Located in the Mexican state of "Chiapas", San Cristobal de las Casas is a magical little mountain town. If you want to immerse yourself in local Mexican life, this is the perfect place. It still has the innocence of a rural village, unpolluted by modern tourism.
- There is an international airport called Angel Albino Corzo (TGZ). It is about a 1-hour taxi drive from San Cristobal de las Casas. While the airport is called TGZ after Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas, it is located outside of Tuxtla (about a 35 minute drive south) so don't let this get you confused.
- There are taxi counters at the exit of the airport and transportation to San Cristobal should cost you around 800 Mexican Pesos (around $40).
- Local currency: at the time of writing this the exchange rate for 1 USD is 20.70 MP (Mexican Pesos). Click here for the current exchange rate.
- Getting local currency: As always, I find it best to withdraw money from the ATM—you're bound to get the best exchange rates. Be sure to inform your bank of your travel plans.
- Credit cards aren't widely accepted so be sure to carry cash.
- Cost of living is very low in comparison to what we know in the States. We've had great meals for under $20 for two (including alcohol), and experienced an amazing accommodation in the perfect village location for around $40 per night.
- Get ready to practice your Spanish, big time. While it is a relatively well-toured place, most of the people do not speak English very well and it is also rare to find menus in English at restaurants. A great tip (if you don't plan on buying a data plan for your phone) would be to download google translate and download the "offline" Spanish translator. As you might guess, it works even when you don't have cell service.
- Expect lots of beautiful kids and some sweet old ladies walking around the streets attempting to sell you their crafts. They mostly sell things for a few USD at most, sometimes a few cents. Many times, we just gave them money, as we don't really need, nor have the space for extra knickknacks. :) Although the exchange rate can be deceiving, remember that most of the time it is very little money to you and a lot to them. If you aren't interested, usually a no-thank-you will suffice...but sometimes it does take 10 "no-thank-you's" before they take the hint. If you prefer not to be approached as often, you should prevent eye-contact and choose to sit indoors/not on the curbside of the street.
Where to stay
We highly recommend staying in the center of San Cristobal de las Casas. The village center is quaint and magical, and staying here makes it easy to walk everywhere. We also like to stay at airbnb's vs. hotels mostly for the fun of immersing ourselves in the local culture. With the airbnb route, you find yourself having to seek out the nearest pharmacy/grocery store/coffee shop and by doing so, you practice the language more often. We stayed at a place that a local family renovated solely for the purpose of short term rentals. We cannot recommend this place enough! They have 4 apartments (we got to see them all and actually stay in two of them), each one is more beautiful than the next. The apartments are newly renovated but still maintain the local style and culture. They are beautifully equipped and furnished with unique pieces that have been hand-picked throughout Mexico by Jose, the son who is responsible for the design. Fun fact: each family member has a responsibility: the father for the maintenance, the mother for the accounting etc. How awesome is that? To top it all off, the beds and linens are extremely pampering.
Where to eat
Hands down the best Italian restaurant we've ever ate in (we haven't been to Italy yet, but soon!). The owner is actually from southern Italy (surprisingly not from Naples but from Potenza) and he makes the best pasta. Definitely try the pesto pasta, they ask if you want it al dente and your answer should be "YES".
A breath of fresh air in the mostly traditional San Cristobal. These guys came from Mexico City to disrupt (in the best of ways) the food scene in town. Their specialty is their very unique and eclectic pizzas. Be sure to also ask for the Coconut-Rum drink (yes, it is as good as it sounds).
Another great restaurant (on the pricier side compared to most of the local joints, but still extremely affordable in U.S. terms). A chef's restaurant by a young up-and-coming Mexican chef.
Located on the main street Real de Guadalupe, take a seat at one of the tables outside and enjoy the colorful scenery. Great for breakfasts.
Cool place to enjoy a glass (or a bottle) of wine and some snacks.
What to do
Explore the many unique (and affordable) museums in San Cristobal:
- Na Bolom 45 pesos (around $2)
- Mayan Medicine Museum 25 pesos (around $1)
- Museum of Textile 55 pesos (around $2.5)
- Cacao Museum 30 pesos (around $1.25)
Explore the many shops and restaurants along San Cristobal's main street, and don't forget to explore all the side streets as well, most of the magic lies in there.
This great shop features extremely unique hand-made Mayan paper crafts such as wall art, journals, gift cards, and more.
Explore the rest of the beautiful state of Chiapas
Step in to any of the local tourist offices that are scattered around San Cristobal and book one or multiple excursions. San Cristobal de las Casas is a common "home-base" for those who are interested in discovering the beauty of the rest of the state. And you should. Some worthwhile activities are as close as a 30 minutes drive and the prices range from as low as $9 per person.
We randomly chose an agency called "Descubre Chiapas" which is located at Real de Guadalupe 54 and were happy with their service. They will pick you up from your hotel/airbnb. Note that the guides don't really speak English.
Some of the options are:
- Visit the Sumidero Canyon by a boat (2 hours), which is absolutely majestic. And have lunch in a nearby town. 9am-3pm. 300mp per person (approx. $14).
- Visit a special old town called San Juan Chamula (horse riding or walking)- 200-250mp per person ($9-$12).
- Visit "Palenque" where there said to be the most unique ruins in all of Mexico. 5am-10pm. 450mp per person ($21).