Founded by Spanish Conquistadors in 1528, the cobblestone streets and pastel-coloured buildings of San Cristobal de las Casas have seemingly changed little in five centuries. Isolated in the mountains of Chiapas, some 2200 metres above sea level, the colonial feel of the city hides an indigenous culture that was never suppressed by the Spanish. 

As you wander along historic streets, where Franciscan churches and Catholic cathedrals rise high above the skyline, you’ll hear the sounds of Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Chol, and countless of local languages carrying on the mountain winds. The grand plazas and public buildings tell a tale of conquest gone awry, and in 1994, San Cristobal de las Casas was the scene of an infamous guerilla uprising by the left-leaning, indigenous army of the Zapatistas. 

Revolution is always simmering away under the surface in this city, which is just one reason why it’s such an exciting place to visit. Take a walking tour to learn more about the history, visit local markets and museums to explore the indigenous culture and hike to viewpoints high above the city for sweeping panoramas of the mountains. Delve into the origins of the Zapatista movement, see the mad religious rituals in San Juan de Chamula, take a day trip to natural sights like the Sumidero Canyon or eat your way around the best taquerias in San Cristobal de las Casas.

If you’re planning a trip to Chiapas, then keep reading, as we explore the best things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas. 

The Best Things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas

From Spanish churches to guerilla holdouts, here are the best things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas:

1. Explore the historic centre of San Cristobal de las Casas

Start your adventure in the heart of San Cristobal. The city’s historic centre is home to traditional Spanish colonial buildings, historic churches and busy local markets.

San Cristobal de las Casas is a stunning mosaic of pastel hues and cobblestone pathways, where time seems to dally amidst the colonial grandeur. As you meander along the narrow lanes, you’ll be enveloped by the city’s rich heritage as you begin your journey at Plaza 31 de Marzo, the main public square in San Cristobal de las Casas.

The square is overlooked by the Catedral de San Cristobal, which dates back to the city’s founding in 1528 (although it took centuries to be completed, thanks to uprisings and earthquakes!).

This grand edifice, with its striking yellow facade and intricate baroque details, is a testament to the city’s colonial legacy, while further along, down the Real de Guadalupe, you’ll find more colonial buildings lining this busy pedestrianised avenue that’s lined by boutique shops, art galleries, wine bars, and cafes. 

Read more: Is Mexico a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

2. Visit the Catedral de San Cristobal de las Casas

Standing proudly in the heart of Plaza 31 de Marzo, the Catedral de San Cristobal is a lasting legacy of the city’s colonial past. Dating back to 1528, construction was begun on the orders of the Conquistadors who conquered Chiapas, as they attempted to cement Spanish rule through the Catholic church. 

Inside, you’ll find a curious place of worship that draws on the Spanish and even Moorish architecture, while somehow remaining faithful to indigenous customs. From the gilded altar to the finely-carved wooden pulpit, every corner of the cathedral whispers tales of devotion and history.

And yet, the Catedral de San Cristobal is more than an architectural marvel. It serves as the spiritual heart of the city, a place where locals gather to share moments of celebration and solace, where the echoes of prayers and the harmony of hymns are woven into the city’s daily soundtrack.

Read more: 18 Things to Do in Chiapas

3. Join a Walking Tour of San Cristobal de las Casas

San Cristobal de las Casas, with its cobblestone streets, colourful markets, and stunning colonial architecture, lends itself perfectly to exploration on foot. Here’s how to undertake a walking tour of this enchanting city. 

Begin your journey at the Plaza 31 de Marzo. Dominated by the imposing Catedral de San Cristobal, it’s a bustling hub where you can absorb the local atmosphere. Explore the cathedral, appreciating its unique blend of architectural styles.

Next, stroll down the picturesque Real de Guadalupe, a pedestrian-only avenue lined with restaurants, shops, and cafes. As you meander, take time to appreciate the colourful colonial buildings and the beautiful Iglesia de Guadalupe at the street’s end.

From there, make your way to the Mercado Municipal, a bustling market where you can indulge in local food, buy handcrafted souvenirs, and soak up the lively atmosphere.

Your next stop is the Templo de Santo Domingo, an architectural gem with its detailed Baroque façade. Adjacent to the church, explore the artisan market where local craftsmen sell their wares.

Take a stroll by yourself, or better yet, join a walking tour and be led around the city by a local guide. Free Walking Tours (you only pay what you feel the tour was worth) depart daily at 10 am and 4 pm from Plaza de la Paz. 

Read more: How Many States in Mexico? Everything You Need to Know.

4. Climb the 90 steps up to the Iglesia de Guadalupe

This beautiful church, located on a hill overlooking the city, offers breathtaking views. The climb up is one of the best things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas, and it’s well worth the effort for the panorama alone.

Perched atop a hill in the eastern part of the city, the Iglesia de Guadalupe has long been a beacon for the Catholic faith. Ascending the ninety-odd steps to the church is almost like embarking on a mini-pilgrimage, but for the non-religious, you’ll be rewarded with a sweeping view of the city below.

Distinguished by its belfry and baroque facade, the Iglesia de Guadalupe was constructed in the 18th century. Its off-white exterior is adorned with ornate designs that shine under the Mexican sun, while inside, vivid artworks in the often gruesome style favoured by Catholics line the walls. In the centre of the church, the venerated image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is enshrined, her presence adding a palpable aura of reverence when mass is in service

Read more: How Many Countries Are in North America? Everything You Need to Know.

5. Visit San Cristobal de las Casas’ local markets

If you’re looking for fun things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas, then why not step into a riot of colour and culture at the city’s local markets? Start with the Mercado Municipal de Dulces y Artesanías, where you’ll find a treasure trove of handcrafted goods, local sweets and traditional textiles.

For an authentic gastronomic adventure, venture into Mercado Viejo (the Old Market), where rows upon rows of vendors provide a smorgasbord of local produce – from the fiery chillies and herbs integral to Mexican cuisine to exotic fruits and home-made cheeses. Take the opportunity to sample a few glasses of ‘Pox’ (pronounced ‘Poshe’), a strong local drink that’s a favourite in the city.

6. Experience the phenomenon of ‘Zapaturismo’ in San Cristobal de las Casas

A unique form of tourism has emerged in San Cristobal de las Casas, a type of tourism which is deeply rooted in the socio-political fabric of Chiapas. This is Zapaturismo, a blend of exploration and education that takes you into the heart of the Zapatista movement, a guerilla group that has fought for indigenous rights in Mexico since 1994.

Zapaturismo is not your conventional touristic fare. It’s an immersive journey, an opportunity to connect with the Zapatistas’ quest for justice and autonomy. Start by visiting TierrAdentro, a cultural centre and restaurant in the centre of San Cristobal de las Casas. You’ll learn more about the movement, while the proceeds from your breakfast, lunch or dinner help fund the ongoing revolution.

At Foro Cultural Kinoki, regular movie and documentary screenings are held that explain the Zapatista movement’s history and politics, while all over San Cristobal de las Casas, you can purchase Zapatista-themed souvenirs from locals.

You can also visit the caracoles, the autonomous municipalities governed by the Zapatistas, including the ‘model village’ of Oventic (see more below). Meet the people, listen to their stories, and observe how they’ve built an alternative society within their territories. Take in the powerful murals and graffiti that express their ideals, struggle, and resilience. Zapaturismo is more than just tourism; it’s a call to witness, understand, respect, and carry with you a chapter of Chiapas’ contemporary history. Even if you don’t agree with their left-wing ideals, Zapaturismo is travel in its most exciting and enriching form!

7. Visit the Zapatistas in Oventic

A journey from San Cristobal de las Casas to Oventic, the ‘model village’ and guerilla headquarters of the Zapatista movement, is a journey through layers of contemporary history, cultural resilience, and political activism. Located in the highlands of Chiapas, Oventic offers an intriguing glimpse into the world of an autonomous, left-leaning guerilla group that has shaped the socio-political landscape of the region since they burst onto the scene with a Coup D’etat in 1994. 

As you approach the gates of Oventic, you’re greeted by murals – vibrant, poignant, and unflinchingly political – splashed across walls and buildings. The iconography, a testament to the Zapatista’s struggle for indigenous rights, speaks louder than words ever could.

Venturing further into  Oventic, the air is thick with the spirit of resistance. You’ll encounter cooperatives producing everything from textiles to coffee, each enterprise a statement of autonomy and self-reliance. Observe the community schools and clinics, symbols of a society striving for self-determined development.

A visit to Oventic is not your typical tourist experience. It’s an immersion into a revolutionary ethos, an encounter with a community that’s embraced an alternative way of life, and a chance to understand the political complexities that shape Chiapas to this day.

Read more: How to Visit the Zapatista Movement

8. Delve into the best museums in San Cristobal de las Casas

San Cristobal is home to numerous museums that cover everything from indigenous cultures to local history. Immersing yourself in the city’s rich cultural legacy is one of the best things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas, and a trip here would be incomplete without a visit to its many museums.

The Museo del Ambar is a literal gem. Housed in a former Dominican convent, this museum showcases a surprising collection of amber, a fossilized resin endemic to Chiapas. Marvel at the intricate pieces of jewellery, and be fascinated by the prehistoric insects and plants trapped within these golden stones.

For history buffs, the Museo de la Ciudad de San Cristobal is a must-visit. Walk through its halls, and you walk through time, tracing the city’s journey from its colonial past to the present day. Artefacts, photographs, and maps bring the narrative alive.

Finally, the Na Bolom Museum is a unique blend of history and anthropology. Once the home of Danish archaeologist Frans Blom and his wife, photographer Gertrude Duby Blom, the museum showcases their lifetime work with the indigenous Lacandon people.

9. Be humbled at the Casa de Sergio Castro

Amongst the colonial houses of San Cristobal de las Casas lies the Casa de Sergio Castro. But this is no ordinary dwelling; it’s a house that’s dedicated to indigenous culture, history, and selfless humanitarian work.

For decades, Sergio Castro, known locally as ‘El Doctor,’ has spent his life helping Chiapas’ indigenous communities, providing medical aid and championing their rights. His house doubles as a museum showcasing a remarkable collection of traditional Mayan textiles and artefacts, each piece a lasting tribute to the region’s indigenous past and present.

As you wander through the museum, guided by Sergio himself, you’ll gain a deep appreciation for the diversity of Chiapas’ indigenous cultures, where countless local languages are spoken ahead of Spanish. Yet, the true beauty of this place lies in the stories – stories of resilience, of human kindness, and one man’s unwavering commitment to making a difference.

Read more: The Medicine Man of Chiapas

10. Be enthralled by the indigenous villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán

Experience the living heritage of Chiapas by visiting the nearby indigenous villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan. Each has its own unique customs and traditions, which merge colonial attributes – like the Catholic faith – with local traditions and religious practices. 

In San Juan Chamula, the spiritual heart lies in the Iglesia de San Juan. A unique fusion of Mayan and Catholic traditions, this church is a sensory spectacle of colourful candles, pine needle-strewn floors, and the Tzotzil language. Be respectful – photos inside are strictly prohibited – and be warned, you could walk into gruesome ceremonies that involve decapitating chickens and letting off fireworks. 

Next, visit Zinacantan, known for its exquisite textiles. The looms here weave more than just cloth – they weave stories, history, and identity. Engage with the weavers, understand their craft, and be awed by the skill embedded in each textile they produce.

I visited San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan on a day trip from San Cristobal de las Casas, after signing up for a visit with Alex y Raul Tours

11. Hike in the Huitepec Ecological Reserve

Just outside the city, the Huitepec Ecological Reserve is perfect for those seeking to enjoy the area’s natural beauty, where you can walk among the cloud forest and spot local wildlife. Covering over 100 hectares, the reserve is a paradise for nature lovers and those seeking a serene retreat from the city’s vibrant hum. Interestingly, the reserve is also protected by the Zapatistas, rather than the local government!

Winding paths lead you through a forest of towering trees. As you venture deeper, the city’s clamour recedes, replaced by the symphony of rustling leaves and bird calls. Keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife – the reserve is home to a variety of birds, and if you’re fortunate, you might spot the elusive Cacomixtle, a native raccoon-like mammal. Along the path, you’ll encounter the reserve’s highest point, offering panoramic vistas of the surrounding landscapes – including rolling highlands and mist-strewn peaks. 

12. Take a boat ride along the Sumidero Canyon

A day trip to Sumidero Canyon is one of the top things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas. This stunning natural attraction is a short drive away, and when you arrive, you can enjoy a boat trip along the Grijalva River, taking in the towering cliffs and wildlife (watch out for crocs!).

The canyon’s towering walls rise as high as a kilometre in some places, and embracing the raw majesty of the canyon is best experienced aboard a boat, navigating winding waters framed by jagged cliffs formed by millennia of erosion. 

Yet the canyon’s beauty is not limited to its geological features. It teems with biodiversity. From the crocodiles basking on the riverbank to the spider monkeys rustling through the treetops, and the soaring vultures tracing circles in the sky, the canyon is a dynamic display of Mexican wildlife.

Read more: The Tara Canyon: I Walked to the Edge of Europe’s Deepest Gorge

13. Eat and drink your way around San Cristobal de las Casas

A culinary journey through San Cristobal de las Casas is guaranteed to satisfy your hunger pangs. The city’s food scene is an enticing blend of indigenous traditions, colonial influences, and contemporary trends that you’re going to love.

For a taste of local fare, try ‘Tamales Chiapanecos,’ steamed corn dough stuffed with a variety of fillings, wrapped in a banana leaf, and ‘Sopa de Pan,’ a hearty bread soup steeped in the flavours of tomato and epazote. The ‘Mole Chiapaneco,’ with its blend of local chillies, spices, and chocolate, is a must-try, offering a unique blend of sweetness, spice, and depth.

Venture into the local markets for a sensory adventure. Indulge in the ripe, tropical fruits, sample fresh cheese, or brave the fiery heat of locally grown chillies. Savour a cup of Chiapas coffee, renowned worldwide, its rich and aromatic profile a perfect pick-me-up.

Read more: Here’s Why I’d Love to Visit Mexico!

14. Visit the Templo de Santo Domingo Guzman

Templo de Santo Domingo Guzman stands as an embodiment of the city’s rich colonial past and religious fervour (yes, there are many churches in San Cristobal de las Casas!). 

Constructed in the 17th century, the baroque facade is meticulously adorned with intricate stucco work that encapsulates the artistry of the period. The church’s striking exterior, a blend of ocher and red, has long since become a prominent Chiapan landmark. 

Upon entering, you’re greeted by an interior that exudes grandeur. Ornate gold leaf altars, antique religious artefacts, and finely crafted wooden pews speak of the church’s history.

Adjacent to the church, the former convent now houses an artisan market where local craftsmen sell their products. 

15. Explore the limestone caverns of El Arcotete Ecotourism Park

Just a few kilometres north of San Cristobal de las Casas, the El Arcotete Ecotourism Park is named after a Frenchman named Jean Francoise de Arcotete who, captivated and heartbroken by love, ended his life in the limestone caverns.  The park has a melancholic backstory but an undeniably breathtaking presence.

Dominated by a natural stone arch that gracefully straddles the Fogón River, the park’s main attraction is the limestone caves, worn away by years of river erosion, creating an awe-inspiring spectacle. A walk inside the caves reveals unusual rock formations and stalactites, a testament to nature’s power and creativity.

Beyond the caves, El Arcotete offers a lush, pine-forested landscape perfect for outdoor activities. Hiking trails weave through the verdant terrain, zip lines provide adrenaline-fuelled perspectives of the park, and picnic areas offer serene spots to relax and soak up the surroundings.

16. Swim in the azure pools of El Chiflon Waterfall

Located around three hour’s drive from San Cristobal de las Casas, the El Chiflón Waterfall Reserve is a breathtaking spectacle of nature’s power and beauty, and an unmissable excursion for any visitor to Chiapas.

The power of El Chiflón is found in its cascading waterfalls, which stream down a series of steps, culminating in the Velo de Novia (Bride’s Veil), an impressive 120-meter fall that plunges into turquoise pools. 

The reserve offers a well-maintained trail that winds along the river, allowing you to appreciate the smaller cascades before you reach the grand finale, the Velo de Novia. As you ascend, the path provides several viewpoints, each offering a new perspective on the stunning waterfalls.

Beyond the falls, El Chiflón offers opportunities for adventure, with zip-lines across the river and areas for swimming. The surrounding lush greenery is perfect for picnicking, allowing you to bask in the tranquil beauty of the area.

Read more: Photos From the Road: The Mayan Ruins of Mexico

17. Admire the natural beauty of the Montebello Lakes

A three-hour drive from San Cristobal de las Casas, the Montebello Lakes National Park is home to over 50 lakes. Each is distinct in its colourful hues, ranging from striking blues to deep greens, owing to their varying mineral contents and depth.

Your journey through Montebello is akin to flipping through a vibrant photo album. Each lake, whether it’s the mirror-like surface of Lago Ensueño or the stunning dual-toned waters of Laguna Montebello, offers a picturesque scene that is distinct yet equally captivating. The lush, forested surroundings and the vividly coloured water bodies make for a stunning contrast, creating a photographer’s paradise.

Beyond admiring the lakes, there are myriad activities to enhance your visit. Hiking trails offer the chance to explore the rich biodiversity of the park, while boating allows you to navigate the tranquil waters. Rustic cabins near the lakes provide options for an overnight stay, offering a serene retreat from the city’s hustle and bustle.

A visit to Montebello Lakes is a journey through nature’s canvas, an experience that embodies the wild beauty and tranquillity of Chiapas, providing a refreshing and memorable excursion from San Cristobal de las Casas.

18. Explore the subterranean world of the Grutas del Mamut

The Grutas del Mamut, or the Mammoth Caves, provide an enticing exploration into the subterranean realm of Chiapas. Named for the prehistoric mammoth fossils discovered here, these caves are an intriguing part of the region’s natural history.

As you descend into the caves, the daylight gives way to a shadowy world of stalactites and stalagmites that have formed over thousands of years. The caves echo with a quiet mystique, their silence only punctuated by the occasional drip of water from above. Guided tours are available, allowing visitors to safely navigate the labyrinthine passages while learning about their formation and history.

19. Iglesia de San Cristobalito

Perched atop a hill overlooking the city, the Iglesia de San Cristobalito, or the Church of St. Christopher, is a significant landmark in San Cristobal de las Casas. Named after the city’s patron saint, this modest church is a site of pilgrimage and offers panoramic vistas of the surrounding cityscape and mountains.

The church’s simple architecture, a stark contrast to the elaborate baroque style found elsewhere in the city, resonates with a quiet charm. Inside, the warm glow of candles illuminates the rustic wooden altar and religious icons, enhancing the serene ambience.

Visiting the Iglesia de San Cristobalito requires climbing a lengthy staircase, but the journey is an experience in itself. Each step is a gradual ascent towards not just a place of worship, but also a vantage point that allows you to appreciate the expanse of the city and the grandeur of its natural surroundings. It’s a tranquil retreat, a place of reflection and awe-inspiring views.

20. Take a day trip to Tuxtla Guttierez

Only an hour’s drive away from San Cristobal de las Casas, Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas, is an intriguing day trip. The city is a dynamic blend of modern growth and rich traditions, offering a stark contrast to the colonial charm of San Cristobal.

Begin your day at Parque de la Marimba, where you can enjoy a live performance of the marimba, Chiapas’ traditional instrument. The joyful tunes set a lively mood for exploring the city.

Next, head to the city’s historic centre, where the Catedral de San Marcos, with its beautiful stained glass work, awaits your admiration. Nearby, the City Hall offers a glimpse into the region’s political history.

The Zoologico Miguel Alvarez del Toro is another must-visit in Tuxtla Gutierrez. Known for its commitment to conservation, the zoo houses a variety of endemic species in environments resembling their natural habitats.

Wrap up your visit with a boat trip through the stunning Sumidero Canyon, a geological marvel located just outside the city. The towering cliffs and diverse wildlife make for an unforgettable experience.

21. Explore Chiapa de Corzo

Located on the banks of the Grijalva River, Chiapa de Corzo is one of Mexico’s many Pueblos Mágicos, or ‘Magic Towns’. With its well-preserved colonial architecture and indigenous heritage, it offers a fascinating glimpse into the past.

At the heart of Chiapa de Corzo lies the main square, adorned with beautiful Spanish colonial buildings and the iconic La Pila fountain. This 16th-century Moorish-style structure serves as a symbol of the town’s rich history and is a popular meeting point for locals and visitors alike.

Explore the narrow streets lined with colourful houses, artisan shops, and traditional eateries serving regional delicacies. Don’t miss the chance to try ‘Cocadas,’ a sweet treat made from coconut, which is a local speciality.

Chiapa de Corzo is also famous for its annual celebration of La Parachicos, recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. During this vibrant festival, locals dressed as Parachicos, adorned with elaborate costumes and masks, dance through the streets, accompanied by traditional music and fireworks.

Where is San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico?

San Cristobal de las Casas is a city of some 200,000 people set in the heart of Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico. Set amongst the towering peaks of the highlands, the city sprawls across a central plateau that’s surrounded by lush rainforests. To the west, the Pacific Coast lies across the mountains, and to the east, the impenetrable Lacandon Jungle awaits in the interior. 

Located approximately 1,200 kilometres south of Mexico City, you’re closer to the Maya heartlands of Guatemala than you are to the Mexican capital. The nearest airport is an hour’s drive away at Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas State. Regular flights connect travellers with Mexico City, Tijuana, Monterrey, Cancun, Guatemala City and many more regional destinations. Long-distance buses also connect San Cristobal de las Casas to Oaxaca (9 hours), Palenque (7 hours) and Campeche (10 hours).

Map of the best things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas

There we have it, the best things to do in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico! Let us know your favourite things to do in the comments below!