Best Things to Do in San Cristobal de las Casas
San Cristobal de las Casas is a colonial city in Mexico's state Chiapas, where you can admire the architecture, eat in great restaurants, and it is easy from this place to travel around and visit a canyon, waterfalls or even Mayan ruins. Read our guide with tips on the best things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas, one of the must-visit places in Mexico.
Right after we arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas, we knew something was different. First off, it was raining which was quite unusual as we had been pretty lucky with the weather lately and second, we were cold. The cold was something we hadn't felt for several months already, as we were sweating most of the time in Central America. Actually, the last time we wore a long-sleeved t-shirt we could remember was in Monteverde in Costa Rica.
So if there is one thing you should know before traveling in San Cristobal de las Casas it would have been that the city sits 2200 meters above sea level, and when the sun does not shine, it can get here pretty chilly in a short time.
But we must say that we got pretty quickly used to the fresh air and sleeping under the blanket.
If we should tell you one more significant information about San Cristobal de las Casas, it would have been that it is really worth it to visit this colonial city, because there are many amazing things to do not only in the city but also outside the city limits.
The truth is that San Cristobal de las Casas is popular among travelers, and some of them find hard to leave, as the city and the beautiful nature around have so much to offer.
The atmosphere in the city is lively, but not too much, so walking around the cobblestone streets is pleasant, and you can take your time to photograph the architecture, colorful houses, interesting street art, wrought-iron balconies, and indigenous people who still wear their lovely bright dress.
We spent three days in San Cristobal de las Casas, and it was for sure not enough time to see and do everything the city has to offer, but we tried hard.
Here's our tried and tested list of the best things and activities you can do in San Cristobal de las Casas and its near surroundings.
THINGS TO DO IN SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS AND ITS SURROUNDINGS
San Cristobal de las Casas, set in the highlands, is one of the most popular cities and one of the must-visit places on almost every traveler's Mexico itinerary, so the most visited historical part of the city can be a bit crowded.
We visited the city in April, which is the beginning of the rainy season, but still, we had a feeling there are way too many people. But it was enough to walk off the main tourist street lined with bars, travel agencies, and restaurants or take a one-day trip outside the city, and crowds quickly dispersed.
So what can you see in San Cristobal de las Casas?
Keep on reading.
EXPLORE THE CITY OF SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS
If you are thinking about why the San Cristobal city is so charming, and why most of the houses in the historic center keep the grandeur, it is worth mentioning here that San Cristobal is the former capital of Chiapas state.
The top attractions to see within the city's boundaries are the architecture, street art, indigenous culture, and beautiful churches.
In case you want to learn more about the city's history and know more about the people living in the region, it is worth it to take a free walking tour, however, it is absolutely easy to walk around San Cristobal de las Casas on own.
Cathedral | On the main square of San Cristobal de las Casas you cannot but notice the city's cathedral as this yellow structure is hard to miss. If time allows, go inside and admire the interior.
Churches of San Cristobal | Chiapas state is one of the most religious parts of Mexico, so it cannot take you by surprise that there are many churches in the city with almost 200 000 inhabitants. It is for sure not possible to see them all, but when walking around the city center, you will notice the following structures: Cathedral Santo Domingo, Saint Lucias Temple or Iglesia de San Cristobal.
Zocalo | The city center of San Cristobal alias Zocalo is the historic part, where you can see the most of notable buildings, churches, cobblestone streets, beautiful facades and where you will meet many tourists. You do not need any map to explore Zocalo as it is compact and easy to navigate.
Iglesia de Guadalupe | Perched atop a hill, an only short walk from San Cristobal's city center is Church of Guadalupe from where, after conquering several uneven stone steps, you can get great views of the city, and green lush hills on the opposite side of the valley.
Real de Guadalupe | Real de Guadalupe is the main pedestrian walkway in San Cristobal de las Casas. The street is lined with many restaurants, bars, shops, and travel agencies, and apart from tourists, you will meet here many indigenous people trying to sell their handicrafts and hand-made clothes. Although the houses along the street are beautifully colorful, this is for sure not the authentic San Cristobal.
Jade Museum | The buildings around the historical center are home to many museums, but one of the most notable ones is the Jade Museum which is quite small, so you do not need to spend there that much time, and you can find here replicas of the jade masks, significant for the area.
Artisan Markets | It is always hard to tell how traditional the artisan markets in such a touristy place like San Cristobal can be, nevertheless, it is interesting to see what local people make, and you can buy a souvenir in case something will be to your likings.
BIKING & HORSEBACK RIDING AROUND SAN CRISTOBAL
If you had enough of walking in the city, you can take advantage of the hills surrounding San Cristobal.
There are quite many trails around the city, but as you will go a bit off the beaten path, we recommend you to hire a guide for your safety and because the trails are not well-marked, it is also better to have an experienced person with you so you won't get lost.
It is possible to rent bikes in almost every travel agency in the city center, many agencies also offer horseback riding tours to the indigenous villages nearby, if you have own customized path you would like to explore in mind, it is necessary to shop around the city.
VISIT INDIGENOUS TOWNS NEAR SAN CRISTOBAL
Only ten kilometers from San Cristobal de las Casas lie two indigenous towns (each in a different direction), Zinacantan and San Juan Chamula.
Both villages are famous for their culture as it is a place where locals still live traditionally, and you can see here how the textile is made, and you will learn a lot about the culture (including sacrifices), history, and religion of indigenous people native for the area. If you can visit only one village, we would recommend San Juan Chamula which is not noteworthy only for all the features mentioned above, but especially for the church standing on the main church in the village.
We don't want to spoil you the surprise, so we can only say that although the exterior of the church looks quite ordinary, the interior is absolutely outstanding, and different from any church we've ever visited.
Frequent colectivos leave San Cristobal de las Casas to either Zinacantan or San Juan Chamula from the station near the market (or you can flag down the driver anywhere along the road to the village), or you can take a tour combining the visit of both indigenous villages.
Mexico is home to a large number of Mayan ruins, and one of the best ruins in the world, but if you've already visited some archeological complexes on the Yucatan Peninsula, you know that most of the places are heavily visited, and maybe except for Edzna Ruins it is hard to find a place where you can peacefully enjoy the site.
But Tonina site, less than 100 kilometers from San Cristobal is exactly the place. Because of its location Tonina, a pre-Columbian archaeological site well-known for many pyramids and terraces is not that heavily visited, and if you take time and explore it without a guide, you might have it only for yourself.
Nowadays, the only disadvantage is that Tonina is near Ocosingo, and although you can get there independently by colectivo, you would have to travel via the not recommended road (read below the How to Get to San Cristobal section), so it might be better to take a tour to increase your chances to enjoy the sightseeing without any unpleasant accident.
In case you do not have Palenque on your itinerary, you can consider visiting them from San Cristobal.
We spent two nights in Palenque and visited the ruins from there, but we know many travel agencies run the tour from San Cristobal to Palenque Ruins (combined with visiting Agua Azul and Misol-Ha waterfall).
Be prepared to spend quite a lot of time on a winding road, but as we saw the Palenque ruins and two waterfalls along the road with our own eyes, we can tell you it is totally worth it. Palenque ruins are set in the jungle, it reminded us a bit of Tikal ruins, and the structures within the archeological complex are wonderful.
The Mayan ruins haven't been fully excavated yet, but it is more than interesting to see the part which has been taken care of and the parts where nature is still taking over the rule.
EL CHIFLON WATERFALLS
The state of Chiapas boasts with a large number of waterfalls, and one of the most beautiful ones is El Chiflon, approximately a hundred kilometers away.
The series of five cascades fall into an insanely blue pool, the highest waterfall out of these five is 120-meter high Velo de Novia. You can walk along the waterfall and admire views from different angles from various viewpoints.
The falls are a bit similar to Agua Azul, and when your time is limited, pick only one of them. It is possible to get to El Chiflon from San Cristobal by public transport, but it is time-consuming, and the most common way how to visit the falls is with a tour which often combines the visit of the falls with Montebello Lakes National Park.
CANYON DEL SUMIDERO
Our favorite day-trip from San Cristobal de las Casas was the one to Sumidero Canyon. At first, we wanted to travel to the canyon independently, but later we found out it would cost almost the same as when taking a tour, so we went with a group. You can shop around in San Cristobal and look for the best prices, or you can book a tour in advance.
The canyon is really gorgeous, and although we've seen quite many amazing canyons such as famous Colca Canyon in Peru, we were not at all disappointed by Canyon del Sumidero. The first part of the tour included the boat ride in the canyon, and it was really beautiful to watch the high steep walls of the canyon above us, and we even spotted several species of birds, monkeys, and even crocodiles. Later, we traveled by a van to several viewpoints from where we could see the canyon from above.
Although it was hot and hazy, vistas were really worth it.
CHIAPA DE CORZO
Not very far away from the capital of the province Tuxtla and Canyon del Sumidero is one of the most beautiful colonial towns in Mexico called Chiapa de Corzo.
It's extremely popular with day tours, both local and foreign tourists and is part of the Pueblo Magico program - historically and culturally important towns in Mexico. There are many interesting buildings and places scattered around the town, and it's worth to stop by and explore it for a few hours.
When visiting Chiapa de Corzo, you must try a traditional corn drink called Pozol, a brown looking beverage drunk in bowls or gourds.
AGUA AZUL & MISOL-HA WATERFALLS
Agua Azul and Misol-Ha are another two worthwhile waterfalls to visit in Chiapas state.
It is easier to visit the falls from Palenque (you can get there independently), but many tour agencies in San Cristobal offer a day-tour to those falls in combination with Palenque ruins.
Agua Azul is a series of waterfalls creating many turquoise pools where you can swim and spend there a relaxing hour or two, and it is incredibly photogenic, while Misol-Ha is a high single-drop waterfall.
When traveling during the dry season, always check in advance how's the situation, because Misol-Ha Falls are prone to lose the water.
CROSS BORDERS TO GUATEMALA
Some of the travelers plan on crossing borders from San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico to Guatemala.
Although it is not an absolutely straightforward journey, it is doable, and here's a quick guide on how to do it.
You can take an ADO/OCC bus from San Cristobal to Cuidad Cuauhtemoc, where you can cross borders from Mexico to Guatemala. That was the easy part. From there take the taxi to La Mesilla, then another taxi to Linea Dorada bus terminal. From there you need to take another bus, and close to Panajachel, you will change the bus for the last time.
If you are concerned about the safety or it sounds too complicated, you can take a tourist shuttle to Panajachel.
Keep in mind, that you will need to change the van on the borders, as the shuttles don't cross the borders. After the immigration check, another van will be waiting for you on the Guatemalan side.
Nevertheless, on what option you choose, don't forget to get the exit/entry stamps on both sides of the border.
WHERE TO STAY IN SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS
San Cristobal de las Casas is one of the most popular destinations in Mexico, so you won't have any issues with finding accommodation as there is a wide range of hotels and hostels for every budget category. We've handpicked three best hotels for every type of traveler.
Budget | Kukulpan Hostal - Very well-reviewed and located hostel is close to the city center, super cheap and for the price paid you get a comfortable room and simple breakfast.
Mid-range | Hotel Provincia - Rooms in this hotel are rustic and clean with minimalist decor and wooden details, the courtyard is elegant, and overall this hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas is great value was money.
Luxury | Hotel Bo Hotel Bo - Excellent location, stylish decoration, attention to detail, great breakfast and beautiful rooms are the reason why this hotel is the best in the city.
HOW TO GET TO SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS
San Cristobal de las Casas is a larger city on the road between Palenque famous for Palenque ruins and Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital city of Chiapas state.
The scenery along the road number 199 winding from Palenque to San Cristobal is spectacular, but if you are motion sick when traveling, do not forget to take a pill, because some parts of the road are more snaky that it is comfortable.
Unfortunately, at the moment this part of Chiapas state experience safety problems connected with drug trafficking and gangs, and it is not recommended to travel between Palenque and San Cristobal by car on own, especially at night as armed robberies and holdups can occur here.
Although colectivos and travel companies still travel this stretch of the road (they most likely pay to the gangs that they can pass safely), we would not risk it when traveling independently by rental car.
The most dangerous part is at the moment between Ocosingo to San Cristobal, the journey between Palenque to Ocosingo is considerably safe (we traveled ourselves by colectivo between Palenque and Agua Azul).
Public buses and travelers in rental car should get to San Cristobal via Villahermosa - it is the longer, but the safer way how to arrive in the colonial city.
In case you are short on time, and traveling around Mexico by bus or car does not suit your busy schedule, you can fly to Tuxtla (check out Skyscanner for best rates), and take a regular bus to San Cristobal from here.
SAFETY IN SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS
Except for the unstable safety situation on the road between Ocosingo and San Cristobal de las Casas, the city itself is considered safe, especially when you walk mostly around the historic center, but exercise caution when you'll decide to explore a bit farther, for example, if you want to get the view of the city from one of many hills surrounding it.
As in all cities in Latin America, you should follow a few simple rules - do not walk outside after dark if not necessary, do not flash around your valuables, be aware of your surroundings, and do not wander off the main tourist trail.
WHAT TO PACK FOR VISITING SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS
You do not need to pack anything special in case you plan on wandering only the streets of San Cristobal, only keep in mind that the city is 2200 meters above sea level, and when the sun is not shining, it can be chilly here, so you will need some long-sleeved clothes.
But as the surroundings have so much to offer, if you plan on doing at least one activity from the best things to do in the city we've outlined above, you should pack the five following items.
Waterproof Dry Bag | Anytime we plan on doing an activity near water, we always take a waterproof dry bag to keep our valuables safe.
Filtered Water Bottle | When the sun is shining, it can be too hot in San Cristobal, so do not forget how important is staying hydrated. It is not safe to drink tap water in Mexico, so the filtered water bottle will do the job.
Sunscreen | It would be a shame not to visit at least one ruin near San Cristobal, so pack sunscreen as the shade is rarity here.
Rain Poncho | April to November is the rainy season, and although you do not have to avoid traveling in Mexico during this time, pack rain poncho or an umbrella to stay dry.
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