Traveling from Tuxtla Gutiérrez to San Cristóbal de las Casas takes less than two hours, yet it’s a fantastic journey winding up and over mountains, through cloud forests, at times with near zero visability, then descending back down into the broad Jovel valley where San Cristóbal lies. Here the clear highland light illuminates the surrounding countryside creating bold, richly colored landscapes that are hard to forget, and an overwhelming feeling of anticipation and excitement sets in as the mountains finally give way and the town comes into view.
At an elevation of 2,100 meters, this Spanish-colonial town is chilly year-round and significantly cooler than many of the towns along the coast. Surrounded by mountains, San Cristóbal’s narrow cobblestone streets are lined with snug, brightly colored buildings that house a cosmopolitan array of shops, cafés and restaurants. A variety of accommodations, travel agencies and language schools add to the towns’ appeal and several interesting museums, cinema houses and artisans’ markets round out the mix. With so much going on it’s hard to stay less than a week and quite possible to hang around for much longer without becoming bored or running out of things to do.
Several blocks of andadores, or pedestrian walkways, extend through the center of town and converge on the central plaza, or Zocalo. Lined with benches, they’re the perfect place to spend an hour, or two, or three taking in the sights and savoring a cup of organic, fair-trade Chiapas coffee before perusing the crafts at one of the local artisans’ markets or embarking on a day trip or guided tour to one of the outlying villages to experience first hand the indigenous way of life. Despite all its modernity, San Cristóbal de las Casas is located at the heart of a region with a unique indigenous character and the town remains deeply embedded in the world of the modern Maya.
A well-known tourist destination since the 1970’s, San Cristóbal has been gaining in popularity ever since, and was catapulted onto the International radar when, on January 1, 1994, the Zapatista rebels choose it as a base from which to launch their revolution. Planned to coincide with the initiation of NAFTA, the EZLN occupied San Cristóbal for several days before being pushed out by the Mexican army. Today their fight to improve the lives of Mexico’s indigenous population continues and their presence is visible throughout the region, especially in outlying villages, as well as in the form of propaganda via the internet and as t-shirts, crafts, dolls and the like, most marketed to tourists on the streets of San Cristóbal de las Casas.