San Cristobal de las Casas: A Window to the Past

A special guest post by Paola Santos.

Indigenous Girls outside the Cathedral

Indigenous Girls outside the Cathedral

I had many expectations about San Cristobal de las Casas before I visited the old colonial capital of the State of Chiapas in Mexico. Some of these expectations were met or even superseded, and others weren’t, but each day that I spent there I learned something new about this magical place.

The outskirts of the town are not particularly attractive due to pollution and traffic. But once you manage to get to the town centre, the landscape becomes absolutely fascinating. An interesting fact is that there are almost no traffic lights in the centre of San Cristobal. Apparently, years ago when they did exist, this used to cause a lot of traffic and pollution. Pretty ironic, don’t you think? :-)

It is only in towns like this one, that I get the feeling that there’s no need to rush around to get anywhere; strolling during the afternoon, people-watching or finding somewhere to eat or have a drink becomes the only purpose of taking a walk.

Lost in her thoughts

Lost in her thoughts

I hadn’t been to Mexico in a year, so my first dining option was to have some Mexican tacos (not those horrible fast food things in hard shells, whose name I won’t mention, but the real thing instead!). After dinner, it was nice to have a drink at a cute bohemian-jazzy-trendy bar called Perfidia, which was the perfect end of our first day in San Cristobal.

The day after, we spent the morning in the picturesque Santo Domingo market, where many indigenous people come from their towns to sell their handcrafts. Chiapas’ handcrafts are famous for their colourful designs. Besides a variety of textiles, we found very interesting wooden masks painted in a variety of colours depicting stylized animals.

Santo Domingo market

Santo Domingo market

It was difficult to take photos in the market because it seems that some people can get very annoyed when they’re photographed. I’m not surprised about this, especially considering that it has been known for some tourists and/or photographers to follow the locals trying to snap them. So the best advice in the photography department is to be considerate towards people and respect the fact that some of them won’t want to appear in pictures. And to add further discretion, a good telephoto lens always helps!

Besides its market, another “must see” aspect of the town is its churches. The number of churches in San Cristobal is outstanding, and walking along 20 de Noviembre Street, a number of them can be found. Especially beautiful are Santo Domingo and Templo del Carmen, the latter being one of the few Mudejar (Moorish) style churches in Mexico.

Santo Domingo Church

Santo Domingo Church

A particularly enigmatic fact about San Cristobal is how the indigenous cultures and beliefs intersect with the Catholic faith. The indigenous people have managed to maintain their culture but at the same time have embraced the Catholicism that was imposed by the Spaniards. If there is a fact that makes San Cristobal such a special place, I would say that it is this mix of prehispanic and colonial beliefs and people that have managed to survive over the centuries and make us feel that for a moment, we are transported to that past.

I would like to thank Sol y Luna B&B for supporting this article by kindly offering a special rate during my stay in San Cristobal.

About this week’s guest writer
Paola Santos Paola Santos is a traveller and photographer inspired by world cultures, anthropology, local arts, communities and languages. Born in Mexico, she currently lives in the UK after experiencing life in Canada and India. Her aim is to write about her travel experiences and the challenges and rewards of choosing an expat life.

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2 Responses to “San Cristobal de las Casas: A Window to the Past”

  1. velvet 21/01/2010 5:29 pm
    #

    Thanks! Paola really did a great job of capturing the soul of San Cristobal on film! :-)

    Cheers,
    Keith

  2. Travel Blogs 21/01/2010 5:26 pm
    #

    Beautiful pictures and I love how you shot those colourful market pictures

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