Remote and historically difficult to reach, San Cristóbal de las Casas has nevertheless been a well-trodden outpost on the Gringo Trail for decades. A modern airport less than 90 minutes away and a decent highway connecting the two are improving that pesky access problem. San Cristóbal—after one hour here you’ll drop the “de las Casas” part from the name—makes 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. (You’ll meet people here who’ve stayed a lot longer than they ever intended. Some never leave. San Cristóbal is that kind of place.) In addition to admiring the town's colorful facades, budget some time to 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 nearby indigenous villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán, outside of San Cristóbal.
The town's cool climate offers 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 pulses to a tourism beat, but nada about the vibe is American. The majority of foreign visitors come from Western Europe; the majority of tourists, period, come from elsewhere in Mexico. The end result? You have to search a little bit harder for English speakers. You’ll be expected to pay for things in pesos rather than dollars. San Cristóbal feels much more foreign than, say, San Miguel de Allende in the center of the country, but you will appreciate the entirely Mexican and indigenous character to the place.