Zinacantan, Mexico is a Tzotzil Maya village in the Chiapas Highlands known for its traditional textiles and women’s weaving cooperatives where you can observe the backstrap loom technique in action.
But despite being less than 5 miles (7.5 km) away, the two towns are very different in both atmosphere, beliefs, and traditional dress.
While Chamula is known for its iconic black sheep fleece skirts worn by the Chamula women (mujeres Chamulas) and its syncretist Mayan-Catholic church where pox, Coca-Cola, candles, and chicken sacrifices are the ceremonial staples, Zinacantan is better known for its woven and embroidered floral clothing made from artisanal weavers and its vibrant feast days in the calendar year.
They say Zinacantan, referred to in the native language of Tzotzil as Sots’leb, translates to “land of the bats” and it was given such a name due to the forested hills surrounding the village (no doubt in which there are plenty of caves and rockfaces that the batties call home).
The town is also named after the patron saint of Saint Lawrence, or officially San Lorenzo Zinacantan in Spanish.
Ready to explore Zinacantan Mexico? Here’s everything you need to visit on a day trip!
The Ultimate Guide to San Lorenzo Zinacantán (Chiapas, Mexico)
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How to get to Zinacantán
Zinacantan makes for a quick day trip seeing as it’s only 6.5 miles from the center of San Cristobal. There are a couple of ways to get to both indigenous towns, including public transport and private taxi.
From San Cristobal de Las Casas
If you are a couple or family, the easiest way to get to Zinacantan from San Cristobal is to share a taxi. It costs around $100-110 pesos for a 20-minute journey outside of the city. The taxi will drop you right at the main square where you’ll immediately see the San Lorenzo church.
From San Juan Chamula
It’s more likely that you will visit the Tzotzil town of Chamula first, as this is the order in which most tourists do it. In this case, if you just spend a couple of hours in Chamula and are ready to head to Zinacantan, just go to the main square in front of the Chamula church and hail a taxi ($100-110 pesos).
As far as we know, there is no public colectivo (white van) that goes in between Chamula and Zinacantan.
Then, to return to San Cristobal from Zinacantan you can take a colectivo for $22 pesos/person or a taxi for $96-110. Both options will drop you off near the Plaza San Agustin (unless you ask your taxi for specific directions for an extra $10 charge).
Zinacantán Textiles & Clothing
Tzotzil Maya women wearing traditional Zinacantan clothing
The indigenous people of Zinacantan wear embroidered and woven floral patterns. That’s because the town is known for its cultivated flowers (you will spot hundreds of greenhouses in the valley as you arrive in Zinacantan).
So to represent their culture, the women artisans weave florals into the traditional textiles. As such, you can find blouses, shawls, huipiles, table runners, pillowcases, and plenty of smaller souvenirs like coin purses and bracelets featuring the work.
While some of the clothing is hand-embroidered with flower motifs, the Zinacantan clothing is most famous for its traditional huipil blouse or dress, which is made by backstrap loom weaving. It’s common to see women wearing a huipil for daily use in Zinacantan and throughout southern Mexico and Central America.
You may spot indigenous groups across the Yucatan Peninsula wearing huipiles as well, which in the indigenous Nahuatl language is called huipilli and translates to ornate blouse or dress. However, the patterns may be different than what you will find in Zinacantan, which is especially known for its flower culture.
Other indigenous groups may wear huipiles representing their own culture or tradition. Common symbols found weaved into huipiles feature animals, plants, or geometric patterns.
How to Visit the Women’s Weaving Cooperative
When you arrive in Zinacantan, your presence will quickly be noted by the local women who are catching on to the fact that tourists come here specifically to see (and shop) for the traditional clothing and to visit the weaving cooperative in town.
That said, don’t be surprised if you are approached by young Zinacantan girls who want to “lead” you to the cooperative after your visit to both the San Lorenzo Church and San Sebastian Church, which are virtually side-by-side on the large plaza.
The girl we met was named Christina, and she led us down the town to the collective. There, a woman named Carmen showed us the backstrap loom weaving technique in action and told us the names of the garments and textiles hanging from the ceiling and walls.
After our visit, I realized that I didn’t know a lot about the history of the collective. So I did a bit of research and found out in the Global Press Journal that Yolanda Hernandez Gomez, a young 34-year-old entrepreneur, is the leader of the cooperative which is officially called Women Sowing Life (Mujeres Sembrando la Vida). Founded in 2009, the collective has over 60 local members in the municipality who have been able to improve their livelihoods and that of their community since its inception.
Carmen using the backstrap loom technique for weaving
Not only has the collective brought additional income to the members, often tripling their monthly wage, but it also enabled the foundation of Yo’onik, a school where children of the village can learn to weave and embroider for free. They also learn Spanish, English, and how to write in their native Tzotzil language. The school is entirely funded by the members of the cooperative, who each donate 10% of their monthly salary to keep the school open so that they may pass down their heritage onto the next generation.
While you can absolutely visit Zinacantan on your own, it would be nice to go on a tour that can explain everything as you are seeing it. Many of the Zinacantan tours also feature a visit with a local family, in which you get to share a typical meal of corn tortillas, beans, and tasting of pox – the local liquor made from fermented corn.
This experience might also be possible if you visit on your own, but I got a feeling whilst there that your invitation to share tortillas and pox may depend on “how much” you spend at the collective, lol.
Colorful Zinacantan textiles inside the women’s weaving collective
Below are a few sample prices of the clothes we saw, just to give you an idea of what it costs to shop in Zinacantan’s weaving collective.
- Huipiles – $750+
- Hand-embroidered blouses (blousas) – $250-350
- Woven blouses and dresses – $350-550
- Bracelets – $30/ea.
- Coin purses/wallets – $60
- Keychains – $30
They also sell brightly-colored woven table runners, pillowcases, baby wraps (rebozos), and skirts and shawls (chals) – but I didn’t catch the prices for those. You can also do a “fitting” and try on the traditional woven skirts and chals and take pictures.
As a tourist, it can be hard to know if what you are paying for in a different country is a fair price. But I think the prices are fair here and are similar to what you’d find in the market in San Cristobal. Also, as the journalistic article mentions, at least when you shop in Zinacantan you’re sure to directly support the artisan weavers instead of buying cheap import look-alikes from Ecuador or China.
What to Do in Zinacantán
There aren’t that many things to do as a tourist in Zinacantan or even Chamula, which makes them both easy to visit in a single day. Nonetheless, here are a few things to do depending on the day and season you visit.
San Sebastian Church
The San Sebastian Church is a small and cute Catholic church located right off the principal plaza in Zinacantan. This church is not like what you’ll find in the church in Chamula. However, it still features tidbits of Mayan culture mixed with traditional Catholicism.
Unlike inside the Chamula Church, San Sebastian has pews and a more “classic” style Catholic church interior. However, you’ll notice that both the doorway and altar are completely adorned in thousands of flowers, iconic of Zinacantan’s indigenous culture.
And although there aren’t any sacrificial ceremonies to observe inside, you are still not allowed to take pictures or videos of any kind.
Also, a donation of 15 pesos or something similar is suggested when going into the church (in fact, we were approached with the donation box right upon entering).
San Lorenzo Church
The “main” church to see is the San Lorenzo Church, which juts out noticeably from the Zinacantan square.
It’s much larger in comparison to San Sebastian and features an even more traditional Catholic-style interior (and exterior). Inside, you’ll find common relics and figures, like statues of Jesus on the Cross, or patron saints inside glass cabinets.
The San Lorenzo Church doesn’t take long to visit, as what you see is somewhat common in other Catholic churches. If you walk down the hallway veering off to the right from the main room, you’ll have 3-4 more worship “corners” featuring paintings and figures of other saints or virgins.
Zinacantán Tourism Sign
After you visit the churches, head across the street to take pictures with the colorful “Zinacantan” Tourism sign that is common to see across Mexico and other places around the world. The large sign will be at the top of the stairs just off the enormous basketball court.
We visited Zinacantan on a Saturday, so we missed the Sunday Market which starts quite early and lasts from 6 AM – 10:30 AM.
That said, you might want to consider visiting Zinacantan first before Chamula so that you don’t miss the market, especially if you want to see the complete range of textiles laid out in front of you.
The Chamula market, where you can buy mostly fresh produce and a few textiles, stays open longer through the afternoon giving you more time to visit.
Feast Days of Zinacantán
If you visit Zinacantan on a festival or feast day, then you’re in for a real treat. Festivities and huge parties are common across all of small-town Mexico.
The “feast days” take place both inside and outside of the churches in honor of a particular Saint Day in the calendar year. The two most important feast days are from January 18th-22nd in honor of San Sebastian and on August 10th in honor of the patron saint San Lorenzo after which the municipality is named.
During this time, items are gathered to adorn the church and are used to perform rituals (i.e. flowers, pine needles, candles, etc.) while fireworks or bombs are used to celebrate outside the church. Both men and women dress in traditional manner and clothing.
As such, visiting Zinacantan during these celebrations is sure to invigorate the senses!
Both the indigenous community of Zinacantan and San Juan Chamula in the Chiapas state of Mexico are a must-see if you wish to travel back to pre-colonial times.
Zinacantan is especially unique and beautiful for its flower culture, ancient weaving techniques, and local handicrafts. Should you decide to visit, make sure to bring extra pesos with you and plan your trip (if you can) to fall on a Sunday when the mesmerizing floral pattern textiles are on full display at the market.
Thanks for reading and do let me know if you end up visiting! Also, if you have any questions or additional info to share, please drop a comment below!
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