Located in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, San Cristobal de Las Casas is one of Mexico’s most charming, unique, and vibrant cities. This pueblo magico has a distinct character and multifaceted culture that has captured travelers’ hearts for decades making it a must-visit for any Mexico travel itinerary.
Offering a sanctuary from Mexico’s often hot and humid climate, it’s hard not to fall in love with San Cristobal de Las Casas’s cobblestone streets, colorful churches, beautiful architecture, and delicious food.
If you are planning a trip to this eclectic city, here are some of the top things to eat, see, and do in San Cristobal de las Casas.
When to visit San Cristobal de Las Casas
There really is no bad time to visit San Cristóbal de Las Casas. It’s somewhat chilly, but favorable weather all year makes it a nice place to visit year-round. However, visitors may prefer to come in the area’s dry season which is November through April.
To see the city really come alive be sure to visit during important celebrations such as Carnaval (the week before Lent), Day of the Dead (November 1), and Día de Guadalupe (December 12).
Things to know before visiting San Cristobal
San Cristobal has a much cooler climate year-round due to its location in the mountainous highlands. Located at 6,900 feet (2,100 meters) temperatures typically vary from 43°F to 73°F. Always have a jacket on hand and prepare for chilly evenings and brisk mornings with temperate days.
Chiapas is also home to more indigenous tribes than any other state in Mexico. You will likely notice each tribe’s diverse culture represented in their arts and crafts, language, and clothing. San Cristobal is a popular tourist destination and is home to many ex-pats, so it’s not uncommon to see people from all over the world with a wide range of ethnicities and languages spoken.
Chiapas is also considered Mexico’s poorest state and the cost of food, activities, and living here is extremely affordable. Like most other cities in Mexico, cash or effectivo is king. However, there are some stores and restaurants that will take debit or credit cards.
Is it safe to travel to Chiapas, Mexico?
Chiapas is unlike any state you will visit in Mexico. With its long history of anti-government revolutionary groups Zapatistas, border security issues with Guatemala, and high-profile violence targeting journalists, there is good reason to wonder if it’s safe to travel to Chiapas, Mexico.
On rural roads that surround the region of San Cristobal, there are frequent reports of road blockades requesting a toll to pass and sometimes theft. So it’s a good idea to consult locals including forums or posts from travelers in the area to hear prior to traveling to see if there have been any reports before you visit.
However, the city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, like most other tourist destinations in Mexico, is very safe to visit.
As with traveling anywhere in Mexico, follow general travel safety advice like not wandering around alone late at night, watching your alcohol consumption, and staying aware of yourself and your surroundings. Aside from road challenges on the roads leading into the city, the only reasonable fear you should have when visiting Chiapas is that you might never want to leave.
Top 8 things to do in San Cristobal de Las Casas
You’ll quickly see after visiting San Cristobal, that there are so many unique activities to experience in the city and surrounding mountains of Chiapas. We spent just over a week and a half there and would have loved to have stayed longer.
Whether you’re visiting for a weekend or staying longer, here are a few of the top things to do in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas.
1. Stroll the cobblestone streets
The first thing you will want to do when you arrive in San Cristobal is take a stroll through its beautiful narrow cobblestone streets. San Cristobal is a pedestrian-friendly city with a few roads dedicated solely to foot traffic. Start at the historic center that connects to the bustling street of Real de Guadalupe. This is where many restaurants, shops, and bars are located.
Incredible street art will greet you all over the city as you walk around. Seriously, this city has so many cool murals, you can see why artists are drawn here. An evening stroll around San Cristobal is an excellent time to watch this city come to life! Find a streetside table at one of the many cafes and restaurants and enjoy people-watching.
2. Taste artisanal coffee & chocolate
The lush and green state of Chiapas is well known for its production of coffee and chocolate. San Cristobal de Las Casas is in proximity to the jungles of Chiapas. Making it the perfect climate for growing coffee and cacao. As you’re walking around San Cristobal de Las Casas you will see many cafes and coffee roasteries.
We recommend paying Cafeologia a visit for an educational sampling of drinks made from the different stages of coffee. They share the entire process from the flower all the way to the roasted bean. For buying some wholesale coffee to take home visit Black Dragon Coffee. They are a roaster working with sustainable organic farms selling high-quality coffee.
San Cristobal loves chocolate! You will see it absolutely everywhere. For incredible artisanal chocolate, head over to Chocolateria Jangala. They have a variety of pure cacao treats from ice cream to chocolate beverages. The shop will answer all of your cacao questions. Additionally, they will explain the process of how chocolate is made from bean to bar with a focus on sustainable harvesting.
3. Sip pox, the ancient Mayan liquor
Pox (pronounced “posh”) is a local spirit made from fermenting mais or corn that dates back to the Mayans. As you take a stroll around San Cristobal you will probably notice the many Posherias where you can take a seat at a bar and try the interesting liquor. Be careful though, pox is subtly sweet but surprisingly strong in alcohol content, not unlike white dog in the bourbon-making process.
Many posherias also make different less alcoholic varieties of pox with flavors like tamarindo (tamarind), jamaica (hibiscus), or mora (blackberry). They are absolutely delicious on their own or great to use in cocktails. La Espirituoso is our recommendation for an educational pox tasting or simply a pox cocktail. Pox also makes an excellent souvenir to take home and share with friends and family.
4. Shop at the artisan market
Shopping at the Mercado Artesanias is one of the best things to do in any Mexican city and the market in San Cristobal may be the best in the entire country. Wander around this maze of a market for a few minutes and you’re bound to get lost but in the best possible way.
Tourist trinkets, hand-sewn clothing, amber jewelry, and other goodies fill the plethora of booths in the massive market. Try your hand at bartering and walk away with bragging rights about the amazing deal you just got. Just make sure to be realistic with your offers so as not to offend the vendors.
5. Take a boat tour through Sumidero Canyon
One of the best things to do in Chiapas is to visit the jaw-droppingly stunning Sumidero Canyon. Its located an hour outside of San Cristobal de las Casas near the capital city of Tuxtla Gutierrez. Visiting Sumidero Canyon and the town of Chiapa de Corzo makes an excellent day trip away from San Cristobal.
Sumidero Canyon is a large narrow canyon formed about 35 million years ago, making it as old as the Grand Canyon in the United States. The best way to view this natural wonder is on a thrilling boat ride up the river that flows through the canyon.
The boat tours launch from Chiapa de Corzo, a small pueblo magico nearby Tuxtla. Make your way to the docks on the river and be prepared to negotiate (if your Spanish is up to par) with the many tour companies and find the best price.
Note: The boats won’t leave the dock until they have filled with people. We recommend arriving around 10:30 am to make sure you aren’t waiting around for a boat to fill up. Snacks and micheladas can be bought beforehand or at the end of the tour near the dam.
You can see towering walls, lush rainforests, a unique waterfall, and wildlife including crocodiles and spider monkeys on the tour. Tours are led in Spanish, so it is helpful to know some of the language. Even if your Spanish skills aren’t up to snuff, the sights are captivating enough to make this tour worthwhile.
6. Visit one of Chiapas many churches
Exploring San Cristobal you will quickly encounter its many colonial-style churches or Iglesias. Walking into these beautiful holy sites is a wonderful way to experience the culture and history of the city. To start, it’s hard to miss the bright yellow and red Cathedral in the town center.
The famous Iglesia de Guadalupe is a place of pilgrimage for the people of Chiapas and beyond. Climb the steep stairway up to the Iglesia de San Cristobal for a panoramic view of the entire city. It’s a great workout, too!
7. Get out in nature in El Arcotete
Escape the bustle of the city at El Arcotete. This ecological park outside of town has some of the best outdoor activities in San Cristobal de las Casas. The park features pine trees, lush greenery, a suspension bridge, extensive caves, and a tall limestone archway with a freshwater river running through. It’s an easy 20-minute ride by taxi or public bus to get there.
8. Explore the ancient art of textile making at the textile museum
Housed inside the Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo, the Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya is an incredible museum filled with examples of textiles made by the indigenous groups of Chiapas, Yucatan, and Guatemala. You can spend hours perusing the collection of over 500 colorful handwoven textiles. Learn about the processes used from the creation of the materials to the creation of the intricate patterns.
9. Eat delicious food
San Cristobal de Las Casas has incredible food to enjoy. From street food to fine dining, there is something for everyone. The best part? It’s an extremely affordable city for dining out. Below are a few of the must-try items in the city, and the best places to get them from.
San Cristobal de las Casa’s colder weather had us craving hearty warming soups. So our first stop was the highly reviewed El Caldero. Their soups are absolutely delicious and reasonably priced (considering how massive the bowls are). I promise you’ll want to come back for more.
Vino and Tapas
What better way to spend a lazy afternoon than sipping wine and people-watching in the city of San Cris. Visit a Tapas Bar like La Vina de Bacco or El Cau Vinos y Tapas on a sunny day to enjoy refreshing wines by the glass.
Each glass of wine is served with a free small plate of food. Wines range from $2 – $7 USD per glass depending on your selection. Which makes this a super cheap and delicious way to fill up. If that doesn’t sound like enough to eat, no worries you can order an assortment of tapa plates off the menu.
The weather tends to be a bit chillier in the high mountains of Chiapas than in other areas of Mexico, and on a cold day, nothing will warm you up faster and cost less than a steaming hot cup of esquites. Esquites are basically corn in a cup. I promise it’s more delicious than it sounds!
Scoops of soft-boiled corn are layered with mayonnaise, crema, chili powder, lime juice, and cotija cheese. Mix it all up and it becomes like a creamy Mexican corn chowder. Que rico!
La Casa del Tamal San Cristóbal is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant off the main walking street that always has a dozen types of tamales warm and ready for you. Make sure to try the tamales de chipilín, a Chiapas specialty. Chipilín is a leafy green sometimes described as a cousin of spinach. It has a distinct earthy flavor that’s delicious in tamales and soups. Eat at the restaurant or take a few para llevar (to-go) for an easy breakfast in the morning.
The international food scene in San Cristobal is surprisingly diverse! Walking around town you will happen upon Korean, Japanese, Italian, and Indian cuisines just to name a few. So if you are a little burnt out on Mexican cuisine, try something different. We had a delicious and rich meal at Bangcook Thai in the Esquina San Agustín Food Court, some of the best Thai food we’ve had hands down.
An international city like San Cristobal de las Casas is bound to have a happening nightlife scene and it does. Drop into the chic Blom Bar to enjoy high-end cocktails amongst a young sophisticated crowd or check out Pulqueria La Mayáhuel for a dive bar with live music and yummy fruity flavored pulque drinks, made from fermented agave nectar served in gigantic ceramic mugs.
There’s so much more to see, do, eat, and enjoy in San Cristobal de Las Casas. However, this list is a great place to get started.