San Cristobal de las Casas Travel Guide

Nestled in a valley and surrounded by forests and hills, the colonial village of San Cristobal de las Casas is the jewel in the centre of the Chiapas highlands. It's close to a number of traditional Mayan villages and still retains a palpable indigenous soul, which coexists harmoniously with its colonial charm.

The town was originally established as a Spanish stronghold against the surrounding indigenous communities. Today, it's a picturesque place of cobbled lanes and long rambling streets that undulate with the hilly terrain, squat whitewashed houses with red tiled roofs, flower-filled patios, wrought iron balconies, shady plazas, ornate facades and lavish churches. The main plaza was the Spanish centre of town and is the best place to sit and watch life pass by. The cathedral dominates the northern side and its steps are always busy with playful children, arriving and departing worshippers and vendors. North of the plaza, the daily market is a fascinating bustle of indigenous life and a trading space for local produce and household goods.

The streets and plazas are filled with the vibrancy of people from the surrounding villages who give the town its character and dominate its trade. The region is known for its colourful handicrafts, traditional markets and fascinating local fiestas, legends and mystical ceremonies that are influenced by the ancient Mayan traditions. Each barrio or neighbourhood of the city has a distinctive identity, rooted in the old custom of trade, with candle making, carpentry or blacksmith shops the predominant feature in each.

San Cristobal is an invigorating yet peaceful town, a good base from which to enjoy the graceful colonial atmosphere and to explore the highland region and the outlying Indian villages. The grand Mayan site at Palenque can be visited from here, as well as Agua Azul, a dazzling series of waterfalls and turquoise pools that are one of Mexico's natural wonders.