While traveling, Bia and I were turned on to making a stop in a remote mountain town, central of the southeast Mexican state of Chiapas. The town was known to us, but even through stories of other’s escapades it still was so much more than could be have been put into words. A definite must if traveling through Chiapas, and to give a little perspective we both had just spent a month in paradise along the pristine southern coast beaches. Heading into the chilly mountains on our way towards the Yucatan was supposed to be a weekend stop before continuing on. We ended up staying for two full weeks with no regrets. Now, for a little shared insight on our experiences while here, abridged of course.
For starters, originally formed as a Mexican city under the name Villa Real de Chiapa in the early 1500’s, it was changed to its current name of San Cristobal de las Casas in the 19th century. It became the capitol of Chiapas in the 1800’s but shifted back and forth between Tuxtla, the current capitol of Chiapas now located just over an hour away. It still holds many repurposed official buildings now used as hotels and restaurants giving a historic charm with architectural remnants of colonial Spanish and Guatemalan styles.
Ultra narrow streets with high profile sidewalk curbs really is a wonder how colectivos, vans and other larger vehicles share the road. The sidewalks fit a maximum of two people side by side and the stones cemented in are somewhat slick but the overall adventure throughout the town is a blast.
If Traveling From Zipolite
Colectivo’s run throughout the day which is the budget-worthy way at 8 pesos a person. It’s just under an hour ride to Pochutla which is the nearest city that has a bus station. The colectivo will drop you off about four blocks from the ADO station on the main street. It is located across the street from a Chedraui supermarket which you can stock up on snacks and such for the trip beforehand. Tickets for us cost around 400 pesos a person and the ride total ranged from 10-12 hours so an overnight option could be a good option. Hitchhiking and Blablacar could be options as well but we couldn’t find a trip on Blablacar and even at a direct shot hitchhiking would still run 8-9 hours.
As in many places throughout Mexico and once again cash is the best bet to have on hand. The mercado and its district is strictly pesos, all street fare will be pesos and a handful of restaurants in the historic center will be about it for use of debit or credit. There are plenty of actual banks to visit in the downtown area of San Cristobal including: Banorte, HSBC, BBVA Bancomer, Banco Santander and Scotiabank.
Where To Stay
There are plenty of Airbnb’s throughout San Cristobal and we found a plethora of $10 choices. One we stayed in and recommend was with Wilbert at Casa Josefina located just north of Barrio San Diego and steps from the ADO bus station. Very clean, hot water, an economical kitchen and about a 20-minute walk from the local mercado made a perfect fit. This was a quiet spot with fast wifi and could be an ideal place to catch up on work or recover from extended stays in shared dorms or from camping.
Our second stay which was unexpected as we were about to head towards our next destination but had a change of heart turned into about another week. Hostels are all over San Cristobal and there were plenty of recommended but Hostel De Ja Vu was a more than perfect option. We stayed in shared dorms for 80 pesos a person. Shared kitchen, hot showers, moderately fast wifi, a rooftop for views of the city and located smack-dab in the center of the historic center couldn’t have been a better spot. The place locks up for the night but does have someone on staff 24-hours and runs a fantastic Polish restaurant attached as well.
What To Eat
You’ll never run short of street vendors, the mercado is massive and there are full service restaurants for days from fast-casual to upscale. For starters though here our some of our picks.
This Mercado really is large and is accompanied by street markets that surround it and a whole district of handmade textile goods. Besides the indigenous crafted textiles that fill the streets are produce, proteins and grains that seem to weave back and forth for multiple city blocks. For a good price and if looking to budget, this is your number one go-to spot for food if you’re okay with cooking.
A collective of restaurants with Frontera being one off-street accessible is an awesome coffee shop that serves small bites as well. It has fast wifi and is somewhat of an art collective with artists who hang around performing, painting and more. While we were there they were running a promotion for a fantastic drip coffee and a pastry for 40 pesos.
This charming, chic Italian restaurant makes all of its pasta by hand, fresh local ingredients and with so much love. It’s located just 10 minutes east from the historic center down Ave. Guadalupe towards the Guadalupe Church. The spinach walnut raviolis in a butter cream sauce and linguini bathed in a delicate tomato sauce were superb. The owner was super special too taking care of us through the whole experience. Originally from Italy you could tell she really loves doing what she does, giving a great Italian experience in the middle of Mexico. A very nice dinner with an app, two entrées, desert and a couple glasses of wine comes to about 500 pesos. Not for everyday spending if budgeting (depending on your budget) but a definite must stop.
This restaurant is located in the Hostal De Ja Vu and has a variety of handmade sausages, sauerkraut, goulash, pierogis, beet salad and other easter European fare, specifically Polish. One of the hostel owners and another partner run the joint, are Polish and for about 60-70 pesos per plate run a bargain for a from-scratch delicacy. They do also run breakfast through the morning for about 60 pesos.
For a satisfying burger experience if looking for a change from the wonderful street vendors and of course if craving a burger, swing by Mr. Reggae. The burgers are quality, the fries small (they just crisp so much better and are the right size) and run for only from 70-90 pesos for the combo.
Lastly, this place isn’t just a consolation but actually an amazing bakery amongst a town flooded in bakeries. A little on the pricier side for bakeries in the area with a small loaf of bread running about 33 pesos and other goods about 20 pesos a piece this stuff is seriously quality. It was so good we would pick up fresh loaves and pastries every morning while staying at De Ja Vu hostel as it was around the corner from it and simply amazing.
What To Definitely Do
Get acquainted with San Cristobal with a free walking tour through a bit of the central historic area. Tours begin at 10am and 5pm everyday and meetup is at the Gazebo in Plaza 31. You’ll be filled in on the history of the city, brought through some of the markets, a hip artists collection and finished off in a Pox bar where you can pick up this local spirit as well. The tour is free but gratuity at the end is always appreciated. The tour runs about 3 hours.
This tour is located just under an hour out of San Cristobal and can be reached through a local tour guide or if you’d like to save a few pesos can be caught through a collectivo or bus heading towards Tuxtla. There is a main bus hub located around the San Diego neighborhood along the southern side of the city and for 55 pesos will drop you just across the highway (with an overhead crosswalk to the other side) from a short road to the entrance of the Sumidero tour. The tour itself cost 220 pesos upfront and was to run around 3 hours. You load into a 30 foot riverboat and cruise through an ongoing gigantic canyon pass. A super cool tour for sure. On the way back there are colectivos you can catch towards San Cris for about 30 pesos.
Both indigenous towns located just outside of San Cristobal and 8 pesos by colectivo to get to either should be checked out at some point of your visit. Both run by their own local government, they are quiet, small artistic towns. Very simple living with a style from the past gives these wonderful pueblos much character. Local textiles, pox and a few small street carts can be found, and a great way to see a deeper part of Mexico.
Guadalupe Church and Iglesia de San Cristobal de Las Casas are two awesom lookout spots as well as beautiful churches both located on top of large hills that overlook San Cristobal. If looking for a great photograph or to check out older style architecture definitely swing through here.
This is also either a two hour hike uphill outside of town if looking for some exercise and adventure. Otherwise it’s an 8 peso ride up into the mountainside surrounding San Cristobal. Grottos, streams, zip-lining and more can be found in the heart of the wilderness. No cell signal by any means but also a nice break from everything can be found here. Colectivos pick up from the entrance as well. Admission to the park is 10 pesos and 15 pesos for the grotto.
San Cristobal is a must see but remember to be aware of the handling of foods. We did catch food poisoning which put us out for a day or so. Afterwards paid quite a bit more attention but did run into a few other traveling with the same dilemma. Also as warm as it can be during the day especially at the high altitudes and many times cloudless skies, the temperature does drop at night and you may want to keep a light jacket on hand.
San Cristobal has so much to offer. The people are wonderful, the Pox or local liquor (comparable to Cachaca but made with only corn) is strong and the culture is vibrant. The handmade goods can be found all over and the colors are absolutely stunning. The craftsmanship of these lovely people really brings a magical sense and testament to the creative, colorful palate of the locals. Bring an appetite, an open mind and a sense for adventure and make this one of your stops while traveling through Chiapas.