San Cristobal De Las Casas and Palenque: Travel Guide for 2023
San Cristobal de las Casas is located in a fertile valley surrounded by mountains in Chiapas, southern Mexico, just 68 km from Tuxtla Gutierrez and about 220 km from Palenque.
It is one of Mexico’s most beautiful colonial cities and a proud member of the Magical Towns program.
You can discover religious monuments influenced by Mexican and Central American colonial art through cobblestone and peaceful streets flanked by houses with large red tile roofs and flower-filled patios.
Indigenous people from neighboring towns come to offer textiles, ceramics, fruits, and vegetables in the city’s bustling markets.
In 2015, the city was declared a “Creative City” by UNESCO. Its climate is temperate sub-humid with an average annual temperature of 18º C.
Now, I will share a complete tour with 15 tips and the main attractions of the beautiful and welcoming San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas.
San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque Chiapas (Map)
The distance between Palenque and San Cristobal de las Casas by road is about five hours.
Top things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
1. Stay in a comfortable hotel
The Guayaba Inn, at 55 Comitan Street, is a conveniently located lodging with a good price/quality ratio.
On Avenida Diego Dugelay 45 is Villas Casa Morada, another beautiful boutique hotel housed in a beautiful traditional mansion.
It boasts a simple but comfortable atmosphere and a family-style and personalized service.
If you prefer to stay in a more upscale place, Boutique Hotel Bo is for you. An exquisitely decorated place in a good city location.
2. Tour the Temple and former Convent of Santo Domingo
The decoration of the temple façade of this convent complex is one of the finest artistic baroque expressions with indigenous influences in Mexico.
The native artists, under the direction of the Dominican monks, excelled in integrating neat ornamentation into the pink quarry façade based on mortar, with fretwork, Indian angels, mermaids, and other ingenious motifs.
The set of religious buildings was initiated in the XVI century. In the church’s interior, the paintings with religious motifs, some altarpieces, and the pulpit of noble wood are distinguished.
There is a museum of regional history in the convent cloisters and a cooperative of indigenous artists and artisans.
3. Visit the Cathedral in San Cristobal de las Casas
In fact, the original Hispanic name of SCDLC was Ciudad Real de Chiapas, and ever since, this temple where San Sebastián is venerated was its cathedral and seat of the diocese.
The cathedral exterior stands out for its baroque decoration, made with vegetal fretwork.
Several works of religious art are in the interior naves, especially the magnificent baroque altarpieces dedicated to San Juan Nepomuceno and the Virgin of the Assumption.
Another work of interest is a painting dedicated to the Prayer in the Garden, located in the sacristy, a work of the New Spanish painter Juan Correa.
4. Get to know the Main Square and the Arco del Carmen
The Main Square is the city’s nerve center, where the “coletos,” the colloquial nickname for the people of San Cristobal, gather to chat and stroll along its paths.
Things get livelier in the plaza when the afternoon ends, with a band playing music in the kiosk area.
The Arco del Carmen is one of the city’s symbols, a structure built in the last quarter of the 17th century, which is one of the best representations of Mudejar art in Mexico.
The square arch has four sections and is topped by a cross. It has a wide span at street level, and its decorative motifs were made with mortar.
5. San Cristobal De Las Casas Municipal Palace
At the beginning of 1994, the Municipal Palace appeared on the front pages of newspapers and television screens worldwide when it was occupied on January 1 and 2 by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.
It is an impressive building from the end of the 19th century, with a long façade facing the zocalo on the west side, with 17 arcades and Doric and Tuscan architectural elements.
The current Municipal Palace was built on the same site as the previous one, which was burned down during the Second French Intervention in Mexico.
The building was designed by the neoclassical engineer Carlos Zacarías Flores.
6. Visit the Amber Museum and the House of Jade
San Cristobal de las Casas is a city with many museums, and these two semi-precious and decorative elements each have their own.
The Amber Museum is the only one in the Americas dedicated to exhibiting objects made from fossil resin.
The Chiapanecos have been working with amber since pre-Hispanic times, using it first to make ceremonial pieces for personal use and later to manufacture commercial objects.
The House of Jade has 4 rooms dedicated to exhibiting pieces carved by Olmecs, Aztecs, Zapotecs, and Toltecs.
7. Discover the Sergio Castro Museum of Regional Costumes
This exhibit comprises indigenous costumes, ceremonial clothing, masks, ornamental pieces, sculptures, and tools from the indigenous cultures that live in Chiapas.
Most of the pieces have been gifts made by the Indians to the agronomist and cultural promoter Sergio Castro Martínez, who has dedicated almost his entire life to helping the indigenous peoples of Chiapas.
After accumulating a good inventory of objects, Castro Martinez decided to open the curious museum, which proceeds in social works.
8. Visit the Museum of History and Curiosities
Do you know the stories of the first automobile and the first bicycle that circulated through the streets of your city? And the very first piece of newspaper?
Thanks to this curious museum, the people of San Cristobal know how these and other novelties of the past arrived in their homeland.
The exhibit, aimed at teaching children and young people a little of San Cristobal de las Casas history entertainingly, is located on the second level of the Nuestras Raíces Restaurant.
It also features other creations that more than a hundred years ago caused a furor among the great-great-grandmothers and great-great-grandfathers of today’s San Cristobal kids, such as a 1914 sewing machine and an Edison phonograph that continues to play music just as it did for the first time in 1906.
Fans and currency collectors will be able to see the first bills that arrived in the vault of the Banco de Chiapas.
9. Explore the Museum of Mayan Medicine and the Altos de Chiapas Cultural Center
The millenary medical traditions of the Mayan people have a small museum in San Cristóbal de las Casas, where you can learn about the healing methods of shamans, bonesetters (physiotherapists), pulsadores (experts who diagnose by measuring the pulse), herbalists, and midwives.
You will also acquire indigenous natural medicine products made with medicinal plants cultivated by Chiapas Mayans.
The Cultural Center and museum operate in the cloisters of the Santo Domingo convent, with a collection of archaeological pieces and works of art from between the 17th and 20th centuries.
The center also walks through the historical chronology of Chiapas, starting with pre-Hispanic mythology and continuing with the conquest, evangelization, resistance of the natives, and some interesting facets of the viceregal era.
10. Admire El Chiflón near San Cristobal de Las Casas
As soon as you walk down the rustic stairway that leads to the waterfalls of El Chiflón, you can admire the waterfalls, the drizzle they generate, and the greenery of the surroundings.
On the way to the waterfalls, there are picturesque viewpoints from which you can take spectacular selfies with the landscape in the background.
At the viewpoint closest to the stream, you can feel the drizzle produced by the fall and the turbulence of the waters on your body.
As it falls, the water forms pools where you can bathe. The most important waterfall is Velo de Novia, with a height of 120 meters, followed by Arcoíris and La Quinceañera.
11. Have fun at El Arcotete Ecotourism Park
This park is an excellent attraction for fans of biodiversity, adventure sports, and speleology.
It is located 4 km from San Cristóbal de las Casas, in the middle of dense vegetation and species of the autochthonous flora of Chiapas, populated by different animals of the local fauna.
There is a network of caverns whose flanks form steep rock walls up to 40 meters high, which are used for ascending and descending by climbing and rappelling enthusiasts.
Inside the caverns are stalactites, stalagmites, and calcareous columns molded by nature, with whimsical appearances, some in the shape of large bones.
12. Enjoy El Coleto
This is a striking wooden bus, with the appearance of an old streetcar, that travels a tourist route through the streets of San Cristobal de las Casas.
It is ideal for people with some walking impediment or simply if you’re feeling lazy.
The circuit takes between 50 and 60 minutes, depending on traffic jams. The Coleto departs from Insurgentes Avenue and operates daily from 10 AM to 1 PM and from 4 PM to 7 PM.
13. Visit San Juan Chamula
This picturesque and traditionalist community is located 10 km from San Cristobal de las Casas and is mainly composed of members of the Tzotzil Mayan people of Chiapas.
The Tzotzil Chamulas have very particular religious customs. They maintain the floors of their temples with a covering formed by the leaves of a local pine tree that is sacred to this culture.
Likewise, the interior of the church is always illuminated by many candles.
The Tzotzil Chamulas do not allow taking pictures inside their temples, so don’t take the risk of being noticed by the always attentive guards.
14. Buy souvenirs of your trip to San Cristobal de las Casas
A good place to buy a souvenir is the Mercado de Dulces y Artesanías, located near the church of San Francisco.
You will find handmade items such as handbags, hats, purses, clothing, bracelets, rings, and silver ornaments and jewelry there.
The market is also a great candy store, where you can get the best antojitos of Chiapas and buy one piece or several in little baskets.
15. Taste the local food
San Cristobalense’s strong gastronomy is based on beef, pork, and chicken, prepared with the moderate use of chili peppers and aromatic herbs grown in the backyards of the houses and the nearby fields.
Another typical dish is the chiapaneco tamal, particularly the ball tamal and the spread. These “tamalitos” are not to be missed at the local’s homes on Saturday dinners.
San Cristóbal de las Casas has several upscale restaurants, such as Tierra y Cielo, LUM, and El Secreto.
In the more economical and popular segment are Burritos y Mezcales Funky, Taqueria y Mezcaleria Bendita, El Caldero, and La Tertulia.
I hope this guide serves you well to enjoy San Cristobal de las Casas at its fullest.
Also, if you have more time during your trip and want to dive deeper into our ancestors’ history and archaeological sites, you must visit Palenque!
Located only 220 km from San Cristobal (about 4 hours by bus or car). Let’s jump right in…
Guide to Palenque Chiapas
In Mexico, there are a lot of archaeological sites, some more famous and visited than others.
In any case, they are incredible places to visit, which is why I dedicate this entry to the archaeological zone of Palenque.
And I will also show you other places and attractions you should visit and enjoy while you are here.
Where to stay in Palenque?
It’s good to have a place to stay and spend the night in the place you are visiting, so if you are wondering where to sleep in Palenque, here are a couple of recommendations for you to stay.
KIN BALAM CABINS PALENQUE
Just 2 km from the Archaeological Zone of Palenque, the Cabañas Kin Balam Palenque offers comfortable rooms surrounded by green nature and a swimming pool.
A perfect lodging to get to know the archaeological zone, also at a very affordable price.
MAYA RUE HOTEL
This hotel is another good option with comfortable rooms, air conditioning, and tasty breakfast, and only 7 km from the archaeological site but close to the bus station.
- Bring water whenever you go outdoors and keep your body hydrated
- Don’t forget to wear comfortable clothes to be able to walk up and down steps
- It is always advisable to get good travel insurance
- Wear plenty of repellent. You don’t want to get bitten by mosquitoes
- Always remember to enjoy your trip, share with the locals, get off the tourist routes, walk around new places
Best things to do in Palenque Chiapas
This town is not only an archaeological zone but also other places such as museums and historical sites, as well as spaces with incredible nature that you will love to know.
But of course, first, let’s talk about the Archaeological Zone, the reason many tourists visit this city.
Explore the Archaeological Zone
The Archaeological Zone of Palenque includes the vestiges of one of the best-known Mayan architectural works in Mexico.
It is a Mayan city called Lakam Ha’, built approximately in the 3rd century BC.
Lakam Ha’ had its heyday in the 600s after Christ, although, after a few wars with other great Mayan cities, its inhabitants abandoned it completely.
Thus, the dense jungle took over Lakam Ha’, covering almost all the buildings and works of the Mayans.
Despite this, it was discovered in the XVI century and rediscovered in the XVIII century when the first explorations were carried out at this archaeological site.
Although it was not until the twentieth century that the area was restored and recovered because the authorities understood the importance and historical value of this place, which was also declared a World Heritage Site.
The main buildings that can be seen in the Archaeological Zone of Palenque are:
- The Palace
- The Temple of the Cross
- Temple of the Lion
- Temple of the Sun
- The Temple of the Inscriptions or B’olon Yej Teʼ Naah, also called: The Tomb of Pakal en Grande
- Aqueduct (yes, they had their own water supply system)
If you want to continue learning about Mayan history, you must visit the archaeological site of Toniná.
Toniná means The House of Stone, which surely refers to its large 75-meter-high pyramidal structure.
It was an ancient Mayan city, which ended in the 900s of our era, being founded a millennium later.
Among the main buildings of Toniná are:
- The Acropolis
- Two spaces for ball games, yes, the one that is like a mixture of soccer and basketball
- The Palace of the Underworld
- And the Palace of the Friezes
- In addition, there are several sculptures and monuments made of rocks
If you want to take a relaxing stroll through the city, the streets of downtown Palenque are perfect, and there you can enjoy the peaceful air that is breathed into its quiet streets and feel the rhythm of local life.
You can also visit other places like:
CHURCH OF SANTO DOMINGO
The church of Santo Domingo is the main religious building of Palenque; it is a place to visit if you go out to tour the city.
Also, if you visit Palenque between August 1 and 6, you can enjoy the festivities in honor of Santo Domingo; these have been celebrated since the town’s inauguration in 1568.
The artisan’s square is another place to visit in Palenque. It is a place full of things to see. And if you want to take a souvenir here, you will find a few options.
Agua Azul Waterfalls
If you are tired of hiking and want to take a break from the sun and the heat of the archaeological sites, then the Agua Azul Waterfalls are a place you must visit in the municipality of Chiapas.
The Agua Azul waterfalls live up to their name, as they are waterfalls that form natural pools of intense turquoise water.
A perfect place to relax and take some pictures.
Misol Há Waterfall
Another place you can enjoy in Chiapas, just a half-hour drive from Palenque, is the Misol Há waterfall.
Up to 45 meters high forms a perfect waterfall for a few dives.
Lak Puj Kul Textile Museum
A good way to learn about the history and culture of a place is to visit one of its museums. Here, you can visit the Lak Puj Kul Textile Museum.
It is a place where different garments are exhibited, full of color and with a very particular style of Mexican culture.
Almost three hours by car from Palenque and 40 minutes by boat is the archaeological site of Yaxchilán, another place you can visit if you have time to explore.
Yaxchilan was an ancient Mayan city and has some structures such as:
- Great Plaza
- Red Temple
- Great Acropolis
- There you can appreciate stelae and hieroglyphs carved on the stones
- A place worth visiting, especially if you are a lover of archaeological sites and history
If you decide to visit Yaxchilan, you should not miss the archaeological site of Bonampak (located an hour and a half drive from Yaxchilan).
Here you can learn more about Mayan history, see drawings painted on the walls, and admire the architecture.
It is also a good place to reflect on the constructive capacity that the Mayas developed thousands of years ago and ask yourself, “How did they do it?“
I hope you enjoyed this article, and don’t forget to comment and share your experiences with us. Vamonos!