10 Tips for San Cristóbal de las Casas

San Cristóbal de las Casas is a town located in southern Mexico. When strolling through its streets, you can experience real Mexican life. Vintage cars drive on bumpy roads, colorful houses can be found everywhere, locals wear traditional clothing, and cheerful music can be heard on every street corner. At an altitude of 2,200 meters (7,200 feet), San Cristóbal de las Casas is considerably cooler than many other destinations in Mexico. Therefore, it’s recommended that you pack a thick sweater. Bfut before you do, here are some things to do while you’re in San Cristóbal de las Casas.

How to get to San Cristóbal de las Casas?

San Cristóbal de las Casas doesn’t have its own airport, but you can fly into Tuxtla Gutiérrez instead. From there, it’s only a one-hour drive to San Cristóbal de las Casas. If you’re traveling by bus or car, you’re likely coming from Palenque or Puerto Escondido.

From Palenque to San Cristóbal de las Casas

By rental car:  If you’re considering renting a car, keep in mind that it takes around 5 hours to drive to San Cristóbal de las Casas through the mountains. There have been occasional reports of robberies on this route, but we drove through this route in our rental car and encountered nothing dangerous. We did, however, encounter some local women and children stringing a rope across the road a few times to make us stop. We drove slowly and cautiously, causing them to lower the rope at the last moment. To avoid potential problems, never drive this route at night and don’t stop for anyone. If you’re uncomfortable with this route, you can drive via Villahermosa, but it will add an additional 2 hours to your travel time. It’s important to note that there are occasional protests which may lead to closures of the shorter route. Before leaving, check with your hotel for the latest updates on this route. 

By bus: Traveling by bus is also an option. The night bus takes approximately 9 hours to arrive at San Cristóbal de las Casas. The bus is quite comfortable and runs several times a day. It’s recommended to check the departure times and book your tickets in advance.

From Puerto Escondido to San Cristóbal de las Casas

By rental car: this drive takes a total of 9 hours, much of which you drive on a dead straight highway.

By bus: the (night) bus from Puerto Escondido to San Cristóbal takes a total of 13.5 hours. You can choose to travel at night or during the day. Fortunately, the bus is very comfortable with air conditioning and a toilet. Check current bus schedules and book your bus ticket in advance.

What to do in San Cristóbal de las Casas?

San Cristóbal de las Casas is a lovely town to spend around two to three full days exploring. Here are some of our must-see recommendations:

Note: The tap water in San Cristóbal is highly polluted, and it’s not recommended even for brushing your teeth. This is because the Coca-Cola plant just outside the city uses all the clean drinking water for producing soft drinks.

Stroll the streets of San Cristóbal

San Cristóbal de las Casas has a colonial center that’s always alive with locals and travelers. The center features several main streets with a variety of stores, bars, and restaurants. Real de Guadalupe is a charming street that’s home to numerous restaurants and cafes with outdoor terraces, pleasant stores, and street musicians who create a lively atmosphere. From Real de Guadalupe, you can easily walk to Guadalupe Church. Climbing the 80 steps there will reward you with a breathtaking view of the city. At the other end of Real de Guadalupe, you’ll find a beautiful city park that’s home to the cozy Plaza de la Paz and the Cathedral of San Cristóbal de las Casas. The park is always lively, with street vendors and food stalls selling delicious street food.

From Plaza de la Paz, you can take a stroll down Av. 20 de Noviembre, a lively local shopping street. On the other side of the square, you’ll find Miguel Hidalgo, another charming street lined with bars and cafes where you can unwind and enjoy a drink or a bite to eat.

The free walking tour

San Cristóbal de las Casas is a city with an interesting culture and history. Do you enjoy learning about culture and history? Then join the free walking tour. Every day of the week, the free walking tour leaves from Plaza de la Paz at 10 AM and 4 PM. They gather at the wooden cross in front of the cathedral. During this 3-hour tour, you will learn about the city’s history, the different communities in and around San Cristóbal de las Casas and the Zapatista movement. You will visit the Artisan market and see impressive street art. This tour is free but it is customary to leave a nice tip at the end.

Visit the caves of El Arcotete

Just outside San Cristóbal de las Casas is the El Arcotete Natural Park. It’s just a 15-minute drive from downtown and you’ve escaped the turmoil of San Cristóbal de las Casas. In the park you can do activities like zip lining and rock climbing, you can arrange this at the entrance. But even if you’re not up for that, it’s still worth a visit. The highlight of El Arcotete is undoubtedly the cave. To get there, you can take a short hike that includes crossing a couple of suspension bridges. Don’t forget to walk up to the “Grutas del Dragon,” a cave system with spectacular stalactites, narrow passages, and several viewpoints that offer breathtaking views.

How do you get to El Arcotete?

Colectivo: this is the cheapest way to get to El Arcotete. From the center of San Cristóbal de las Casas, colectivos drive to the entrance of El Arcotete. Go to this location and keep the colectivo that says “ecoturistico Arcotete. 

Rental car: if you have a rental car do not just follow the route Google Maps indicates because that is not the right way. To be sure not to miss the right exit, here is the correct way from San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Cab: Taking a cab is the easiest option if you don’t have a rental car.

Visit local markets

If you’re in San Cristóbal de las Casas, you simply can’t miss the Mercado Viejo, which is a large market consisting of two different sections: the Artisan Market and the Municipal Market. The Artisan Market is a hub for handmade bags, clothing, jewelry, and accessories. What makes this market special is that all the stalls are run by Mayan people from communities living around San Cristóbal de las Casas. At the Municipal Market, you’ll find all sorts of vegetables, fruits, spices, meat, and fish. This market is a real local treasure, with something to see, smell, and taste around every corner. Despite being popular among tourists, it’s not set up for that purpose. Therefore, it’s important to ask permission from the stallholder before taking a photo of their stall or the people there.

Take a trip to the Sumidero Canyon

If you’re up for a scenic drive, head an hour away from San Cristóbal de las Casas to the beautiful Sumidero Canyon. This impressive gorge is formed by the Grijalva River, and the best way to explore this natural reserve is by taking a two-hour boat ride. The towering cliffs rise up from the river, and their height, sometimes up to 1,000 meters (3,280 feet), can make you feel incredibly small. This rift is as old as 136 million years and was formed by shifts in the Earth’s plates.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Sumidero Canyon tour is the chance to spot wildlife. During our tour, we were lucky enough to see monkeys, three crocodiles, and several bird species, including a toucan. In the rainy season, you’ll also get to cruise past a magnificent waterfall. After about an hour, the boat arrives at the Chicoasén Dam, which generates 20% of the energy for Central America. Here, you can book a tour that includes both the Sumidero Canyon and the charming town of Chiapa de Corzo.

Visit the Casa Na Bolom Museum

Casa Na Bolom is a fascinating museum where you can learn about the history of the state of Chiapas and the various indigenous peoples living in the area. This museum was once the home of a Danish couple, Frans Blom and Gertrude Duby Blom. Frans was an archaeologist, and Gertrude was an anthropologist. Together, they spent years researching the original inhabitants of the Lacandon jungle in Chiapas, known as the Lacandon Maya. Gertrude took an extensive collection of photos, and you can admire them in the Casa Na Bolom Museum. The museum offers a glimpse into Frans and Gertrude’s lives, as well as the way the Lacandon Maya lived.

Visit the Maya village of San Juan de Chamula

San Juan de Chamula is an incredibly unique and special place to visit. This village is located just a 20-minute drive from San Cristóbal de las Casas and is inhabited by the Tzotzil Maya. It’s one of the few Maya villages in Mexico that has managed to preserve its culture so strongly. The village has its own laws, army, and police force, and Mexican authorities have little to no authority there.

The Tzotzil Maya have a distinct way of life and belief system, which you can see reflected throughout the village, especially at the Iglesia de San Juan Chamula church. The church hosts numerous rituals and parades, which are an integral part of the Tzotzil Maya culture. When you step inside the church, you’re transported even further into the Tzotzil Maya way of life. Hundreds of candles flicker, and the ground is covered with pine needles. Live chickens are sacrificed, and evil spirits are driven away. Please note that taking photos or videos inside the church is strictly forbidden.

It’s not recommended to visit San Juan de Chamula on your own as you may miss out on crucial information about the culture and customs of the Tzotzil Maya. Additionally, you run the risk of breaking one of the local laws without even realizing it. We recommend joining a guided tour, where you’ll be accompanied by an English- and Spanish-speaking guide who will explain to you the many fascinating things about this tribe. This way, you’ll have a much more informative and enriching experience.

Take a day trip to the El Chiflón waterfalls

The El Chiflón Falls are a bit out of the way, but they are worth mentioning because many people are keen to visit them anyway. In fact, this is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Mexico. You’ll have to drive quite a distance to get there (2.5 hours one way), so you must have the time and desire to take a mini road trip. Once you arrive, the experience is truly fantastic. There are five different waterfalls, the highest of which is 70 meters (230 feet). The pools are usually a bright azure color, inviting you for a refreshing dip. A 1-hour hike takes you past all five waterfalls. If you don’t feel like visiting El Chiflón Falls on a day tour, you can also take a bus or your own car and spend a night near the falls. We highly recommend the Canto del Agua Ecolodge because it’s located within walking distance of the falls. If you go early in the morning, you’ll have this magical place all to yourself.

Best restaurants in San Cristóbal de las Casas

San Cristóbal de las Casas is home to many fantastic restaurants and nice cafes. We highly recommend having breakfast or lunch at Sarajevo, with an interior that is truly remarkable. The restaurant features comfy seating areas, lush plants are everywhere, and a giant fireplace for colder evenings. In the evenings, there is often live music. If you’re in a hurry, grab a delicious sandwich at Roots Panaderia, where you can choose from croissants, fresh pizza, chocolate rolls, and baguettes. For a drink, head to La Viña de Bacco on the street of Real de Guadalupe. The terrace here is always energetic, and they have an excellent selection of delicious wines and tapas. If you’re a fan of cocktails, then Ginger Bar is the place to go. You can sit comfortably on the rooftop terrace, which offers a fantastic view of the city. Delicious vegetarian and vegan food can be found at Te Quiero Verde and Aguacate Veggie Bar. Both very good places for tasty plates of food full of vitamins.

Our favourite places to stay in San Cristóbal de las Casas

It’s nice to stay in the gorgeous old town of San Cristóbal de las Casas because this is where you can find almost all of the bars and restaurants. Do you enjoy staying in a unique hotel? Then check out Casa de Gandhi. This hotel is like a museum. There are vintage and retro items everywhere you look. You can clearly see that the owner is a passionate man. Although Casa de Gandhi is relatively new, having been around for only a few years, it is run by a warm and welcoming family who are always available to make your stay unforgettable. Sombra del Agua is also an incredibly stylish hotel. There is a cozy patio with many relaxing sitting areas where the fire pit is regularly lit during cool evenings. It is in a great location right in the center. La Abuelita Hostal is one of the best hostels in San Cristóbal de las Casas. It is certainly not a party hostel but it is very comfortable.

Tip: Many hotels in San Cristóbal de las Casas are located in old buildings and therefore it can sometimes be noisy. It’s smart to bring your earplugs.