From Manchester to: San Cristobal de las Casas

"Be careful in San Cristobal, there's glue on the streets." I guess in hindsight it was obvious she didn't mean the warning literally.

By Tim Alderson | Last updated 4 April 2020

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Anyway I’d heard enough stories of people lingering here a little longer than they’d planned to realise this place might prove difficult to leave.

Snuck up in the hills of southern Mexico, not far from the Guatemalan border, lies a pretty little town which offers more than enough allure to endure the ardously waltzing roads traversed in order to find it.

The state of Chiapas brings together Mayan culture with Hispanic like no other place in the country – as well as natural beauty sprawled out in every direction – and this magical place is probably the best point to explore it all from.

Start your time here with a wander and soak up the crumbling quaint colonial architecture. The city skyline is dominated by pretty little churches. At opposite ends of Centro, the Iglesia de Guadalupe and Iglesia San Cristobal perch above a short climb and offer views back down into the valley.

For some Mayan flavour, check out the Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya, where you’ll find a beautiful collection of prints and clothing splashed with the vibrant indigneous palette. Street markets packed with embroidery and paraphenalia line central thoroughfares too if you’re looking for gifts or souvenirs.

And then if just strolling a touch aimlessly is your idea of an nice afternoon there are tons of cafes and bars to help break up any journey. Quality is high too with local organically produced coffee on the menu throughout town, you really can’t go wrong ordering a mug of the black stuff here.

The pedestrianised Real de Guadeloupe is where most activity is, when it comes to food, drink and buskers. Viña de Bacco boasts a great selection of local and international wines, each served with a free tapa, and with prices from 20 pesos (80p) a glass there’s very little reason to move further.

Should sundowners be more your scene though, head to Collectivo Mudra, you’ll be more likely to find hash brownies than a margarita but, whatever your poison, it’s undoubtedly the best place to watch the daylight come to an end.

Chiapas state was part of Guatemala until around 100 years ago, and the cuisine here merges between the two countries. Preparations and ingredients are more closely aligned to pre-Columbian methods than most other areas of Mexico, making for an interesting clash of food cultures and the ideal place to take a cookery class to learn a little more.

A market tour offers further insight into the variety of local produce there is to work with, tropical fruits, herbs, spices and of course chillis are readily available. A glass of achiote flavoured tascalate and the sweet, egg based cake cazueleja are some of the most popular San Cristobal snacks worth trying.

Corn is most definitely king here though, and tamales are an ubiquitous staple, so if you want to learn how to cook like a Chiapan there’s no better place to start. I took a lesson with expert chef Irma, from probably the most envy inducing kitchen you could ever set foot in, set amongst luscious green gardens overlooking the city.

From grinding fresh maíz to sealing and steaming our hot corn pockets we learnt the lot, put it this way, if I ever make it back to Manchester there’s a tamale truck coming your way soon.

If you’d rather eat than cook, San Cristobal has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to local, international and even vegan options (not something Mexico has really got on board with in general yet).

At the cheaper end of the scale look out for Cocina Económicas like Doña Lenchi where you can enjoy heartwarming caldos (broths) for less than a couple of quid. Sample a steaming bowl of the Tlapeño soup for a delicious mix of chicken, avocado, cheese and fried tortilla.

For something a little more upmarket try Restaurante Plaza Real where you can sample local fare in an inviting courtyard setting.

San Cristobal is situated in the ideal location to explore some fantastic Chiapan sites. From the Mayan ruins of Palenque and Bonanpak to closer attractions like Sumidero Canyon. Trips are simple to organise from any of the agencies in town, a day excursion to the canyon gets my vote.

Less than an hour away from town you can take a motor boat tour and enjoy the incredible natural beauty and wildlife this area offers. Expect to see monkeys crocodiles and birds aplenty.

The only sour point of the day is a depressing amount of rubbish which lies in one part of the river which has washed in from local settlements. Your ticket price goes towards keeping this amazing natural habitat protected so I can only hope that a clean up operation is imminent.

Like many towns in Mexico the low rise skyline has been retained with existing buildings converted in to the hotels, hostels and homesteads which house travelers, rather than having any ugly concrete chain constructions.

I stayed at the gorgeous Villas Casa Morada which hosts ten beautiful suites overlooking a private garden area. The living area is relaxed and spacious, plus you could probably fit a family of four on the bed.

Villas Casa Morada offer spacious, pretty and well appointed suites, ideally located within the centre of town. Click here for more information and to book.

Tim enjoyed a market tour and cookery class with El Tzitz. For more information about the variety of classes you can choose from and to book, click here