Those who’ve followed my posts on Travel Gumbo may recall my reports on 2 extended visits I enjoyed in Oaxaca. On my third annual visit to Mexico I was ready for a change. I love the colonial cities with some altitude and mountain terrain and had long been aware of Chiapas in the far south of the country adjacent to Guatemala, and it’s main city San Cristóbal de las Casas, also known by it’s nickname San Cris. At an elevation of over 7,000 feet and a population of about 185,000 it’s both higher and considerably smaller than Oaxaca and though both cities have a colonial history and beautifully preserved architecture, they’re quite different, San Cristóbal having a distinctly low-rise tiled roof small town feel, but still big enough with resources for a long stay. Though located in tropical Mexico, the city’s elevation means the daytime temperature hovers year-round in the 70 - 75 degree range with cool nights. In the coming weeks I’ll be relating all the aspects of San Cris that I loved and that make the city one to which I’m certain I’ll return.
I moved to Bisbee, Arizona in 1988 and one of the first people I met was Knute Stiles. Knute had been a part of the Beat scene in my hometown, San Francisco, artist and poet affiliated with the Abstract Expressionist Movement. It was he who told me about San Cristóbal de las Casas, the place to which he’d run away when a friend had left him some money. I never forgot the name and after 2 trips to Oaxaca, needing a break from a summer of stressful problem solving, decided October would be a perfect time to visit the place Knute had spoken of so fondly.
Below, Casa San Cristóbal
San Cristóbal is even more of a pain to get to than Oaxaca. Similarly 3 flights, but unlike Oaxaca with its close-to-town airport, an additional hour by bus or taxi at the end is required to get up the mountain from Tuxla Gutierez Airport. I flew this time from Tucson, saved from the dreaded overnight flight from Sacramento, also with changes in Guadalajara and Mexico City, then on to Chiapas. I’m getting to know those 2 transit airports’ restaurants quite well.
My flight arrived late at night and though I’d planned to take the bus, one had just left and the next wasn’t for an hour. With my Airbnb host waiting for me at his guesthouse, Casa San Cristóbal, a taxi seemed appropriate.
There was no sign indicating we’d arrived at the right building, but I’d located it on StreetView and assured the concerned taxi driver it was the place. We knocked and knocked, not knowing which was the entrance door when, much to our relief, José finally appeared. I was shown to my room and left alone for the night in the big house, newly redone to receive guests. For most of the 2 weeks I stayed there I was alone, José making an appearance occasionally and other infrequent guests. Once I got used to the idea I enjoyed the solitude very much, not to mention sole use of the kitchen right next to my little room.
I stayed for the first 2 weeks at Casa San Cristóbal, originally a family home first owned by José’s grandparents and occupied by his family when they abandoned their ranch in the countryside under threat of death during the Zapatista uprising in 1994. The home has recently been completely refurbished with 4 small single rooms, each with it’s own bathroom, and guest kitchen on the second floor, a double room and guest lounge on the ground floor. Located toward the southern edge of Centro and conveniently not far the central bus station, it’s a pleasant 10 or 15 minute walk to the zócalo. At US$13 a night it may be the best deal in all my years of travel.
Again, confusion, no sign, door to Ganesha 5 de Mayo below.
While I enjoyed my stay at Casa San Cristóbal very much, for the second 2 weeks I decided to try a different experience and moved to the center of town, to another new guest house, Ganesha 5 de Mayo, a short walk from the zocalo. Though Casa San Cristóbal faced a busy street, it was quiet and despite the fact that my new room was infinitely larger and more comfortable, it was with a shock I learned the downside of being right in the center of town. Businesses on this particular block of Calle 5 de Mayo attracted customers with blaring music from loudspeakers set on the sidewalk and a party hostel behind the guest house played ear-splitting dance music into the night.
The patio dressed up for Dia de los Muertos.
I stayed for several nights on the street side and after some negotiations was given a 2 level casita at the back with no extra charge. Though still subject to the party music, the taxi honking was less noticeable so I stayed. The people were kind, there was a little kitchen I could use, the atmosphere was otherwise pleasant and I guess I just got used to it. As I was informed at a place I’d left 2 years earlier in Oaxaca, “Mexico is noisy.”
My casita, on the right at the top of the stairs.
I spent my days walking around, trying restaurants until I found my favorites, shopping for food in little mom & pop stores rather than the central market, occasionally taking in a church or museum and doing what I do on such trips, mostly not a whole lot planned on any given day.
View over the rooftops from my casita loft.
Find all episodes of 'A Month in Chiapas' here.
More PortMoresby stories here.