Just around the corner from the house where we stayed

There are so many things we like about San Cristobal de las Casas. It's the cultural capital of Chiapas, one of Mexico's poorest, most beautiful, and most interesting states. There's a strong Mayan presence -- around 1/3 of San Cristobal's population of 150,000 speak one Mayan dialect or another.  Because of the Mayas, San Cristobal has marvelous crafts, especially colorful weaving and embroidery. In fact it has become a center for the arts generally, with talented photographers and graphic artists displaying work in many galleries.

The city, like Chiapas, has a revolutionary spirit, most recently manifested in the Zapatista movement. The historic downtown is nicely preserved, and there's a srong expatriate presence. However, unlike San Miguel de Allende, for example, the expatriate community is diverse; there seem to be more people of European and even Middle Eastern origin than Americans or Canadians. And at an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet, the climate is invigorating, especially in the dry winter months.

We were fortunate in our choice, through AirBnB, of a place to spend our week in San Cristobal de las Casas. We rented a small apartment, part of a larger home, on a narrow cobblestone street about ten minutes walk from the main tourist areas. From the outside, below, the house was not particularly attractive or impressive. It was number 7.

But immediately on opening the door, we were astonished by the gardens and the view. It was absolutely delightful, and the owners couldn't have been nicer.

Our apartment was through the French doors.

We had an excellent kitchen and a living room with a fireplace that we used every night -- that invigorating climate!

We spent a good deal of time just walking around the city, and there was always something to see.

There seemed to be a demonstration around the central square nearly every day. The women below were protesting some government program that they believed would harm the environment. The "defense of mother earth" is an ongoing theme of the Zapatista movement, though this particular group calls itself the National Organizaion of People's Power.

Poster on left said "Women of Dignity" (bandana is a Zapatista trademark); also "I am a woman, not a maid!"

Sidetrips: Chamula

Outside San Cristobal de las Casas are smaller towns whose population is entirely Mayan. One of the best known and most visited is Chamula. Below is the town center, and the main door of Chamula's church.

We didn't take many photos in Chamula. Photography is strongly discouraged. Many Mayans do not like to have their pictures taken. Perhaps because so many tourists visit the town, Chamula is unusually strict about use of cameras.

The interior of the church, where photos are forbidden, is lit entirely by hundreds of candles. The floor is covered with a carpet of evergreen needles, and Mayan families congregate around various statues or arrays of candles laid out on the floor, praying, singing, and performing quiet rituals. We enjoyed being in the dim interior; it was cool and restful, and refreshingly non-Christian.

Sidetrips: Cañon de Sumidero

Cañon del Sumidero, about 45 minutes from San Cristobal de las Casas, is a popular attraction for Mexican tourists. Boats run up and down the Rio Grijalva, which formed the deep, narrow canyon. In some places the walls tower a kilometer above the river's surface!

The canyon and its surroundings have been made a national park. However, the capital city Tuxtla Guttierrez borders the park, and pollution from the urban area is a serious problem. It's disheartening to see eddies of rubbish at places along the river. Still, wildlife flourishes, below, and it's a beautiful place.

Continue to Guatemala >>