San Cristobal de las Casas. The name sounds like church bells chiming on a brisk Sunday morning (although more commonly whilst I was there it was constant festive cannons and fireworks that woke me up). It oozes charm and colonial antiquity. This is the kind of town that impresses on first sight, but still improves with intimacy.
From its bohemian intellectualism to its wealth disparity, this town began to intrigue me the moment I arrived. Close to my hostel is the peachy, swirly façade of the Templo de Santo Domingo, underneath which is a hive of activity in the artisan markets.
Here a maze of stalls exhibits products ranging from the huipil (traditional white dress with woven patterns) to huggable woollen animals, from quality leather bags to tiny ski-masked woollen Zapatista dolls sporting miniscule wooden guns (less huggable). These latter represent the locally-celebrated armed rebels fighting for minority (indigenous) rights.
Running through town is one long peatonal, extending either side of the main square. This pedestrianised strip is filled with bars and cafes, latin music and the sounds of grinding coffee beans. The walkway attracts gringo and local tourists, as well as vendors from the surrounding indigenous communities, generally viejas (elderly women) and young girls laden with woven rugs flung over their shoulders or carrying bags of trinkets.Copper-skinned boys in ragged woollen jumpers and tracksuit pants a few inches short roam the streets with their small wooden shoe-shine boxes in search of customers, while children in crisp white school uniforms, carrying candy floss and balloons, pass them.
Various viewpoints show a town of red roofs and the colourful cupolas of cathedrals. The views are misleading, suggesting a quiet and sleepy conservative pueblo. Yet one cannot go anywhere without being distracted by street performances or activities, be they dancers sporting feather-adorned crowns and bells on their ankles moving exuberantly to primitive and evocative drumming, or the naive youth promoting political parties by distributing hand-outs or blasting pop music as they drive through town on open trucks.
This is a town that has it all: political intelligence, environmental awareness, tantalising scenery, righteous rebellions and resigned indigenes.
And it didn’t take me long at all to realise San Cristobal had claimed me. It seemed that the town, rather than myself, had already determined that I would return. And I accept it without protest. I will be back.
More things to do in Mexico…
While you’ve just read about my favourite city in Mexico, there are plenty more treats to come in this wonderful country, including:
- Swimming in cenotes in Valladolid
- Basking in the sun – and rain – on Isla Holbox
- Being terrified at the ruins of Chichen Itza
- Exploring the jungle ruins of Palenque
- Enjoying the mystifying rituals in the church of San Chamula (near San Cristobal)
- Admiring the architecture in Puebla