Imagine this: A campfire-like smell fills the air as you walk down the cobblestone streets of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. Brightly-colored homes line each side of the small road and their fireplaces are busy providing much-needed warmth. A Tzotzil lady in a fuzzy black wool skirt offers to sell you a hand-knit scarf for protection from the morning frost.
San Cristobal de las Casas is called “San Cristóbal” or just “San Cris” by locals for short. But it’s also known by its indigenous name, Jovel.
It’s the cultural capital of the state of Chiapas and home to a large indigenous community, fascinating museums, and bustling markets.
Looking for more things to do in Chiapas? Check out these articles:
- 11 Amazing Things to Do in Chiapas
- Ultimate Guide to Palenque
- 9 Best Things to Do in Comitan
- Visiting the Hidden Ruins of Yaxchilan and Bonampak
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- About San Cristóbal, Mexico
- San Cristóbal de las Casas Altitude
- Best Time to Visit San Cristobal de las Casas
- How to Get to San Cristobal de las Casas
- Things to Do in San Cristobal de las Casas
- Explore the Local Markets
- Visit the Cultural Museums
- Guadalupe Church and San Cristóbal Church
- Real de Guadalupe Pedestrian Street
- Hiking at Moxviquil
- San Cristóbal’s Regional Dishes
- San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan Villages
- Cañon del Sumidero (Sumidero Canyon National Park)
- See the Natural Arch at El Arcotete Eco Park
- El Chiflon Waterfalls
- Lagunas de Montebello
- Comitán de Dominguez
- Palenque Ruins and Misol-Ha and Agua Azul Waterfalls
- More San Cristobal de las Casas Tours
- Restaurants in San Cristóbal de las Casas
- Where to Stay in San Cristobal de las Casas
- What to Wear in San Cristobal de las Casas
About San Cristóbal, Mexico
San Cristobal de las Casas is a colonial city in the mountainous region of Chiapas, the southernmost state in Mexico (bordering Guatemala).
Chiapas is one of the most amazing states in Mexico! It’s extremely diverse and has everything from Maya ruins, rainforests, and beaches to turquoise lakes, indigenous villages, and pine forests.
Chiapas also has one of the largest indigenous populations in Mexico, with the two biggest groups being the Tzeltal and the Tzotzil, each with their own dialect. Spanish is a second language for many locals and some may not speak Spanish at all.
Not only is San Cristobal de las Casas the perfect base to explore most of what Chiapas has to offer, but it’s also a top destination in its own right. As the cultural capital of the state, San Cristobal is home to multiple museums, plazas, churches, and community markets.
The city was founded by the Spanish in 1528 and it was actually a part of Guatemalan territory until 1824. In 1994, San Cristobal de las Casas made worldwide news when a group of leftist guerrillas known as the Zapatistas occupied the city for about 10 days.
The Zapatistas are still active in parts of the state and you’ll find vendors around the city selling yarn dolls fashioned after them.
San Cristóbal de las Casas Altitude
San Cristóbal, Mexico is located in a mountainous region in the Central Highlands of Chiapas. The city is inside a valley surrounded by hills and has an elevation of 7,200 feet (2,200 meters). If you’re visiting from sea level you might need to take a day to acclimate.
Best Time to Visit San Cristobal de las Casas
San Cristobal de las Casas’ weather is temperate most of the year with average temperatures varying between the mid-50s to mid-60s Fahrenheit (12°-18° C). The rainy season lasts from May through October.
San Cristobal can get very busy during Mexican holidays like Easter and Christmas and during the festivals listed below.
Annual Festivals in San Cristóbal de las Casas:
- Feria de la Primavera y de la Paz – April
- Fiesta de San Cristobal – July 16-25
- Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe – December 12
The best time to visit San Cristobal de las Casas is in April and November because of the comfortable weather and fewer tourists.
How to Get to San Cristobal de las Casas
The closest airport is in Tuxtla Gutierrez (TGZ), Chiapas’ capital city. Non-stop flights from Mexico City to Tuxtla are about 1 hour and 30 minutes and flights from Cancun to Tuxtla are about 1 hour and 40 minutes long.
Book your low-priced rental car with RentalCars.com
ADO buses to San Cristobal de las Casas depart from most major cities in southern Mexico. The bus from Huatulco, Oaxaca to San Cristobal takes about 10 hours, while the bus from Merida, Yucatan to San Cristobal takes about 16 hours and 30 minutes.
Get your bus tickets online here.
Things to Do in San Cristobal de las Casas
There are so many things to do in and around San Cristobal de las Casas, from visiting cultural museums to swimming in natural turquoise pools to trying the unique regional food.
I speak fluent Spanish (I’m Mexican), so I took every opportunity I could to ask the Coletos (San Cristobal de las Casas locals) for tips and advice on the best things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico. Michael and I lived in Chiapas for a little under 2 months and explored as much as we could to find the top attractions and most interesting experiences for our readers.
We hope this list of things to do makes your trip planning a lot easier! We included links to our other Chiapas articles for more info on day trips and links to the top San Cristobal de las Casas guided tours.
Explore the Local Markets
Head over to the “José Castillo Tielemans” Market, commonly known as Mercado Viejo (Old Market), to see locals selling unique fruits and vegetables, fresh tortillas, a variety of legumes and grains, and live turkeys. Grab a cheap bite to eat or an agua fresca at one of the food stalls.
Santo Domingo Artisan Market
Wondering what to buy in San Cristobal de las Casas? The Santo Domingo Artisan Market, in front of Santo Domingo Church, specializes in selling locally produced wool clothing, handwoven textiles, and authentic Chiapas amber jewelry. The dark red amber is supposed to be higher quality than yellow.
Mercado de Dulces y Artesanías Ambar
Candy lovers rejoice at the Mercado de Dulces y Artesanías Ambar (the sweets and artisan crafts market). Try one of the many traditional Mexican sweets, like jamoncillo, and enjoy lunch at one of the open-air restaurants just outside the market.
Visit the Cultural Museums
Museum Na Bolom
If you plan on exploring the ruins at Yaxchilan and Bonampak in the Lacandón jungle region of Chiapas (a must-do adventure) you simply must visit Na Bolom Museum first to learn more about the fascinating Lacandon people. The only indigenous group to escape the Spanish conquest.
Maya Medicine Museum
Museo de la Medicina Maya (Maya Medicine Museum) is towards the edge of town, but well worth the walk to get a glimpse into the fascinating world of the modern Maya’s beliefs, traditions, and herbal remedies. Visit before heading to San Juan Chamula for a better understanding of what’s going on inside the Maya/Catholic temple.
Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya
The Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya (Maya World Textile Center) is a new museum located inside the Ex-Convent of Santo Domingo. The admission fee includes entry to the Museo de los Altos de Chiapas (Museum of the Highlands of Chiapas).
The first floor goes through the history of the Highlands and the second-floor houses a massive collection of Maya-made textiles from throughout the region, including Guatemala.
Chiapas Amber Museum, Jade Museum, and Cacao Museum
We noticed that there are some “museums” that are more like stores with small collections meant to lure in potential customers. These include the Museo del Ambar de Chiapas, Museo del Jade, and Museo del Cacao. They’re okay to visit if you have some extra time on your hands, but I wouldn’t make it a priority. Tip: Entry to the Cacao Museum is free if you show your ticket to the Jade Museum.
Guadalupe Church and San Cristóbal Church
Climb the stairs up to either Guadalupe Church or San Cristobal Church (or both!) for some of the best views of the city and the surrounding area. You might want to take some time to acclimatize before taking the very long set of winding stairs up to San Cristobal or be prepared to take rest breaks.
Real de Guadalupe Pedestrian Street
Take a stroll down the main pedestrian street, Real de Guadalupe. This cobblestone street is usually closed to street traffic and is lined with restaurants with a variety of international cuisines, bakeries, cafes, and bars. It also has tons of walking vendors selling everything from tamales to keychains. It’s the perfect place to grab a drink, sit outside, and people watch. Our favorite spot is Viña del Bacco. Why? 25 pesos for a glass of wine AND a snack. Need I say more?
Hiking at Moxviquil
Orquídeas Moxviquil is a beautiful natural park with hiking trails in the forest, gardens, and greenhouses full of orchids, bromeliads, and other local flora.
It also has an educational center to help teach people about the importance of taking care of our environment. They have several hiking trails going up the hill and into the protected area behind them.
San Cristóbal’s Regional Dishes
Coleto is the term for San Cristobal de las Casas natives and comida coleta is the name for the city’s local food. The cuisine in San Cristobal has pre-hispanic roots with a strong Spanish influence.
Take this Mexican cooking class to go on a market tour, learn about local ingredients, and prepare regional San Cristóbal dishes, tamales, mole, or handmade tortillas.
Here are just some of San Cristobal de las Casas’ regional food and drinks to try:
- Sopa de pan: chicken-broth soup with bread
- Chalupas: tiny fried tortillas topped with beans, shredded pork, shredded beets and carrots, and a sprinkle of cheese
- Asado coleto: coleto-style pork ribs
- Pan coleto: coleto-style sweet bread
- Tamales de azafran o momo: tamales with saffron or a sacred local herb, called momo
- Pox: local liquor made of corn and wheat, pronounced posh
- Pozol: corn drink sometimes mixed with cacao or peanuts
San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan Villages
The indigenous villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán are only about a 30-minute drive or 2-hour hike away from downtown San Cristobal de las Casas, but it’s a vastly different culture.
The Tzotzil Maya people that inhabit these self-governed towns follow a syncretic religion that’s a mix between ancient Maya beliefs and Catholicism. The temple at San Juan Chamula is a true once-in-a-lifetime experience that gives you a glimpse into their mystical world. Expect to see sacred soft drinks, rows of multi-colored candles (each color is symbolic), and shamans performing cleanses with eggs or sacrificing chickens.
Read Next: Visiting San Juan Chamula’s Mystical Church
This guided tour to Chamula and Zinacantan includes a visit to San Juan Chamula’s temple and a visit to an artisan family’s home in Zinacantán to see the women at work on pre-Columbian waist looms and try a taste of the local liquor and handmade tortillas.
If you prefer something a bit more active, take this guided bike tour of Chamula and Zinacantan villages.
Two other villages to consider visiting are Amantenango del Valle, a Tzeltal village known for its pottery, and Simojovel, known for its amber production.
Cañon del Sumidero (Sumidero Canyon National Park)
The Grijalva River cuts through the 3,300 feet (1,000 m) high walls of the impressive Sumidero Canyon National Park. Located about about a 45-minute drive from San Cristóbal de las Casas, this national park is a must-see in Chiapas.
Read Next: How to Explore Sumidero Canyon by Boat
Take a boat tour of the river to get up close with the crocodiles and monkeys that live on its banks and get some stunning views of the canyon’s towering cliffs. After the boat ride, take a stroll around the Pueblo Magico (Magical Town) of Chiapa de Corzo and see its famous fountain.
This day trip to Sumidero Canyon includes a boat tour of the Grijalva River, a visit to Chiapa de Corzo, and stops at the overlooks along the canyon’s upper edge. Many tours don’t include stops at the epic lookout points, so make sure yours does!
See the Natural Arch at El Arcotete Eco Park
Take a half-day trip out to this natural park and explore the caves and tunnels in the natural limestone above the flowing river at El Arcotete. The ecotourism park also offers camping, zip lining, and boat rentals. Best of all, it’s just 20 minutes away from the city.
This biking day trip takes you from San Cristobal de las Casas to El Arcotete and Quinta del Obispo.
Read Next: Guide to Exploring El Arcotete Eco Park
The horse-back riding and underground caves at nearby Grutas de Rancho Nuevo are also a worthwhile day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas.
El Chiflon Waterfalls
The bright turquoise color of the water at El Chiflon falls is unreal. These are some of the most beautiful and majestic waterfalls we’ve ever seen. You can spend a whole day at this park: hiking, zip lining, swimming, and having a picnic by the water.
Lagunas de Montebello
The Lagunas de Montebello, also called Montebello Lakes, are a group of multi-colored lakes surrounded by pine and oak trees. You can rent a balsa, a raft made of tied up togs, and paddle out to an orchid garden island. It’s one of my favorite spots in Mexico and it’s only about a two and a half drive south of San Cristobal.
If you’re short on time, take this guided day trip to Lagunas de Montebello and El Chiflon Waterfalls.
Comitán de Dominguez
If you’re looking to get away from the crowds and off the beaten path a bit, visit Comitan de Dominguez. It’s a colonial town in Chiapas, about a 2-hour drive south of San Cristobal.
It’s also much less touristy and more authentic. It’s the perfect place to stay overnight if you want to spend more time visiting El Chiflon Waterfalls and Lagunas de Montebello. Comitan has a lively plaza surrounded by restaurants.
This guided tour to Comitan takes you to the absolutely stunning (and less visited) Las Nubes Waterfalls, the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, and the town of Comitan.
Palenque Ruins and Misol-Ha and Agua Azul Waterfalls
It’s best to stay at least a couple of days in the town of Palenque to see the famous Palenque ruins, the Agua Azul and Misol-Ha Waterfalls, and take a day trip out to explore the amazing ruins at Bonampak and Yaxchilan.
But if you’re short on time, you can take a full-day tour from San Cristobal. This day trip from San Cristobal to the Palenque ruins includes a visit to both Agua Azul waterfalls and Misol-Ha waterfall.
More San Cristobal de las Casas Tours
Restaurants in San Cristóbal de las Casas
San Cristobal de las Casas has restaurants with all types of cuisine, from vegan tamales to colonial-era pork sausages, and even things like ramen and falafel. If you’ve been traveling around Mexico for a while and are ready for some international cuisine, this is the place to be! After having spent over a month and a half eating our way through Oaxaca, I was a little bit excited to try something different. I know, I know… I was spoiled rotten by Oaxaca and taking its delicious food for granted by the end of it, but (like the typical vegetarian that I am) I was really craving some hummus and San Cris delivered.
Anyway, after spending a month in San Cris, these become our favorite spots to grab a bite or drink.
La Viña de Bacco
Top of the list because we went here countless times during our stay in San Cristobal. Why? It’s $25 pesos for a glass of wine AND a tapa. Oh, and you also get unlimited bowls of popcorn (Michael loves popcorn). They also have cheap bottles of wine and bar food. Grab a bottle, order some tapas, and sit outside to enjoy the occasional musician that stops to play along Real de Guadalupe. I wish they had one of these in every city we visit.
A tiny craft liquor store in Jardin Cerrillo with a counter for ordering drinks. Try their pox with jamaica (hibiscus) and the pox with cacao. Grab a bottle to go!
Our favorite thing about this Zapatista-inspired restaurant is the setting and ambiance at night. They also have a huge selection of food including everything from pizza to enchiladas, plus plenty of vegan and vegetarian options. The best part is the live music after 8:30 pm. Oh, and the beautiful metal star lanterns hanging from the ceiling. I’m a sucker for those.
The massive soups at El Caldero really hit the spot on those cold winter nights. They have all of the traditional local soups and some vegan versions. Come hungry.
Vegetarian and vegan heaven. $75 pesos for a massive falafel pita slathered with hummus and stuffed to the brim with veggies.
A small coffee shop that has cacao bean peel tea, called “té de cacao.” Yes, that’s a thing. Try that or the tascalate, another local cacao drink.
Casa del Pan
One of the first vegetarian restaurants to open in town is now 100% vegan. Since most tamales and mole in Mexico are made with animal products, make sure to try the vegan versions prepared here. They also have a delicious bakery if you need a snack.
Where to Stay in San Cristobal de las Casas
There are plenty of places to stay in San Cristóbal, Mexico with accommodations ranging from hostels to boutique hotels to vacation rentals. Make sure to reserve your stay ahead of time because places get fully booked during high season.
Stay within walking distance of the historic city center and plaza for easy access to most restaurants and attractions. If you’re visiting in the winter, try to book a place with a fireplace because San Cristobal can get chilly!
Hotels in San Cristobal de las Casas
Hotel Diego De Mazariegos: cozy room with fireplaces set in a colonial building, located a block away from the pedestrian street
Hotel Na Bolom: beautiful rooms decorated with local folk art with private terraces and fireplaces, located within the Na Bolom Museum grounds, about half a mile from the main square
Posada del Abuelito (hostel): considered one of the best hostels in Mexico, featuring dorm beds and private rooms with bathrooms
San Cristobal de las Casas Vacation Rentals
Barrio El Cerrillo Home: this beautiful 2-bedroom rental has a fireplace for chilly nights and a fully equipped kitchen for preparing delicious meals with fresh ingredients from the nearby local market
What to Wear in San Cristobal de las Casas
I’m going to assume that you’ll be doing your fair share of day trips from San Cristobal. Which means that you’ll need clothing for pretty much every climate in Chiapas. Take a look at our Ultimate Packing List for tons of tips on packing light when you’re traveling to multiple climates.
San Cristobal de las Casas Packing Tips:
• If you’re visiting during the winter, you’ll need gloves, a scarf, and a puffy jacket.
• Although it’s cool in San Cristobal, nearby Chiapa de Corzo is much warmer since it’s lower elevation. Dress in layers for your Sumidero Canyon boat ride and bring a hat. Don’t forget a jacket for the trip back to San Cris.
• Bring a bathing suit for swimming in the lakes and waterfalls.
Have you been to San Cristobal de las Casas? Let us know in the comments below.