San Cristobal de las Casas provides many opportunities to see and do things both within the town, and as short day trips outside the city. The serene town at approximately 2,000m altitude makes for a backpackers delight, having a colonial feel and still being small enough that you are able to walk the town with ease.
After having spent some days here, us at Nomadic Bones were able to experience some great tourist attractions, alongside some hidden gems that we think you ought to know about. Here are the top things that we believe should be done whilst visiting San Cristobal de las Casas.
Plaza Central (Zocalo)
Every town in Mexico seems to have a central point such as this, and San Cristobal is no different. Here, the rotunda that is common in most of Mexico has been turned into a restaurant, and the square itself is always bustling with markets and other activities.
We always enjoy checking out the main square, whether it be for people watching or to find out what surrounds it. Whilst we were here we were able to watch public concerts one block from the plaza, alongside countless markets selling from traditional Mexican fare to books.
San Cristobal has many churches, all within walking distance of the main square. The main ones to visit include the Church of Guadalupe (Iglesia de Guadalupe), San Cristobal Cathedral (Catedral de San Cristobal, and the Temple of Santo Domingo (Templo Santo Domingo).
Our favourite ended up being the Church of Guadalupe, which can be seen high up on a hill when walking up the (mostly) pedestrian cobblestone streets of Real de Guadalupe from Plaza Central. It also makes for a picturesque walk up from the plaza, alongside a very pretty view both inside the church and outside back towards the town.
El Caldero Restaurant
This restaurant is so good that it gets its own specific mention. Serving mostly soups, you’ll be thankful to drop in here to warm yourself up with the wide selection available.
Being hearty, filling, and reasonably priced (between 75 – 85 peso), you will receive a complimentary appetiser of tortilla chips and dips, followed by a large bowl of soup accompanied with warm tortillas.
Definitely come to this amazing restaurant, located on Av Insurgentes 5-A, right near Plaza Central.
Sumidero is a day trip easily taken from San Cristobal, and one of the few times where purchasing a tour actually ends up being cheaper than doing the trip yourself.
Leaving at 9am, we were whisked away down the mountain towards the Canyon and arrived after approximately 45 minutes (downhill is faster, right?). We were then loaded onto a boat holding approximately 30 people (2 by 2 with one centre aisle) which was a lot more comfortable than some boats we saw that must have held almost double this.
Over the 2 hour boat ride we were shown many different species of animal that added to the wonder of the canyon itself, including Zopilotes (a black vulture), monkeys, crocodiles, and of course the usual storks and pelicans.
The canyon actually does ‘take your breath away’, as we found ourselves constantly looking up towards the massive walls of the canyon in awe at how it was all created. To put it into perspective, we were told by the guide that the highest point of the walls of the canyon was 1 kilometre – a massive drop!
How to get to Sumidero Canyon without a tour:
As mentioned, it works out being cheaper to do a tour of the canyon than getting there yourself. If you would still prefer to go by yourself, you can catch a collectivo near the Mercado Viejo for approximately 50-60 peso each way.
You will then need to make your way to the docks, where the 2-hour boat ride will set you back 200 peso each.
How to get to Sumidero Canyon with a tour:
After having investigated many tour companies within San Cristobal de las Casas, we can honestly say that the cheapest (and most prominent – we saw many of their buses throughout our stay) option to get to Sumidero Canyon with a tour is through Otisa Travels & Tours (otherwise known as Jalapeno Tours).
They are located on Real de Guadalupe right near Plaza Central, and will only charge you 190 peso for the entire tour. This includes transport there and back, the boat ride, and a 1-hour stop after your boat ride in the town of Chiapa de Corzo for you to purchase lunch and have a look around (this is plenty of time to see the town and eat).
We would highly recommend Otisa / Jalapeno Tours, but note that you will need to know basic Spanish to book the tour as they do not speak English. A bonus tip also is that no matter how you do Sumidero Canyon, the boat drivers do not speak any English, so read up on the canyon before you go if you do not speak Spanish.
San Juan de Chamula
The town of San Juan de Chamula contains one of the most interesting churches we have ever come across, providing an insider view into the customs and traditions of the local people.
As you enter the church, you will encounter hundreds of candles as well as pine needles strewn across the entirety of the floor space. There are no benches within this church, rather the people use the pine needles to kneel on whilst lighting candles during their prayers.
Other interesting customs within this church include the drinking of soda or soft drink and then burping to rid themselves of evil spirits, alongside chicken sacrifices (which we were ‘lucky’ enough to see). In addition there were constant bangs around the church as people set off crackers and fireworks, another interesting tradition of these people.
All-in-all it was a very interesting place to visit, although a short one. We would not recommend a tour here, but rather that you make your own way here and pay the 25 peso entry fee by buying a ticket from the nearby tourist office before entering the church.
How to get to San Juan de Chamula:
Whilst there are options to hike, bike, or even horse ride to this town, it is a strenuous 8 or 9 kilometres uphill from San Cristobal.
The easiest and one of the cheapest ways of getting to Chamula is to take one of the frequent collectivo’s near the Mercado Viejo for 20 peso each way. When you are ready to make your way back to San Cristobal, simply return to where you were dropped off and they will take you once the van is full.
Huitepec Ecological Reserve
This reserve is quite close to San Cristobal, making it an excellent half day trip for a hike in the surrounding forest and jungle. Whilst we were not able to head to Huitepec ourselves (running out of time again!), we have heard very good things about the hike with it taking approximately 2 hours to complete the circuit.
If you do venture into Huitepec, do not do so for the bird-life. Whilst there are many tours advertised for Huitepec as a ‘bird lovers dream’, most people we spoke to said they saw more birds within the town itself. Go instead for the hike, which we have been told can be strenuous but is rewarding and not overly long.
How to get to Huitepec:
Huitepec is on the way to San Juan de Chamula, so once you have found the collectivo’s to Chamula near the Mercado Viejo you will be also able to reach Huitepec.
The cost to the ecological reserve should cost you no more than 15 peso each way, and you will need to tell the driver that you wish to be dropped off at the entrance (located halfway up the hill to Chamula).
So there is what we believe are the best things to do whilst visiting San Cristobal de las Casas. Of course there are many more experiences both within town and out, but with the time we had in town these were great highlights.
Whilst in town we stayed at Posada del Abuelito – this place was AMAZING, cheap with a great breakfast, a good vibe, and far enough from town that you aren’t kept up all night from noise. Book it HERE.
Let us know what you liked about San Cristobal in the comments if you have visited before!