The San Cristobal cathedral is in the city center. // © 2017 Meagan Dirillinger
Feature image (above): El Sumidero Canyon is an easy day trip from San Cristobal. // © 2017 Meagan Dirillinger
In San Cristobal de las Casas, it’s all about mountains and mist. The colonial city in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas sits 7,200 feet about sea level, surrounded by verdant, forested mountains and steeped in ancient Maya heritage. Cobblestone streets are flanked with colonial buildings that have been turned into organic eateries, chocolate shops, wine bars and galleries. And at the main central plaza, which has views of the surrounding valley, the massive yellow-and-red Catedral de San Cristobal sits watch.
Today, the city is a destination for backpackers, spiritual seekers, adventurers and those who want to see a different side of Mexico. Here’s how to make the most out of a visit here.
Where to Stay
Budget travelers won’t have a difficult time finding a place to lay their heads, as San Cristobal is a popular stop on the backpacking route along southern Mexico and into Guatemala. But for something more elegant and refined, turn to Casa del Alma. The 27-room hotel fits right into its Centro Historico location with a red-tile roof, exposed beam ceilings and panoramic views over the surrounding city and valley. The Standard Suites have private balconies and king-size beds, or you can spring for the Master Suite with a terrace, a kitchen, a living room and a whirlpool tub. Other hotel amenities include a spa, a fitness center and The Secret restaurant.
Where to Eat
No day in Mexico can begin without a fortifying Mexican breakfast. In San Cristobal, make sure your day starts at Tonantzin Saludable. This charming corner restaurant is on Real de Guadelupe, the main thoroughfare of the Centro Historico. Brightly colored furniture spills out onto the sidewalk for filling al fresco dining. There are several breakfast options from which to choose, but the huevos divorciados (fried eggs in sauce) is the one to beat. All breakfasts come with fruit and piping hot Chiapan coffee.
Happy hour is best served at La Vina de Bacco, San Cristobal’s first and most lively wine bar. The Argentinian establishment is clad in dark wood, while the walls are festooned with travel trinkets, maps and pieces of art. Cozy into one of the banquettes to sip on wines from all over the world. Every glass of wine ordered comes with a free tapa. There is also an extensive menu of appetizers, sandwiches and hearty pastas.
To visit San Cristobal and not sample the artisanal chocolate would be a mistake. Visit Chocolate House, a small chocolate shop selling craft products and a menu of rich sweets. Opt for the hot chocolate with liqueur, and spring for the dark chocolate brownie if you’re feeling indulgent.
San Cristobal de las Casas is a wonderful home base from which to explore the hidden natural gems of Mexico. A must-see is El Sumidero Canyon in Sumidero Canyon National Park. This massive canyon is cut by the Grijalva River and has walls as high as 3,200 feet. The interior of the canyon offers rapids, waterfalls and beaches.
Also consider a day tour to El Chiflon and Lagunas Montibello. El Chiflon is a series of waterfalls that culminates with the massive Velo de Novia waterfall, which spills nearly 400 feet.
Lagunas Montebello, on the border of Guatemala, is a series of gorgeous lakes that are hidden among pine forests. It offers hiking trails, caves and cenotes, and opportunities to horseback ride, kayak and explore ruins.