Charmed by San Cristobal de las Casas

Some backpackers told me there is “nothing to see” in San Cristobal de las Casas. True, there may not be a famous ruin or beach nearby, but I must heartily disagree. The city itself is worth a visit. It is simultaneously unassuming and cosmopolitan. As if plucked from an Italian mountainside, it is a beautiful ambling town with a European vibe (complete with dog poop on the sidewalks; ah, Paris…) filled with the easy pleasures of life. Oh, and did I mention the food? Stick with me, especially if you have a sweet tooth.

The cathedral plaza.
Canary yellow cathedral.

The ambiance is a simple kind of breathtaking. Colorful churches preside over the city on sloping hills, with two dominating from the east and west and the cathedral in the center. Views of the surrounding green mountains can be enjoyed wherever you are in the city. Yet the grade of the city streets is flat and easy. The narrow cobblestone lanes, especially pedestrian Real de Guadalupe, beg to be strolled. Taking a paseo at dusk around the main square (called by many names: March 31 Plaza, Vicente Espinoza Park, or the Zocalo), I listened to a cheerful xylophone band play in the gazebo and watched the palm trees be lit by green, red, and purple spotlights.

Zocalo gazebo at night. Source: Google Images
Fluttering in the wind.
Steps leading to Templo del Cerrito de San Cristobal, the western city guardian.

It is a place to wander and look at beautiful things. Amber, obsidian, and turquoise jewelry are signatures of the region and joyerias are every third storefront. I picked up a pretty pink and amber necklace at a handicraft market where baubles and colorful textiles fill over three square blocks. In the shopping district, small boutiques sell unique and stylish clothes I would actually wear! Expect me to rock one particular new dress this fall… And I finally found myself a watch–it’s purple with animations of a bunny, a centaur, and a fairy and makes me laugh–as I will need it to wake me up for the 6:30am bus to Guatemala tomorrow.

These reminded me of my Grandma who passed away last year. She gave me and my sisters each one of these dolls; mine lives atop my jewelry box at home and makes me think of her every day.
At the local market I got fresh peas for my dinner, but think this woman’s chickens win!

The air smells sweet. I don’t just mean fresh mountain air. French pastries and Mexican sweets are everywhere in this town, and the smell of baking wafts through town. It is also in the land of two most delicious beans: coffee and chocolate. Chocolate shops sell dainty bon bons, coffee roasters grind their beans, and cafe culture spills onto the sidewalks. So many beautiful places to sit and chat and read! My favorite cafe, Oh-la-la, is just off the Zocalo and tempts me with pastries every time I pass through the town center. All the food of the world is available, and it’s tasty too: one day I had tacos al pastor for lunch, chausson aux pomme and cappuccino in the afternoon, a Lebanese mezze plate with mint tea for dinner, and Mexican chocolate truffles for dessert.

Ooh-la-la indeed.
Pedestrian culture, going for a stroll.

I’ve been here four days and haven’t technically “done” anything yet from the perspective of checkbox tourism. There are museums to see and tours to take if I had wanted them. But instead I have gone where the gentle mountain breeze blows me in this alluring town and been glad for it.

A little fun on an outdoor gym behind Cerrito de San Cristobal.
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2 thoughts on “Charmed by San Cristobal de las Casas

  1. We started off scrolling your blog for travel tips to Utila and haven’t been able to stop yet, loafing around on the couch under a blanket on a cold Canadian night. Thanks for keeping out dreams of Central America alive!

    Jesse & Roz

    Like

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