San Cristobal: The Town That I Was Waiting For

I was excited to get to San Cristobal de las Casas. The general impression I got from everyone I’d talked to about it was that I was going to love it. They were right.

San Cristobal is in Chiapas, the southern mountain region of Mexico. It is an ecosystem that I didn’t know existed in Mexico. Finally I had a break from the sweltering jungle and beach heat for rolling green hills and crisp fall-like air. I got to wear jeans and a jacket. I felt like myself again.

The town itself is the perfect confluence of colonial charm and modern appeal. Its small streets are lined by colorful stuccoed buildings that are home to charming boutiques and delicious treats. Chocolate stores intermingle with Zapatista cafes and international restaurants. Local artisans sell jewelry and crafts that make you want to forget that budget is a word. It has half a dozen churches to climb up to or wander into, all offering their own appeal. It has an artisan market for all your souvenir wants and an extensive food market that is easy to get lost in. Just walking around town is the highlight of being in San Cristobal. It took no time at all for me to wonder how I could make a life for myself in this town.

What I did in San Cristobal matters a lot less than how I felt about it. Most of the attractions I saw I listed above, which probably doesn’t sound much like attractions. Most of the time I’d spend half a day wandering and half a day hanging at the hostel reading or watching a documentary on the Zapatistas. The point is that I felt comfortable there.

My hostel helped. At first I was at Posada del Abuelito, a very nice place that I would recommend for the calm, older traveler who wants some quiet alone time. It was nice but it wasn’t for me. I found my perfect place at Hostel Casa Gaia. This hostel was homey, comfortable, clean, low-key, and owned by a wonderful family. As soon as I got to Gaia I was surrounded by the kind of people I have cherished meeting in my travels, from the fantastically eccentric German I knew from Palenque to the charming British couple who were always up for a mezcal to the friends from Antigua who would become my constant companions for the next month. I spent more time hanging in the hostel or wandering the streets with these new friends than doing the typically touristy things, which is probably what made it feel like home. My move to Gaia changed the trajectory of my trip more than I could have ever predicted, something I’ll explain further in another post.

I also had some fantastic meals in San Cristobal: street corn with mayo, chili sauce, and parmesan cheese; pollo enchiladas con mole; and the best tacos of my entire trip that came as a DIY platter of meat and things with unlimited tortillas and sauces. I wish I could give you the name of that place but I have no idea; thanks to the hostel owner for taking us to this local haunt. Also thanks to him for introducing me to the best mezcal I’ve ever tasted. I consumed like a queen in San Cristobal.

It was hard to leave San Cristobal de las Casas. At one point I wasn’t sure I ever would really, but then the universe told me it was time. I will return one day though, that’s for sure, and I’m positive I will love it just as much then as I did this time.

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