Welcome to San Cristobal de las Casas, a town located at an elevation of 2,200m (that’s 7,200ft for all my Americans out there 😘) in the state of Chiapas, somewhere between Mexico City and Cancun (yes, I know, that’s a lot of ground in between). When I started planning my Mexico adventures, this town never even crossed my mind. Of course, like all good things in life, they come in unexpectedly. So when my fellow travelers passed on word of this place, I knew I had to add it to my itinerary. So I decided to book a 10 hour bus ride from the Puerto Escondido, at the coast of Oaxaca, to the mountains of Chiapas to see what all the fuss was about.
The State of Chiapas…There is a rich history in this area and as I spent a few days there, I learned about the Zapatistas, a far left socialist political and militant group that controls most of the state of Chiapas. The region is mostly autonomous thanks to the zapatistas and, as I learned, the Mexican federal government doesn’t really mess with these rebels. The zapatistas fight for indigenous rights, don’t seek office positions in government, heavily favor farming, bringing power to the people and are heavily protective of their territory, as I learned during an adventure to Lagunas de Montebello. One of their slogans is: Para todos todo, para nosotros nada (“For everyone, everything. For us, nothing”).
At one point of my adventures in Chiapas, on the way back from Lagunas de Montebello, a friend wanted the driver to pull over on the side of the road. The driver ignored our requests and patiently motioned with his hands that it was impossible. He only said one word: “Zapatistas”. Our limited Spanish and reading of his hand signals of guns indicated that if he were to stop in this territory, we would be in deep trouble. It was eye opening to discover that this was the reality of the region. How fiercely protective the indigenous and those affiliated with them are of their land and right to living life their way.
The City itself is beautiful. Granted, I visited during the world wide pandemic, so it was bizarre to see facemasks and sanitization stands everywhere. Otherwise, San Cristobal de las Casas is one of those places where you plan on spending a week and end up living there for a whole month. It’s one of the most affordable places I’ve been to in Mexico, with tons of amazing vegetarian and vegan food considering that agriculture is an important part of their identity.
Things to Do
- Free Walking Tour (www.freewalkingsancristobal.com): One of the best walking tours I’ve experienced in Mexico thus far. They meet every day at Plaza de La Paz, at the gigantic wooden cross right in front of the Cathedral (you literally can’t miss it) at 10AM & 5PM, offer the tours in both English and Spanish.
- Go vintage shopping at Bad People, pick up some cute threads or stock up on funky stickers and thrift at some other countless spots.
- Dance the night away to live music on the weekends at Centro Cultura Nierika and El Paliacate and a secret rave at a skatepark
- Ride a horse through San Juan Chamula, visit the church and observe the interesting rituals and decor (like chicken sacrifices and mirrors in front of statues for some spooky vibes).
- Sit at the zocalo and people watch.
- Wander aimlessly through the labyrinths of Mercado de la Caridad y Santo Domingo, Mercado Viejo and for the more adventurous travelers, locate the infamous candy shop at the Mercaltos market for party favors
- Take a day trip or spend a few days exploring nature and smaller towns in Palenque, Lagunas de Montebello and Comitan
Where To Stay
Stay at Puerta Vieja hostel to pay around $8USD, including breakfast and dinner (with gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options)! It’s located centrally and close to many major attractions.
Food & Cafes
If there’s one hobby I love more than anything else, it’s eating. Fortunately, as a gluten free vegetarian, SCDLC proved to be one of my favorite eating cities (next to Oaxaca).
- Centralita: Need a coworking space? I didn’t but a lot of my digital nomad friends did and really recommended this spot.
- Participate in a language exchange on Tuesdays at Libre Cafe from 5PM to 7PM, practice your Spanish and teach your language to locals and travelers.
- Kinoki: Nothing better than a spot that literally almost does it all. Kinoki is a funky cafe that spans about three floors, operates as an independent film cinema (that mostly features movies about the zapatistas), a coworking space (with WiFi and outlets!) and tea salon. Not to mention, it’s one of my favorite places to check out sunset. Thanks to my friend Eli (The Partying Traveler) who introduced me to this gem.
- La Vina de Bacco: $21 peso wines ($1USD) with a free tapa per drink. Try their hot wine, mulled with delicious fruits, great for warming up with friends, sitting on the patio and people watching the pedestrian friendly streets.
- La Antigua for an art gallery feel with your coffee or tea
For all my gluten free/vegetarian/vegan friends, have no fear:
- Sarajevo Jardin Cafe: Plants. Various nooks with mismatched chairs and couches to sit or lounge in. Wifi. Outlets. Can you say cozy ten times fast? I’m a sucker for beautiful design that incorporates natural elements and good food, so Sarajevo was one of my favorite religious haunts in San Cristobal. Their Menu del Dia (Menu of the Day) runs your pockets for 95 pesos, comes with your choice of an appetizer, entree, coffee or tea and their agua del dia (water of the day). You also gotta try their taro latte.
- Te Quiero Verde
- Veganos La Taqueria
- El Caldero: Soak up some warmth during those brisky San Cristobal nights with amazing soups from El Caldero,
- Dely Quesadillas: Super affordable quesadillas with vegetarian options. Vegan too, just ask to omit the cheese.
- Bek Semilla
San Cristobal is also home to more Korean eateries than I expected. When questioned why, I was informed that pre-pandemic, Korean students would travel internationally to this town to study Spanish! Some of my favorite Korean restaurants:
- Loving Hut (entirely vegan Korean menu! gluten free friendly too)
- Teddy’s Comida Coreana
- Casa de Ahn