San Cristobal de Las Casas is a magical fusion of the new and the old. Tradition is deeply ingrained in the culture of this colonial city, which you can see by the dress of the women as you walk down the street.
But a new generation has come along too. Breathing a new energy into the city, San Cristobal now thrives on community interaction and collaboratives in the form of cafes, galleries and community events.
For these reasons, San Cristobal has become a popular destination amongst visitors looking to explore a colonial city and the stunning nature of the surrounding Chiapas region. Plus, it’s also super affordable!
An authentic and affordable Mexican city
The selection of restaurants are very diverse and guarantee delicious food. And the fact that they’re cheap means you can’t feel guilty for eating tons of food.
If you’re a wine lover, San Cristobal is the place to be. There’s a wine bar that offers glasses of wine and tapas for $1 (we talk more about this later). The wine bar is a great place to start your night, before heading to any one of San Cristobal’s numerous bars and clubs.
With affordable accommodation and living costs, San Cristobal is starting to hit the digital nomad scene. The abundance of cafes and co-working spaces has made the city the perfect place to work.
Located in the mountains of Chiapas
Situated 2,200 meters in the mountains of Chiapas, San Cristobal boasts warm sunny days but a chillier climate during the nights. This also makes the city a great place for hiking.
#1 Get to know San Cristobal de las Casas with the free walking tour
This is the first thing you should do when you arrive in San Cristobal de las Casas!
Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to familiarise yourself with a new city is by taking a free walking tour.
You get to see the city in a few hours, learn about its history and get recommendations for the best places to go and eat. One of the organisations we recommend is San Cristobal Walking Tour.
Each guide has their own route, but with each one you’ll get to visit some independent art galleries, and sample the food and drink that San Cristobal is famous for. This even includes the liquor Pox.
They offer two tours a day at 10am and 5pm. Each tour lasts around 2-3 hours and is run based on voluntary tips. Essentially you tip whatever you think the tour is worth!
#2 Visit the villages of Zinacantan and San Juan Chamula
Travelling is all about experiencing different cultures and beliefs. A visit to either of the indigenous villages on the outskirts of San Cristobal de las Casas will do this for you.
San Juan Chamula Indigenous Village
When you first arrive in San Juan Chamula, nothing really seems out of the ordinary! There’s men and women in traditional dress, but besides that it looks like a regular town.
The church at the centre of the town, Iglesia de San Juan, also looks normal. It’s not until you go inside that things are slightly different.
The church floor is covered in pine needles, no pews in sights. All around the church hundreds of candles are burning alongside religious statues.
Inside the church, families gather to carry out rituals which involve the burning of candles, chanting and sacrificing a chicken. The ceremony is then concluded by drinking either pox or a fizzy drink to induce a burp. This then allows the bad spirits to leave the body.
The whole experience is very intimate, eye-opening and something you will remember. No photos are allowed of inside the church, so you’ll have to go there yourself if you want to see it!
How to visit San Juan Chamula
If you want to witness this ritual, you’ll need to have timing on your side though. It’s not an organised event, families just turn up when they want and carry out the ritual.
A visit to San Juan Chamula is easy. You just need to head to the colectivo station by the market. The journey takes 30 minutes and costs 18 MXN ($0.90) each way.
Zinacantan Indigenous Village
Not quite as unusual as San Juan Chamula, Zinacantan is still an interesting indigenous village to visit as well.
Zinacantan is well-known for its traditional textile production, particularly for it’s woven and embroidered floral clothing. You’ll see this style of clothing all around the town and also in San Cristobal de las Casas.
Wandering around the town you’ll get to see textile-makers at work, perfecting the backstrap loom technique used to create the clothing.
How to visit Zinacantan Village
The best way to get to Zinacantan is by a 20-minute taxi that costs 100 MXN ($5) – 150 MXN ($7.50).
El Chiflon doesn’t have just one waterfall, but five. There are a series of tiered waterfalls, flowing into perfect agua pools that you just can’t wait to swim in.
These are impressive in themselves, but the one to really see is Cascada Velo de Novia. Standing at 70m, you can’t help but admire the power of the water as it roars down into the pool below.
Surrounding these waterfalls, you’ll find a number of hiking trails with views of the waterfalls, continually surrounded by lush vegetation. There’s also camping and ziplining available in the park, so way more than just the waterfalls.
How to get to El Chiflon waterfalls
Entrance fees to El Chiflon are 50 MXN ($2.50).
You can do this trip by yourself, but unless you have a car, getting there isn’t straightforward. Instead many people opt to join a tour.
As you’re cruising along the lake, surrounded by towering cliffs on either side of the boat, you can’t help but appreciate the mightiness of nature.
The 1,000m high cliff walls were created approximately 12 million years ago when a geological fault opened up.
Aside from the impressive canon walls, there’s also an abundance of wildlife to spot – crocodiles, monkeys, birds, to name a few. Then once you’re done cruising along the 19km river, you can gain a whole new perspective and view it from one of the many viewpoints along the way.
How to visit Cañon Del Sumidero
One of the best ways to visit Cañon Del Sumidero is by joining a tour. That way you don’t have to worry about a thing. Most accommodations should be able to arrange a tour, or alternatively you could book the tour online.
#5 Hike to the El Mirador viewpoint of San Cristobal
Despite being surrounded by mountains, hikes around San Cristobal aren’t really advertised much, but one not to miss is El Mirador.
It’s a relatively short but steep hike, taking between 30-45 mins. The start of the trailhead isn’t marked too clearly, just keep your eye out for the red arrows and follow them the whole way up.
Once you reach the top and scale a few boulders, you’ll be treated to a breath-taking panoramic view of San Cristobal. It’s amazing to see how dense the city actually is and the way it climbs up the hillside opposite.
How to get to the start of the trail
The start of the trail is a 10-15 minute taxi ride from the centre of San Cristobal, or you can hop in a colectivo that’s heading to the south of the city. Alternatively, you can add to the distance of your hike and instead walk there. This takes just over an hour.
#6 Explore San Cristobal’s artisan and food markets
If you love a market, then you’ll love San Cristobal de las Casas. As well as the night market that happens every night on the Plaza de la Paz, San Cristobal also has a day market.
The artisan market is brimming with local vendors selling a whole host of goodies, from jewellery, clothes, bags to electronics and carvings.
One particular item that you’ll see a lot of is amber. This may be in the form of pure stones or turned into intricate jewelry. The gem amber can be found throughout Chiapas and was highly valued by the Ancient Tzotzil people.
Pro-tip: To check that the amber gems are real, get the vendor to shine a UV light on the stone. If it becomes fluorescent then it’s real.
San Cristobal Food Market
Close by to the artisan market you’ll find the San Cristobal Food Market. This market is slightly overwhelming due to the number of stalls and tight enclosed corridors between them, but this just adds to the whole experience.
As you are engulfed by the market, your eyes won’t know where to look. One way there are stalls overflowing with bright and colourful fruits, and the other a load of dead chickens lined up on a counter!
This is the best place to get fresh produce at a lower cost than the supermarkets.
Do get ready to practise your haggle skills in both these markets though.
#7 Explore caves and go ziplining at El Arcotete
If you’re looking for a cheap afternoon out or a place to lounge for the day whilst being surrounded by beautiful nature, then head to El Arcotete.
El Arcotete park has a number of walking tracks, rivers and caves to explore. Wander through the caves and you’ll be treated to great viewpoints of the valley and river below.
The highlight of the park for most people are the 5 ziplines available for just 100 MXN ($5). There are different lengths and heights available, each providing stunning views of the park.
Entrance to El Arcotete park costs only 10 MXN ($0.50) and another 10 MXN ($0.50) to enter the caves.
#8 Visit the Jade and Amber Museums
San Cristobal de las Casas has a number of museums to visit, particularly showcasing the gems which can be mined within the Chiapas region. Both Jade and Amber were very important to the indigenous population of Chiapas.
The Jade Museum
The Jade Museum doesn’t need much of your time, but for 35 MXN ($1.75), it’s worth a visit.
For the Mayans, Jade represented immortality, eternity, power and love. For this reason, the stone was used to create masks and jewellery.
The museum contains replicas of these archaeological artefacts, alongside information taking you on a journey of the Chiapas region’s history.
The Amber Museum
Housed inside an ex-convent, the Amber Museum displays over 300 pieces of amber. These include beautiful pieces of jewellery and sculptures.
The amber mined in Chiapas is also well-known for encasing and fossilising animals from thousands of years ago. The museum does a really good job of explaining the origin of amber, how it was extracted and its uses.
Similar to the Jade Museum, it doesn’t take too long to wander around, so both museums can be combined in one day.
Entrance fee to the museum is 25 MXN ($1.25) and it’s open every day but Mondays.
Both Agua Azul and Misol-ha are two of the best waterfalls in Mexico!
Agua Azul is a multi-tiered waterfall with a number of pools that are perfect for swimming. The waterfall gets its name from its vibrant blue colour, similar to the ocean colour in the Maldives.
Make sure to walk to the top of the waterfall, to the ‘mirador’, to really appreciate the grandeur and power of the waterfall.
Entrance to Agua Azul is 50 pesos.
Misol-ha is a 35m tall single cascade waterfall. At its base, you’ll find a plunge pool that’s perfect for swimming in.
At the site, there’s also a path that allows you to walk behind the waterfall. The spray from the waterfall here is very refreshing.
Entrance to Misol-ha is 30 pesos.
Take a tour or visit by yourself?
If you have a car you can visit the waterfalls by yourself, but most people opt for a tour. Do keep in mind that the waterfalls aren’t that close to San Cristobal de las Casas, so the whole day ends up being over 15 hours long.
If you take the walking tour, you’ll probably be recommended El Mirador Restaurante as one of the best places to watch the sunset in the whole of San Cristobal.
The family-owned restaurant has a panoramic terrace, giving you views of the whole city and surrounding mountains. Here you’ll get a bird’s-eye perspective of the colour colonial buildings tightly clustered together.
The restaurant also offers 2 for 1 beers, and always brings out an appetizer to accompany your drink and the sunset.
#12 Get a birds-eye view of the city from Guadalupe church
Another great place to get a spectacular view over San Cristobal de las Casas is from Guadalupe church, which sits on the hillside and is visible from most places in the city.
Ascend the 80 steps and the effort will be rewarded with some glorious views.
Visiting the church is free, but you can also pay an extra 5 MXN ($0.25) to access the roof and see some more incredible views.
Many people say that Hotel Bo is ‘one of the best places they’ve stayed in’. You’re certainly treating yourself if you decide to stay here. Alongside the stunning gardens brimming with flowers, there’s modern and cosy rooms, a gym and onsite restaurant.
The hotel’s restaurant treats guests to upmarket Mexican cuisine and international dishes in a thoughtfully lit dining room. Their exceptional breakfast is the perfect way to set you up for a day of exploring San Cristobal. Trust us, you won’t want to leave once you arrive at Hotel Bo.
You couldn’t be more at the heart of San Cristobal than at Casa Lum. The popular walking street filled with restaurants and bars are literally on your doorstep.
Contemporary style and colonial architecture coexist in harmony at Casa Lum. This is clearly exhibited throughout it’s 8 rooms and delicious restaurant.
Another thing we love about this place, they’re also a social and environmentally sustainable hotel.
Posada del Abuelito is a cozy and colourful hostel situated inside one of San Cristobal’s stunning colonial buildings. The heart of the hostel is the perfect place to chill, surrounded by plants and hammocks.
The delicious breakfast that’s included sets you up perfectly for a day of exploring the city. The communal kitchen also means you can dabble in a bit of cooking yourself. The atmosphere created by the hosts will make you feel instantly at home.
We’re not quite sure how Puerta Vieja Hostel makes money, but we’re definitely not complaining. For just $9, you get both breakfast and dinner included in the price. On top of that, they even offer a free burger and cocktail night every Friday!
There’s plenty to keep you occupied within the hostel too. There’s table tennis, a TV lounge and a large garden for chilling in. The hostel is also only seconds away from San Cristobal’s main square. It’s a great place to meet other travellers.
Free breakfast and dinner
TV lounge and table tennis
Close to the main square
Dorm rooms from $9 per night, including breakfast and dinner