San Cristobal is located in Chiapas, the Southernmost State of Mexico, we got there after a night-bus ride at about 6 in the morning. The outskirts of the city can feel chaotic and, at times, they seemed kind of dangerous but overall they are stunningly beautiful. As you get close to the city center the city slows down and you can’t help but notice the number of tourists: tourism influence is definitely more noticeable than in Oaxaca. Even taking that into consideration, I’d say San Cristobal is the most mexican city that I’ve visited.
San Cristóbal is set in a small valley surrounded by pine-forest highlands and because of its position it was the capital of the state until 1892, it still is the cultural capital and the perfect place for exploring the nearby villages. Chiapas municipality is mostly made up of mountainous terrain, but the city sits in a small valley surrounded by hills so the temperatures can vary a lot with hot days and cool, windy nights. The city’s center maintains its Spanish colonial layout and much of its architecture, with red tile roofs, cobblestone streets and wrought iron balconies often decorated with flowers. Most of the city’s economy is based on commerce, services and tourism.
With many pedestrian-only streets and numerous churches and cathedrals, it is a great place to stay and wander around but if this feels too touristy for you, just start walking away from the city center and you will notice how the city gets more and more genuine. Afterall Chiapas has the second largest indigenous population in the country and surrounding San Cristobal are numerous Tzeltal and Tzotzil and villages. Also a day trip away from the city are the imperious Misol Ha waterfall, the Sumidero Canyon and the cascading waterfalls of Agua Azul.
As a matter of fact, when I planned the trip to Mexico, I tought of staying in S. Cristobal only because its good position relative to the excursions you can take from there, but in the end I enjoyed the city very much!
While exploring the city, we stumbled upon many coloured churches, convents and plazas. Some of them I knew while others we were pleasantly surprised by as we rounded the street corner. Templo de Santo Domingo, Plaza 31 de Marzo and the Guadalupe’s Church are the highlights of the city in my opinion and they are all great places that you can walk to wihout running into car traffic. As a matter of fact, as far as walkable cities go, San Cristobal is the best among those that I’ve visited. With many pedestrian-only streets, ambling around the city while admiring the architecture like kids watching pastel colored buildings, was a very enjoyable experience!
Just a few minutes of walking from the city center you can find the local market. I don’t usually visit makets but in Oaxaca we went to the market by chance and we liked it quite a lot so it only made sense to visit the one in San Cristobal too. The local market is hectic. People bartering for products or just moving around and the overall vibe makes for an authentic and exciting experience. While there we decided to try some local food so we found two seats at one of many shack cooking foods and we ordered. Our order was like: watched the cook in the eyes and showed two fingers while trying to imitate the eating motion. Interestingly enough we got something to eat, six tortillas each with different meats and sausages, some of them were awesome while one I really didn’t like but whatever! In the end even if I usually don’t like this type of frenzied places I have to say that the market albeit hectic and loud, was a lot of fun to visit.
We stayed at Hotel San Martin on Real Guadalupe street for two nights. The hotel wasn’t bad (a big plus is the cheap laundry service: 90mxn for 3kg), what is special about it is the position in the city as it is near the city center and in the same street where all the fun is during the night: after sunset the Real de Guadalupe street is crowded with people from all around the world and all the bars and restaurants are partying, the atmosphere is just magic.
But as easy as it was to see the surface charm, as the hours went by in this city, we learned more about the ill-treatment of the indigenous people and we witnessed the high levels of poverty that this state is plagued with. Like Africa in our hemisphere, as far as natural resources are concerned, Chiapas is the richest State in Mexico, yet economically it is the poorest! An astonishing 70% of people live below the poverty line. If you go through the trouble or researching on Wikipedia, almost 20% of the young people there are illiterates, only 38% of homes have clean drinking water, 15% have drainage systems and less than 30% have access to electricity or gas. To me this is crazy, this place, all of Mexico really, has so much potential that it makes my heart cry seeing it wasted like this. There have been, and there are, uprisings and rebellions against the Mexican government, with the most famous being the Zapatista uprising of 1994. The Zapatistas fought, and still fight, for autonomy of the State of Chiapas, support of indigenous people, public health and more.
All things considered San Cristobal is one of the best cities in Mexico and a must see for sure. Here you can find anything you like, the food is amazing, the city is multicultural and there are no shortage of tours that you can take!