A little city of 50,000 people in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico, San Cristobal de Las Casas isn’t easy to get to — well, unless you have enough money to fly to the county capital of Tuxtla — but it is worth the journey. After the 1994 Zapatista uprising, San Cristobal was put on the proverbial map and began attracting tourists from all over the globe — which caused a chain jerk reaction which has made this place into one of the best budget family travel hubs on the planet.
Before we arrived in San Cristobal for the first time in the late summer of 2010, I thought it was going to be like Antigua, Guatemala — only filled with more wannabe revolutionaries and perhaps a few less geriatric tourists. But after spending a little time there, I found it to be a very live-able city that is a great, not to mention cheap, place to travel to as a family.
What makes San Cristobal so good?
San Cristobal de las Casas is an international city where many expats and long term travelers stop for big chunks of time. Though a lot of places expats live, I wouldn’t consider good places to stay, but the foreign community here consists of more than the usual group of drunk retirees trying to stretch out their pensions. Rather, San Cristobal is full of travelers who’ve just stopped here and stayed. There are Italians who fell in love with Mexican women and now have a few kids, young people from Mexico City who have moved here for the cheaper prices and better living conditions, Argentinian craftspeople, French twentysomethings who open bakeries and restaurants, and people from the US who have decided to make this place a home here.
San Cristobal is filled with young families, traveling families, expat families, and Mexican families. This is truly a prime family travel destination.
Mexicans are famous for loving children, and San Cristobal is no exception. People on the street love coming up to watch, hold and talk to my daughter, Petra. It is a friendly town that takes kindly to people who want to stay here. Locals and expats hang out together and often make babies together, making it an easy place for you and your kids to make friends.
Because of its international community, San Cristobal has a variety of things you wouldn’t find in other small Mexican cities. For pregnant mamas, there is a midwife and birth center here with a friendly staff and excellent reputation. If you are looking for a place to send your kids to school there is a Waldorf inspired private school called Pequeno Sol that has a good reputation. There are also many shops that offer organic produce, coffee, and baked goods. Not to mention the fact that there are many restaurants and shops offering an impressive variety of international cuisine, such as falafel, bagels, French pastries, Lebanese food, and wine bars.
San Cristobal de las Casas is a place that attracts people from all over the world to come, stay, and share their culture. Likewise, San Cristobal is the cultural epicenter of Chiapas. There is always some event or festival going on. There are free marimba concerts in the park every weekend, lots of other live music, and exhibits that set up stage in the plaza in front of the cathedral. There are a couple of cultural centers that offer workshops, lectures, and performing arts like the Centro Cultural El Carmen and TierrAdentro. There are plenty of museums as well, including a Cultural Center Museum of the Highlands of Chiapas, the Bolom National Museum and an Amber Museum.
San Cristobal is almost too easy to live in
It is easy to rent an apartment in San Cristobal. In fact, I have never stayed in a city that was so easy to get an apartment in. My family likes to travel slow and stay in places for one to three months. We generally look for a one bedroom or studio apartment with a kitchen and wifi that are furnished and will let us rent month to month. Sometimes out travel habits have been problematic because landlords wanted us to sign leases for at least six months, and, very often, the concept of a furnished apartment hasn’t caught on in a particular country. In San Cristobal, though, rent by the month furnished apartments are almost the rule. And if you don’t need an entire apartment for yourself, renting a room in shared house is also a popular option. In addition to this, many hotels have caught on to the extended stay buzz, and will let you rent by the month for a discounted rate.
San Cristobal is big enough to be interesting, small enough to be comfortable
San Cristobal de Las Casas is an easy town to get out of. I like staying in cities, but I also like being able to get out into nature. Petra loves exploring stones, flowers and paths in the woods. San Cristobal is surrounded by mountains and trees and natural places we can reach by a long walk or a minibus ride. As we don’t have an RV or any other form of transportation, it is pretty essential for us to stay in places we can easily get in and out of while we travel on foot — and San Cristobal suits this need well.
Okay, this is sounding like tourist propaganda for San Cristobal, but when I am looking for a place to live for a little bit these are the things that I want to know in advance of arrival. I want to find a friendly communities, free events, music and culture, and cheap and easy places to make a little home. I think this is what many other traveling families are looking for as well.
Now, if only I could find a job here . . .