There are more things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, than you may expect.
Located in Chiapas, among the beautiful mountains of the Central Highlands region, at 2,200 meters (7,218 feet) above sea level, San Cristobal de las Casas is easily one of the prettiest, most interesting cities in Mexico. Rich in history; with well kept colonial architecture; and having retained its indigenous spirit, San Cristobal, as it is usually called, is significantly lesser visited than many other cities in the country.
But the few (though constantly increasing) visitors to this smaller (by Mexico standards!) city are easily and almost immediately captured by its charm, the laidback atmosphere, the mountain air and the fragrance of pine trees, and obviously by the many interesting activities on offer.
I fell in love with San Cristobal the minute I set foot in the city, after a long journey from Mexico City which involved a flight to Tuxtla Gutierrez and getting stuck in traffic as soon as I drove out of the airport on my rental car. Since then, I have visited three more times – that’s how much I like it!
Curious to discover more about the prettiest city in Chiapas? Continue reading, for I have selected the best things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas!
23 Best Things To Do In San Cristobal De Las Casas, Chiapas
Join a city walking tour
One of the best things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas to get to grips with the beautiful city is joining a walking tour. You could opt to simply follow your own self-made tour around the pedestrian-friendly streets, wandering the Real de Guadalupe. Make sure not to miss the Arco del Carmen, the 17th century gateway to San Cristobal – you can’t miss it, as it is bright ochre!
Alternatively you could join a free walking tour. These leave from Plaza de la Paz every day, in front of the cathedral. The tours depart twice daily – 10:00 am and 5:00 pm – and give you an overview of the city with a local guide. Having a knowledgeable guide with you means you’ll get an insight into the history and culture of the city.
For other guided tours of San Cristobal, click here.
Learn about the preservation of Chiapas rainforest at Casa Na Bolom
Casa Na Bolom is an iconic spot for visitors to stop by when they’re in San Cristobal de las Casas. The former home of Swiss archaeologist Franz Blom and his wife, Danish documentary photographer Gertrude Duby Blom, today it operates as a hotel, museum and restaurant.
The whole building is crammed full of archaeological artefacts, photographs, and other anthropological finds. You can take a house tour to learn more about the lives of these explorers in 1950s Chiapas.
Casa Na Bolom also happens to be a research center concerned with the preservation of the Chiapas rainforest. After your tour, stop for lunch (meals are made using organic vegetables grown in the garden), or even stay the night!
Drop by the Museo de Trajes Regionales de Sergio Castro
The Museo de Trajes Regionales de Sergio Castro is the place to go to learn all about traditional crafts in Chiapas. The museum displays almost 1,000 pieces from the indigenous Maya population of Chiapas; it’s particularly unique in that traditional burials usually require possessions and clothing of the deceased to be buried with them.
Another interesting part of this museum is the local character who oversees proceedings: Sergio Castro.
Rather than being donations to the museum, the clothes and other traditional artifacts are gifts to Castro from villagers in the surrounding area. That’s because the museum doubles up as a clinic where Castro helps burn victims, with gifts given in lieu of payment. After the clinic closes (7:00 pm) Castro himself leads a tour of the museum.
The museum is open daily from 3:00 to 8:00 pm. Admission is 50 MXN ($2.50 USD). For more information, visit the museum’s site here.
Visit the Catedral de San Cristóbal de las Casas
You’ll find the pastel colored Catedral de San Cristóbal de las Casas on the north side of the main plaza in town. Dating back to 1528, this ornate cathedral, incredibly, wasn’t completed until 1815, due to a series of natural disasters. Sadly, earthquakes struck again in 1816 and 1847, causing yet more damage.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that the Catedral de San Cristóbal de las Casas was restored once more. Inside, lit by candlelight, the gold leafed interior is drenched with incense smoke. It houses five gilded altar pieces and a number of 18th-century paintings.
Spend the day at Zinacantan
In the central Chiapas highlands, just 20 minutes’ drive from San Cristobal, you’ll find Zinacantan. Most of the population of this area is Tzotzil, complete with their own language and culture. In fact, they have strong links to the historic Aztec civilization. The traditional dress here is colorful: men wear bright pink tunics embroidered with flowers; women drape themselves in bright pink shawls.
While you’re in town, you can visit a female-run co-operative, where many beautiful textiles are produced and sold by local women. If you’re interested in taking pictures, make sure you ask permission first as sometimes this can be frowned upon.
To book your guided tour of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan, click here.
Get to grips with chocolate at Kakaw Museo del Cacao y Chocolateria Cultural
If you’re a chocolate lover you should definitely make time in your schedule to pay a visit to the Kakaw Museo del Cacao y Chocolateria Cultural. As you might be able to tell from the name, this is a chocolate museum. But it’s also a cafe, where you can sample a variety of chocolate products first-hand.
The small museum is packed full with an array of chocolate-related items, with staff who are very helpful in explaining the chocolate-making process. Here you can learn about the history of chocolate and how it was used by the Maya; there’s even a tasting session included.
The museum is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission to the museum is 30 MXN ($1.50 USD).
Sip coffee at Cafeologia
If you’re more of a coffee lover than a chocolate lover, don’t worry: Mexico, being a coffee-producing country, is not short of places where you can get a good cup of coffee. San Cristobal is no exception – in fact, the state of Chiapas is very well known as a center of Mexico’s coffee production, so you’re practically guaranteed a great coffee here!
One of the best cafes in San Cristobal is Cafeologia. Serving up amazing coffee alongside delicious food, it’s a great place to enjoy a break when you’re exploring the city. Staff here are super friendly, the bright interiors – complete with houseplants – are stylish and the choice on offer is enough to satisfy any coffee aficionado.
And with accommodation, you can even stay here if you like it that much!
Visit the Museo de Ambar
This small museum is actually one of the most popular in town – adjoint to the gallery you will find a shop where you can buy beautiful jewerly.
Browse for a new book at Abuelita Books
If you’re on your Mexico vacation and you’re in need of something to read, look no further than the wonderful Abuelita Books. This centrally located bookstore boasts an array of new and used books available in English and a variety of other languages. There’s an excellent selection on offer, so chances are you’ll find something interesting.
There’s also tea and coffee on offer, so you can make a start on your new purchase as you read in comfort. It makes for a nice place to escape the chaos of the city. On Thursdays, this bookstore also screens English-language movies for free, too!
Take in local life at Plaza 31 de Marzo
Plaza 31 de Marzo, also known as the city’s Zocalo, is the main square in San Cristobal. This relaxed, leafy hub of local life is the place to go to for a spot of people-watching. You’ll find newspaper vendors, shoe shiners, street food stalls, families with children running around, and at its center is an old-fashioned bandstand.
Here, in the evenings, music performances take place. The area comes alive with people enjoying their free time in the square, meeting with friends or simply hanging out. It’s the perfect place to come and soak up the atmosphere before heading out for dinner, or for a casual morning walk. There’s always something going on here!
Soak up the art at Galeria MUY
Specializing in contemporary artwork by Mayan and Zoque people in the surrounding area, Galeria MUY is an interesting place to admire some colorful local art. In the Tzotzil language, “Muy” is the word for having fun or taking pleasure in something, and this gallery certainly echoes that sentiment.
Alongside being an art gallery, Galeria MUY is also a venue for multimedia exhibitions and performances. They also host collaborative exhibits between local artists and artists from all across the world. You can take a guided tour here to learn more about the local artists and from across the Chiapas region, giving you an insight into what life is like for indigenous people here.
The gallery is open Tuesday to Friday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from 12:00 to 5:00 pm.
Take a day trip to San Juan Chamula
San Juan Chamula is a very unique place, and one of the best day trips from San Cristobal de las Casas you could take. Only 20 minutes by road, this highland village is proud of its culture and independent spirit, with most of the population being Tzotzil. This village stood up against the Spanish colonizers, and even after being subjugated by them, have retained many Maya spiritual and religious practices.
This can be seen most prominently at the church. More of a temple than a church, don’t come in here expecting a run-of-the-mill church. Instead of pews, you’ll find floors strewn with pine needles, and services including the sacrifice of chickens and the drinking of Coca Cola and other carbonated drinks.
No photos are allowed inside the church.
Unless you have a car, the easiest way to get to San Juan Chamula is on a guided tour. In fact, you really do need a guide to appreciate the rituals. For information about guided tours to San Juan Chamula, click here.
Dance the night away at Latino’s Cafe Restaurant Club
If you’re in the mood to hit the dancefloor and dance the night away, then you should make sure you hit up Latino’s Cafe Restaurant Club. This is San Cristobal de las Casas’ hotspot for salsa dancers and musicians, called salseros in Spanish. They gather here most nights of the week.
From 8:00 pm onwards, DJs spin a mix of Latin tracks, helping to warm things up. But from 11:00 pm is when the real action begins, and bands take to the stage playing a cocktail of salsa, merengue and bachata music. It’s open Wednesday through Saturday. Come expecting a great atmosphere; you can even enjoy some dinner and drinks before you start strutting your stuff as well.
Get active at Parque Ecoturístico Rancho Nuevo
For when you need a breath of fresh air away from the city, Parque Ecoturístico Rancho Nuevo is the place to go. This nature reserve boasts woodlands, trails and a series of caves, and is a fun place to explore – and also has a multitude of activities, from adrenaline-pumping ziplines to slides and horse rides.
With all these fun activities, you may be getting hungry. But don’t worry: there is a selection of Mexican eateries on offer, so you can enjoy some snacks purchased on the go; or you could pack a picnic and eat in the middle of nature in the picnic area. It’s a really family-friendly place to be.
Don’t forget to take a tour of the caves. Inside you’ll find fascinating formations, making you feel like you’ve been transported to another world.
Shop for handicrafts at Templo de Santo Domingo
North of the center of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, you’ll find the 16th-century Templo de Santo Domingo. One of the most beautiful churches in the area, this Baroque-style building is elaborately etched with filigree stucco, while inside you’ll find an ornately gilded pulpit. But it’s not just about the stunning interiors.
There’s also a regional museum situated in the former monastery (attached to the church): Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya. Here you can see a collection of over 500 handwoven textile pieces displayed across two permanent exhibitions. Nearby, local women sell handicrafts that you can purchase for gifts or souvenirs (make sure to haggle!).
Go for cocktails at Cocoliche
Once you’ve been wandering around the city streets all day, it’s high time you refresh yourself. The best venue for this simply has to be Cocoliches. By day, this is an easygoing spot for long, lazy lunches, but as night falls this boho establishment becomes a prime spot for cocktails.
Choose from a selection of freshly made cocktails and find a cozy spot to enjoy the nightly live jazz or swing music that’s performed here. On colder evenings (because it’s not always warm in San Cristobal!), make sure to turn up early to find a table near the fireplace and snuggle up with your favorite tipple.
Take in the views from Cerro de Guadalupe
Feel like a hike? Then you should make a beeline for Cerro de Guadalupe. Topped by the Iglesia de Guadalupe, this scenic peak is where you’ll find the best views in San Cristobal. As lovely as the views may be, they’re not necessarily easy to reach – you’ll have to tackle a set of 79 steps to ascend. This can be more punishing than it looks because of the high altitude.
Once you’re up the top however, you’ll be rewarded – not just with gorgeous views and a leafy natural setting, but also with food vendors. So if you need a refreshing drink or a snack to refuel for the journey back down, you’re in luck.
The church itself can be visited, too. Built in 1834, it’s a single-nave church with a main altar that boasts a carved image of the Virgin of Guadalupe dating from 1850. If you’re in town for 12 December, make sure to pay a visit; this is the church’s festival day and sees a stream of devotees visiting.
Explore the archeological ruins of Tonina
One of the most interesting day trips to San Cristobal de las Casas is to Tonina, a lesser known archeological site about 8 miles (around 13 km) from Ocosingo and 59.6 miles (96 km) from San Cristobal. The city was historically known as Po or Popo, and set in a gorgeous valley—surrounded by a lush jungle.
The site boasts pyramids as tall as 230 feet (70 meters), which you can climb for incredible views.
Tonina is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is $41 MXN ($2 USD). The site is free to visit on Sundays.
Getting to Tonina from San Cristobal de las Casas is a bit of an ordeal if you don’t have your own car. You can join a guided tour such as this one.
Relax at El Chiflon Waterfall
Best visited on guided tours from San Cristobal de las Casas, Cascada El Chiflon (El Chiflon Waterfall) is actually close to Comitan, in the Tzimol Municipality on the border with Guatemala. It is a complex of 5 waterfalls, the tallest being almost 394 feet (120 meters). You can go there to hike and then just swim in the natural pools. Make sure not to miss the view from Rainbow Waterfall!
Day trips from San Cristobal de las Casas to El Chiflon also include a stop at Montebello Lakes National Park. Tours also include the entrance to the park (50 MXN, or $2.50 USD). You can book the tour here.
Go on a boat tour on Canyon del Sumidero
One of the top things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas is taking a day trip to the Canyon del Sumidero. Crossed by the Rio Grijalva, this canyon features walls as tall as 3,280 feet and is completely surrounded by forest. The best way to experience it is on boat trips along the river which allow you to admire the canyon and the wildlife living there, as well as the dam at the end of it.
For all inclusive guided tours of Sumidero Canyon from San Cristobal, click here.
Check out A Guide To Visiting Sumidero Canyon.
Visit Chiapa de Corzo
Chiapa de Corzo is a lovely small colonial town located along the Grijalva River, between Tuxtla Gutierrez and San Cristobal. It was founded in 1523 by the Spaniards and remains a fascinating place to learn about the history of Chiapas. The main sight is the central square, where you’ll find nice cafés and shops and La Pila, a 16th-century fountain.
Chiapa de Corzo can be visited on day trips from San Cristobal de las Casas. It takes about one hour to get there by bus. Alternatively, you can go on guided tours that include a visit of Sumidero Canyon, click here.
Take a day trip to Agua Azul and Misol Ha
Agua Azul and Misol Ha are two beautiful waterfalls located in Chiapas, a bit further away from San Cristobal – but if you are up for the long day of driving, they are totally worth visiting.
The first is series of connecting cascades, pools, and waterfalls perfect for hiking around and swimming. The second consists of just one singular cascade that drops an impressive 115 feet (35 meters) into a large pool, which is perfect for swimming. There even is a small cave you can visit behind the waterfall.
Agua Azul is open daily from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm daily. Admission is 50 MXN ($2.50 USD). Misol Ha is open daily from 6:45 am to 7:45 pm. Admission is 50 MXN ($2.50 USD) and there is an extra 10 MXN ($0.50 USD) fee to enter into the cave.
The best way to visit Agua Azul and Misol Ha from San Cristobal de las Casas if you don’t have a car is to join a guided tour. Book it here.
Stretch all the way to Palenque
The ruins of Palenque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the state of Chiapas, are actually quite far from San Cristobal de las Casas – it’s a solid 5 hours drive. If you decide to visit, you are better off factoring in a night or two in the nearby city – which is also a good access point to visit Agua Azul and Misol Ha.
If you don’t have that much time, you can consider joining a guided tour from San Cristobal that also stops at Agua Azul and Misol Ha, such as this one. Be prepared for a full day – you will be leaving at 3:30 am and the tour lasts 17 full hours!
Where to stay in San Cristobal de las Casas
There is no shortage of excellent places to stay in San Cristobal de las Casas. Over my trips, I have tried a few and can make the following recommendations:
- BOUTIQUE – HOTEL BO: Fabulous boutique hotel a few blocks from the Real de Guadalupe, where all the action is. Rooms are cozy and spacious, set around a well kept internal garden. The overall atmosphere is incredibly cozy. A fabulous breakfast is served every morning.
- MID-RANGE – CASA NA BOLOM: One of the best hotels in town, it’s set in what is also the best known museum in San Cristobal. Considering what’s at stake, it is incredibly budget friendly!
- BUDGET – POSADA DEL ABUELITO: This nice hostel in the heart of San Cristobal de las Casas offers modest but comfortable private rooms and well equipped dorms. It’s clean, safe and has nice social spaces.
Where to eat and drink in San Cristobal de las Casas
There are plenty of good restaurants and budget eateries in San Cristobal, so you will easily find a place that suits your tastes and budget. Here is a selection of places I have tried:
LA CASA DEL PAN – Nice restaurant with a focus on vegetarian and vegan options (but not only), it’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s located inside a large art gallery in Real de Guadalupe, where you’ll also find a lovely souvenir shop and an organic food store.
LA VINA DE BACCO – Small winery on Real de Guadalupe with an extensive wine list. Go there for a fun night out, to listen to live music and meet other travelers and locals too.
PIZZERIA DEL PUNTO – On Real de Guadalupe, this is a lovely pizzeria that serves wood-oven baked (huge) pizza and freshly prepared salads. It’s good value for money, and has a great variety of pizzas (including a chocolate pizza for dessert).
EL CALDERO – One of the best local restaurants serving a variety of soups. Go there for a delicious pozole!
How to get to San Cristobal de las Casas
San Cristobal de las Casas is about one hour drive from Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas, and around 5 hours drive from Palenque.
FROM TUXTLA – The easiest way to get from Tuxtla International Airport to San Cristobal is by car. If you’d rather use public transportation, you can book your bus ride here.
FROM PALENQUE – Colectivos regularly ply road 199 connecting Palenque to San Cristobal. It’s a very scenic road, but not the best if you have a tendency to get motion sick – in which case you are better off taking motion sickness tablets to begin with. I drove that road several times myself and it is completely doable – if only a bit long. Keep in mind there are occasional protests in Ocosingo, with road blockades that may further delay the trip. By all means, avoid driving that route at night.
Is San Cristobal de las Casas safe?
San Cristobal is generally a safe city – there are occasional clashes on the road to Ocosingo, but they hardly affect San Cristobal. As with other cities in Latin America, a few safety rules apply here too: avoid walking around by yourself at night, and don’t flash your valuables. Always keep your wits about and try to stay on the main tourist path.
What to pack for San Cristobal
San Cristobal is set at an altitude, to which you will have to acclimatize. Make sure to pack along some warmer clothes – especially if you are visiting in the winter months, when temperatures can drop as low as 40° F (4°C) at night. Summer temperatures are nicer, with chilly nights around 50°C (10°F), though it’s a pleasant 70°F (around 21°F) or so during the day.
Keep in mind that the weather is much warmer in other parts of Chiapas at lower altitude, such as Palenque, Agua Azul and even the Sumidero Canyon!
Make sure to read my other posts about Mexico:
- The Best Travel Tips For Mexico
- The Best Mexico Itinerary
- The Complete Guide To Visiting Teotihuacan
- The Best Things To Do In Chiapas
- What To Eat In Mexico
- How Not To Get Sick In Mexico