The next place on my travels through Mexico is San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas. I almost dropped San Cristobal out of my itinerary because of its travel distance from just about everywhere else (plus my beach time had left me a little behind schedule), but I am so glad that I did go.
People warned me it would be cold, although really it isn’t. Maybe it is cold by Mexico levels (it gets down to around 11 degrees in the early morning) but during the day it is generally quite warm enough. I’m told it can reach freezing in winter.
San Cristobal sits up in the mountains, at an altitude of ‘almost 7,000 feet’ (no, means nothing to me either, apparently that is around 2,200 metres in real terms); that’s what makes it cooler. I still slathered on the sunblock. The higher altitude made it feel as if the sun had needles injecting itself into me. It’s as if you can actually feel the damage the sun is doing: a stark reminder to get out the sunscreen that I neglected whilst I was down on the beach.
San Cristobal is yet another city where the Spanish colonial influence can be clearly seen. However what makes it different is the high population of indigenous people who either live in the town or travel in from neighbouring villages to sell their wares.
There is a huge handicraft market in the grounds around the Santa Domingo church. The main thing to buy here is textiles, although ceramics and jewellery (particularly amber and jade) are also popular purchases.
If you carry on walking up the hill you will come to a more traditional, chaotic Mexican market. I enjoyed it more here, maybe because I’m not much of a shopper and it’s more the atmosphere of markets that I like so much.
You can take tours into the Mayan villages nearby (or you can travel independently but really it’s far better to go with someone who can explain stuff to you). More on that here.
San Cristobal is seated firmly in Zapatista territory. In 1994 the Zapatistas, a leftish organisation made up of many of the indigenous people in the region, seized power in a show of strength against national government. They continue to have a huge influence in the city. You will often see their flag flying, or graffiti-d onto buildings.
If you travel out of San Cristobal into the surrounding jungle areas you will come across Zapatista road blocks: people in masks, like an early halloween celebration, but with a shotgun slung casually over their shoulders. (More about this here, and how I travelled to some ‘nearby’ ruins that took eight hours travelling time including many encounters with Zapatista roadblocks).
Meanwhile San Cristobal continues to hold my attention well.