MEXICO, San Cristóbal de las Casas with Kids: The southern Mexican state of Chiapas draws nature lovers with its stunning natural beauty as well as its rich indigenous culture. Wild jungles hide jaguars and boa constrictors, not to mention the ancient Mayan civilizations of Palenque and Yaxchilán. There are waterfalls the color of the Caribbean Sea and lush national parks home to a vibrant array of flora and fauna, cave systems, and dramatic river gorges.
San Cristóbal de las Casas, the cultural capital of this wonderland state and a perfectly preserved colonial town, sits nestled among pine forests. Characterized by cobbled streets, citrus-colored houses and an imposing yellow cathedral, it’s ideal as a weekend escape or a base for exploring farther afield. It’s also an easy place to explore as a family. If you’ll be visiting San Cristobal de las Casas with kids, here are four family-friendly things to do, along with one recommended place to stay and eat while there.
Please note that San Cristóbal and the other areas in Chiapas were badly affected by the earthquakes in September 2017. The area is very much open to visitors now, however, but be aware that there may still be some disruption.
Activity 1: Wander the Streets of San Cristobal de las Casas
A pedestrian’s paradise, you could easily spend a day wandering Cristóbal de las Casas aimlessly. What makes this easy (and enjoyable) with kids are the two “pedestrianized” streets, Anador Eclesiastico and Anador Guadalupano. These long, wide, paved paths brim with cafes, bars and restaurants. You’ll also find dozens of boutiques selling the beautiful embroidery for which Chiapas is famous.
At the heart of town is the zócalo, also known as Vincente Espinoza Park. This central, shady square sits opposite the mustard yellow Cathedral of San Cristóbal or Catedral de San Cristóbal. The zócalo is a great place for kids to run off steam while you grab a seat on one of the wrought iron benches. Things get busy come dusk when musicians perform, families gather, and local vendors sell everything from cups of freshly sliced fruit to Disney balloons and bubble shooters.
Activity 2: Shop, Shop, Shop!
Chiapas is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of handicrafts and folk art. Discover its celebrated pottery, amber work, and world-famous embroidery and weaving up close. San Cristóbal’s streets are home to plenty of upmarket boutiques selling brilliantly woven huipiles, the traditional tunics worn by local women, along with jaguar sculptures, delicately decorated lacquered gourds, and amber jewellery.
What’s much more fun for kids, however, is a trip to the artisan market that sits outside the 16th-century Templo de Santo Domingo. This permanent market is bursting with stalls selling locally made goods. It’s a great place for children to practice their bartering skills and spend their allowance. Among the aisles you’ll find embroidered shirts and shawls, jewellery, leather sandals, local candy, and my favorite: brightly colored stuffed animals hand-stitched out of wool.
Activity 3: Visit the Local Villages
Dozens of Mayan communities pepper the countryside surrounding San Cristóbal, each well worth a visit. Chiapas is home to one of the largest indigenous populations in Mexico and life in these local villages is very different to the big towns and cities. Two of the closest (and most visited) villages to San Cristóbal are San Juan de Chamula and Zinacantan.
These communities remain steeped in tradition and life remains much the same as it was hundreds of years ago. Societies are patriarchal, education is not prioritized, and girls marry from as young as 12-years-old. And chruches practice a mixture of Catholic and Mayan beliefs. A local guide is invaulable for your visit.
You’ll also want to visit a weaving cooperative, get to see tortillas being made and try the local brew, pox (not for kids!). This might not be the most kid-friendly activity in the world, but it is definitely educational and a fascinating insight into a unique way of life. Find out more: http://www.explorandochiapas.com.mx/
Activity 4: Meet the Crocodiles
Chiapas is home to dozens of natural wonders and you don’t have to go far from San Cristóbal to find them. One of the most popular is the Cañón del Sumidero (Sumidero Canyon), a dramatic river gorge that sits some 37 miles (60 km) from San Cristóbal.
The best way to enjoy the canyon, and to witness the towering limestone cliffs, is by boat. River cruises run regularly along the Grijalva River past whimsically-named scenic highlights. Watch for Cueva de Colores (the Cave of Colors) and Cascada Arbol de Navidad (Christmas Tree Waterfall). It’s a fun trip for kids with lots of opportunities to spot crocodiles sunning themselves on the rocks.
The area surrounding the gorge is a national park, home to ocelots, spider monkeys, anteaters, and more. There are four docks for tour boats; we recommend heading to Chiapa de Corzo.
1 Great Place to Stay: Hotel Provincia
There are some beautiful boutique hotels in San Cristóbal, but this is the kind of town where you are out and about all day. That’s why I recommend you save your pesos and book a room at Hotel Provincia instead. This is a great family-friendly, mid-range option located in the center of town, just a few minutes’ walk from the cathedral.
Homey and welcoming with cozy rooms and a pretty, bougainvillea-filled courtyard, it’s the perfect place to come back to at the end of a busy day of sightseeing. The room rate includes a traditional (and tasty!) Mexican breakfas. Find out more: www.hotelprovincia.com
1 Great Place to Eat: TierrAdentro
On January 1, 1994, locals from the indigenous towns around Chiapas rebelled against the Mexican government led by Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Liberation Army or Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional. Their issues included healthcare, education, and land distribution. Ultimately, their revolt was quickly quashed.
Today the Zapatistas have largely withdrawn to their communities. However, you can catch a glimpse of the movement and people at TierrAdentro. This café, restaurant, and cultural center sits in the center of San Cristóbal. The menu features standard Mexican fare and the food is tasty. But what you really come for are the large black and white Zapatista photos and memorabilia that line the walls. Added bonus? Take advantage of the small play area for kids. Find out more: See TierrAdentro Cafe on Facebook
For more ideas on what to do in San Cristóbal with kids, see A Weekend in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico.