THINGS TO DO IN SAN CRISTOBAL
For those of you heading from Mexico's Pacific coast to its Caribbean coast, or those heading to or from Central America, San Cristobal de las Casas is the perfect place to break up the long journey. But, logistics and convenience aren't the only reasons to visit this adorable little highland town. San Cristobal is rich in Mexican culture and is considered the backpacker hotspot of the Chiapas region. A large part of long-term travelling is emerging yourself in the local culture and San Cristobal gives you a real taste of what everyday life is like for millions of Mexicans.
How to get there
From Lake Atitlan, Guatemala - There are definitely cheaper ways to do this journey, but considering I was nursing a broken hand and we'd had just about enough of the chicken buses, we decided to treat ourselves to the shuttle. It took 12 hours and cost 210 GTQ (£23.35)
From Oaxaca - The ADO bus takes 11 hours and costs around 450 MXN (£18.35)
Things to do in San Cristobal #1 - Hit the markets
When you picture markets in Mexico, I'm sure you envisage brightly-coloured, handmade goods being woven in front of you by lovely old ladies. That's pretty accurate! The bustling markets in San Cristobal are full of haggling locals and tourists. The colours are vibrant and the atmosphere is exciting. There are a good half dozen or so markets in town, but the best 2, in our humble opinion, are the artisanal market on Avenida General Utrilla and Mercado de Dulces y Artesanias on Insurgentes.
Things to do in San Cristobal #2 - Visit Cathedral San Juan Bautista
Without any doubt, this is one of the most interesting places we have visited during our time backpacking. You'll find this unassuming church in San Juan Chamula, about a 25 minute drive out of town. Unassuming it may seem, but what's on the inside is unlike anything you would have seen elsewhere. Inside there are no seats, only pine leaves on the floor. Tens of thousands of coloured candles burn brightly, the smell of incense is overwhelming and the smoke can make it a little hard to breath. You could be forgiven for thinking you're walking into an exorcism of sorts. Many religious ceremonies and sacrifices take place here; we saw a old lady kill a chicken by breaking its neck. It's a very surreal experience but one steeped in decades of tradition for the locals. There is no photography allowed inside but, as you can see, you'd be none the wiser looking at it from the outside.
Things to do in San Cristobal #3 - Take the Chamula and Zincanton tour
San Juan Chamula is the small town where the Cathedral San Juan (mentioned above) is located. You can visit the cathedral yourself, but if you're actually interested in learning about the customs and traditions of the church, we'd advise taking this tour. Not only will you get a guided tour of the cathedral with lots of information, you'll also be taken around the town of San Juan Chamula, meet some of the community leaders, try some of the local moonshine and visit a local family. It's an amazing way to get to an authentic and unique experience. The tour with Alex and Raul is only 250 MXN (£10.20) and leaves from the wooden cross in the central plaza every day at 09:00 and 14:00.
Things to do in San Cristobal #4 - Dine on wine and free tapas
There are a lot of backpackers in San Cristobal so one enterprising individual asked the question - what do backpackers like? Cheap alcohol and free food. Thus, La Vina de Bacco was born. You'll find this joint on the pedestrianised zone very near to the central plaza. The concept is simple. For every drink you order you also receive a complementary plate of tapas. The cheapest wine they have on the menu is 20 MXN (£0.80), I'm sure we don't need to tell you just how out of hand it can get here.
Things to do in San Cristobal #5 - Enjoy Sumidero Canyon by boat
There are few things more relaxing than a boat ride. And, Sumidero canyon is a great location to enjoy such an activity. From the water the cliff walls tower above you. As you float along you'll want to keep your eyes peeled as it's not uncommon to spot crocodiles, monkeys and other animals. The guide will point out some beautiful waterfalls and caves. Sadly, you won't be able to explore the caves because, well, crocodiles!
Things to do in San Cristobal #6 - Explore the waterfalls
San Cristobal is full of natural beauty and there are a few wonderful waterfalls close by to enjoy. El Chiflon not only has waterfalls, but also zip lines, some more secluded pools and a pretty park to chill out in. Also, you won't want to miss Misol-Ha. The best bit about the waterfall at Misol-Ha is the not-so-secret cave behind it.
Where to stay in San Cristobal?
If you're after somewhere reasonably priced and centrally located with friendly staff and a decent kitchen, check out Hostal Casa Gaia. For a private double room with a shared bathroom we paid 370 MXN (£15.10) per night. This place definitely gets our stamp of approval.
Where to go next
Mexico City - If you're pressed for time, flights with Viva Aerobus cost around 850 MXN (£34.70). Taking the bus will cost you around 600-650 MXN (£24.50-26.55) but takes nearly 13 hours compared to 2 on the plane.