, this little cafe had great organic options for those seeking breakfasts, snacks, and “quicker” main lunches and dinners.
Bangcook—simply the best Thai restaurant in town! Their specialties are the pad thais and bowls (huge portions for a good price).
Peruano—situated right above Bangcook restaurant, the Peruvian cuisine was great to change things up from traditional Mexican food. Also, both restaurants, Peruano and Bangcook, were situated in this beautiful plaza with a huge array restaurants, each offering a different type of cuisine.
Jardin Tonantzin—this normal/vegetarian/vegan restaurant was nearby the Iglesia del Cerrito. They served awesome juices and kombuchas!
Oh La La—this French bakery was to die for. They served mouth-watering pastries, ice creams, and breads, which made it so hard to choose just one. However, only go to the cafe when it’s less crowded—everything goes so fast and it’s worth being there when all options are available (learned it the hard way)…
Magic Oven—this place had the best bread in town. They had various options, from integral loafs to rolls stuffed with gorgonzola and pear to apple-filled croissants—all freshly baked. No wonder we stocked our fridge with their bread.
Cathedrals, Museums and Plazas
Like any other Mexican town, San Cristobal de las Casas was crowded with century-old cathedrals and churches. All of the cathedrals and churches were extremely charming and worth the visit. Like most of the historic downtown’s architecture, the churches had strong resemblances of Spanish colonial times. Unfortunately, we only got to see them from the outside because they were being fixed due to last year’s earthquake. The most popular iglesias of San Cristobal: Iglesia del Cerrito and the Catedral de San Cristobal.
As for museums, pay a visit to Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya—where the making of Mayan’s textile was beautifully exhibited—and Templo de Santo Domingo, which had a 16th-century baroque architecture.
San Cristobal was famous for its pedestrian streets, which made it a perfect place to visit mercados and plazas. In my opinion, there were two markets one can’t miss: the Mercado de Artesanias de Santo Domingo, a flea/street market with only native products, and a night market situated in front of the Catedral de San Cristobal (opens at 6 pm). These two markets were full of handmade, local products for the best prices, and it was a great chance to see the costumes of the native tribes of the region.
On our last day in San Cristobal we decided to do something in the outdoors, preferably something adventurous. And we found it, the perfect adventure—El Chorreadero Cave. Our day basically consisted of climbing a loop of 3 km in extreme darkness (couldn’t see our own hands if lights were out), all while rappelling and jumping off waterfalls of 4-9 meters high into freezing waters….oh, and there were hundreds of bats too. One of the best days of our trip so far! The tour varied from 3-12 hours, depending on the size of the group and its pace.