20 Things to Do in San Cristóbal de Las Casas: Mexico’s Colorful Mountain Town

by | Last updated Feb 9, 2021 | Mexico | 2 comments

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San Cristóbal de Las Casas is a charming Pueblo Mágico in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico filled with architectural gems, cobbled streets, colorful churches, textiles, and indigenous communities. That said, there are so many magical things to do in San Cristobal de Las Casas that will leave you in awe.

After living here for a few months now, I can officially say it’s one of the loveliest places to visit in all of Mexico.

You can taste real Mexican coffee and chocolate the Chiapaneco way, dive into the region’s rich history and traditions, stroll the quaint alleyways, or immerse yourself in the colorful indigenous communities that are sure to invigorate your senses.

Truly, there’s so much to love about San Cristobal, and anyone who visits inevitably falls victim to its endearing charm. So without further ado…

Here are the top 20 things to do in San Cristobal de Las Casas – the colorful pueblo mágico of the Chiapas Highlands.

RELATED: 10 Amazing Hotels in San Cristóbal de Las Casas

20 Amazing Things to Do in San Cristobal de Las Casas

1. Stroll Down the Pedestrian-Friendly Calle Real de Guadalupe

san cristobal de las casas real de guadalupe pedestrian street

Real de Guadalupe is majorly a pedestrian street that connects the city’s historic center to the regal Guadalupe Church on the hill.

Near the church and plaza, the road is like any other – lined with shops and busy with cars. But once you reach the walking street (also known as “andador”) which begins at the intersection of Real de Guadalupe with Avenida Diego Dugelay, you can walk in the road without a bother and step inside the many cafes, restaurants, shops, and hotels lining the charming cobbled street.

There is so much to see and do in San Cristobal on/nearby this street alone. Grab freshly-baked pastries and French baguettes at Roots, watch a cultural film at Kinoki movie theater and tearoom, photograph the whimsical colonial buildings, or chow down on Mexican street corn (elotes y esquites).

Plus, Calle Real de Guadalupe is the easiest way to navigate the city. As long as you can find this street, you can quickly re-orient yourself to find whatever it is you are looking for. We walk down it all the time to reach Plaza de La Paz, Central Park, and Guadalupe Church.

2. Explore the Mercado de Artesenías & Mercado Municipal (Santo Domingo Church)

Ex-Covenant of Santo Domingo Dominican Church in San Cristobal de Las Casas

One of the best things to do in San Cristobal de Las Casas is to explore the local markets on full display nearby the impressive Santo Domingo Church. It’s here, between the white tents and the artisanal stalls that you will get to witness tidbits of local life. You will also get a sneak peek at the indigenous communities – the Tzotzil Mayas – who frequent the markets each day to sell their handmade textiles, crafts, amber jewelry, and art.

When you visit the Santo Domingo Church, make sure to visit both markets. There is the Mercado de Artesenías to stroll through for colorful textiles and crafts made by indigenous communities and the Mercado Municipal for all sorts of sights and smells – fresh fruits, veggies, meats, fish, flowers, live animals, and sometimes even firecrackers for festivities.

Both of these local markets are emblematic of life in San Cristobal de las Casas which is why they are a must-do whenever you’re in town.

3. Hike Up to Iglesia San Cristóbalito on the Hill

san cristobalito church with stairs

For a mini adventure in the city, cross the historic center and skirt the backstreets to find the photogenic set of stairs leading up to the San Cristóbalito Church perched atop a forested hill.

Not only is the neighborhood in which it is set uber charming, but you also get a semi-panoramic view of the historic center as you turn around about mid-way up the stairs. On your left, you will spot the warm yellow facades of the San Nicolas Church on the edge of the Zócalo, or Central Park, and on your right, you will see the towering blue-white trimming that marks the Santa Lucia Church.

Once at the top, you will be surrounded by pine trees and the worn-down grounds of the San Cristobalito Church. Stroll around the backside of the church to find a vintage VW van with the same red-white colors playing a tune that can only mean one thing: ice cream. Further beyond the parking lot lies a playground and park and a few walking trails that encircle the little cerrito (small hill).

4. Go on the “Free” Walking Tour of the City

drone photo of san cristóbal de las casas in the chiapas highlands in southern mexico

San Cristobal’s free walking tour is one of the best things to do if you want to get more explanations of the city while strolling around its top attractions. I would highly recommend that you do the tour within the first few days of your arrival in San Cristobal. That way, you can kickstart your time here knowing a few of the more “local” places that you might not discover otherwise.

The walking tour starts at the Plaza de La Paz, in front of the wooden cross and big yellow church in the heart of San Cristobal’s historic center, and then takes you on a near 3-hour tour of the city. The tour includes (more or less), the following sights and experiences:

  • the main squares and buildings in the historic center,
  • the popular bar street with Arco de Carmen visible in the background,
  • San Cristobalito Church (not all the way to the top),
  • special coffee tasting at Libre Cafe,
  • art gallery tour on Real de Guadalupe including how to detect real vs. fake amber,
  • mini-tour of the Barrio del Cerrillo neighborhood with street art and viewpoints,
  • pox tasting at La Espirituosa and intro to La Frontera Terraza, where the tour ends.

While the tour is marketed as free, you are encouraged to donate around $100 MXN pesos per person (or more) since that is how the group is able to support itself. In my opinion, it’s highly worth it and you get a very well-rounded and insightful look into San Cristobal and its small fair-trade and ethical businesses.

5. Visit the Nearby Indigenous Villages of Chamula & Zinacantán

Over 12 indigenous groups call the state of Chiapas home. Of them, the most prominent are the Tzotzil and the Tzetzal. You can witness life in these communities as you travel 15-20 minutes outside of San Cristobal de Las Casas to their respective towns of Chamula and Zinacantan.

San Juan Chamula has become rather famous for its syncretist church where ancient Mayan beliefs merge with more traditional Catholicism. Visiting the inside of the church is an experience of the senses.

Another reason to visit this town is to see how Coca-Cola has weaved its way into the very livelihood of the Tzotzil Mayas in Chamula. Because Coca-Cola has made it cheaper to consume than clean water, Chamula – and the state of Chiapas in general – has the highest consumption rate of Coca-Cola anywhere in the world (about an average of 2 L per person per day – even children). The sugary drink is used for ceremonial purposes to “burp out” evil spirits. You can observe this inside the church as local families use it for prayer and rituals.

You will also notice the women wearing black woolen skirts, marking their cultural identity being from the community of San Juan de Chamula. These ladies are often referred to as Mujeres Chamulas and you will often see them selling on the streets and in the market in San Cristobal. You can actually find handmade figurines of them dressed in their iconic skirts and braids for sale in the artisanal market, as well.

There is also the indigenous village of Zinacantán, also home to the Tzotzil Mayas. However, unlike Chamula, this Tzotzil town is not known for its church of Coca-Cola or live animal sacrifice. Instead, Zinacantán has become popular for its women’s weaving co-ops where you can find embroidered textiles and traditional clothing that features decorative patterns of florals – as flowers play a large part in the identity and horticulture of Zinacantán.

A visit to both Chamula and Zinacantán are top things to do in San Cristobal seeing as they are only a quick 15-20 minute colectivo ride away.

6. Wander the Zócalo & Plaza de La Paz

san cristobal cathedral on plaza de la paz in san cristobal de las casasSan Cristóbal Cathedral on Plaza de La Paz

plaza 31 de marzo in san cristobal de las casasCorner of Plaza 31 de Marzo with the Saint Nicolás Temple

In the heart of San Cristobal de Las Casas lies two central squares – the main square (or Zócalo) called Plaza 31 de Marzo, and the large Plaza de La Paz. Both are worth a vigorous stroll around as there are many hidden gems to be discovered here.

The Central Park or Zócalo (Plaza 31 de Marzo) is where you will find the Museum of the Governor’s Palace (MUSAC), Saint Nicolás Church, and “Los Portales” building with dozens of archways, and more. At its center is a decorated gazebo surrounded by lush plants and towering palm trees. During festivals and patron saint days, you will be able to hear live marimba music, an iconic sound of Chiapas, or other live bands or orchestras, reverberating from the gazebo.

Head diagonal across the street to enter upon the vast Plaza de La Paz, accompanied by the vivid yellow Baroque-Moorish-style Church of San Cristobal and the wooden cross in front, the Cruz Atrial. On this plaza, you will find many indigenous peoples selling their fares, especially in the evenings when vendors make close up at the Santo Domingo Market and head to the plaza to finish up the day. You will be able to find all types of traditional clothing, such as chals and huipiles.

7. Visit the Arco del Carmen + Andador Eclesiastico

Arco del Carmen in San Cristobal de Las Casas MexicoArco del Carmen via Andador Ecelsiastico

Follow the blaring music coming from a perpendicular street off the Zócalo to find the unofficial “bar street” of San Cristobal. This street – Calle Eclesiastico – is simply teeming with restaurants, clubs, and mezcal bars – all warring with each other to see who can play the loudest music. You can’t miss it as at the end of the cobbled Andador Eclesiastico (pedestrian street) stands the impressive Arco del Carmen (Carmen’s Arch) built in the Moorish-style and its adjacent Carmen Temple which used to be an early 16th-century convent for women.

On this street, you will find dozens of hidden gems. Make sure not to miss out on an experience inside the San Agustin Plaza Food Court tucked away off the street. Inside there is Amor Negro – a delectable coffee shop; Bangcook – a delicious Thai restaurant; El Punto Pizzeria – a scrumptious pizza restaurant, 500 Noches – a cozy and jazzy fondue bar with live music, and more! There is also a charcuterie restaurant, Peruvian ceviche bar, and a handful of textile stores on the second floor.

8. Enjoy a Cup of Chiapaneco Coffee or Hot Chocolate

Did you know? Chiapas is the largest exporter of organic coffee in the world! Thanks to its rich and fertile volcanic soil, coffee plants grow exceptionally well in the state of Chiapas. As such, the end result is a vibrant coffee taste with strong notes and bright acidity.

And did you know that southern Mexico is actually the birthplace of chocolate? Yep! The first forms of chocolate were used in southern Mexico by the Olmecs, one of the earliest known civilizations in Mesoamerica (namely Mexico and Central America).

All that said, you can’t come to Chiapas without trying BOTH! Luckily, there are many places in San Cristobal where you can taste coffee and chocolate. One of the best places to taste specialty coffee is Libre Cafe (La Frontera is also good too). For chocolate tastings, head to the Kakaw Museum of Cocoa & Chocalateria, Xocawa, or Cacao Nativo.

9. Tour the Casa Na Bolom Museum

Inside the Casa Na Bolom Museum Courtyard

Casa Na Bolom (“House of the Jaguar” in Tzotzil) is a museum, hotel, and restaurant that once served as the home of archaeologist Frans Blom and photographer Gertrude Trudi Blom who spent half their life documenting the indigenous Lacandon people and discovering Mayan ruins sites across Chiapas and the Yucatan Peninsula.

Touring Na Bolom is one of the best things to do in San Cristobal de Las Casas (especially on a budget as it only costs $60 MXN per person) if you want to learn about the history of the region and the incredible wealth of knowledge and artifacts Frans and Trudi amassed over the years in their colonial-style home.

ALSO READ: Inside Casa Na Bolom: The House Museum of Lacandon Culture

10. Climb 79 Steps Up to Guadalupe Church

Guadalupe Church on top of a hill in San Cristobal de Las Casas

An activity that you can’t miss out on in San Cristobal is climbing the 79 stairs up to the majestic yellow and white Guadalupe Church that sits atop a hill overlooking the Barrio del Guadalupe (neighborhood). Built in 1834, Guadalupe Church has since become iconic of the contemporary city of San Cristobal de Las Casas.

Guadalupe has to be one of my favorite churches in San Cristobal. I love the area, the plazuela filled with palm trees and vendors, and how the street takes you all the way down to the historic center.

If you are in San Cristobal around December 12th, for the Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, you will be in for a massive 12-day festival in which music, lights, fireworks, drinks, and celebrations continue nearly 24/7 – well into the late-night/early morning of each day.

11. Explore the Caves at Arcotete Ecotourism Park

arcotete arco de piedra (stone arch) in chiapas mexico

cave (grutas) inside El Arcotete Parque Ecoturistico

For a fun thing to do in San Cristobal de Las Casas, head 15 minutes north of Guadalupe Church to find the Parque Ecoturistico del Arcotete. Arcotete is an ecotourism park that houses a large natural rocky arch with a river and ceiling caverns that can be explored, plus rock climbing, nature trails, horse riding, and ziplining.

If you want a break from the city, then retreat to the pine forests surrounded Arcotete. You will feel like you’re well outside the city, but the upside is that it’s only 10-15 minutes away by car or shared colectivo.

ALSO READ: 5 Adventurous Things to Do in El Arcotete Ecotourism Park

12. Visit all the Colorful Churches of San Cristóbal de Las Casas

Do you know how many churches are in San Cristobal? There are almost a dozen, if not more! I know I am bound to miss some, but here are some of the most prominent and iconic churches you’ll see around San Cristobal:

  • San Cristobal Cathedral on Plaza de La Paz
  • Guadalupe Church on top of Guadalupe Hill
  • Santo Domingo Ex-Covenant/Church (markets)
  • San Nicolás Temple/Church on the Zócalo
  • San Cristobalito Church on top of the hill in the historic center
  • Templo de La Merced (now housing the Amber Museum)
  • Templo de San Diego (blue and white church)
  • Santa Lucía Church (another turquoise/white church as seen from historic center)

A really unique thing to do in San Cristobal is to go around finding (and photographing) all the churches since this will take you across several different neighborhoods and you will get to explore more of the city that way!

13. Tour the Jade and Amber Museums

Drone photo of Ex-Covento de La Merced and the Amber Museum in San Cristobal de Las Casas Ex-Convento de La Merced and the Museo del Ambar

Entry fee: $30 MXN for both the Amber Museum and Jade Museum

Both Jade and Amber are exceptionally unique to Chiapas, Mexico.

Chiapas is the “land of amber” and is famous worldwide as such. Amber is actually not a gemstone, but a fossilized resin from the sap of the Guapinol tree. Amber has been used in Chiapas since pre-Hispanic times, even the Mayans traded it heavily between prominent cities. You can see up close both carved amber and raw amber trapping insects that are millions of years old inside the Museo del Ambar which is housed inside the Ex-Convento de La Merced behind the historic center.

Then there is the amazing jade museum, the Museo Mesoamericano del Jade, in San Cristobal to not miss out on if you want to step back in time to see archaeological replicas of jade, “the celestial stone,” that were found in ancient Mayan tombs and ruins sites. Jade is a precious stone that, in Mesoamerica, represented the virtues of power, love, immortality, and eternity. Inside the museum, you can witness various jewelry and relics that eight cultures across Mesoamerica used, namely by the Maya, Aztec, Olmeca, Mocaya, Teotihuacana, Mixteca, Zapotec, and Toltec.

14. Hike & Climb at Cerro Don Lauro (Viewpoint)

mirador at cerro don lauro viewpoint overlooking san cristobal de las casas

For an adventurous thing to do in San Cristobal de Las Casas, head to the Cerro de Don Lauro (mountain of Don Lauro) where an awesome panoramic view of the city awaits you after a moderate 30-minute hike.

There are an interesting story and mysticism behind this mountain, which was named after an equally mystic man named Don Lauro. There are often drum circles, temazcals, and spiritual retreats held up here.

But you can also just go for a day hike to see the viewpoint (mirador) at the top of the mountain. You can also organize a rock climbing tour here as there are popular climbing routes built into the mountainside of Don Lauro.

To get to Don Lauro, hop in a colectivo or hail a taxi – the trailhead is only a quick 10-minute drive from the center.

15. Visit an Art & Textiles Gallery

San Cristobal houses numerous textiles and art galleries across the city. Many are hidden from view from the streets, but the curious traveler no doubt can find them. You will also discover one of them called La Arteria if you go on the free walking tour.

Arteria is a beautiful gallery full of paintings, sculptures, textiles, and more, all contributed to by over 300 artists in San Cristobal. Other notable galleries and textile workshops to visit that sell fair-trade goods are Aula P’Ejel, La Tozi, and Pigmenta Artisan.

16. Go on a Biking Tour Around San Cristobal

An activity that we can’t wait to do here is to go on a bike tour of San Cristobal. One of the tours by Jaguar Adventours even goes on the “Route of the Mills” a 4-6 hours biking tour that was recommended by National Geographic. You can also go on guided hiking/biking tours to the surrounding indigenous villages of Chamula and Zinacantan, the Huitapec Mountain Reserve, or go all the way to Chiapa de Corzo.

Also, if you wanted to you could just rent bikes and do a DIY tour of the city if you like, but the 3-hour guided tour would be epic for getting explications of the sights and powering through the trails with a little biking community.

17. Hop on the City Trolley Tour

If you spend a few days walking around San Cristobal, you’ll start to spot a few of the tourist trolleys that drive around the historic center. These are open-air bus-like trolleys that take you around the top attractions in San Cristobal while giving you historical and cultural explanations of what you’re looking at.

If you speak Spanish and can hear well enough over a speaker, then you will benefit from the trolley tour the most. Otherwise, it can still be fun just for seeing the city’s sights without having to walk miles and miles in a day!

18. Boat Ride in Cañon del Sumidero

One of the best things to do on any trip to San Cristobal de Las Casas, or Chiapas in general, is taking a 2-hour boat ride on the Grijalva River that carves through the stunning Sumidero Canyon. On this tour, you get to see wildlife like river crocodiles, spider monkeys, and lots of endemic bird species. It is a whippy, breezy ride through the canyon which towers around you with walls reaching up to 1,300 m (4,265 ft) high.

If you go on your own, consider that it’s a 1-hour drive outside of San Cristobal and buses cost around $70 each-way. The boat ride costs $270 and $36 for the national park fee, plus gratuities. If you book a tour from San Cristobal, you’ll pay about the same but your transport will be included.

ALSO READ: How to Visit the Majestic Cañón del Sumidero in Chiapas

19. Explore the Magic Town of Chiapa de Corzo

La Pila fountain and colorful sign in Chiapa de Corzo pueblo magico in Chiapas, Mexico

If you want to explore another pueblo mágico beyond San Cris, then you must visit Chiapa de Corzo. It’s best if you combine a visit here with the Sumidero Canyon tour since you the boat embarkment is but a 10-minute drive away from this lovely magic town.

While in Chiapa de Corzo, you can eat your way through the typical sweets and dishes of the region while visiting the Marimba Museum and the imposing 16th-century Fountain La Pila which has a stunning colonial-Mudejar architecture style.

ALSO READ: 10 Things to Do in the Magic Town of Chiapa de Corzo

20. Take A Day Trip (El Chiflón, Lagos, Palenque, Arc of Time)’

Last but not least, if you’re looking for more things to do while in San Cristobal de Las Casas, take the opportunity to go on a longer day trip to surrounding wonders in the state of Chiapas. From San Cristobal, organizing tours is super easy as it’s the “base” from which everyone explores the greater parts of Chiapas.

As for where to go, you have quite a few options. The closest and most popular day trip from San Cris is  El Chiflón Waterfall and the Lagos de Montebello (lakes) that surround the city of Comitán, near the border of Guatemala. To get there it takes around 2-3 hours.

Another popular thing to do is to visit the mesmerizing archaeological ruins site of Palenque in the northern part of the state, although this trip takes 5 hours or more driving (so it’s best to organize a tour). While in Palenque, don’t miss out on the Misol-Ha and Agua Azul waterfalls as well.

And if you really want a few days of adventure, it’s worth the 4-hour treacherous drive and then the 13 km hike to camp below the Arc of Time (Arco del Tiempo) – the world’s largest natural stone arch.

Last Tips for Things to Do in San Cristóbal

What to pack: San Cristobal is not exactly warm, per se, so pack layers! It can get warm in the sun during the day, but nights/mornings can get very cold. Since San Cris sits at 2200 m in altitude, you can expect chillier temps than on the coasts or even an hour away in the jungle. For more tips, check out my ultimate packing guide for Mexico.

ATMs: there You will only find the ATMs in the historic center of San Cristobal and for some odd reason, they have long waiting times. It’s best to take out extra cash before setting out on any adventure. Many places take credit cards, but for most activities, you will need to pay in cash.

Taxis: Unlike other cities in Mexico that are popular among tourists, San Cristobal has fairly cheap taxi rates. To cross town, we have never paid more than $50 MXN for a taxi – even if there was heavy traffic and it took 30 minutes.

Restaurants: Actually, one of our favorite things to do in San Cristobal de Las Casas is to go out to eat! There are so many good places to discover. Our favorites so far are Nostalgia (Oaxacan food), Sarajevo (breakfast/brunch), Roots (bakery), La Frontera (cafe), Kulkulpan (vegetarian lunch/bakery), among others!

I hope this huge guide for things to do in San Cristobal de Las Casas helps plan your trip to this wonderful and diverse state of Chiapas, Mexico. If you have any questions or thoughts to share, please drop them in the comments below!

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2 Comments

  1. Steve Bennett

    Nicely done Brittany. I love your writing style. Best wishes.

    Reply
    • Bri

      Aww thanks, Steve! Your comments always brighten my day. Hope you are keeping well xx

      Reply

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Hi, I’m Bri! I’ve been slow traveling around the world in search of new adventures since 2013. I have lived in 8 countries on 4 continents including Nepal, Mexico, Colombia, and parts of Europe! I created this blog to inspire others to live a life of adventure, seek out meaningful experiences, and to travel slowly and mindfully. Join me on this journey and let’s tick off our bucket lists! Read my story here.

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