San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, PART 1
San Cristobal de las Casas is a well-preserved colonial town in the mountains of Chiapas. Hippies from Mexico and beyond line the streets selling jewelry and exchanging greetings with traditionally dressed Mayan women selling fruit and their own handicrafts. Its center can be seen in half a day by taking slow walks down narrow cobblestone streets, up staircases to hilltop churches, and into its massive market, where you will reenter the ¨real¨ Chiapas, a place of great natural beauty and deep history.
The city was called “The most magical of the Pueblos Magicos” (magic towns, of which there are 40 in Mexico) by President Felipe Calderon in 2010. It offers any traveler, from backpacker to first-class-flier, an abundance of culture, nature, food, nearby places to visit, and friendly, diverse people. Two pedestrian streets intersect at the Zocalo (center square): Real de Guadalupe and Andandor Eclesiastico. They are packed with restaurants, coffee shops, bars, travel agencies, souvenir shops, and you-name-it. By far my favorite club is el Zirko, a salsa bar on the north half of Andandor Eclesiastico. The band is excellent and played late, starting around 11 and playing until 3 or 4, with breaks of course. They play every night, at least every time I stopped in. On Fridays and Saturdays there is a spacious backroom with club music. It was cheap – one night the bill was only about 150 pesos, and I had been there for hours.
I spend a few nights playing guitar in front of the cathedral. Interesting folk from various countries gather there to play music, juggle fire, sell jewelry, and drink fairly obviously until the police come and politely tell us to leave around 1 AM. Then we go from square to square as they follow us around, kicking us out with only slightly waning politeness each time, until we finally stumble off to our respective hostels and cheap hotels.
There are several markets in San Cris, including a big outdoor handicrafts market where you can buy purses, clothing, blankets, and amber jewelry. Farther from the Zocalo is the big Mexican market, and you will see things all things Chiapan, including larger-than-life guayabas, hard to find pitallas, and crazy multicolored beans. I buy a bag of pink, purple, and yellow beans with the intention of cooking them, but then when I go to a little mole restaurant the laughing staff tells me that they are painted and for making jewelry. Then a waitress insists on bringing me over to another bean seller to show me what real beans look like.
Mole is one of the best foods in Mexico. There are many kinds, but I find the most exotic to be Mole Negro and Mole Coloradito. Markets in Oaxaca, Chiapas, or Puebla are good places to seek it out.
My favorite non-Mexican restaurant is Mayambe, an Indian place located a little west of Andandor Eclesiastico on Avenida 5 de Mayo. I have some great, authentic curry and a nice chat with the American owner. Most meals are around 70 pesos.
For me, the people I meet are the reason I stay almost 2 weeks, much longer than I’d planned. I stay at Tata Inti, and the hostel owners, a Mexican and Argentinian couple, are friendly and helpful and have a constant flow of local friends who spend their afternoons there.
Among the Mexicans, locals and travelers, are a former road manager for Antidoping, a Mexican reggae band, who is now putting on shows and raves in the city and the mountains; an anthropologist who has been traveling in Mexico for 13 years studying indigenous displacement, like the Yaquis who came to the Yucatan; a tabla player who studied for 3 years in India and has a local group with an amazing guitarist and violinist; and a group of friends traveling south from Guadalajara, also all musicians who play in restaurants in the afternoons to fund their trip. We drink caguamas and jam in the hostel all day and then in front of the cathedral all night long.
I meet a French guy traveling around the world for 3 years and paying for his trip by gambling on the internet. At first I think he’s a nerd on his laptop all day until he shows me his poker and sports betting sites. There is an American who traveled from Cape Town to Cairo by land after having spent years volunteering in Africa. Another American has been in both Iraq wars and Afghanistan. When his helicopter crashed in Afghanistan, he spent more than 2 years in the hospital, and when he finally recovered he crossed the border and has been traveling ever since, having crazy adventures all the way. Also there is an Italian whose business in Oaxaca has fallen apart and is slowly making his way to Canada – by way of Chiapas, which of course is in the opposite direction.
There are very cheap buses from Mexico City to San Cristobal for 300-350 pesos. Their offices are located near the Candelario station in D.F. – just ask in the market outside the metro. The company I used was Viajes Aury, and it stopped in Tuxtla and Puebla too.
San Cristobal is less than an hour away from Tuxtla Gutierrez, about 1 and a half hours from Comitan (from where you can visit some beautiful natural areas like Lagunas de Montebello), and about 4 hours from Palenque. All the buses and combis (passenger vans) are in the same area, a 10 minute walk from the Zocalo. Prices vary greatly between the first class buses, like OCC, and smaller companies and combis. For example, the OCC bus to Palenque is 150 pesos, while other buses go for 80. Or you can take a combi to Oconsingo and transfer there. I believe it is about 40 pesos.
See Part 2 for HOSTELS, STUDYING SPANISH, and nearby attractions.
Looking for more information about Chiapas? Please check out my guidebook Your Chiapas Adventure: San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque, Mexico. You’ll save the small price the first time you follow my advice for transportation, hotels, restaurants, or museums.
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Posted on June 23, 2011, in Travel, Travel in Mexico and tagged chiapas, mexico, San Cristobal, san cristobal de las casas, San Juan Chamula, Study Spanish, travel. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.