San Cristobal de las Casas, or San Cris, is the cultural hub in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico. Much less traveled than its nearby states in the Yucatan, Chiapas is definitely worthy of your time and should be on your next itinerary. San Cristobal de las Casas is a city a of color, style and culture.
San Cristobal Facts and Layout
I love cities with pedestrian streets. In San Cris, the town square has three pedestrian streets leading out from it. The longest is Calle Real de Guadalupe or Calle Lupe for short. Calle Lupe is lined with restaurants, shops, and coffee roasters. You will also find a supermarket here as well. South of the city square is Avenue Miquel Hidalgo. Av Miguel hosts the cities classier restaurants and has a hipster vibe. I love eating here. Check out 500 Noches. Finally, going north off of the city square is Privada 20 de Noviembre. Prv Noviembre is a shopping street lined with boutiques.
The pedestrian streets don’t end there. Just South of Calle Obregon you will find a huge food market that makes up a series of walking streets. Tourists are even fewer here than in town despite only being a few blocks away.
The layout of San Cris is Spanish Colonial which means that you will see red tiled roofs, cobbled streets, and walled off properties. The concept of a front yard doesn’t exist. This can make the city seem a little barren, but all you have to do is walk inside any home, hotel, or plaza and the courtyards prove to you otherwise. Fruit trees, flowers and green flora populate every space available. This design also makes it a little difficult to identify stores as their signage is flat to the building. I found that I had the easiest time in locating places when I walked on the opposite side of the street.
Where to Stay in San Cristobal and Transportation Needs
San Cris does have numerous hostels on offer as well as some 2-4 star hotels. My recommendation though, would be to find an Airbnb or Homestay near the city center. I did this and it allowed me to cook my own meals, look out into a fantastic garden, and provide comforts that you don’t normally have when staying in a hotel.
You definitely don’t need a car in San Cris, but if you want to rent one there is on street parking. You better be an ace at parallel parking and comfortable driving on steep streets. The streets are narrow in the old part of the city. Taxis are all over the place and if your ride stays within town it is very inexpensive. You need to negotiate the price first, but I paid 30-35 pesos from the center of town to the large supermarket, Chedraui.
Shopping in San Cristobal
If you are doing a Mexico trip, Chiapas is where you want to get your souvenirs. Not the Mayan Riviera, not in Mexico City, but in Chiapas. Chiapas has the second largest population of indigenous people with a concentration of them around San Cris. For this, you will find more unique items, get a better deal, and typically pay the family directly that made the item. San Cristobal is very friendly to peddlers. Every day you will see folks out on the pedestrian streets selling their homemade jewelry or art right along side the local ladies selling their textiles. Amber is a popular item in the jewelry stores. Need a Guayabera? They’ve got you covered. Also, if you don’t have warm clothes packed – you can pick up a parka in town from one of the many women selling them.
Fast Facts and Summary
San Cris sits at 7200 ft so it is important that you do not suffer from altitude sickness. When visiting, there are quite a few big hikes, but monitor yourself and give yourself a day or two to adjust to the thinner air before straining your body. One positive side effect from its altitude is the weather. San Cris is a town of eternal spring which means it can get quite chilly. If you are flying in, you will fly into Tuxtla Gutierrez – one hour away. As Tuxtla is much lower in height, you can notice a 20 ˚F difference in temp.
Overall, San Cris is worth 3-4 days of your trip to explore. You can also use the city as a home base for travels to Palenque or adventurous day tours. Keep your eyes open during your stay. I felt completely safe roaming around the town by myself, but there is also ongoing civil unrest. You can read about my observations here, but I think the best rule of thumb is just make sure you don’t get too close to the action.