People eating on the street in San Cristobal de Las Casas Mexico

An Honest Opinion of San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico

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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.

San Cristobal de las Casas street scenes

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.

An Honest Opinion of San Cristobal de las Casas Mexico

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. 

Metropolitan Cathedral beside the Zocalo in Mexico City.

Mexico Travel Tips

Important tips and resources for planning an amazing trip to Mexico, based on my extensive experience traveling across the entire country.


  1. Book a cheap flight to Mexico with Momondo, or better yet, start travel hacking so you can fly for free.
  2. Plan a rough itinerary and how long you will spend in each destination. Pick up Lonely Planet Mexico to help with this.
  3. Work every day to teach yourself Spanish, you want to know as much as possible before you arrive.
  4. Book your cheap accommodation in advance, at least for the first destinations -- For hostels use: Booking, for cheap hotels use:, for apartments use: Airbnb.
  5. Reserve your on the ground tours and activities through Get Your Guide.
  6. Purchase travel insurance for Mexico with World Nomads to protect yourself from illness, injury, and theft while in Mexico.
  7. Check out my comprehensive guide about traveling to Mexico with information on cities, things to do, places to see, and more.
  8. Learn more money saving tricks with my top budget travel tips if you want to get more bang for your buck.
  9. Put together your Mexico packing list.
  10. 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

(I love getting questions! That is how I get ideas for my blog posts and what to write about!)

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An Honest Opinion of San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico travel, mexico, central-america


Head Writer and Adventurer at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West, and then across all of Central America and South America. When he isn't on the move, you can find him living as an expat in Colombia. He is also the author of the best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget that will help you travel more for less. Follow the adventures on social media or read more.

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Comments 13

  1. The tourist area comprises a total of three blocks of walk street. For me, I’ve been there two years and I can go for weeks without seeing a single gringo.

  2. We are just back and we agree with you, Ryan. The day trips are worth it, including San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan, but the city, for us in our 60s, was less than meh. This was our second exploratory trip through Mexico and we stoped at San Cris on our way from Merida to Oaxaca. Last year we did Mexico City, Guanajuato and SMA. We loved all those destinations and Merida this time around. Oaxaca is wonderful but not for us as retirees. …One thing you didn’t address about SC was the old cars and trucks/emissions issue, which we found the most disturbing–and nauseating. The maze-like streets trap exhaust and there were several times during our 5 days there when we couldn’t breathe. And at the risk of sounding like an Ugly American, I found most people there impatient with my limited but passable Spanish. If I asked someone to slow down or speak louder (as most are still masked), I was usually met with more rambling. We were happy to leave.

  3. Any place that is well-known and talked about will attract a lot of tourists and change the lifestyle, look and feel of the place. That said, I expected there to be a lot of tourists in San Cristobal, but the number of boutique and high-end hotels surprised me. I was glad to see investments being made in a city that needs it, some of it I’m sure, started in support of the indigenous political movement in the 80s-90s. With this perspective, I did not mind all the tourist activity because of the intent. Unfortunately, current government corruption results in the neglect of much needed services, and misdirected priorities. There is a sense of desperation in the presence of beggars and insistent street vendors. There are regulations against artisans setting stationary displays on pavements, but perhaps there should be for the itinerant vendors who approach people eating their meals in sidewalk sections of restaurants. This kind of thing only occurs on the four ‘no-cars’ streets, or andadores, as they call them. The rest of the streets in San Cristobal are normal bustling places where you can find almost anything ‘un-touristy’ — surprisingly well-stocked ‘dime stores’, big textile stores for DIYers, bulk artisanal cosmetics and soaps, bulk grains and organic ingredients, homemade butters and ice cream. San Cristobal was the only place I could find custom-made oils, cosmetics, toothpaste, pox, meals, whatever you want. I went to three stores in CDMX for a tongue scraper, and still couldn’t get it, couldn’t find non-commercial toothpaste in the historic center in Puebla, but in San Cris, stores that sell these are in the center. I was also glad to see that tourism doesn’t disrupt or change the occurrence and design of religious traditions and celebrations of the residents. In these events, there are no efforts to attract tourists, cater to their palette, or jack up prices; they do very well just on the patronage of locals. Additionally, for a relatively small city, San Cristobal is much more ‘international’ in terms of restaurants and residents within a walkable space, than major cities in Mexico; and ‘international’ here includes the indigenous ‘nations’ of Chiapas.

  4. Hey Ryan, An honest perspective that doesn’t gloss over some of the not so great aspects of a place is always appreciated. I do wonder how hard you tried to really get a good grip on what the town is like to live in, seeing how you repeatedly misspelled it’s name, LOL. It’s San CRISTOBAL de las Casas, not San Cristobol.

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      Haha, that is definitely an embarrassing misspelling. It was written in the midst of traveling without much regard to spell check or revisions, just off the cuff. But yeah, after traveling from one end of Mexico to the other, I still stand by the fact that this town was a disappointing tourist trap — speaking strictly about the city center itself. IMO, there are definitely much more pleasant pueblos in Mexico. I didn’t really evaluate it in terms of a place to live, but as a foreigner, I’d find it particularly annoying to deal with the tourist hustle and getting hassled every time I want to go to the center of town, year after year. I’d equate it to living in Playa del Carmen or something where you can’t walk down the street without drawing constant unwanted attention. That’s really what turned me off of San Cris, being seen as a walking ATM, more common in the Yucatan peninsula resort towns or places like that, but something we hadn’t experienced to that degree in our trip through Mexico until San Cris.

  5. My two best pals just moved there from San Miguel de Allende. I hear the language school is first-rate. The jury is still out for me. Looking to retire in Mexico, not sure which area yet…

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      Everybody is going to be different, of course, but in Mexico some of my favorite places are Merida, Oaxaca, Mexico City, Puebla. You’ll have to go and explore a bit to find out what fits you best.

  6. Been to San Cristobal twice.I am a semidirtbagger from Seattle and age 62 so we are at opposite ends of lifes spectrum.San Cris is a wonderful town to retire to.I made great friends there in a short time.Its trying to be many different kinds of places all at once which I like.Indigenous culture mixed with cafe con leche and a great French bakery.Few places have this idiosyncratic mix.If laid back is mostly what you want then San Cris just isn’t for you.Hope you find your perfect spot.Adios!

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      Glad you love it there! It just didn’t quite click with me like some other destinations in Mexico or beyond. Part of that might be because I’d heard so much about it and built it up in my mind. I did enjoy a lot of other things in the region though…

  7. That’s such a shame you found it lacking. I thought it was a great place to lay low after traveling all over Mexico and Guatemala. If I ever write ‘the book’ – I think San Cristobal de las Casas would be an ideal spot. All modern conveniences, little distraction, laid back vibe. Granted, I wouldn’t stay there forever – but I’d go back to work, for sure.

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      Did you visit Oaxaca or Merida or other towns like that? I found them to be every bit as charming as charming and convenient, but much more laid-back and enjoyable. Just my opinion, of course!

  8. I agree–but it only takes a little driving to get to some soectacular scenery–the highlands north of Tuxtla Gutierrez , on the road to Tobasco are my fav

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