San Cristobal de Las Casas – The Mexican City With a Twist
Stumbling off the night bus in San Cristobal de las Casas with one eye open and the other shut, half asleep, wasn’t the most pleasant experience I’ve ever had. However, my intense desire to lie down horizontal in the closest place possible was soon pushed to the back of my mind. I almost got the shock of my life when I nearly fell off the ridiculously high kerb onto the unsteady cobbled road (watch out of those kerbs, when I say they’re high, I mean they’re highhhh). Shock and sleep deprivation aside, I found myself pleasantly surprised and taking an instant liking to San Cristobal.
On first glance, San Cristobal might well look like your standard Mexican colonial city. That’s not to say that the regular colonial cities across Mexico aren’t stunning, there’s just quite a few of them. It’s good to have a bit of a variety, isn’t it? Anyway, back to San Cristobal. This city has the best of both worlds.
San Cristobal de Las Casas is rich with colonial architecture, cobbled roads, authentic street vendors and extremely high kerbs. However, there’s a distinctly modern and cosmopolitan twist here. You get coffee shops offering drip filtered coffee, poured over ice, with a dash of soy milk, complemented with the essence of vanilla. Well, not quite that, but you get where I coming from here. Modern cafes, vegan and vegetarian restaurants and quirky clothes shops are found across the city.
If you’re anything like me at all (and every other Brit in the slightest bit of heat and humidity), you find yourself searching out the closest bit of air-con, after a day dripping with sweat and panting like a dog. This is where I get to the good bit. San Cristobal actually gets cool enough that you could find yourself wearing a jacket at night!! Yes, I know I’m a little bit too enthusiastic over the temperature, but after 3 months of non-stop sweating, the cool evenings feel like they’re sent from heaven.
I was always the plan to visit San Cristobal and the state of Chiapas. The city is one of the main routes into Guatemala. After 6 weeks travelling from north to south in Mexico, the stop-over in San Cristobal arrived. I didn’t know much about the city in all honesty and I have to admit, we may not have visited if it wasn’t for the route into Guatemala. However, the beautiful city stole my heart with its strong coffee, delicious food and easy-going vibe.
Things to do in San Cristobal De Las Casas
Explore, Explore, Explore
Fetch your comfy walking shoes, because you will be covering plenty of miles. The best way to discover this city is on your own two feet. I know, any form of exercise does get difficult after weeks of none stop tacos and tequila. You can do this! If you can’t, well, you’re out of luck, the main things to do in San Cristobal de Las Casas involve walking. Much like plenty of other Mexican cities thinking about it, Guanajuato’s rolling hills spring to mind.
Get a route planned in your head and get walking to the main sites around the city. Planning not your thing? Don’t worry, get lost and discover something new and interesting around every corner.
Take a Walking Tour or Do Your Own Thing
There are regular free walking tours which begin in Plaza Cathedral, in front of the yellow church. The walking tours run twice daily at 10 am and 5 pm from Monday to Saturday. A walking tour in San Cristobal de las Casas is definitely a great way to learn more about the city’s culture and history. Walking tours aren’t for everyone though, so don’t worry. The city is not too large, so it’s easy to navigate by yourself. The choice is all yours.
Walking tours aren’t for everyone. To be honest, I’m not a fan, my goldfish-like attention span means I often zone out during long talks. Luckily, San Cristobal is a reasonable size, so it’s easy to navigate by yourself. The choice is all yours.
Don’t Miss These Buildings…
Iglesia De Guadalupe
I pre-warned you that the things to do in San Cristobal de Las Cases do involve a lot of walking. The steps up to Iglesia de Guadalupe contribute to the bulk of that warning. Don’t worry, the feeling of your heart nearly pumping out of your chest is well worth it when you reach the top. I’m joking, it’s not a difficult climb, it’s a few steps. Well, half-joking.
Plaza de la Paz
A large central plaza which is constantly teaming with energy, whether that be from locals or tourists. No matter what time of the day, you will never be alone on this plaza. There’s always something going on here, whether it’s locals flinging novelty toys everywhere in the hope you’ll buy one, or tourists on the hunt for that Instagram-worthy picture.
San Cristobal Catedral
Commonly known as the ‘Yellow Church’. San Cristobal Catedral is a stand out building with its bolshy yellow paint job. Construction on the original cathedral began in 1528. However, the original building underwent transformations and was rebuilt in the seventeenth century. The cathedral is a worthy centrepiece of San Cristobal.
A fascinating building by all accounts. The intricate details on the exterior of Santo Domingo instantly caught my eye. Those intricate details I was being forced to look at after doing my best to pretend I’d not heard a local shouting me over, who incidentally was holding a live cockerel upside down. An everyday occurrence in a Mexican market I guess.
Iglesia de San Francisco
That’s right, another church. There’s no shortage of them in San Cristobal, that’s for sure. Trust me, you won’t get sick of them. Although there may be a lot of religious buildings for you to explore, no two are the same.
Arco Torre de Carman
The tall red coloured Arco Torre de Carmen is a somewhat dominating structure which boasts being one of the most original buildings in San Cristobal. Constructed in the seventeenth century, the arch of Arco Torre de Carmen was used as the city’s main gate.
Iglesia del Cerrito
Well, if the steps of Iglesia De Guadalupe are a struggle, then I’ve got a bit of bad news for you here. The steps leading up to Iglesia Del Cerrito are even tougher. If you’re as unfit as I am, think a shortness of breath, a bright red face and that feeling your taco lunch may come back up at any time.
As I’m sure you can tell, one thing which resonates in my mind when I think of San Cristobal is lots and lots of steps. At least all that food and beer is being burnt off. Once again, the climb up the steps is well worth it, with expansive views at the top.
Where to Eat & Drink in San Cristobal de Las Casas
The coffee culture in San Cristobal de las Casas is on the rise. With the rising coffee scene, comes the upmarket coffee shops. What could be better than sipping on coffee made from coffee beans picked in the very same state? Of course, drinking coffee and people watching comes hand in hand. It does for me anyway. If I’ve learnt anything from my time in Melbourne, it’s that coffee shops bring a certain crowd. A crowd that can’t get enough of vegetarian and vegan food. Hence the rise of the vegan scene in San Cristobal. Don’t worry though, you’ll still find your traditional Mexican restaurants, serving up traditional local favourites to the masses.
If I’ve learnt anything from my time in Melbourne, it’s that coffee shops bring a certain crowd. A crowd that can’t get enough of vegetarian and vegan food. Hence the rise of the vegan scene in San Cristobal. Don’t worry though, you’ll still find your traditional Mexican restaurants, serving up traditional local favourites to the masses.
Here are some of my favourite cafes and restaurants in San Cristobal De Las Cases…
OK, so I realise in no way is falafel Mexican and some people might pull their face at this recommendation. However, there is a falafel store in San Cristobal, which I couldn’t not recommend. If you’re a vegan, this is great news for you. Even if you’re not, like me, but if you love falafel, great news again. Great news all round, hey?
Think warm and soft, freshly made falafel, not the sawdust type you regularly see in supermarkets. If that doesn’t persuade you to grab a falafel pita, I don’t know what will.
A popular local restaurant serving up all types of Mexican broths. I mentioned the weather can get chilly in the evening in San Cristobal De Las Casas, so what better way to warm up than a warm and spicy broth?
No Name Quesadillas
No Name Quesadillas? What genius thought of that name?
The name might not leave much to be desired, but the hand-made tortillas, fried with a generous portion of fresh filling will. Quesadillas from ‘No Name’ taste like a gift sent from above. The ingredients are fresh, the flavours are bold and the food is cheap.
Carajillo Slow Coffee
When I mentioned San Cristobal’s cosmopolitan feel, one of the big contributors to this is the modern coffee shops spread across the city. I’d recommend getting your hands on some local coffee at Carajillo. Perfect for that kick you need to walk for miles and miles around the city.
Where to Stay in San Cristobal de las Casas
Snail Hostal – Definitely one of the better hostels I’ve stayed at during my time in Mexico. Breakfast is included in the price, which as you probably know, is perfect for keeping the costs down. The location is more than ideal. The hostel is around a 5-minute walk from the main plaza. There are dorm rooms available, or if you prefer a bit more privacy, there are also plenty of private rooms. I couldn’t fault the cleanliness of the hostel. All in all, it is a very good hostel.
San Cristobal had me hooked from the beginning. This southern Mexican city has the perfect balance between modern culture and traditional values. Not to mention, I enjoyed the chilly nights a little more than I should of. San Cristobal is more than a gateway city into Guatemala. It’s well worth your time to spend at least 3 nights here. Whether you enjoy walking around and climbing the heart-attack inducing steps or your perfect day consists of great coffee, good food and relaxation, San Cristobal de las Casas has your covered.
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If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments section.
Have you been to San Cristobal de las Casas before? Where’s your favourite Mexican Town? Did you LOVE the coffee here as much as I did?
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