It was a straight shot from Comitan to San Cristobal. San Cristobal de Las Casas is a city of approximately 200,000 people that is situated at an altitude of around 2,200 meters. The climate is usually temperate and rains quite often during the summer months. (wiki)
I arrived at the collectivo terminal, which was just across the road from the ADO bus terminal, early afternoon. It was a bit of a walk to my hostel, Casa Monad. I had checked in using Booking.com at a cost of only $5 per night…. including breakfast. The place was very cozy, nice and was run by 3 sisters. The beds were incredibly comfortable, there was a large kitchen and a courtyard to eat and meet with friends.
I settled in quickly and met a couple of guys who were staying in my dorm room. One, Emiliano (Emi) was Argentinean and had been living in Monad for a couple of months. He plays guitar and sings in the streets (see video below) to pay for his travels around the world. He was a very nice guy and we ended up getting along very well during my stay. I really enjoyed it when he would practice or just play with others in the courtyard!
That afternoon, I went around the city to have a look. What a beautiful place! I was just amazed at how well all of the old buildings and churches had been preserved. The atmosphere was vibrant with tourists and locals alike. The city had a totally different feel from Antigua, which is well preserved, but not much of a local feel, more of a tourist destination. San Cris has so many little restaurants, shops and street vendors, and is really quite affordable.
Right around sunset, I went to central park and then to the cathedral of San Cristobal, which is located on the north side of the park. There were quite a few people in the park, but many more in the open area in front of the cathedral, where I sat on the steps to watch the sunset.
It cools off quite quickly when the sun goes down, so best to bring a jacket, which I’d forgotten. I stopped one of the ladies with the push carts selling hot chocolate, arroz con leche (rice milk) and other warm drinks, and got myself a warm arroz con leche ($.50). There are also many street vendors selling handicrafts, clothing, scarves, hats, popcorn, cotton candy…. you name it!
When I got back to the hostel, there was quite a group in the kitchen cooking. I hadn’t been to the market, so I would have to dine out. I chatted with a few of them, before running around the corner to a local taco place, my favorite food in Mexico! At around $.30 per taco, you can’t beat it. 🙂
In the morning, I decided to go to Inglesia de Nuestra Senior de Guadalupe, which sits high atop a hill on the east side of the city. When you walk down Real de Guadalupe, you can see it at the far end of the road, overlooking the city. The climb is steep, but well worth it. The church is very nice, inside and out, and the view is incredible. You can walk around the church and see the entire city below.
From the church, I thought it would be nice to head to the market to see what it’s like… and get a few vegies for dinner. The city market is on the far south side of the city, a bit of a walk from the church. I wound through the streets and finally found my way. The market was huge, once you get inside, it’s hard to tell where you’re going. I just got lost in there for a while, found a few vegies and things. It’s an open market, for the most part, and fairly clean. You can definitely find anything you might need.
The meat and fish market was one large building that is well maintained and clean, so I felt comfortable buying meat there. On the way back to the hostel, I stopped at a tortilleria to buy some tortillas. Normally I just give them 5 pesos ($.25) and they give me a small stack, more than enough for a meal for one, still fresh and warm. (If you go to the back of the market, you’ll find fresh pressed and toasted tortillas made from all kinds of maize)
For a couple of days, I just hung out in the city, walked the many streets and enjoyed time with friends and music in the hostel. The group was quite amazing. Most evenings, everyone would cook for themselves, kick back in the courtyard and chat or listen to Emi play the guitar.
San Juan Chamula
San Juan Chamula is a small town situated approximately 10 kilometers north of San Cristobal de Las Casas. The majority of the population are Tzotziles. Chamula is one of the last places that still practice Mayan culture. (wiki)
One note: If you happen to be looking for pox (pronounced posh ), a regional brandy used in ceremonial acts. The most prominent place of production is the town of Cruz Ton, also very close to San Cristobal, where you will find many flavors including strawberry, mango, apple, etc. It is a very strong drink (+/-25%) made through the fermentation of corn.
On Sunday, I went with a fairly large group of people from the hostel to Chamula. There was a festival going on and there is a very special church there. We took a collectivo to the town, which is about a half an hour. I believe it was around 20 pesos each.
Once we got there, we walked down the main street, where they had a major market down to the church. Again, in front of the church, there was a large open market, where they were selling handicrafts, clothing, etc. A lot of the women were selling the traditional skirts from the area, which are usually black and are made of thick sheep fur.
As we walked up the main road, we ran into a couple of groups of men, dressed in colorful outfits, with pointed hats, dancing in the street. They were drinking beer and dancing to the music of drums and other instruments. It was a very unique sound.
When we arrived at the church, they told us to buy a ticket (25 pesos – $1). When you get inside, it is like stepping into another world. It was fairly dark inside, there were hundreds of burning candles, straw on the floor (foor the chicken blood) and a guy waving a large incense bowl around. The smoke was thick and many of the locals were chanting prayers.
One of the groups of dancing, drunk guys was in the back chanting away as well. There were pictures of the saints on the walls, male on the left and female on the right. I believe, from what I understand, they kill chickens in the church and spray the blood about, but we didn’t experience that one. They had chickens with them, but no throat cutting while we were there. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take photos or video inside the church, otherwise, I would have gotten some great images. All I can say is that it was a hell of an experience!
The next day, I decided to go to Tuxtla, the capital of Chiapas. I just wanted to see what it had to offer and possibly go to the river’s edge on the eastern side of the city. Well, Tuxtla is a large, somewhat industrial/commercial city. Not really much to see.
I did take a look at the cathedral de San Marcos in the center of town, saw the city market and walked around a bit. By early afternoon, it was quite hot, so I decided I’d had enough walking and didn’t really want to go to the river now…. I could go another time.
I really loved San Cristobal, but it had been about 10 days and it was time to move on. I decided to head to Palenque next, to see the ruins and waterfalls. There are two alternatives, as far as transportation to Palenque, one is the ADO bus, which takes about 8 hours (via Villahermosa) and costs +/- MXN$320 ($15), or you can take the collectivo, which takes about 5 ½ hours (MXN$150), will stop in Ocosingo (about half way), quick switch to another collectivo and then on to Palenque.
The reason why ADO takes so long is because the locals on the route through Ocosingo “do not” like the large busses going through their territory, so they (ADO) don’t want to risk it. I decided to take the collectivo route, which was totally safe, half the price and took 2 ½ hours less. I would definitely recommend that route. You can actually grab a collectivo right next to the ADO station in San Cristobal!