The town of San Cristobal de las Casas is located high in the mountains of Chiapas, a state in Southern Mexico. Its cold nights and fresh, cool mountain air do not lend themselves easily to a stereotypical Mexican scene—a vision more likely to include white sandy beaches, tropical air, and a bottle of tequila—however, the town exudes Mexican culture in its own unique way. It’s a must-see for anyone exploring the Southern side of Mexico.
When my wife and I arrived, we were greeted by towering white clouds and a powerful, penetrating sun—indeed, at over a mile above sea level, the town doesn’t enjoy a heavy-atmosphere “sun filter.” By evening and stretching into the night, the temperature steadily dropped into cooler temperatures which made sweaters and jackets necessary. What seemed to be a hot and arid desert climate by day quickly changed to a wintry atmosphere by night. Nevertheless, we joined the throngs of people already out in the streets, enjoying the night life.
San Cristobal’s atmosphere was constantly festive and safe. From early in the morning to late at night, there were cafes and bars open to the public. Cultures seemed to mix at every turn, which at times made it easy to forget that we were in Mexico. At first glance, the town seemed to be putting on a show, with local and traditional art and music all over the town, both during the day and at night. But a few more days in San Cristobal demonstrated that the town celebrates its cultural heritage on a daily basis.
Not only was Mexican culture prevalent, however; there were
travelers from all over Europe and North America in the town, and a surprising
number of the local businesses were owned by foreigners. We saw Indian- and
Asian-inspired restaurants, bookstores in multiple languages, and completely
unique cafes with high-quality coffee. The vibrant buildings and painted street
art came in all styles and colors. It seemed to be inspired by not one single
culture, but by many. Amidst the varying cafes and restaurants were many local
art exhibits or stores, presenting anything from painting to pottery to
carvings. From food to art to coffee, a happy amalgam of cultures is proudly on
display at all times.
One of the most lasting memories I formed on this trip came
in the middle of a day when we were exploring the town. We came upon a massive
old church (there are plenty of them in San Cristobal) perched atop an equally
massive hill. After climbing hundreds of steps and reaching the top, we sweated
profusely and enjoyed the aerial view and surrounding mountains. I became aware
that in a few short hours, I would need to be bundled up to stand comfortably
in the same spot. But I’m glad that we climbed at that time, under the sun. The
image has remained with me because it seemed to show the town in its best
light—a diverse patchwork gathering of cultures, shining brightly under the beautiful
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