San Juan Chamula, a small town located about 6 miles northwest of San Cristobal de las Casas, is home to a fiercely independent Tzotzil community, with proud Mexican traditions. Recognized as one of the largest indigenous groups in Chiapas, this group makes up roughly one third of the state’s indigenous population.
Like neighboring Zinacantan, the Chamulas also are very private people. They do not respond well to people taking pictures of them or their temples. Like other indigenous communities in this region, they can be identified by the clothes they wear, in this case distinctive purples and pinks predominate. Sheep are sacred here, they are treated, protected and mourned as any other member of the family. If you are driving through this region take extreme precautions with sheep that may wander into the road.
If you plan to visit Chiapas, and San Juan Chamula in particular, you’ll want to step inside the Cathedral San Juan Bautista. Statues of saints line the interior walls and the floor of the church is covered in pine needles and lit candles. Visitors are welcome to observe the prayer rituals, but it’s forbidden to take photos inside the church.
The Mayan Medicine Museum in San Cristobal focuses on the history and theory of indigenous Mayan culture, including many of the rituals that are practiced in San Juan Chamula. If you are interested in learning more about these fascinating traditions and beliefs, it’s well worth a visit.
The market square directly in front of the temple provides an opportunity to buy local foods, crafts and textiles. Expect a barrage of ambulant vendors to approach you offering their chattels for sale, and be sure to bring plenty of small bills and loose change to shop here.
If you are on the lookout for adventure tours, a boat tour of the Sumidero Canyon is the quintessential day trip to take from San Cristobal de las Casas. It’s an extremely beautiful place, not too far to reach, and remains an inexpensive excursion from San Cristobal de las Casas.