The colours and churches of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. And thoughts of living there as an Expat.

When planning my trip to Mexico in June my mom had suggested that we visit San Cristobal de las Casas in the Chiapas region. She had good memories from a previous stay and was considering the possibility of making San Cristobal her new base in Mexico.

We flew together (my mom and I – this was our once-a-year-get-together) from Mexico City to Tuxtla Gutiérrez. From there it is about an hour’s drive to San Cristobal de las Casas. Having spent the last 3 weeks travelling around Northern and Central Mexico, Chiapas instantly felt very different: the vegetation is green and lush, the towns are smaller and separated by longer distances, and the temperatures – especially driving up the mountains towards San Cristobal – are much cooler. Everything reminded me of the Eje Cafetero in Colombia, the lush and mountainous region where Colombia’s coffee is grown. The similarities aren’t far off – like Eje Cafetero, Chiapas is one of the best coffee growing regions on earth.

San Cristobal de las Casas is a really pretty place with a colonial feel. ie. colourful streets, low-level buildings with large courtyards, and lots and lots of churches. And like Oaxaca (which is 600 km to the north) you’ll see many indigenous women – dressed in beautiful wool skirts and colourful shawls – selling arts and crafts. The geographical setting of the town is unique: San Cristobal is 2,200 meters high and you’ll see clouds passing just above the tops of the surrounding hills. You are literally in the clouds. The altitude also means cool weather (very cold in winter) and variability. When I was there in June there was rain, usually heavy downpours, followed by blue skies. The weather could change quickly.

Arriving in San Cristobal, we checked into our Airbnb (one of the nicest Airbnb apartments I’ve stayed in anywhere). Some views from our rooftop terrace:

Above: Lots of hills surrounding San Cristobal de las Casas.

Above: nearby churches seen from our terrace. The first above is the Cathedral (10 minutes away), the 2nd is Templo de San Francisco (5 minutes away)
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Above: San Cristobal de las Casas (source: Tourbymexico). Just click on it to see full size.

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Around San Cristobal de las Casas

We spent the next 5 days walking around town, exploring the markets, and drinking a lot of coffee (our favorite café is Frontera, near the artisan market). Some photos from around town.

Below: off the main square (the zocalo) is the Cathedral of San Cristobal de las Casas (completed in 1539). The Pope visited it last year when he came to Chiapas. The most colourful church I’ve seen in Mexico.

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Below: The main square of San Cristobal.

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Below: San Cristobal de las Casas has 3 pedestrian streets extending out from the main square. Makes the town very walkable. 

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Below: walking up Real de Guadalupe brings you to a set of stairs. Going up brings to to Templo de Guadalupe.

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Below: colourful streets and buildings in town.

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Below: This pretty little church is Templo de el Cerrillo.

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Below: right in the heart of the artisans market is the Templo y Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo de Guzmán. It was built in 1547 by Dominicans from Seville, Spain (interestingly enough, where Lissette and I spent several months last summer).

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Below: another pedestrian street, avenue General Utrilla with views towards the Templo del Carmen.

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Below: A lesser visited church is the tiny Iglesia del Cerrito, located on a hill near the city center. It’s a bit of a hike up but has nice views over the town.

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Below: Iglesia de San Francisco seen from Iglesia del Cerrito.

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Below: The Iglesia de San Francisco was actually one of my favorite churches. It was completed in 1586 by the Franciscans.

 

We enjoyed San Cristobal de las Casas immensely. Besides being very pretty, it is safe, walkable, and has great food and coffee. The artisans on sale, especially the fabrics, are the best I’ve seen anywhere both in terms of quality and price. I bought some beautiful stuff. The Tzotzil women who knit these are incredibly talented.

So would my mom consider making San Cristobal her new base in Mexico? Spending 5 days together she concluded that it wasn’t a place that she could see herself long term. While it has many pluses, it also has a few negatives: 1) it’s too remote (an hour from the airport at Tuxtla Gutiérrez), 2) it’s too cold and the weather variable, 3) the town is too small. I think, long term, that you could feel very isolated in a place like San Cristobal de las Casas.

But it’s a great place for a short visit and we enjoyed our 5 days in this beautiful town.
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Have you been to San Cristobal de las Casas? What did you think of it?

 

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Comments

  1. Oh wow! Gorgeous looking place.

  2. Wow! Your photos are stunning and took me back on a trip down memory lane. I especially remember the town square with the backdrop of the mountains and the colors against a dramatic blue sky. I think our favorite churches were the worn Templo y Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo de Guzman with the elaborate stucco (?) carvings on the outside and the Templo de Guadalupe with its multitude of stairs leading to the entrance that was near the AirBnB place we stayed. The beauty and colors of the city are knock-out gorgeous but what I most remember are the tiny women carrying enormous babies and toddlers on their backs that looked half their size and that there seemed to be a lot more indigenous women than men. A beautiful city for sure and a stand-out memory but, like you and your mom decided, too remote and too cold to consider for a long stay or a base.
    Anita recently posted…The Antebellum Houses of Natchez, Mississippi and Monuments of The Lost CauseMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Yes, I remember you mentioning having gone to San Cristobal Anita. I agree, one of the most memorable things were all the indigenous women in their colourful outfits and their kids. My understanding is that they live outside of town, coming into town to sell what they make. The men are probably off doing manual labor somewhere…
      All these churches make you wonder what some of these Mexican towns would be like without Spanish colonization. It always also amazes me to see how religious they are in Mexico considering the brutal way it was imposed on them a few hundred years ago.
      Thanks for the comment Anita.

  3. That’s one part of Mexico l haven’t been. It looks like quite the quaint place, but like your mom, l would come to the same conclusion. It wouldn’t work long term due to the isolation. Nice to visit though :-).

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I think it’s actually a good jumping off point for a trip through Guatemala and going further down into Central America. I would actually consider doing that sometime, it’s not very touristy and you can actually have a lot of adventures in this region…

  4. Interesting visit Frank, to Chiapas and its capital St Cristobal de las Casas. Spent a few days there prior to doing the “Maya Trail” and got to know it pretty well.
    The Chiapas is the traditional homeland to the Lacondon and other Mayan tribes, considered to be very proud of their heritage and having the ‘closest customs and culture’ to the indigenous Mayas. The state has its own status within Mexico, being very much a ‘distinct society’ -with a communal, non-individualistic approach to the economy and with their own unique laws – eg: no chain hotels or restaurants are permitted, almost the entire economy is in the hands of co-operatives etc Most of the locals do not like to have their photos taken, and will hide their faces – the camera being considered an item that ‘steals the soul’

    Some additional attractions well worth seeing in the area :-

    – Cañon del Sumidero (near Tuxlia Gutierrez on the road to San Cristobal) well worth the hour plus boat trip down the gorge to the hydro dam, thru’ 800 metre high cañon walls.
    – La Merced – Church, and its fabulous Museum of Amber (reportedly best in the world with many v precious pieces) in San Cristobal. Chiapas produces about 35% of the world’s amber.
    – Mercado Los Arcos – night market in Plaza Los Arcos just behind the city hall
    – Casa Na Bolom (Jaguar House) left to the city by archiologist Frans Blom & his wife Gertrude Dubi , now a unique and v educational museum on the Lacondon mayas. It is dedicated and actively involved in the preservation of their unique customs and culture.
    – The two nearby towns of San Juan Chamula & Zinacantan , (about 60.000 people each) undoubtedly the finest, most colourful, high quality artisan textiles and clothes made in Mexico . The centre of the co-op as well as the Chiapas independence movement, centre of their v strange form of Catholicism linked strongly to the Maya gods.
    – The two towns also produce most of the geraniums in Mexico … evidently the climate is perfect for their production…
    – The city – San Cristobal (strangely enough) also has a good selection of wine bars – our favourite La Viña del Bacco .
    Agree – nice place to visit for a few days, not to live in – despite the many ex-pats having a go at it (without much success it seems) .
    Chiapas’ poverty is amongst the worst in Mexico; the ‘cinturon de miseria’ in San Cristobal , not too evident at all in ‘el centro’ but pretty horrific just outside it.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks for the insightful comment Tony, very helpful.
      We did a few of the things you mention, plus were also careful not to take photos of the locals after hearing about some tourists getting fruits thrown at them in the market for taking photos! But this trip was with my mom, it was more about spending time together. And as you mention, picked up some great textiles for our new apartment in Split.

  5. looks like a wonderful place to disappear to for a while. And youre right – so lush compared to much of what I imagine Mexico to be like! Looks gorgeous!
    Andrew recently posted…Travel Itineraries – BoliviaMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      There’s a very different vibe in Chiapas and like I say, the geography reminded me of parts of Colombia. I would for sure come back, preferably in a drier part of the year when you can do more exploring and hiking.

  6. Have to agree that San Cristobal is a great place to visit but it’s not quite right for an extended stay. It is gorgeous, however, and as well as exploring the town, we really enjoyed visiting outlying villages such as San Juan Chamula and San Lorenzo Zinacantan. My only gripe about San Cristobal was that we were there during Semana Santa and the place was rammed – way too many visitors for my liking but I do recall that the bandstand was always busy and we would sit in the square with a couple of beers and listen to Mexican brass music – happy days!!
    Mark recently posted…An A to Z of UkraineMy Profile

  7. Another beautiful Mexican village you’ve introduced us to. Looks like a great place for a short visit.
    Paula recently posted…Egypt Trip Tours – videoMy Profile

  8. Nice one Frank. The town seems quite colorful generally and the streets are clean.

    Cold in winter–I bet it is!
    Ted recently posted…Drug addicts plus an English whore and a big black dogMy Profile

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