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 everywhere you go in the beautiful dress of the Indigenous women and the products sold at the markets here.
But a new generation has come along too, breathing new energy into the city. San Cristobal has become a multicultural destination that thrives on art and community interaction in the form of cafes, galleries and community events.
For these reasons and more, San Cristobal is simply not to be missed off your Chiapas itinerary.
Get your bucket list ready. In this guide, we’ll show you the best things to do in San Cristobal and how to experience them.
Need help planning your trip? Check out our tips for visiting San Cristobal — you’ll find the best restaurants, where to stay, how to get around and more!
Top tours in and around San Cristobal
- Chamula and Zinacantán Indigenous Villages Day Trip for $39
- Visit El Chiflon and Montebello lakes for $43
- Boat trip through Cañon Del Sumidero for $47
#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 includes the liquor Pox.
They offer two English tours a day, one at 10:00 and one at 16:00, that meet at Plaza de la Paz. 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. But better yet, visit both!
San Juan Chamula
When you first arrive in San Juan Chamula, nothing really seems out of the ordinary! There are 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 start to get… different.
The church floor is covered in pine needles, no pews in sight. All around, hundreds of candles are burning, including on the floor (so watch your step).
Families gather to carry out religious rituals which involve burning copal incense, praying in Tzotzil and sometimes even sacrificing a chicken. The ceremony is then concluded by drinking either pox or a fizzy drink (often Cola) to induce a burp. This is believed to expel bad spirits from the body.
The whole experience is intimate, eye-opening and something you will remember forever. 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. Some days are more eventful than others when it comes to ceremonies.
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 ($1.00) 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 its 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 ($5.50) – 150 MXN ($8.50).
If you want to combine both villages in one day, you can join a Chamula and Zinacantán Day Trip where all your transportation will be arranged for you.
Book your tours here:
#3 Be amazed by the waterfalls at El Chiflon
El Chiflon doesn’t have just one waterfall, but five. There are a series of tiered waterfalls, flowing into perfect 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, the waterfall roars into the pool below and is so powerful you’ll be soaked in seconds.
Surrounding these waterfalls, you’ll find a number of hiking trails with nice views, surrounded by lush vegetation. There’s also camping and ziplining available in the park. And in a true Mexican fashion, a michelada stand is never too far.
How to get to El Chiflon waterfalls
Entrance fee to El Chiflon is 50 MXN ($2.80).
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 which works out reasonably cheap.
For $38, this tour includes the visit to El Chiflon, plus a trip to the nearby Montebello lakes.
Book here: El Chiflon and Montebello Lakes Day Trip for $43
#4 Take a boat trip through Cañon Del Sumidero
Another popular day trip from San Cristobal is to Cañon Del Sumidero. The canyon is somewhat of a symbol for the state as it’s featured in the coat of arms of Chiapas.
The 1,000 m high cliff walls were created approximately 12 million years ago when a geological fault opened up. 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.
Aside from the impressive canyon walls, there’s also an abundance of wildlife to spot: crocodiles, monkeys and birds, to name a few. Once you’re done cruising along the 19 km 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.
Book here: Cañon Del Sumidero Boat Trip for $47
#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 30-45 mins. The start of the trailhead isn’t marked too clearly, but 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 breathtaking 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.
Top tip: Our San Cristobal de Las Casas guide shows you the best areas to stay, restaurants you don’t want to miss and many more tips for your visit to San Cristobal de Las Casas!
#6 Explore San Cristobal’s 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 jewellery. Amber can be found throughout Chiapas and was highly valued by the ancient Tzotzil people.
Top 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 Old Market
Close by to the artisan market, you’ll find the San Cristobal Old 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 or simply observe the local life and a variety of products unique to the region.
Do get ready to practise your haggling 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 a cave to explore. Wander through the cave and you’ll be treated to great viewpoints of the valley and river below.
The highlight of the park for most people are the five ziplines available for just 100 MXN ($5.50). There are different lengths and heights available, each providing stunning views of the park.
Entrance to El Arcotete park costs only 15 MXN ($0.80) and another 15 MXN ($0.80) to enter the cave.
#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 important to the Indigenous population of Chiapas.
The Jade Museum
The Jade Museum doesn’t need much of your time, but for 35 MXN ($2.00), it’s worth a visit.
For the Mayans, jade represented immortality, eternity, power and love. For this reason, the stone was used to create death masks and jewellery.
The museum contains replicas of these archaeological artefacts, alongside information taking you on a journey of the Chiapas region’s history. You can see some of the originals in Mexico City in the National Museum of Anthropology.
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.
The entrance fee to the museum is 40 MXN ($2.30) and it’s open every day but Mondays.
#9 Take a day trip to Agua Azul and Misol-ha
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, the ‘mirador’, to really appreciate the grandeur and power of the waterfall.
Entrance to Agua Azul is 50 pesos.
Misol-ha is a 35 m 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 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.
Alternatively, you can do the journey from San Cristobal to Palenque on your own and then book a tour from there, but why not include the transfer already in your tour?
Book here: Day Tour to Agua Azul, Misol-ha and Palenque for $43
#10 Watch an eye-opening movie at Kinoki cinema
Situated just off the main walking street you’ll find Kinoki. It’s a small cultural centre with a bar that has great views over the city, but the real highlight is the cinema.
Most days of the week, Kinoki plays independent films in their old-school cinema. The majority of these films are addressing important current issues. The establishment wants to educate the community, so they want it to be accessible to everyone. For this reason, cinema tickets are usually cheap.
The majority of the films are in Spanish but have English subtitles. Check this beforehand or you won’t be understanding much of the film if you don’t speak Spanish!
You can check out their film schedule via their Facebook page.
#11 Watch the sunset at El Mirador Restaurante
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 birds-eye perspective of the colourful 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 your effort will be rewarded with some glorious views.
Visiting the church is free, but you can also pay an extra 5 MXN ($0.20) to access the roof and see some more incredible views.
How to get to San Cristobal
|Leaving from||Duration||Prices from||See details|
|Oaxaca||5hrs – 12hrs||1,004 MXN ($57.00) – 2,450 MXN ($140.00)||Oaxaca to San Cristobal de las Casas|
|Palenque||6hrs – 11hrs 10mins||418 MXN ($24.00) – 3,400 MXN ($195.00)||Palenque to San Cristobal de las Casas|
|Puerto Escondido||5hrs – 13.5hrs||MXN ($0.00) – 2,085 MXN ($120.00)||Puerto Escondido to San Cristobal de las Casas|
Rounding it up
Now you’ve picked the best things to do in San Cristobal, it’s time to start ticking off that bucket list. Not sure how to plan your trip? Our guide is here to help! You’ll find out how long to stay in San Cristobal, where to eat, how to get around and more. Happy planning!
Hotel Bo - Treating Yourself
Many people say that Hotel Bo is ‘one of the best places they have ever stayed in’. You’re certainly treating yourself if you decide to stay here. Alongside the stunning flower-filled gardens ideal for relaxing in, there are modern and cosy rooms, a gym and onsite restaurant.
The hotel’s restaurant treats guests to upmarket Mexican cuisine and international dishes in an beautifully-designed environment. 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.
- Stunning and relaxing garden
- Exceptional restaurant
- Onsite gym
- Large and modern rooms
Double rooms start from $80 per night
Casa Lum - Treating Yourself
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.
- Onsite, highly rated restaurant
- Excellent location
- Socially and environmentally responsible ethos
- A intricately designed city oasis
Double rooms start from $80 per night
Sereno Art Hotel - Mid Range
This 4 star hotel really does feel like it was designed by artists, with it’s spectacular wall art and intricate details. The decor is an interesting blend of urban and rustic pieces.
The courtyard is truly stunning, with fairy lights creating the appearance of a starry night sky. Another star of the hotel is it’s restaurant. Their food can’t be raved about enough!
- Delicious food served in their onsite restaurant
- Creative and stunning decor
- Great location
- Cosy and large rooms
Double rooms between $40-$80 per night
Posada del Abuelito - Budget Friendly
Posada del Abuelito is a friendly 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.
Their delicious complimentary breakfast 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 best part? The hosts do an excellent job of making everyone feel at home.
- Homely atmosphere
- Great location
- Delicious breakfast included
- Rooms are bright and spotless
Double rooms between $15-$40 per night
Puerta Vieja Hostel - Budget Friendly
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 the best place to meet other travellers in San Cristobal.
- Free breakfast and dinner
- TV lounge and table tennis
- Great atmosphere
- Close to the main square
Dorm rooms from $9 per night, including breakfast and dinner
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