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Chiapas and Tabasco Travel Guide

San Cristóbal de las Casas

From the looks of this thoroughly charming city you'd never know that Chiapas is one of Mexico's poorest regions or that it was the locus of the 1994 Zapatista rebellion. San Cristóbal is the perfect hub for exploring the region's towns, lakes and rivers, and archaeological sites; a smart choice would be to make this your home base for a week or longer. In addition to admiring the town's colorful facades, budget some time

to visit the market, peek into a few churches, and enjoy a cup of locally grown coffee in a shady courtyard. No itinerary is complete without a trip to the indigenous villages, such as San Juan Chamula, outside of San Cristóbal.

The town's cool climate is a refreshing change from the sweltering heat of the lowlands. On chilly evenings wood smoke scents the air, curling lazily over the red-tile roofs of small, brightly painted stucco houses. The sense of the mystical here is intensified by the fog and low clouds.

San Cristóbal is laid out in a grid pattern centered on the zócalo (town square). When walking around, remember that street names change on either side of this square: Calle Francisco Madero to the east of the square, for example, becomes Calle Diego de Mazariegos to the west. The town was originally divided into barrios (neighborhoods), but they now blend together into a city center that's easy to negotiate.

In colonial times indigenous allies of the Spaniards were moved onto lands on the outskirts of the nascent city. Each barrio was dedicated to an occupation. There were Tlaxcala fireworks manufacturers in one part of the town and pig butchers from Cuxtitali in another. Although specific divisions no longer exist, some of the local customs have been kept alive. For example, each Saturday certain houses downtown will put out red lamps to indicate that homemade tamales are for sale.

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