San Cristóbal – Pueblo Mágico

The first question people invariably ask expatriates is, “So, why did you decide to move to San Cristóbal?” And the typical answer is, “We just fell in love with it.”

Our first glimpse of San Cristóbal de Las Casas was a small black and white photo in the Lonely Planet Guide to Mexico. Not a glamorous shot, but we thought it looked a bit like Boulder, Colorado…mountains in the background, pine trees, narrow streets. Since we had lived in Denver and had spent time in Boulder, we were enamored with the idea of green hills and crisp air in another country. The description of San Cristóbal suggested the same eclectic mix of old and new and people from all over the world, some with backpacks and guitars, others with just the desire to escape to a place “tranquilo.” We made a visit, loved it, visited again, and bought a piece of vacant property that John found while walking one early morning and peeking through the hole in an old weathered door on Calle Francisco I. Madero. That is where the story of La Joya Hotel began, but that’s for another time.

San Cristóbal is not the gringo’s stereotypical image of Mexico with saguaro cactus and sombreros. And it’s not the high-rise beach scene. It is one of Mexico’s special “Pueblos Mágicos” because it treasures and celebrates its colonial and cultural heritage. Imagine the town’s central park, surrounded by colonial buildings and an iconic cathedral, on a warm or even chilly evening, where people are casually dancing to music played on marimbas that originated in nearby Tuxtla Gutierrez. Or imagine strolling down one of the two “andador” walking streets, enjoying the colors and seeing a wonderful display of flower-embroidered clothing worn by the men, women, and children of Zinacantan. Now that you’re a part of the scene, take a look into boutique jewelry stores selling beautiful pieces of amber or fabric stores with handsome woven bed spreads, tablecloths, and beautiful clothing with Maya designs. Stick around for a week or two and imagine walking from shop to shop and getting to know the store keepers by name, or sitting at a small table and sipping a cerveza with some friends who have also “discovered” San Cristóbal.

Before wandering out of the city, there are places to enjoy within San Cristóbal. The Amber Museum, craft market, food market, the amazing collection of textiles and instruments gathered over the years by Sergio Castro, the cathedral and Santo Domingo baroque church, the law school with its handsome murals, Taller Lenateros where beautiful hand-made paper products are created, San Jolobil with its beautiful textiles, restaurants and coffee houses, bars, and street vendors. There are also special festivities during the year. In March/April San Cristóbal hosts the Feria de la Primavera with music, dancing, and art exhibits. Easter Week includes the re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross. Papier-mâché “Judases” that each make a political statement are blasted and burned to embers on Easter Saturday night. On Sunday there is an Easter parade that goes right by La Joya Hotel. Shortly after Easter is the Feria de la Primavera. In July we welcome the Festival de Jazz Las Casas, and in late October Las Casas Cervantino Baroque Festival.

For travelers who want to discover more of Chiapas, San Cristóbal is along “La Ruta Maya,” or Mayan Route. La Joya Hotel offers a point of departure for exploring the rich Maya culture, both past and present. Day trips to Zinacantan and San Juan Chamula and farther into the highlands of Tenejapa and other villages provide a glimpse into traditional weaving and how Christianity has been adapted to fit Maya beliefs. Intricate Maya textiles with symbolic designs distinguish one village from the other. Tonina, just two hours from San Cristóbal, is an interesting and often deserted terraced Maya ruin with vistas of a verdant valley. The stunning ruins of Palenque are a five-hour drive. Two hours beyond them are the historically significant murals of Bonampak, and still farther the ruins of Yaxchilan along the Usumacinta River.

There are river trips, waterfalls, jungles, and valleys in the clouds within a day’s trip from La Joya Hotel San Cristóbal. Sumidero Canyon is just 45 minutes away. Agua Azul and Misol-Ha are 2-4 hours to the East. El Chiflon is 2.5 hours south, and Montebello Lakes can be enjoyed on a day trip. Las Nubes is a paradise for adventure and eco-tourists and recommended for at least a two to three-day journey. Guacamayas, the home of the Lancondon Indians, is another natural wonder with exotic plants and birds and the Lancondon culture.

So, San Cristóbal de Las Casas is now our home. Are we still glad we settled here? Yep!






Celebrations and Events in San Cristóbal de Las Casas


Easter “Semana Santa” Good Friday brings the re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross.  Easter Saturday is a time to review the political statements represented by each elaborate paper-mache “Judas” in the center’s courtyard. Watch these cartoons of historical and contemporary personalities explode at 10:00 p.m. Easter Sunday Morning there is a parade that goes right by La Joya Hotel.
Feria de la Primavera Seven days after Easter Sunday, there is music dancing, art, exhibits and bullfights.
Corpus Cristi The "Zocalo" town center is filled with tables of sweets 60 days after Easter.
Early July A week full of jazz at the Festival de Jazz Las Casas.
July 17-25 Festival for San Cristóbal the Martyr with activities around San Cristóbalista church on the hill.
August Ambar Expo with exposition of crafts made by local artisans.
Late Oct Las Casas Cervantino Baroque Festival with national and international artist groups giving open air concerts, theater plays, and exhibitions.
Nov 1-2 All Saints Day and Dia de los Muertos. Visit the main cemetery with its eclectic collection of old and new gravesite houses and altars. Then visit Chamula and Zinacantan by mid morning.
Dec 5-12 Dia de La Virgin de Guadalupe, the Patron Saint of Mexico, with hundreds of tag teams of youth from around the country who come back to San Cristóbal for a celebration after visiting Mexico City, Oaxaca, or Guatemala.
Dec 16-24 La Posada processions take place in many of the barrios nine days before Christmas. Our favorite is the posada in El Cerillo, just a block East behind the Santo Domingo Church. Go to the church in El Cerillo before 5pm to see the children and adults preparing for their neighborhood visit. Then join them as they walk to nearby homes.


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