San Cristobal de las Casas sits in the mountainous highlands of the State of Chiapas at an elevation of just over 7,000 feet. San Cristobal de las Casas is a storied place, one of those must stops in Mexico. It has become a central hotspot for backpackers and expat who love its colonial streets, storied culture, and lively atmosphere.
I held high expectations for San Cristobal, thanks to all I’d heard, and I was also excited to get out of the hot and humid coastal areas and return to the mountains for the first time since exploring Oaxaca’s coast.
San Cristobal is full of cafes and restaurants and a seemingly endless amount of places to stay.
On the surface this is a place that I would absolutely love — and there were some things that I did love.
I loved the old streets, and squares and churches, along with the awesome pedestrian areas in the downtown core.
Something just fell flat with me about San Cristobal de las Casas.
The town felt like one giant tourist trap, a Disneyland for gringos in the middle of the idyllic Mexican countryside.
Every shop owner calling you in to look at their artisan trinkets and souvenirs… Or those calling you over to take a tour to such and such place nearby.
Downtown streets were filled with itinerant hippies who would be busking for cash on every street corner by selling bracelets, juggling, or playing music. Then there the colorfully dressed indigenous women who would train their children to go beg for money from foreigners. The kids would sneak into restaurants looking for a hand-out and then get chased off by the waiters.
This was the first place after nearly two months in Mexico were we felt constantly hastled for being tourists.
Maybe it’s the fact that we have our own wheels and stay off the Gringo Trail for the most part, but the atmosphere in San Cristobal de las Casas was more repelling than appealing. It was definitely not a place that made me want to stay longer.
It’s a city somewhat like Oaxaca — a city I genuinely enjoyed — but with none of the charm and laidback-ness.
To make matters worse, there really isn’t much to do in San Cristobal de las Casas.
To be sure, there is a ton to do AROUND San Cristobal de las Casas that is absolutely worth your time and money, ranging from Sumidero Canyon to Montebello to the many waterfalls or Palenque.
San Cristobal is best-suited for those who need a homebase where they can then take day trips to explore these many, many sights. But personally, I would much rather travel from place to place and stay overnight, allowing you to get a more authentic feel for each area, rather than staying in San Cristobal.
Chiapa de Corzo is a charming little Pueblo Magico where you can visit Sumidero Canyon. Spend a night or two in San Cristobal, then move on to the countryside, head up to Palenque and camp in the humid jungle, or visit one of the many little towns that surround the area.
I’m sorry San Cristobal de las Casas, but you were the first big disappointment during our three months in Mexico.
I realized I never even took a single photo while in San Cristobal de las Casas, which is extremely unusual for me, so that should tell you how big of an impact it made on me.
Of course, many travelers fall in love with San Cristobal de las Casas and find it hard to leave. I just didn’t see any of that magic, and we were more than happy to move on to explore the nature surrounding it in the state of Chiapas and beyond to the Yucatan. Part of my disappointment may have been due to high expectations too, so if you’re reading my article, it may serve to provide a more realistic expectation… Allowing you to be pleasantly surprised rather than sadly disappointed.
Have you been to San Cristobal de las Casas? What did you think of it? You may totally disagree with me, that’s part of the beauty of travel.
- Book a cheap flight to Mexico with Momondo, or better yet, start travel hacking so you can fly for free.
- Plan a rough itinerary and how long you will spend in each destination. Pick up Lonely Planet Mexico to help with this.
- Work every day to teach yourself Spanish, you want to know as much as possible before you arrive.
- Book your cheap accommodation in advance, at least for the first destinations -- For hostels use: Booking, for cheap hotels use: Hotels.com, for apartments use: Airbnb.
- Reserve your on the ground tours and activities through Get Your Guide.
- Purchase travel insurance for Mexico with World Nomads to protect yourself from illness, injury, and theft while in Mexico.
- Check out my comprehensive guide about traveling to Mexico with information on cities, things to do, places to see, and more.
- Learn more money saving tricks with my top budget travel tips if you want to get more bang for your buck.
- Put together your Mexico packing list.
- Enjoy this incredible country!
I hope this helped you plan your travels in Mexico! I know it can be a struggle to find accurate and on the ground information when traveling to a new place like Mexico, which is why I started writing so extensively about it!
If you have any questions about Mexico, budget travel, or anything else shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(I love getting questions! That is how I get ideas for my blog posts and what to write about!)
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