Have you ever traveled to a new place and just felt as though there was something in the air. As though you had arrived in a special place and the energy was, well, magical. That’s how I felt upon arriving in San Cristóbal de las Casas. My heart was beating a little quicker than normal and life just felt different. I have been to many cities and towns in villages in Mexico and San Cristóbal de las Casas is like none that I have visited before.
I have always wanted to visit Chiapas. That Southern state in Mexico that borders Guatemala. The jungle, the lushness of the land, the potential danger that lays hidden amongst the trees. I was in high school when Rage Against the Machine were pretty popular. I remember hearing them sing about the Zapatistas, about the revolution happening, about the rise of women and knowing Chiapas is where this was all taking place.
We planned to spend three nights in San Cris. Flying from Mexico City, we arrived in Tuxtla Gutiérrez and from there, we took a bus to San Cris. ADO is the bus company that runs this route (and most of them in this part of Mexico). You can purchase your bus ticket right from the airport and it’s fairly easy. The cost for a one-way trip was only 54 MX each and the “bus” ended up being a cross between a van and a small bus with comfortable seats and not a lot of passengers. The bus drops you off at the ADO station which is located in the south end of San Cris. There were taxis waiting to take you to your final destination.
San Cris is one of the bigger cities in Chiapas so there is no shortage of hotels and accommodations here. After some research, we decided to stay somewhere as Mexican as we could and chose Casa Na Bolom. When you do any research about San Cris, Na Bolom will always come up as a place that you need to visit. Not only is it a museum, but it’s also a guest house. So instead of visiting, I thought we should just spend our nights there. Na Bolom was the home of photographer Gertrude Duby Blom and her husband, the archeologist Frans Blom. When they passed away, the home was converted into what it is now, showing off their lives’ work. ‘Bolom’ is the Mayan word for Jaguar and it is also a play on their names. Na Bolom is a place where you can sit for hours at peace. It is such a beautiful place filled with interesting objects. We loved our time there.
We visited in April and while it was beautiful and warm during the day, the evenings would get quite chilly. Because of this, all of the guest rooms have a fireplace. Each day, you are left with a stack of new wood to burn at night. It was awesome. Our room was large with so many interesting objects and artwork.
San Cris is a safe city. We walked everywhere and took a taxi only one night. The streets are laid out in a near perfect grid so you will quickly get your bearings. There is so much to see and do in San Cris. There is also so much to see and do within a short drive of San Cris. We considered doing some of those things, we really did. But something about this town just willed us to stay. We spent our time walking, exploring and discovering. What did we do in San Cristobal de las Casas? We wandered. We ate. We drank. We saw. Even if you take the same route each day, you would discover new things along the way. The sun would hit a wall and suddenly everything looked different. It really is a place that you must visit in order to truly understand the magic here. A great place to walk to is Iglesia del Cerrito. Bring water with you because there are many, many, many steps to climb up. When we were there, there were some teenage boys exercising by running up and down them and I suddenly felt old as I huffed & puffed my way up. But once you get to the top, you get a beautiful view of the city so it’s worth the trek.
When in the Centre, you will encounter women walking around selling their goods, often with a young child on their back. Support them, they are good people. If you are looking for more variety or having something specific in mind, head to one of the markets. Chiapas is known for their embroidered blouses and the majority of the ones that you see around Mexico are from this state. I am slightly obsessed with them and knowing that I was in the most authentic place to buy them, I got a
lot few. Our favourite market for them, and pretty much everything else that we bought on this trip, was the market beside Iglesia Ex-Convento Santo Domingo. Here you will find all sort of embroidered blouses, rebozos, table cloths, handmade shoes. Everything is stunning and you will wish that you brought a larger suitcase with you. Mercado Viejo is more of a food market located North of the Centre. Here you will find all sorts of things from fresh produce to live chickens to wool freshly shorn from the sheep. On Insurgentes, South of the Centre you will find Mercado de Dulces y Artesanías Ámbar. A market full of handmade candy and it is oh so glorious. You can also find lots of amber here. Amber is local to Chiapas so if you’re in the market for some, it doesn’t get better than this.
As mentioned above, visiting the museum at Casa Na Bolom is a must. It’s a great place to learn about the local culture. The museum at Na Bolom is filled with artifacts that the Blom’s collected over their years. There is so much history that lives here. You can really feel how much they cared for the people whose cultures they studied. Another great museum to check out while in San Cris is Museo del Cafe. That’s right, a museum dedicated to coffee. Oh, how I love you so! Coffee is grown in Chiapas (as well as Veracruz and Oaxaca) and it has been an important part of the industry here. Over time, the production of coffee in Mexico has evolved and here is where you will learn all about that. And yes, they have information in English here. They also have a cafe here so after all that learning, you can sit down, drink un cafe and even have a snack.
Eat & Drink
Besides walking, we did a lot of eating and drinking on this trip. It was hard not to. There are so many great cafés and restaurants in San Cris. From vegan to fine dining, this city has it all. Cocoliche is a cute restaurant and bar that is known for it’s boozy licuados (milkshakes). We were drawn to Nostalgia because on it’s sign, it advertised tlayudas (Josh became obsessed with them after reading Tacopedia and our trip to Puerto Escondido!) and mezcal: Oaxacan food. When we visited, they had just recently opened. The food here was amazing and they served mezcal with chapulines. Oh yes. Café Bar Revolucion is a great spot for a beer and a mezcal or tequila. Te Quiero Verde is a vegan and vegetarian restaurant. Right?! In a remote city in the most Southern State of Mexico and you find amazing vegan and vegetarian food. I am still dreaming about the meal we had there. Health! The real excuse for this trip was to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and because of this, we had to have a great meal. I had done some research before leaving Canada and found what looked like a great spot: Restaurante Lum located in the Bo Hotel. We scoped it out the day before and I instantly fell in love with the space. This place is fancy and beautiful and the people there are so lovely. Near the end of the meal, the Chef came out to introduce himself and we had a great chat. This was one of the best meals that I had in 2016 without a doubt. Besides all of those suggestions, the best thing that you can do, is choose a seat on the street of a cafe or restaurant and settle in. Order food and drink leisurely and watch the city move. We did this a couple of times. One afternoon we camped out at a table on a pedestrian street called Miguel Hidalgo. We started with coffees and tapas before moving into wine and local craft beers. One evening we sat at a place on Real de Guadalupe, the part of the street that is pedestrian only. It was a beautiful night when all of a sudden there were fireworks coming from the main square. Our server came out to explain that San Cris was celebrating her birthday. Yes, San Cristobal turned 488 years old on that day and suddenly, as a Canadian, I felt very young.
Overall, San Cris is incredible. Incredible. It’s not an easy place to get to but when you arrive, you will wonder why it took you so long to get yourself there. Travel there if you can and take time to soak it all in.
Tips for San Cristobal de las Casas
– You can buy ADO tickets from a storefront that simply states “Venta de Boletos” on Real de Guadalupe. We did this as our next stop after visiting San Cris was Palenque.
– There is a lot of walking and lots of hills. Wear comfortable shoes.
– As mentioned, the weather in San Cris is great. It’s hot during the day and gets a little chilly at night. Think San Francisco weather. Have a jacket or sweater when going out in the evening.
– Before you travel to San Cris, do some research on the history of the city. Learning what you can ahead of time will help you understand the political undertones that are present everywhere.