Planning a trip to San Cristóbal de las Casas? Throw all maps and guides away. We are Jan and Karin and in this article, we will tell you what to see in San Cristóbal. And more importantly, we will tell you why it might be a smart move to cross it off your vacation plan and visit other cities instead.
This useful guide to San Cristóbal de las Casas will show you:
- basic facts about San Cristóbal
- how to get to San Cristóbal
- top 5 places to see in San Cristóbal
- 3 best activities to do around: Sumidero Canyon, Chiflón Waterfall, and El Arcotete
- restaurants in San Cristóbal
- why we think San Cristóbal is overrated
Basic facts about San Cristóbal de las Casas
San Cristóbal, located in Chiapas, Mexico, is home to almost 200,000 inhabitants. And also at least 200,000 tourists, if I had to guess. It’s one of the most promoted Mexico’s cities, securing its position on the Mexican version of the UNESCO list: Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns).
Founded in 1528, San Cristóbal is a popular site for all history nerds and fans. It’s full of Spanish colonial buildings, including numerous churches, chapels, and museums. We’ll take a closer look at them later in the article.
San Cristóbal is not only surrounded by hills; it is in the hills. The altitude of 2,200 meters (7,200 feet) above sea level means that the city is pretty cold. It was around 10 °C (50 °F) when we visited it in December.
How to get to San Cristóbal de las Casas?
San Cristóbal is located between Tuxtla Gutiérrez and Comitán, approximately an hour´s drive from both.
If you’re traveling by car, you’ll easily get to San Cristóbal from the airport in Tuxtla. Well, maybe not so easily. Driving in Mexico is no walk in the park. And especially in such a popular city as San Cristóbal. We were there during COVID time so we expected the traffic to be fine. We were wrong. Driving in the middle of the gridlocks in San Cristóbal was pure suffering.
The good news, however, is that the Alamo car rental is at the airport so you won’t have to pour blood, sweat, and tears to get a car.
No plans to rent a car? Never mind, a direct bus route goes from close cities on a regular basis. For example, the buses from/to Tuxtla Gutiérrez go every hour. Read about our travel experience in Mexico during COVID-19.
What to see in San Cristóbal?
San Cristóbal is a nice place in itself—it’s all cobblestone streets, cozy cafés, and shops with souvenirs. However, these five places deserve a closer inspection:
1. The Museum of Amber
The fans of Jurassic Park will be over the moon with the insects captured in amber in Museo del Ámbar. Not only there are weird creatures captured in stone, but the museum also wins extra points for English descriptions and a gift shop. One hour is enough for the visit.
- Opening hours: 10 AM – 2 PM & 4 PM – 7 PM, closed on Monday
- Price: 30 Mexican pesos (1.50 US dollars)
- Website: http://museodelambardechiapas.org.mx/en/home/
- Address: La Merced, Calle Diego de Mazariegos S/N, Barrio de la Merced, 29240 San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chis., Mexico
2. Templo Santo Domingo
You shouldn’t miss Templo Santo Domingo, the most beautiful church in San Cristóbal de las Casas. The former Dominican monastery, with its reliefs, figures, and patterns, golden and pink, is truly photogenic.
- Address: 29240, Av 20 de Noviembre 36, Barrio de Mexicanos, 29240 San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chis., Mexico
3. Orquídeas Moxviquil (botanical garden)
The botanical garden called Orquídeas Moxviquil shows 25,000 plants, including 418 species typical for the state of Chiapas, some of them near extinction. Orchids, medicinal herbs, a statue garden, a cave, and a lagoon all make the garden the perfect place for relaxation and nature admiration. Or for sweating off, if you decide to take a hike through the garden, including a few steep slopes.
Minus points: All texts and descriptions are only in Spanish.
- Opening hours: 9 AM – 5 PM from Monday to Saturday, 9 AM – 4 PM on Sunday
- Price: 80 pesos (4 US dollars)
- Website: https://www.orquideaschiapas.com/
- Address: Periférico Norte 4, Ojo de Agua, 29220 San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chis., Mexico
4. The cathedral of San Cristóbal de las Casas
Yellow, baroque, and obviously Spanish. The cathedral was built in the 16th century by the conquistador Diego de Mazariegos, the founder of the city. The building isn’t as interesting as, for example, the Church of Santo Domingo in Puebla, but it’s the symbol of San Cristóbal de las Casas. And it’s in the center of the city, so you can’t make a mistake by briefly coming by to take a pic.
- Address: Plaza 31 de Marzo Norte No. 3, Centro, 29200 San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chis., Mexico
This is me, dazzled by sunlight in front of the cathedral:
The cathedral is also a significant religious site, visited by Papa Francesco in 2016. It serves as the Roman Catholic diocese. (Did you know that 89% of Mexicans are Christians?)
Tip: Around 5 minutes walking from the cathedral there is Hotel Bo. Its cool design (inside and out!) is complemented by its wonderful staff and a great on-site restaurant that serves Mexican and international dishes.
Prices start at USD 207 for 2 people.
Just fyi, you book a hotel in Mexico (or anywhere else) through our booking.com affiliate links, we’ll get a small (like, really small) commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you so much! We’ve sprinkled hotel tips throughout this article.
5. Arco del Carmen
Being a former city gateway from the 17th century, Arco del Carmen is the perfect illustration of the Mudéjar style. Just in case you haven’t heard of it: that’s the ornamental decorative style used mostly in Spain, influenced by the Arabic culture. You can read about other interesting facts about Mexican culture in my 12 facts about Mexico article.
- Address: Miguel Hidalgo S/N, Centro, 29250 San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chis., Mexico
A nice, cobblestone street full of cafés and other lovely stuff, leads towards the arc, and the Carmen Church stands right next to it. I wouldn’t even mention it, if it wasn’t for the mysterious story attached to the place. Do you want to hear it? I know you do. Here it is:
Doña Josefina was an innocent, religious woman, devoted to helping others. Goodness itself. One night, she heard the church bells calling for a mass, suspiciously early. She didn’t hesitate for a second and went to the church. (That’s what all of us would do, right? Walk into the church in the middle of the night, just because the bells are ringing.)
She was sitting in the church and listening to the mass, when she suddenly noticed an unusual, slightly disturbing thing: everyone else in the church was headless. All startled, she jumped up and ran towards the priest. And you guess what: he had no head either. He told her: “Doña Josefina, you have nothing to do here. This is a mass for the dead.” (How he said it when he had no head, I don’t know.)
Since that time, it’s been believed that San Cristóbal, and Carmen Church especially, is strongly connected to the world of non-living.
Day trips from San Cristóbal de las Casas
San Cristóbal is pretty, but you’ll start getting incredibly bored if you stay there for too long. And why do that to yourself? Instead, pack your bag and get ready to explore the rest of Chiapas! These are three amazing day trips from San Cristóbal that you shouldn’t miss:
1. Canyon Sumidero (an hour from San Cristóbal)
One could almost think that Canyon Sumidero was created just by copy-pasting the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. Almost. It consists of the Grijalva river surrounded by steep limestone walls, 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) high, and is home to many exotic species, including crocodiles, pumas, and jaguars. The surrounding jungle offers plentiful orchids, palms, and cactuses. Simply put, Sumidero Canyon is a paradise for all nature lovers, geology geeks, animal enthusiasts, and biology fans. That’s why I placed it in my 10 Best Hikes in Mexico article.
How to get there from San Cristóbal de las Casas?
The fastest way to get from San Cristóbal de las Casas to Canyon Sumidero is by following the road towards Tuxtla Gutiérrez, and turning left to Chiapa de Corzo just before you reach Tuxtla. The ride is 55 kilometers (34 miles) long and takes about an hour.
In Chiapa de Corzo, boat tours will take you to the canyon for 600 Mexican pesos (30 US dollars), and you’ll see rapids, waterfalls, the tallest dam in North America, and an absurd pink cave with the picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
- Opening hours: the boats set off between 8 AM and 3 PM daily
- Price: 600 Mexican pesos (30 US dollars)
- Address: Capitán Vicente López 7, San Jacinto, 29160 Chiapa de Corzo, Chis., Mexico
Boats aren’t the only way—you can visit the place by car or on foot. Find out more in the article about Canyon Sumidero, full of tips and tricks to enjoy the canyon to the fullest.
Hotel tip: I’d recommend this beautiful hotel in the center of San Cristóbal. Besides its great location, Casa de Alma takes pride in its tasty food, beautiful design, gym, etc. The prices start at USD 160.
2. Chiflón Waterfall (2.5 hours from San Cristobal)
Cascada el Chiflón is a series of five roaring waterfalls on a crystal-clear turquoise river. Pathways lead alongside the water, taking you to one waterfall at a time—each more epic than the previous one. Chiflón Waterfall belongs my list of top 10 places to visit in Mexico
The first cascade you’ll stumble upon is Cascada El Suspiro, a starter to warm you up for what’s to come. Next in the line is Cascada Ala de Ángel, water falling into a pool strewn with trees and boulders. And then, one waterfall to rule them all, Cascada Velo de Novia comes. And that’s the true king of waterfalls.
Roaring, spraying you with drops of water even from the distance, Cascada Velo de Novia (The Bridal Veil in translation) is 80 meters (260 feet) tall and incredibly powerful. It takes down the water from Chiapas’ uplands, bringing it to the Central Valley—to be absorbed by sugarcane plants.
And if that’s not enough for you, you can dive into the waters of adrenaline and zip-line the cascades! There are two lines to choose from: 300 and 600 meters (985 and 1,970 feet) long.
Warning: The paths frame both river banks, but there is no bridge. That means you’ll have to pick the side at the beginning and stick to it to the very end. Choose wisely, my friend.
Luckily, both sides are right (pun intended), as both have different views to offer, equally beautiful. We chose the left side, and if I was to choose again, I would spend much more time at Chiflón waterfalls—at least five hours—and visit both.
- Opening hours: 7:30 AM – 5 PM daily (visit it in the morning to avoid the crowds)
- Price: 50 Mexican pesos (2.5 US dollars)
- Address: Ejido, San Cristobalito, 30100 Tzimol, Chis., Mexico
3. El Arcotete (20 minutes from San Cristóbal)
If you visit San Cristóbal de las Casas, El Arcotete is close at hand. It’s a majestic cave system, and it’s off the beaten path. This means it won’t be chock-full of tourists like San Cristóbal!
Boredom is a non-existent word in El Arcotete Ecotourism Park. There are plenty of adventurous activities to do: zip-lining, rock climbing, exploring the caves… and you won’t die of starvation either. The place offers a cozy restaurant and a snack bar.
- Opening hours: 8 AM – 5 PM
- Price: 10 Mexican pesos (0.5 US dollar) as the entrance fee + 15 Mexican pesos (0.75 US dollars) to visit the caves
- Address: Carretera Rumbo aTenejapa km 8 Ejido Río, Del Arcotete N, Rìo Arcotete, 29200 San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chis., Mexico
Restaurants in San Cristóbal
Looking for a place to have a bite of something truly Mexican? You won’t make a mistake by visiting La Lupe. The restaurant is friendly, colorful, and serves burritos, tortillas, tacos, and other dishes typical for Mexican cuisine.
- Opening hours: 7 AM – 0 AM daily
- Address: Real de Guadalupe 25, Zona Centro, 29230 San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chis., Mexico
El Secreto restaurant is also a good choice. A bit more fancy and a bit less Mexican than La Lupe, it offers fine dining like out of this world. Duck tacos, filete Jovel, octopus… all you ever dreamed of. And the service is beyond excellent. If you want to keep the bill low, don’t go there—not because it is expensive (it is, though) but because you’ll want to eat everything on the menu!
- Opening hours: 7 AM – 11 PM daily
- Address: Prol. 1o. de Marzo 15, La Isla, 29200 San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chis., Mexico
Why I think San Cristóbal is overrated
Even though San Cristóbal is supposed to be magical, it’s approximately as magical as the card guessing trick—probably fine, but we have seen it a thousand times. There are a bazillion nice streets, houses, restaurants… But that’s the problem, you see? They’re just nice, nothing more. You can see the same streets, houses, and restaurants basically everywhere.
Moreover, it’s absolutely overcrowded. We kept getting stuck in gridlocks and bumped into dozens of tourists in every street.
That’s why you should consider crossing San Cristóbal off your list and visiting for example some of my top 10 places to visit in Mexico instead. Why? They’re comparable to San Cristóbal in terms of nice places and attractions—only they are bigger, less crowded, and have more to offer.
Still hesitating? Read my article about top 10 places in Puebla.
Don’t miss out on the best of Mexico
Are you ready to explore more of Mexico? Check out more guides to the best attractions in Mexico, such as: