San Cristobal de las Casas
San Cristobal de las Casas, a popular stop-over between Guatemala and Mexico, offers many things to do on day trips to Mayan ruins, nature preserves, museums and other attractions. Just eight hours from Lake Atitlan by shuttle, about eleven from Antigua, San Cristobal de las Casas makes a great getaway for people who live in Guatemala.
Sumidero Canyon: One of Mexico's Greatest Natural Wonders
One of the top natural wonders of the world, Sumidero Canyon is forty-five minutes from San Cristobal. The Rio Grijalva winds through towering limestone cliffs on its way to the Gulf of Mexico, and the thrilling boat ride, birds, deer and other wildlife in this environmentally protected area make Sumidero Canyon a must-see attraction.
Boats depart from the town of Chiapas de Corzo for a two-hour ride with pelicans, river turtles and crocodiles lazing on the shore. It includes a stop at the Cave of Colors, which conceals an image of the Virgin de Guadalupe on the wall. Natural formations like the Christmas Tree will astonish the most jaded traveller as the boat passes beneath wispy waterfalls. The boat cost 180 pesos in July, 2014, with two boat outfits to choose from.
Tours leave from San Cristobal, but you can ride in a new and comfortable “colectivo” for 50 pesos. Find them beside the OCC bus station. Taxis take you from the highway outside Chiapas de Corzo to the docks; you have to taxi back to return to San Cristobal or Tuxtla Guttierez, the capital of Chiapas.
Pre-Olmec Ruins at Chiapas de Corzo near San Cris
A small archaeological site is just outside town. A taxi (20 pesos) will get you there in ten minutes, so the entire visit will take an hour to enjoy the vistas and ancient ruins high in an area that has been continually inhabited for more than 1,400 years.
The Rattle and Hum of Tuxtla
A metropolis of a half-million people, Tuxtla Guttierez is the perfect fix for anyone who misses the rattle and hum of a big city. Three museums – anthropology and archaeology, palaeontology, and art – offer a full day of sightseeing. Restaurants of all sorts are near the Parque de Marimbas, which has free music in the evenings, attended by locals who dance the night away. Taxis cost 40 pesos around the main part of town.
When you get to town, grab a cab to the museums or park. To return, taxi to the San Cristobal colectivo station, again 50 pesos. The new highway is a breathtaking trip in itself, high in the mountains and with panoramic vistas.
The Mayan Ruins of Tonina
Everyone knows about Palenque, which is eight hours from San Cris. But few people visit the equally impressive ruins of Tonina, only two hours from San Cris on a 50-peso colectivo. Built acropolis-style on a hill outside Ocosingo, Tonina and its temples, observatories, ball courts and maze can be covered on a day trip, including the big museum. It cost 48 pesos on weekdays, free on Sundays.
Chamula, a Tzotzil Village
Tours and horseback rides visit the Tzotzil Maya village of Chamula, a treasure for those you want to discover more about contemporary Mayan culture. Horseback rides to Chamula and a nearby eco-park and museum depart from Hotel San Martin on Real de Guadalupe in San Cris.
San Cristobal Sights and Shopping
Even with museums devoted to jade, amber and textiles, and other sights to see, San Cris itself is the key attraction. There’s a European feel of Real de Guadalupe, the main tourism drag, where sidewalk cafes and bars line the pedestrian walkway.
Around the corner from cathedral at the main park, one street bustles with crowds of shoppers dashing in and out of specialty stores. At the end, a huge public market offers all kinds of handmade goods from the area and as far away as Yucatan and Oaxaca.
Iconos Maya, on Guadalupe around the corner from the park, has custom amulets, bracelets and other jewellery with the nahuales. And this shop is worth checking out even if you never heard of the nahuales.
For English-language books, visit Abuelita’s Books. From the park, walk up Guadalupe two blocks, turn right at Tonzanin and look for the big wooden sign on the right side.
Hotels and Hostel in San Cristobal
Planet Hostel reps will greet you in the park with fliers offering a free taxi ride just to check the place out. Basic rates are around 100 pesos.
Very nice and convenient hotels rooms can be found right on Real de Guadalupe. Hotel Posada Tepeyac, at Real de Guadalupe and Avenida San Cristobal, charges 400 pesos for a spacious double with fantastic bathrooms, comfortable beds, cable TV and free Wi-Fi downstairs. It has a restaurant, handy for rainy days. A few blocks closer to the park, Hotel San Martin had doubles for 350 pesos.
San Cristobal Dining and Bars
The range of restaurants is staggering, from Argentine steak houses to pizza to Mexican, of course. ChillisandFood, near Hotel San Marino, serves the town’s tastiest molé. For a touch of class, eat across the street from the Mario, in a hacienda-style courtyard with candles hanging from a central tree. Or hang out on the street with all the locals at the wine bar. While some restaurants are pricey, others are just as reasonable if not more so than San Pedro restaurants and bars such as Ventana Blue and Alegre Pub.
At night, the lighting gives a surreal effect that makes you feel as if you’re on a Hollywood set. Live jazz and other music wafts down Real de Guadalupe on some evenings, providing a unique sound track. A busy street by day, dawn finds it deserted.ß
Pastry shops are everywhere. You’ll find an Oxxo, the convenience store chain, on practically every other corner, open 24/7 for junk food, booze and scratch-off tickets. A pharmacy is on one corner at the park. Lots of bars and clubs with live music are either on the main street or close enough that you can hear it from a sidewalk cafe.
Transportation to San Cristobal from Lake Atitlan
The eight-hour trip by a spacious, comfortable shuttle from Panajachel leavse about 7:00 AM, and theywait for the first boats from San Pedro and San Marcos. (In San Pedro, see Tornado Tours or Casa Verde in the zona viva.)
Changing Quetzales and other Currency
Banks will not quetzales, though some shops and other establishments do, and sometimes won’t even change dollars. There are several casas de cambio, but you’ll get a far better deal while crossing the border, so forget Lonely Planet’s lame advice about changing as little as possible. (It helps to check the exchange rate and don’t forget to negotiate.) But the exchange houses in San Cris are better for changing European and other currencies.