Located in the highlands of the Guatemala-bordering and likewise largely Maya state of Chiapas, is the beautiful city of San Cristobal, Mexico. The former capital of Chiapas, San Cristobal de las Casas is now the state’s major showcase of pure beauty: cobbled streets shadowed by rows of sparkling yellow and blue and red colonial buildings, churches, shops, restaurants and museums, Indigenous people in traditional costume, vibrant culture, options for health and wellness and cooking; a stone’s throw from the ruins of Palenque and some of the most beautiful waterfalls and lakes in Mexico; all nestled in towering green jungle clad mountains.
Wondering what to do in San Cristobal de las Casas? The city and its surroundings are a great place for mental relaxation and spiritual resetting. Americans will find a prime example of the difference of Latin American culture that they might not have been previously exposed to: a sense of calm, a subsiding of the sometimes arbitrary pressures and stresses of everyday life in the States. Walking around the sunny streets is a meditative and euphoric experience, and San Cristobal has a dozen historic neighborhoods to slowly pick one’s way through. La Zona Centro, El Cerillo neighborhood, Guadalupe, Merced, San Ramon, and Barrio de los Mexicanos are excellent places to start, places to find Mayan wares and antiques and bakeries and churches and plazas among the mysterious cobbled rainbow streets.
Getting out of the city will bring travelers to other rejuvenating and exciting sites. One tour will take people to the Lagunas de Montebello National Park to see some of the most beautiful turquoise lakes in Mexico, places to swim and boat and visit cenotes and caves; visitors can then see El Chiflon, a waterfall of sheer terraced pools cutting down a jungle hillside. Such activities will provide both exercise and the most calming views imaginable. Swimming in cenotes and hiking through jungle are experiences that have a uniquely invigorating and centering personality not usually familiar to American travelers.
Participating in a Palenque ruins tour is the best way outside of Guatemala and the Yucatán to experience the wonders of the Old Maya civilization. One of the most important of the ancient Mayan cities, Palenque reached its peak around 600 AD and fell two centuries later. These jungle ruins are filled with massive stone wonders, pyramids and temples and residential areas and a ball court. There are innumerable stelae and engravings, religious depictions, carvings of the great gods. One of the wonders of the ancient world, Palenque (and its sister cities) ranks with Giza and the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat. Near the site are more waterfalls and swimming holes to enjoy.
Back in the city, there are historic churches, the Amber Museum, the Jade Museum, the Casa Na Bolom – the house of a famous archaeologist and adventurer, now a museum and hotel. There are craft markets, and there are yoga studios and wellness retreats, cute bed and breakfasts, and Mexican cooking classes. San Cristobal de las Casas is truly worthy of an extended visit. It is a unique destination in Mexico, with a uniquely rejuvenating effect on the soul. For those in need of a resetting and relaxing kind of vacation from the struggles of daily life in the U.S., this is a place that comes highly recommended.