San Cristóbal de las Casas: a Magical Puebla
Never have I ever found a city that jives so well with me. As soon as we stepped foot into San Cristóbal de las Casas, this cool (both in climate and in level of awesomeness) city, I was in LOVE.
To set the stage a bit, Dennis and I had just been through Cozumel (vry hot), Valladolid (vry close to the sun) and Isla Mujeres (Hades himself was melting) and anything less than 95 degrees was going to feel absolutely magical. However, as far as I can tell from talking to the locals, some expats, and doing my due diligence in googling, SCC is pretty much the same temperature all year (in the 70s), rains for a month in the summer, and a couple weeks in the winter. If this sounds a bit familiar, yes — it is quite similar to our beloved hometown of San Diego, California. While we can draw some similarities in the temperate climate, that’s pretty much where the similarities stop.
There are artisanal handicrafts EVERYWHERE, and I’m not talking about shirts that say “Lookit me! I visited San Cristóbal de las Casas!” or tiny figurines that are actually shipped over from China — you see women selling beautifully embroidered shirts, and when there are no customers, working on embroidering a new shirt, men methodically working on elaborate micromacrame jewelry, and amazing art houses sprinkled throughout the streets.
SCC sits at an elevation of 7,200 ft (hence the great temperature) and has a population of only 185,000 people. Despite the tiny little streets with tiny little sidewalks, it never ever feels overcrowded. There are a few pedestrian streets (an automatic win in any city) and each is lined with the most amazing restaurants and handicraft stores, and WINE BARS (yasssssssss!!).
Okay. Let’s talk about the real kicker here: everything is so so cheap, ESPECIALLY for the quality of what you are getting. Amazing wine bars where you get free (and delicious) tapas with every drink you order, and bottles of wine cost ~$7 USD (and up). Beautiful hotel rooms with panoramic views of the city for ~$35 USD a night. Tours with real tour companies to incredible otherworldly places cost about $10-$15 USD a person. Tell me again why I’ve never even heard of this place?
We visited Sumidero Canyon (Cañon de Sumidero) and paid 250 pesos each (about $13 USD) for a 9am - 3pm tour. We loaded into a van that picked us up at our hotel, drove the hour or so to the canyon, and jumped on a speedboat through the winding river with canyon walls that reach up to a kilometer on either side of you. It is a birders paradise — egrets, pelicans, vultures, and orioles all around you. But for those more interested in larger wildlife, there are spider monkeys (!!) and crocodiles (!!!!!!!!!) that you are almost guaranteed to see. (Bonus: we also saw upwards of a dozen BABY crocs, so tiny they were begging us to take them home and feed them tiny hamburgers and tuck them into tiny sleeping bags.)
We also took a horseback tour to the small town of Chamula for 200 pesos each (~ $10 USD), where I am still divided on what exactly my favorite part was. Most of the time, tourist horse rides consist of 20 or so tourists awkwardly scrambling up on malnourished horses, parading around in a parking lot or down a paved street or some other location that feels entirely inappropriate for the horses. Instead, our tour was just Dennis and I, and our 13-year-old-guide, Leonardo, traversing through some legit woods (I had to quickly raise my feet several times to avoid getting them squished between rocks, trees, etc) and was thoroughly covered in scratches from the brambles my very sassy horse insisted on running me into.
There is pretty much only one reason you find tourists on the daily in the small town of Chamula, and I wasn’t about to miss out on seeing it for myself. The church, located in the center of the zócalo looks like any other church in Mexico, but it costs 25 pesos (~$1.30 USD) per person for tourists to enter, and is wholly different from any other church on the inside. The ground is covered in pine needles, and small areas are swept clean for parishioners to light candles, pray, offer chicken sacrifices, and chug orange soda in order to burp loudly and expel evil spirits. (Super casual.) Overall, pretty different than any other church we’ve ever visited. It’s a mix between Catholic traditions and Tzotzil traditions. We were lucky enough (not convinced that’s the correct term) to see a chicken sacrifice and hear the persistent Tzotzil prayers, a language that sounds absolutely nothing like Spanish. There are absolutely NO photos allowed inside the church, so you’ll just have to imagine it, or visit it for yourself.
Long blog post short, (TOO LATE) I have absolutely fallen in love with San Cristóbal de las Casas and am legitimately scheming to convince our families to come down and celebrate Christmas here. If nothing else, I know where to find some chickens for Christmas dinner?