San Cristóbal de las Casas has a way of making those traveling through fall in love and often stay longer than expected. Packed with culture, cute cafes, amazing textiles, nearby nature and a laidback vibe, it’s easy to see why.
This colorful town in the Mexican state of Chiapas reminded us a bit of one of our favorite towns in Colombia: Salento, and we knew right away we would have a hard time leaving.
We stayed at an amazing hostel and talked to other travelers for hours about their recommendations for the area, and we think we came up with a list of the very best things to do in this city!
Whether you’re stopping in San Cristóbal for a few days before crossing the border into Guatemala, or you’re able to spend more time relaxing and exploring, we have a list of the top things to do in San Cristóbal de las Casas.
One of the easiest ways to get around Mexico is by driving a rental car. You get to explore on your own, it’s safe, and crazy cheap. We got a rental car in Costa Rica for so cheap one day, we decided to keep the car for two weeks. We use RentalCars.com to search for the best deals on rental cars around the world.
San Cristóbal De Las Casas Contents:
Essential Travel Information about San Cristóbal:
Watch our epic video of our 2 week trip in Mexico to get some inspiration and wanderlust
1. Free Walking Tour of San Cristóbal
We always find that taking a free walking tours is a great way to acquaint ourselves with a new city. So even though we had taken a night bus from Oaxaca and arrived in San Cristóbal early in the morning, we thought it would be best to do something with our morning instead of napping the day away.
Other people at our hostel raved about the Free Walking Tour in town, and we were not disappointed. We saw some of the major sights in town, but our guide also showed us to some of her favorite local hotspots that most tourists never see. We even got samples at some local coffee and juice shops and ended the tour by tasting pox (also spelled “posh”), a local spirit.
The tour meets Monday to Saturday in the Plaza Catedral, San Cristóbal's main square at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and it lasts about 3 hours.
2. San Juan Chamula Church
Located just 10 kilometers from San Cristóbal, the town of Chamula is autonomous and the people follow their own laws. They practice a blend of ancient Mayan rituals mixed with Catholic beliefs, and wear traditional clothing. The town itself is incredibly interesting, but the main draw here is the San Juan Chamula Church.
It might seem strange to list a church as one of the top things to do in San Cristóbal, but trust us, it’s well worth it. From the outside, San Juan Chamula Church looks like any other church in Latin America, but inside you’ll be transported to another world.
Pine needles cover the floor, thousands of candles flicker, women kneel and pray dramatically to different saints. You may see chickens be sacrificed, and you’ll definitely see people drinking what looks like water, but what is actually pox (a local liquor).
While it is possible to visit this village and see the church on your own, we would highly, highly recommend taking a tour with Alex and Raul Tours. We were planning to go on our own, but after talking to several people at our hostel, they all had the same consensus: You will not understand anything that is going on if you enter on your own.
And it’s true. We learned so much and were able to experience so much more than we would have on our own, like going inside the home of one of the village leaders as well as a family of artisans. We cannot recommend this tour enough, it was even one of our favorite things to do in Mexico.
How to book: You can visit Alex and Raul Tour website to connect with them via text of WhatsApp. You can also fill out the form on their page. Our hostel was able to contact them to come and pick us up which was quite nice. The tour starts everyday at 9:30 a.m and you'll get back to San Cristóbal around 2:30 or 3 p.m.
The tour costs 250 pesos per person, which is significantly more than you’d pay for a collectivo to the town (around 30-40 pesos each way). But trust us when we say this tour is well worth your time and money.
3. Explore the Santo Domingo Market
The markets in San Cristóbal are famous for a reason. The textiles and handicrafts you'll find here are some of the best in the country. Plus, they are typically well-priced for the quality. The largest market is located south of the Santo Domingo Church, and is well worth visiting. Some items this region is known for are blankets, leather bags and table runners.
4. Wander around the city
This may sounds like a cop-out, but honestly, one of the best things you can do in San Cristóbal is just wander around the cobblestone streets and get lost in this city's undeniable charm. Stop into one of the many artisan boutiques, relax at a coffee shop with a book, take photos of the colorful buildings, seek out viewpoints, stumble upon some nice (and some not so nice) street art, and just let the day roll by.
Recommendations for a nice stop along the way:
Hierve Agua: This tiny little shop sells delicious aguas frescas, usually with pineapple and mint. They sometimes run out in the afternoon, so try to go early if you want a glass. They also have a small assortment of natural and hand-crafted products.
Colectivo Mudra: This quirky little artsy hideaway is hidden and you must knock on the door in order to be let in. If they're open, you'll be rewarded with fantastic views, local art and a cold beverage!
5. El Chiflon Waterfalls Day Trip from San Cristóbal
We love waterfalls, but we’ve been spoiled by the likes of Kwang-si in Laos and Seljalandsfoss in Iceland, so we weren’t sure if it would be worthwhile to make the 3-hour journey to El Chiflon Waterfalls, but after talking to a few people at our hostel, we realized it was something we just shouldn’t miss! And we’re so glad we listened.
With stunning aqua pools you can swim in, tree-lined paths, picnic spots and impressive falls, El Chiflon is a gem and definitely worth a visit if you have the time.
You can either get to El Chiflon via tour or public transportation. Typically the tour also includes a stop at Montebello Lakes and they run daily from 8 a.m. and return around 7 p.m. We heard from several people that the lakes were not worthwhile and they wished they had more time at the falls instead. For this reason, we opted to skip the tour and go to the falls on our own, and it was not all that difficult.
6. Palenque Ruins
Ruins can start to blend together, but some stand out as really special. Palenque is situated in the jungle near the border of Mexico and Guatemala, and since getting there is a lengthy journey, it is far less crowded than the likes of Chichen Itza and Teotihuacán.
While the grounds are significantly smaller than Tikal in Guatemala, it has a similar feel and is well worth a visit if historic ruins get your blood pumping!
How to get to Palenque from San Cristóbal
If you’re staying in San Cristóbal, it’s possible to organize a day trip to Palenque. Beware that it is a full day starting at 4 a.m. and you’ll return to town at 9 or 10 at night. In addition to a 2-hour stop at the ruins, you’ll also spend time at Agua Azul and Misol Há waterfalls. The price for this full-day tour is 450 pesos per person, and does not include meals or guides.
If you are planning to travel to Guatemala or to the Yucatan, you can spend the night in Palenque and continue on your journey the next morning. We spent the night at Kin Balam’s Bungalows in Palenque, which was nice and had a pool. We then crossed the border to Flores, Guatemala via a private shuttle the next morning at 10 a.m.
Tip: Bring your own snacks. The meal stops on this trip are at rather overpriced restaurants. They are a fine last resort, but we wished we had been prepared with our own food.
You can also get to Palenque independently via the bus. This journey takes roughly 8-9 hours and does not stop at the waterfalls. The normal bus during the day costs around 324 pesos per person, and there is a overnight bus that's a good option if you’d like to get to Palenque in the morning.
We chose to go with the tour to expedite the travel time and so we could see Agua Azul, which was surprisingly similar to El Chiflon and more touristy.
7. Temazcal Ceremony
If you want to have a rustic spa-like experience that’s rooted in ancient Mayan culture, you might be interested in a temazcal ritual.
This Mayan cleansing ritual has been practiced for centuries to heal a variety of ailments and cleanse your body of toxins.
Read about our temazcal experience and decide if it’s for you.
If you have more time in San Cristóbal...
8. Sumidero Canyon
We heard mixed reviews about this canyon tour that includes a boat ride where you’ll likely spot spider monkeys and crocodiles. Most people seemed to think it was cool, but they always followed it up with “if you don’t have time, it’s okay to skip”.
It seems like it would be a nice day out in nature, but a few people told us it got a little boring. We opted to pass on this tour, since there is so much to do in this area and 4 days just isn’t enough to do it all!
That said, being out in nature is never a bad thing, so if you have the time, go for it and let us know what you think! Let us know in the comments below.
9. Na Bolom Cultural Museum
We heard good things about Na Bolom, which is both a cultural museum and a café. We stopped by one evening shortly before they were going to close, and it looked pretty dead.
But if you arrive during the day, it might be a good way to gain some insight to the local culture and have a nice meal too!
Nightlife in San Cristóbal de las Casas
San Cristóbal de las Casas has a great nightlife scene. Just head to Real de Guadalupe street around sunset and you’ll see people at cafes spilling into the street. Performers come around and entertain with live music and dance.
Vina La Bocco
This ultra popular wine and tapas bar gets packed each evening, with travelers and locals alike, and it’s no wonder why. With a ton of wines to choose from starting at just 20 pesos (about $1 USD), and free tapas* with each drink purchased, you’ll definitely want to experience one evening (or two or three) enjoying the atmosphere and cheap drinks.
*The tapas here are pieces of French bread with different toppings, like cheese and tomato, broccoli spread, or salami (inform your server if you are vegetarian). You will also get a bowl of popcorn.
Tip: Arrive somewhat early if you want to get the free tapas with your drinks. One night we arrived around 9 p.m. and only got one plate even though we ordered a few drinks each. The next night we showed up earlier and received tapas with each drink we purchased. Also, they cannot split the check, so if you’re sitting with others be sure to keep track of how many drinks you have.
Hidden Craft Microbrewery
If you’re a fan of craft beer and a local nightlife scene, you’ll definitely want to check out this hidden bar. Enjoy an IPA or stout in a place where you’ll likely be the only traveler. Locals and expats mingle here with reasonably priced, quality brews and a chalkboard lists a small but thoughtful menu of food, like German-style sausages, quesadillas and hummus.
We never would have heard of this place had it not been for our guide on the Free Walking Tour, as there is no sign outside and it is in a residential part of town. They open whenever they want and don't keep strict hours. You'll have check their unofficial Facebook page the day of your visit to see if they are open. There is a location pin dropped on the Facebook page.
Kinoki Rooftop Bar
We went to this rooftop bar with some friends from our hostel and were so glad they invited us to join! Head up to the top floor and order a beer or wine to enjoy with sunset (the view is amazing!).
If you’re hungry, the fresh salads were big and super tasty too! On a cold night (which is most nights in San Cristóbal!), they have ponchos you can wear to stay warm, and they play movies on a screen on the rooftop once it’s dark enough.
Where to Eat in San Cristóbal de las Casas
If you are vegetarian, you will find your bliss in San Cristóbal de las Casas. With veg and vegan places on just about every block, you’ll be overwhelmed by all the choices!
Bek’s Vegan: This tiny little shop has nice options like veggie bowls, sandwiches on delicious bread, and smoothie bowls. They serve you complimentary chips with a platter of 4 amazing salsas! And the prices are very reasonable!
Falafel: Recommended to us by our free walking tour guide, this falafel place is damn good. Portions are big and the falafel and hummus are fresh! Number 1 is a traditional pita, and number 4 is a patter with falafel, hummus and a salad.
Marquesitas Stands: If you’re in the mood for a snack, try one of the marquesitas stands. This is basically a crispy crepe, cooked to order and filled with the topping of your choice. We were instructed by a local to try the chocolate and cheese combo. A generous dallop of Nutella and shredded cheese sounds like a strange pair, but it was really good!
Where to Stay in San Cristóbal de las Casas
We’ve stayed in quite a few hostels, guesthouses and hotels over the years, so getting into the ranks of our favorites is quite difficult. Nonetheless, Posada de Abuelito has earned a spot as one of the best hostels we’ve ever stayed in.
With super comfortable private rooms as well as dorms, there is a place for every type of traveler in this hostel.
The staff is helpful and can organize reasonably priced tours around the area.
The common space has a garden, hammocks, tables for working, couches and is overall a very friendly place. Oh, and the breakfast is ahhh-mazing. Wake up to (strong!) fresh coffee, eggs, hearty bread, homemade jam that I could eat by the spoonful, and a variety of fresh fruit. And there’s cereal and fresh pineapple juice too!
If this hostel is booked up, another popular choice is Puerta Vieja Hostel.
If you looking for something other than hostels, check out La Tozi Galeria Hotel.
Other accommodation options in San Cristóbal
And if you are feeling a little fancy, Casa del Alma Hotel Boutique & Spa looks like it would be a plush place to stay in San Cristóbal de las Casas
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Have you been to San Cristóbal de las Casas? Are you planning on visiting soon? Let us know if you love this city as much as we do. And if you have any questions, we would are happy to answer them in the comments below.