San Cristóbal de las Casas
Rich in Indian culture and Spanish colonial architecture, San Cristobal de la Casas sits in the heart of the jungle highlands and is a wonderful place to soak up the local Mexican culture, the growing arts scene, delicious street food, spectacular sunsets and relaxed vibe.
Located in a stunning highland valley, San Cristobal de la Casas was founded in 1528, after a four-year battle in which the Spanish Conquistadors fought to overcome and pacify the hostile indigenous population. Since then, the city has managed to fuse its indigenous Indian roots with its Spanish heritage to create a town full of interesting culture, wonderful colonial buildings and a contemporary restaurant and bar scene. Today, brightly dressed locals and indigenous neighbourhoods populate this pretty colonial city of cobbled streets and colourful markets.
The main plaza has a stunning city hall and cathedral, complete with lavish interior and gold-encrusted pulpit. Also, of note is the 16th century Dominican church, Templo de Santo Domingo, which has a detailed pink façade and a gilded baroque interior and don’t miss the handicraft market in front of the church, where the Tzotzil Indians from the surrounding villages come into the city to trade. San Cristobal is proud and protective of its Indian heritage and many of the restaurants and cafes use products grown and created by local co-operatives, based on a policy of fair trade.
For those interested in Mexico’s indigenous culture, we’d also suggest a visit 10-kilometres into the Chiapas Highlands to visit the villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan. The Tzotzil Indian villagers are descendants of the ancient Maya and are self-governing communities, who still practise unique customs, living a traditional lifestyle in terms of dress, craft-making and cooking methods, all handed down through the generations.
In terms of natural splendour, we’d also recommend a boat trip through the Sumidero Canyon, a geological fault formed 36 million years ago, with amazing walls of rock, elevating to over 1000-metres. This makes for a great day excursion from San Cristobal which is around 50-kilometres from Chiapa de Corzo, where you pick up the boat. The scenery is incredible and look out for caves, rock formations, spider monkey, crocodile and hundreds of species of bird, including vulture and heron.
San Cristobal is around a one-hour drive from Tuxtla Gutierrez airport, where flights to and from Mexico City take one-hour 35-minutes. The city is also a five-hour drive from the Maya ruins at Palenque.