Hello travelers! Welcome to my travel guide on the best things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. My name is Rebeca Guerra – originally from Maracaibo, Venezuela but now based in Houston, and along with my boyfriend we document all of our adventures around the world.
Growing up in what was once the oil capital of the world, my childhood in Venezuela was spent traveling around the beaches of the country, hence the tropical baby in me was born. Every Friday afternoon my mom would pack up the car with beach chairs and a cooler and we would spend the weekend at whatever closest beach we hadn’t been to yet – exploring has always been our favorite thing to do together.
This really inspired my intense love for traveling – my mom always reminded me that the key to living a rich life was to experience it through other people’s eyes. A couple of years later, like most Venezuelans, we fled the country because of the growing political unrest and headed to the US.
Our lifestyle completely changed – and long story short because of immigration laws and a non-existent relationship with my father, I couldn’t leave the States (even for just a couple days) without parental permission. The day I turned 18, I changed my last name to match my moms and I vowed to myself that nothing would ever stop me from traveling again.
Fast forward, in 2016 I met my now boyfriend and we shared the same obsession of exploring unknown little corners of the world. We started documenting our trips for memories and then it turned into our passion – creating and curating content to share all of our adventures through photography, social media, and now through our Travel Blog “Two Soles“.
We are just two souls that fell in love chasing el “sol” (the sun). Now, we balance working full-time as well as creating content to share our travels and escape anywhere any chance we get. So here is our guide through how we spent our summer in Chiapas.
15 Magical Days in San Cristobal de las Casas
Two years ago we spent the entire summer in Oaxaca and since then we’ve made it a tradition to spend the summer months in different parts of Mexico – we fell in love hopping through mezcalerias, Hierve el Agua, and the street food of beautiful places like Oaxaca City.
Since then we had our eye on visiting Chiapas, a very similarly low key and very authentic Mexican state that seemed relatively undiscovered still by the travel blogger space! After postponing the trip due to COVID, a year later we were determined to make up for lost time and spent over 2 weeks in San Cristobal de las Casas for a change of scenery.
San Cris seemed like the perfect home base city to settle down for a while because although it’s the most “touristy” within the region, it’s still extremely affordable and the weather is incredibly crisp since it’s surrounded by mountains – unlike the blazing hot temperatures in surrounding cities.
We reserved a minimalist and cozy Airbnb for 15 days just a 10 minute walk from El Centro – 3 bedrooms, a fireplace, and a beautiful indoor/outdoor living room. We spent these days either roaming around the city or taking day trips to the nearby attractions like Canon del Sumidero and later to Palenque, Agua Azul, and El Chiflon. San Cristobal still has that colonial, small-town feel but has all the conveniences of a city.
Why San Cristobal de las Casas is so Special
San Cristobal has this unique energy about it where life feels slow and intentional – a cultural hotspot that feels stuck in time because its people have preserved so much of the traditional way of doing things. It’s got a rich blend of Neo-Mexican culture and preserved indigenous traditions.
The colonial arquitectura, charming cobblestone streets, and unique gastronomy (let’s also mention how nice on your wallet Chiapas is) – San Cris should start making its way to the top of every traveler’s bucket list.
Unlike other cities in Mexico like Cancun or Tulum, there’s a priority in the preservation of culture and tradition here that isn’t commercialized to please tourists. San Cristobal de las Casas presents its face as is and encourages its visitors to embrace the true “sabor” of Chiapas.
If you’re looking for a Margaritaville or a T.G.I. Fridays for dinner – this is not the destination for you. But if you’re looking to drink Pox from an abuelita’s kitchen or immerse yourself in the baffling yet fascinating beliefs of the ancient Tzotzil – San Cristobal is an incredible portal into some of the most culturally rich experiences in Mexico.
My Favorite Aspects about San Cristobal
It’s hard to pick a particular special place in San Cristobal de las Casas because what really made this trip memorable was getting to know this city slowly and taking it all in for what it is! San Cris captured my heart for being so unapologetically ITSELF – it’s charm is preserved in history, and not a facade for tourists or a sea of resorts by foreign corporations.
Its murals, baroque architecture, and surrounding Tzotzil villages make San Cris the beating heart of one of the most deeply rooted indigenous areas in the country. The most special part of experiencing this city was walking around spontaneously, hearing stories from its residents, and enjoying meals made with ingredients from the surrounding landscapes.
5 Best Things To Do in San Cristobal de las Casas
1. Take a Boat Tour at Canon del Sumidero
This was our favorite place after spending over a month in Chiapas – it’s seriously breathtaking to see how majestic this canyon is. We took a boat tour and also visited all of the miradores and the view is just something you can’t get bored of looking at.
Besides the color of the water, it reminded us of the landscape in Lake Como but with grander walls and such unique wildlife you won’t see elsewhere. If you’re in Chiapas, this should be the number one thing on your list of things to see. It’s also close enough to San Cris to make for a good day trip that you can easily drive back to your accommodation in the evening after your tour.
2. Visit the Mercados of San Cristobal de las Casas
I found that now a couple months after our trip, I keep thinking back to the days we just roamed into random markets and how sentimental the items I got are to me now! There was such an exhilarating chaotic energy in these markets that was so magical to me – all the stands selling absolutely everything and anything you can imagine.
If you have a sweet tooth, visit El Mercado de Dulces y Artesanias. All the pan dulce, conchas, and regional Chiapaneco desserts are displayed through hallways of pastries. If I could describe a place as sensory overload it would be El Mercado Viejo. There’s an overwhelming amount of smells and colors in such a crowded space – filled with regional spices and dishes.
Lastly, you must visit El Mercado de Artesanias Santo Domingo. I got so much jewelry that I still wear every day and it’s so special to me. So many locals here are sitting at their stand and you can watch them making these special pieces meticulously.
3. Walk El Andador del Carmen & Real de Guadalupe
Probably the most popular thing to do in San Cristobal de las Casas is to aimlessly wander through its prettiest pedestrian streets. There is so much life radiating from these street corners that are often filled with performers, live music, and bustling bars/restaurants.
We loved just walking these areas day and night and comparing the vibe. Pick a restaurant with a nice balcony or patio, enjoy some 2 for 1 margaritas, and people-watch on these streets! Chiapas is also known for the best and highest-growing coffee in the country so embrace the cafecitos – it’s some of the best coffee we’ve ever had.
4. Tour the Iglesias
As one of the most religious states in the country, San Cris is a great display for the priority Catholicism takes in the lives of its residents. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the beauty and liveliness of these churches!
Take a stroll from the city centro over to the Iglesia de Guadalupe, make your way up the famous steps, and take in the beautiful view of el Pueblo Magico from here! Along with the vibrant Mexican gospel songs in the background, it makes for a great sunset viewpoint. La Iglesia de San Cristobalito is also a picturesque church to stop and look at.
5. El Chiflon, Agua Azul & Misol-Ha
This is the furthest set of attractions from San Cris on this list but for good reason – they are absolutely worth the trip. These are some of the most epic waterfalls in Mexico but mainly they’re known for their turquoise hues.
We visited during the rainy season so we really saw “Agua Marron” lol. Nonetheless, these reminded us of the waterfalls in Costa Rica! Visiting these will literally mean being in the middle of a rainforest and the wildlife, and untouched beauty from these waterfalls is a memorable moment.
Experiences with the People and Culture
A hugely prominent influence any tourist will notice when in San Cris is the large indigenous population and its stark difference from other Mexicans. If you are awake and walking around the city early – you will notice crowds of women and children making their way to the town square, mostly dressed in black feathered skirts and holding some sort of collection of artefacts.
The Chamulas come from their very insular pueblo that’s very close to San Cristobal but it couldn’t be more different. They make this trip daily to come to sell in the town’s busiest streets and mercados. It was intriguing to witness the dynamic between these two groups – it’s like they share the same region but have completely different experiences living in it.
A moment that specifically marked us is an afternoon we had all gone to a wonderful mezcaleria named “Nostalgia”. We found it while walking back to our Airbnb one day and decided to pay some homage to our love for Oaxaca and mezcal. We wandered in with both of our moms and set up camp as it rained. These 2 boys came in holding huge displays of bracelets, necklaces, keychains, and a variety of other knick knacks.
They both came immediately to our table, yelling over each other, offering us all of their goods and urging us to buy anything. You’ll notice this is very common here – there are many kids out working almost all day long trying to sell artefacts and they can linger and follow you around.
We told them we didn’t have any cash to buy from them and both of them in unison then said “ok can we eat what you don’t want?”. We all looked at each other in shock – how long have these kids gone without eating?
My mom waved the waiter over and ordered them aguas de tamarindo and some food. We talked with them, asking what they do day-to-day and where their parents are. They speak their native tongue to each other and even have a slight accent when speaking in Spanish – neither of them had ever been to school besides the services at their church in Chamula.
They couldn’t read or write and spoke a broken version of Spanish. They were best friends and their moms spent the day either weaving bracelets and textiles or also walking around town to sell goods. They were both enamored by the idea of the USA – they kept asking what it was like and their eyes lit up saying: “There is a lot of work in the states, right”?
This moment broke my heart that such young kids dream about jobs, rather than games or friends. But it’s a harsh reality that many people face from an early age not only in San Cris but in Mexico in general.
Food Recommendations for San Cris
One of our favorite things about this city was the diverse restaurants. There is every level you can imagine – whether you choose a taco truck off a quiet street or you make a reservation at a candlelit restaurant – the food is bound to be “bueno, bonito, y barato” AND locally sourced.
There’s also a wider variety of cuisines than you would expect – besides Mexican we found hole-in-the-wall spots like Sapporo (incredible ramen) and Trattoria Catanzaro (authentic Italian) that satisfied our cravings.
Some of our favorite days however were spent roaming town and talking to locals that gave us their recommendations like where to buy the best homemade tortillas and which taco stand to go on which days. The people of San Cristobal were warm and inviting – they felt honored that travelers have made the trek to embrace their wonderful pueblo.
It was through local recommendations that we learned about Pox, an ancient Tzotzil liquor made from corn, wheat, and sugar cane. This liquor is incredibly colloquial to this region and is even used in religious ceremonies for its “healing” properties. Some local dishes we tried and loved:
- Queso fundido con cochinito en hoja de tamal (melted cheese with pork served in a banana leaf)
- Tacos de cochinita pibil (tacos with pork in traditional chiapas spice blends)
- Garnachas (fried tortillas with carne mechada, beans, and cheese)
- Tamales de Chipilin (a regional leafy green inside corn masa with chicken or meat and cheese).
- Trattoria Catanzaro
- Isabel “Comedor Libre”
- Restaurante La Lupe
- Sweet Beat
- Cafe bar 500 Noches
- Mercadito Nómada
- Nostalgia Sabor Istmeno
- Casa Lum
- Centro Cultural Nierika
Favorite dessert shops:
- Xocol-Ha Chocolate y Churros (the BEST)
- Marquesitas from the street vendors in el Zocalo
- Oh La La Pastelería
- Frontera Cafe
- Carajillo Cafe
- Amor Negro (try the horchata cold brew!)
Where to Stay in San Cristobal de las Casas
Our airbnb: https://abnb.me/5ukgRY2QMjb. We spent our 2 weeks at a cozy, 3 bedroom Airbnb for just $40 a night in the neighborhood El Cerrillo (meaning small hill). We highly recommend this area because it’s the perfect balance between privacy and vicinity. It’s far enough away from the city centro to where it’s quiet at night but still only a 10 minute walk away!
It’s safe and accessible if you want to head out for dinner/drinks at night and coming back is a leisurely walk to help you digest. I highly recommend this neighborhood if you’re looking for affordable, longer-term stays but still want to be close to all the fun.
We originally picked this location because both of our moms were coming to stay with us for a week so we wanted plenty of room and a quieter place where they could get some rest. If you’re searching for a little more luxury or want to be right in the middle of town – consider looking for hotels along Real de Guadalupe only steps away from bustling bars and restaurants.
Casa Lum is a place we considered staying at in San Cristobal and we only heard great things about it – they also have an on-site restaurant that was very good and the rooms start at around $100 USD per night.
Tips for Visiting San Cristobal de las Casas
Figure out what you want to do while you are in Chiapas first. If you are looking for a relaxing vacation spontaneously roaming the streets – you won’t need a rental car since San Cristobal is a beautifully walkable city!
If you want to stay in San Cris as a homebase to explore all the attractions in the vicinity – I would encourage you to rent your own car. You’ll find that the tours give you very little time at the destinations so you spend more of the day in a tour shuttle driving rather than actually enjoying the scenery.
One tip we can give if you are driving around on your own is to be very aware and try to avoid desolate roads. We had no issues until we got to the Lagos de Montebello/Agua Azul area. Right before we got to Agua Azul, we went through a tiny town called Chilon and we ran into unexpected traffic.
Imagine a very desolate and run-down town with political posters plastered everywhere – we just had a bad feeling about the whole thing. Once the car in front of us moves forward, we pull our car up and a huge group of people run in front of our car and hold a rope out to signal we can’t pass. A man comes to tap on our window and I am just terrified at this point.
I’m talking to him from the passenger seat, meanwhile our car is entirely surrounded by people. He basically says we are not allowed to pass unless we pay a “human toll fee”. I am shaking. I’m so scared at all these people inches away from my window as they all stare for us to get out money and kick our car so we don’t think about just driving off.
We just ended up paying and kept driving but it was a scary experience. So if you are driving your own car beware of these kinds of situations and don’t have your valuables visible in your vehicle. I don’t mean to scare or deter you from driving, just be prepared to have smaller bills on you and don’t argue with people – just pay and move on and avoid any escalation!