I called San Cristobal de las Casas home for the last couple of months, and not a day felt wasted. This magical city nestled in the mountains of Chiapas was everything that I could have asked for. After months of lockdowns and travel restrictions, I decided to make the move to Mexico. After mistakenly thinking Tulum would be my place, I booked a flight to San Cristobal de las Casas, expecting to stay for two weeks before heading back to Tulum.
It’s been nearly two months since then, and to no one’s surprise, I’m still here. This city has everything a traveler could ask for. Most days are spent roaming the cobblestone streets flanked by colorful colonial architecture. Each day, I find something new. A cozy cafe, a vintage thrift store, a trendy vegan restaurant, whatever it is, this city is full of surprises. Outside of the city, there is a multitude of incredible adventures to be had. From jungly ruins to towering canyons and epic waterfalls, the nature-lover in me was never left unsatisfied.
Take A Cruise Through the Cañon del Sumidero (Sumidero Canyon)
About an hour away from San Cristobal de las Casas, one can take a boat ride between the towering canyons of Sumidero. This breathtaking bucket list destination should be on anyone’s Chiapas itinerary. It’s akin to the fjords you’d find in Scandinavia or New Zealand. And with a price tag of around 300 pesos ($15 USD), it is an absolute bargain in comparison.
Visit the Breathtaking Lagos de Montebello
I never thought I’d find something like this in Mexico. In Thailand, Laos, the Philippines, or elsewhere in South East Asia? Yeah, but definitely not in Mexico. Lagos de Montebello blew my mind, and it was one of the perfect places to spend a day exploring or relaxing.
Get Drenched by El Chiflon Waterfalls
These aren’t your average waterfalls. Cascadas El Chiflon are some of the most powerful and stunning that I’ve ever seen in my travels. Located about three hours from San Cristobal, a visit here is well worth the lengthy day trip. One could easily spend the entire day here exploring the many waterfalls and swimming in the turquoise waters of the river.
Visit the Mystical Ruins of Palenque
I’ve seen my fair share of ruins in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. Palenque is easily one of my favorites. The ruins of Palenque truly make you feel like you’ve been transported back in time. Nestled in the jungle, with large parts of the city yet to be unearthed, you truly feel like you are Indiana Jones or Lara Croft exploring an ancient city.
Take a Dip at Misol-Ha Waterfalls
Close to the city and ruins of Palenque are a number of waterfalls. My favorite of those is Misol-Ha. The waterfalls of Misol-Ha are absolutely breathtaking, and a gorgeous place for a swim. If you’re visiting Palenque from San Cristobal de las Casas, make sure not to miss Misol-Ha.
Immerse Yourself in the Indigenous Village of San Juan Chamula
One of the coolest quick trips one can take from San Cristobal de las Casas is a visit to the town of San Juan Chamula. Despite being only 20 minutes from San Cristobal, it feels like diving into an entirely different culture altogether. The indigenous people in their black woolly outfits, the chicken sacrifices inside the unique Mayan-Catholic church, and the absolutely sprawling Sunday market make it a can’t-miss for travelers in San Cristobal.
Explore the Caves of Arcotete Ecotourist Park
Most of the best natural attractions in Chiapas requires a lengthy day trip from San Cristobal. However, just twenty minutes outside of town, you’ll find the stunning caves of Arcotete Ecotourist Park. Hiking, zip-lining, swimming, and rock climbing are other activities once you’re done spelunking.
Visit the Grutas de Rancho Nuevo
Just outside of San Cristobal, you’ll find more caves and adventures, like horseback riding and hiking. Along with Arcotete, Rancho Nuevo are two of the top natural attractions close to San Cristobal. both are only a 20-30 minute colectivo ride away, and well worth the visit.
Get Absolutely Sloshed at Baruva or Mezcalito
During the time of COVID, I was lucky enough to find myself in one of the world’s few oases. Mexico has a traffic light system, ranging from red (full lockdown) to green (business as usual). Chiapas was green during my entire time in San Cristobal, meaning the clubs were open and in full force. Everyone, from locals to national and international tourists alike, took full advantage of San Cristobal’s poppin’ nightlife. While Baruva and Mezcalito are my favorite clubs, there are plenty more lining the walking street starting at Plaza de La Paz.
Have Some Drunken Street Tacos Shortly Afterwards
My favorite taco stand is the one right across from Mezcalito. It only opens at around 1 AM on the weekends, so you’ll have to be a late night partier like me to take full advantage of these delicious tacos. At 10 pesos per taco, you can’t go wrong with whatever you choose.
Catch a Killer Sunset From Kinoki
During the two months I spent in San Cristobal, I probably visited Kinoki nearly every other day. Not only is it a crackin’ spot to catch the sunset, it’s got a wide selection of amazing teas. As an Asian, I love sippin’ on some tea. Kinoki does it all. It’s also a co-working space and independent film cinema, on top of serving food and alcohol. Without a doubt, Kinoki is my favorite spot in Sancris.
Treat Yourself to a Meal at Plaza San Agustin
Whenever I felt like treating myself, I knew where to go. Plaza San Agustin is arguably the most boujee spot in San Cristobal. It’s got a wide range of restaurants to choose from, including a Peruvian Cevicheria. It’s no secret just how much I love Peruvian food, and having a go-to place in San Cristobal was an unexpected surprise. On top of Peruvian food, Plaza San Agustin also had Thai food, Japanese food, Mexican food, and my personal favorite cafe, Amor Negro.
Party Hard at Puerta Vieja Hostel
What would my time in San Cristobal have been without the amazing people I met? I stayed at a few different hostels, but most of my time was spent in Puerta Vieja. I met loads of amazing travelers there, many of which were also staying long-term. It truly helped make San Cristobal feel like home. With rates as low as $8 per night for a dorm bed with breakfast and dinner included, Puerta Vieja is always a poppin’ spot. Tuesdays and Fridays also include free cocktails from 8-10:30 PM. And for how value-oriented the hostel is, it’s shocking how nice the facilities are. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill value hostel. Puerta Vieja is where it’s at.
Take Salsa Classes At Latino’s
One of my goals in Mexico was to learn salsa. Calling San Cristobal home for two months allowed me to work towards that goal. I’d attend salsa classes at a bar called Latino’s. It only cost 45 pesos ($2.25) for a two-hour class. Although I felt like a lost puppy during my first few classes, I stuck with it and definitely have made some progress on my dreams to be the spiciest salsa dancer out there.
Aside from salsa classes, Sancris is also a perfect place to buckle down and work on your language skills. There are plenty of language schools in the area. Anyone traveling through Mexico and Latin America should have a decent grasp on the language. Trust me, it transforms your experience entirely.
Go For A Swim At Agua Azul Waterfalls
Okay, let’s go back to some nature. Between Palenque and San Cristobal, you’ll find some of the most popular waterfalls in Chiapas. It’s easy to spend an entire day here swimming and exploring the various sections of Agua Azul waterfalls.
Vibe To Some Live Music at Nierika
San Cristobal has an impressively diverse nightlife scene. One of my go-to spots was Nierika, especially on a Saturday night. Boasting cheap drinks, live music, and late-night electronic music, Nierika was definitely the spot to be. The hostel would pre-game at Nierika before heading to the Saturday night skate park rave, and it’d always be a grand time.
Feast at an Assortment of Vegan Restaurants
I’ll admit, I was completely shocked at how vegan-friendly San Cristobal is. For a smaller, relatively less-touristy town, San Cristobal has a wide variety of vegan restaurants. Some of my favorites are Te Quiero Verde, Veganos la Taqueria, Bek, Todo Vegano, and Loving Hut.
Buy Some Trinkets at the Mercado de Artesanias, Dulces, y Ambar
Amber is the main offering of the Chiapas region. I’m not big on souvenirs, but it’s hard not to be entranced by the beautiful amber jewelry offered by all the local artisans in the area. One of the best places to buy your souvenirs is the Market of Artisans, Sweets, and Amber. It’s only a few blocks from the city center and well worth checking out.
Go On The Free Walking Tour
Walking tours are one of the best ways to get to know a city. I didn’t take the free walking tour in San Cristobal until my 5th or 6th week in the city. I thought I knew most of the places they would take us, but I ended up learning a lot about the city and discovering some new favorite spots. Some of Sancris’ best restaurants, cafes, and bars may not look like much from the outside. Having a local guide show you their favorite spots can give you a push in the right direction, especially if you are new to the city.
Browse Through Plaza de La Paz’s Night Market
The bustling square of Plaza de La Paz is lively during the day, but it truly comes alive in the nighttime. This is where the local artisans spread out their offerings, such as ponchos, blankets, and more. It’s honestly a pretty good business model, considering how cold San Cristobal often gets at night. I like coming to the plaza around sunset just to catch some nice golden hour views and watch the local vendors set up shop.
Go Souvenir Shopping at Mercado de Santo Domingo
Perhaps the most popular market among tourists in San Cristobal is Mercado de Santo Domingo. You’ll find this sprawling market spread out around Santo Domingo church. For cheap souvenirs, clothes, and local handicraft goods, this is the best place to go. It’s easy to get lost here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Wander through the colorful alleyways and shop for whatever catches your eye.
Do Go Chasing Waterfalls at Cascada de 3 Tzimoleras
Near the town of Tzimol, you’ll find the waterfalls which are aptly named Tzimoleras after the town. It’s in the same area as El Chiflon, so if you’ve got some time before or after your visit there, make sure to check out Cascadas 3 Tzimoleras.
Dive into Sparkling Cenote Chukumaltik
Close to Comitan is one of the largest cenotes in the area. Cenote Chukumaltik is the perfect spot for an escape into nature. On a hot day, there’s no better way to cool down than diving into the magical waters of this beautiful cenote.
Explore the Mountains of Chiapas on Horseback
A few friends and I got some horses, cowboy hats, some beers, and rode down to San Juan Chamula. It was one of my most fun days in San Cristobal. Put together a good crew, some good views and hop on a horse and you’ll have yourself a grand day.
Visit the Indigenous Village of Zinacantan
While not as popular as San Juan Chamula, the indigenous village of Zinacantan is another cool place to visit. Their traditional attire is more colorful and more floral than the traditional black woolly fits of the Chamulans. A short and cheap colectivo ride away from San Cristobal, Zinacantan is worth checking out if you’ve got a day to kill.
Hike Through the Clouds at Huitepec Ecological Reserve
You can catch a taxi for just 40 pesos from the city center to get to one of San Cristobal’s best hiking areas. You’ve undoubtedly seen Cerro Huitepec towering over San Cristobal. It takes about two hours to reach the top, and the trail often gets tricky and easy to lose. However, the views are… well, it’s a cloud forest. Don’t be upset when your views are literally just clouds. It’s a beautiful hike, though. The chilly weather, jungly canopies, and moody cloud cover make for a surreal setting. It’s a great way to spend a day outdoors.
Sip on Chiapas’ Famous Hot Chocolate
I became a hot chocolate addict in San Cristobal. At some point in our lives, we make the switch from hot chocolate to coffee. Quite frankly, I don’t know why. I found myself ordering hot chocolate everywhere I went. A few of my favorite spots for hot chocolate were Cafeologia, Cafe de los 5 Elementos, La Antigua, Yik Cafe, Ooh La La, and this random place on Real de Guadalupe that sold only cheese and hot chocolate. Even Oxxo had some fire hot chocolate for the cheap price of 20 pesos.
Go to a Poxeria and Try Chiapas’ Local Liquor
In San Cristobal, they don’t drink mezcal or tequila. They drink Pox, pronounced like “posh”. It took me a while to get used to it at first. I’m a big mezcal guy, but when Pox is done right, it definitely gives mezcal a run for its money. The cheap pox you get at the bar honestly sucks. Go to a place that knows how to make their Pox, like Poxeria, Poxna, or El Spirituoso, and Pox will win you over.
Experience Sensory Overload at San Cristobal’s Local Market
While San Cristobal may not be as touristy as Mexico’s other travel destinations, the markets definitely cater to travelers. If you want to experience the real chaos of a Mexican market, pay a visit to the sprawling local market. It’s a few blocks past Santo Domingo Church and the artisanal market. You’ll know when you get there. It’s easy to lose yourself in this massive market and its many sections. This place has all your needs. Fruits and vegetables? Obviously. Fireworks? That, too. A turkey? Sure thing. I loved walking around here and immersing myself in the chaos of San Cristobal.
Eat Asian Food at Teddy’s, Cocoliche, Asiarico, Loving Hut, and more
It is actually unreal how good San Cristobal’s Asian food game is. I think I had more Asian food here than Mexican food. Along with the places I mentioned above, some other great Asian places are Casa de Ahn, Bangcook, and a place literally just called Vietnam Food.
Have a Coffee at La Antigua Cafe and Gallery
As a digital nomad, I spend a lot of days pretending to work at a cafe. One of the first places I went to in San Cristobal was La Antigua, and it still holds a special place in my heart. It’s a lot more low-key and quiet, which is exactly what I need in a workplace. The art splattered all over the walls does wonders for inspiring my creativity. La Antigua is an essential stop for any digital nomad, or hot chocolate lover.
Go Thrift Shopping and Cop a Fresh New Fit
I absolutely love thrift shopping, and I had no idea that Sancris would be a thrift shopper’s paradise. Vintage, Bad People, Bad Girls, and D-Cara are some of my favorite vintage stores in San Cristobal de las Casas. I love the vibe of San Cristobal because literally no one cares what anyone is wearing, but everyone looks dope as hell. Cop some new fits at the thrift shops. My silk cheetah print jacket from Bad People is literally my favorite article of clothing.
Visit the Town of Chiapa de Corzo
Chiapa de Corzo is a cute little town close to Tuxtla Gutierrez, about an hour away from San Cristobal. It’s best-known for being the kick off point for most tours of Sumidero Canyon. The town boasts a beautiful cathedral, unique central plaza, and street markets. It is also one of the few pueblos magicos in Chiapas. Although admittedly not as magical as San Cristobal or Comitan, it is still worth a visit if you already plan on visiting Sumidero.
Hike up to Guadalupe Church
You’ll probably do this regardless of me telling you to. It’s the big cathedral on the church at the end of Real de Guadalupe. People naturally just want to hike up hills overlooking the city. It’s a beautiful church with a great vibe at the top and at the bottom of the stairs. You’ll find the locals hustling and bustling about, and you’ll be able to catch a great view of the city while you’re at it.
Down Some $1 Glasses of Wine at Viña de Bacco
Vina de Bacco was the go-to hangout for my friends and I. With glasses of wine starting at 25 pesos, it’s a no-brainer for a pre-game for any night out. On a cold night, the mulled wine for 35 pesos is unbeatable. They also generously give out free tapas and popcorn when you order wine, making this one of the best value bars you can imagine.
Go Dancing at Cafe Bar Revolucion
One of the safest bets for a fun night out in San Cristobal is Cafe Bar Revolucion, known affectionately by the locals as El Revo. On any given night, there’s bound to be a good crowd. If you’re feeling in the party mood, even on a Sunday or Monday night, El Revo is a good spot for some drinks and dancing.
Hop Over the Guatemala Border by Lake Tziscao
A fun little thing to do in the Lagos de Montebello area is to cross over into Guatemala. With no border control, you can literally just hop across the border and go for a little walk in Guatemala. On the Mexican side, you’ll find the beautiful Laguna Tziscao, where we spent New Year’s on some lakeside cabins. On the Guatemalan side, you can walk around a little lake, see some waterfalls, and have some photo ops to say that you’ve technically been to Guatemala.
But like also, you should actually go to Guatemala if you have the chance.
Visit the Cute Pueblo Magico of Comitan de Dominguez
One of the most pleasant surprises in Chiapas was my visit to Comitan de Dominguez. While nowhere near as popular as San Cristobal de las Casas, Comitan was a perfect city to spend a few days in. It is closer to some of Chiapas’ beautiful natural attractions, such as El Chiflon and Lagos de Montebello. It doesn’t have the same draw for backpackers as San Cristobal, but I absolutely loved my short time here. The central plaza is beautiful and the colonial center is almost like a smaller version of San Cristobal.
Soak in the Views at El Aguacero Waterfalls
Past Tuxtla Gutierrez, you can find some more of Chiapas’ beautiful waterfalls. Cascada El Aguacero often gets overlooked in favor of Chiapas’ other waterfalls, but those who do visit it rarely leave disappointed.
Watch a Chicken Get Sacrificed at San Juan Chamula Church
One of the most unique churches in the world is the one you’ll find in San Juan Chamula. Inside, you aren’t allowed to take pictures at all. The floors are covered in pine needles and lit candles. The entire time, I was stressed that a fire was going to break out if one of the candles fell over onto the pine needles. The church is also famous for its offerings and sacrifices. Most of the time, it’s just candles and Coca-Cola and some pox. Other times, it’s a live chicken that gets killed in the church. It’s an interesting place for sure, and since pictures aren’t allowed, you’ll have to see it for yourself.
Walk through San Cristobal de las Casas’ beautiful Andadores
San Cristobal has three main walking streets, known as an andador. The most famous one is Real de Guadalupe, the picturesque street from the main plaza leading up to the Iglesia de Guadalupe. The other one heads to the market from Plaza de La Paz, and the third leads from the main plaza to Arco del Carmen. On these streets, you’ll find San Cristobal’s best restaurants, bars, boutique stores, and more. There will be no shortage of street performers, street vendors, and people watching.
Get Some Fish or Shrimp Tacos at El Bony
This is honestly a must-do. I didn’t expect to have some of the best seafood tacos in landlocked mountainous town of San Cristobal, but I did. At 20 pesos per massive taco, El Bony is an absolute bargain for how good the food is.
Check out Roberto Barrios Waterfalls by Palenque
Misol-Ha and Agua Azul are the two most famous waterfalls in the Palenque area. However, a few others get overlooked. Perhaps the most worthy of your visit is Roberto Barrios Waterfalls. It’s a bit of a journey out of Palenque town in the opposite direction from San Cristobal, but many local tour operators offer trips to it, among other destinations.
Explore the Ruins of Tonina, Bonampak, and Yaxchilan
One of the last few things on my San Cristobal and Chiapas bucket list are the less-visited ruins. Palenque is the most famous and most easily accessible. However, there are plenty more ruins that are much more secluded and more remote. I can imagine just how amazing the experience is visiting these off-the-beaten-path archaeological sites.
Go Hunting for Some Dope Street Art
San Cristobal has some amazing street art all throughout town. As if the city wasn’t colorful enough, some artists have taken it upon themselves to add even more pizzazz to the vibrant streets. Just walk around and you’ll find art everywhere. And I mean everywhere. The colonial city center doesn’t have too much, as the buildings are pretty historic. However, the further you stray away, you’ll find random masterpieces in the most obscure of places. San Cristobal de las Casas is a wanderer’s paradise.
Snap Some Photos of San Cristobal’s Colorful Cobblestone Streets
Not gonna lie, I love a good photoshoot. I bought a silk cheetah print jacket from one of the local thrift shops for $20 and a dope cowboy hat from the local market for $12. Ever since then, I’ve been a sucker for a photoshoot. San Cristobal has endless opportunities for amazing photos. Like I said earlier, it’s a wanderer’s paradise. Grab your camera and just roam around this unfairly picturesque city.
Hike up to Iglesia San Cristobalito for Some Rad Views
Close to the city center, you’ll find a bunch of stairs leading up to a small red church at the top. If you’re feeling up for a small hike, it’s well worth climbing up here to get some stunning views of the city.
Browse Through Sancris’ Many Art Galleries
San Cristobal truly is a town for artists. It’s hard to go five minutes without passing an art gallery, street musician, or boutique clothing store. Some of my favorite spaces that showcase art are La Antigua, Centralito Coworking Space, Arteria, and Guadalupe Espacio Gourmet Galeria.
I could spend years in San Cristobal and never run out of things to do and places to see. Although I’ve listed a ton of things here, don’t limit yourself to my recommendations. There are so many incredible things to do and places to eat that I’ve yet to discover, as hard as I may try. Seriously, now that my time in San Cristobal is running out, I’ve been eating at like five restaurants a day just to check things off my bucket list.
This city is fantastic, and I hope you love it half as much as I do. It’s one of the most essential stops on any Mexican backpacking itinerary.
Speaking of which… Make sure to check out my complete backpacking itinerary for magical Mexico, a jam-packed 68-page guide covering 30 of my favorite destinations in Mexico.
My Complete Mexico Backpacking Itinerary
By popular demand… Here is the complete itinerary for one of my favorite countries in the world, Mexico. In this 68-page guidebook, I cover 30 of my favorite Mexican destinations, including how to get to each city, where to stay, and the best things to do in each city. I also include tidbits of useful information like things to know before going to Mexico, as well as my favorite party destina…
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