After some Google searching while in Tuxtla Gutierrez we had discovered some cheap apartments through a hotel in San Cristobal. We knew we would be spending a while here just to relax and see some of Chiapas so booking an apartment with kitchen seemed wise, and at $100 USD for the week it was also relatively cheap in a very touristy location. So after walking eight blocks to a main street in Tuxtla and waiting on the side of the road we easily found a second class bus which was a cheap way to get the hour and a half up into the heart of Chiapas. Arriving in San Cristobal we took a taxi (lazy unimaginative option I know, but sometimes it’s nice not to squeeze the packs into already crowded colectivos) to our hotel where we would be shown to our wee apartment.
The studio apartment was super cute and for me at least a nice change from the hot, bug filled cabañas we had previously been staying in while on the coast. After settling in we quickly decided we would stay for two weeks meaning we would be there for Tom’s birthday as well. It was late afternoon so we headed out to find the local market to stock the fridge with produce for our meals. The market here was quite large and being at altitude we noticed a different variety of produce which was similar to what we saw while in Xela (Guatemala) than other Mexican states. After an hour or so in the market (we love markets and will happily spend an hour or two just browsing) we headed back to the apartment for dinner with our hands full and our coin purse empty.
Our 13 days we spent here feels like ages ago so the exact order of what we did and places we visited have become a little muddled in my mind. Luckily I keep a brief record of all our travels but I also find that once I start looking back at our photos a lot of other things come back as well. San Cristobal was a bit of a lazy time for us too; I slept in a lot and we spent quite a bit of time in the apartment hanging out or cooking.
Because we were cooking we didn’t reach the zocalo for a few days when we walked in for dinner. The centre of town has a few streets, some of which are pedestrian only, that made it obvious that we were at the start of the gringo trail. There were restaurants and souvenir shops as far as the eye could see and the feel of these streets to me had a European vibe. To back up the European feel there were numerous Italian restaurants one of which (a cheap one) we ate at twice.
In the first few days we just wandered the city centre stopping into some tiny museums; the first of these was a bug museum. I was hoping for the chance to hold a tarantula because I really don’t like spiders and I want to see if I could conquer that fear. Instead we were given the chance to hold a huge hissing cockroach. Tom took the man up on the offer and was disgusted. It gripped onto his finger and he ended up dropping it onto the floor, whoops. When it was my turn I retreated to the far side of the room, I HATE cockroaches potentially more than spiders.
The next tiny museum was a jade one which actually had quite a nice display of different Pre-Hispanic jade artefact replicas. We had English translations of the Spanish signs so we took our time reading through the three rooms here. This museum ticket gave us access to the Museum of Cacao around the corner, it was a little underwhelming so we whisked through it. There was a cafe/shop as well so we sampled a tiny amount of the three different chocolates they produce and brought a small one for dessert.
Finally we headed back to the apartment and ended up passing a market beside a church. We find places like this by chance as Tom has a fascination with travelling through as many different streets in a town as possible. Taking the same route twice must be avoided if possible. But this does mean we see interesting buildings and street art. In this case as we wandered through the market I found a cute little Mexican doll which I decided would make a nice souvenir which wouldn’t weigh down my pack.
As this area is well-known for amber we visited two small amber museums. The first was in a really interesting restored convent and although there were no English signs the pieces were nice to look at and the video (with English subtitles) showed how the amber is formed by artisans and also how to spot fake amber. The second was also interesting and had some nice samples, this one had English which was actually really interesting to read. Overall the amber in this town was pretty but also at times a little tacky, I was keen on buying something but never found the right piece.
On either side of the city centro area is a church perched high up a small hill, one day after a particularly lazy start we walked to both which did the trick of our exercise for the day. The exercise was particularly necessary as with the kitchen and the beautiful produce from the market I had made some stewed fruits which may or may not have been eaten with pancakes…
One of the days we left the house with a purpose for once. We were planning on visiting an orchid garden but by the time we reached the market the sky had turned black, a wind had appeared and we were getting some alarmingly large rain drops falling on us. We made the executive decision to turn around and visit a museum around the corner from our casa. A minute from the museum and the heavens opened, we bolted for the entrance and watched as the street turned quickly into a river. Hopefully by the time we would be done inside the storm would have passed. The museum was called Na-Bolom and it was previously the house of a husband and wife team who were dedicated to exploring the culture and archaeology of the Mayans in the Lacandon Jungle in remote Eastern Chiapas. It wasn’t the best museum we had seen but it did the trick on a rainy afternoon. While we were in the museum we heard some of the loudest thunder I had ever heard. It was a little scary but at least we were under cover. By the time we finished looking around the museum the rain had eased so we made a break running the one block back to our house only to find that the courtyard had become a pond and was millimetres from flooding our room! Tom tried to find and unblock the drain while I ran back out into the rain again to the hotel where I asked for help. Luckily no flooding occurred as Tom located and unblocked the drain though the courtyard was a mess.
The following day dawned much clearer after the impressive storm the previous afternoon and we made another attempt to walk to the orchid garden. After arriving we were shown into a greenhouse where at first glance there actually didn’t appear to be any flowers. Soon we started seeing very subtly coloured orchids as well as teeny tiny other flowers. It became a bit of a game to play spot the flower. Wandering up the track at the back of the property we took off on a nature hike which ended up being a much longer loop than we expected. The trees were lovely and shady and it was nice to be out in the fresh air away from the city. At the top of the track we found a sinkhole style cave which Tom being Tom clambered down into. Returning to the gardens we finished up by looking at a great new greenhouse.
After chatting with the owner of the gardens we headed back into town to visit the market for dinner ingredients. On one of our first market visits Tom had basically fallen in love with the fresh baby potatoes in some of the stalls. They were super cheap at only 10 peso for 2 or 3 kg so we ended up with this huge bag to use up during our stay. Luckily we both like potatoes, I made them into chips, smashed, with eggs and in potato salad to name a few varieties of my cooking methods but I have to admit that they were tasty and we had no issue using them all up.
During our time in San Cristobal we also visited a well rated museum in centro. Housed in old convent beside the church that I purchased my little Mexican doll was both the regional museum as well as a museum of Mayan textiles. The regional part was similar to what we had seen many times before but we surprisingly enjoyed the textiles museum a lot. This showcased hundreds of different pieces of traditional clothing sourced from all over the Mayan regions in Mexico and Guatemala. We saw brightly coloured woven huipiles (a traditional shirt worn by females and males) which were up to 100 years old. After my weaving course in San Pedro in Guatemala I now had a hands on knowledge of how these beautiful textiles are made as well. If we had space in our packs we no doubt would’ve purchased some of these textiles during our stay here.
With our last few days in San Cristobal looming we started feeling lazy and upped our organisation. We visited tour agencies, spoke to the people in the information booths and did internet research. Planning out our last few days we ended up with a lot of things we wanted to do. Tonina archaeological site was first on the list and after a early wake up we spent an hour and a half in a colectivo to the town of Ocosingo where we walked across town to get another half hour colectivo to the entrance. It was so worthwhile. This was one of my favourite archaeological sites we have visited to date (which is saying something as we have now been to Chichen Itza among others).
Tonina was amazing, some claim it’s actually the tallest of all the pyramids in Mexico and at 75 metres above the main plaza it’s quite impressive. However, we don’t really agree with it being the tallest as it seemed to us a collection of plazas and temples stacked on top of each other rather than a single traditional pyramid. Although standing on the top of the highest point you do feel a little wary of the height. This site above all others we would have liked an English speaking guide. There was so much to it but unfortunately the two guides who offered services only spoke Spanish and we wanted our moneys worth with English. However we had a great time exploring the various structures which were often in surprising condition; some we could even walk inside. Being in the dark inside a Mayan temple is a strange feeling but we loved investigating the different parts. Leaving Tonina we retraced our steps and returned to San Cristobal. In total the the trip took all day and we were tired but happy with our adventures.
The next day was the start of our booked tours, and this one was a day trip. We were picked up early and joined our group to head south. This day was water themed and we would visit a waterfall as well as some lakes in the area. First stop was El Chiflon a waterfall with a pretty river where we could walk or swim. We of course chose to do both. Walking to the waterfall we snapped off lots of photos as it was quite beautiful. The main part of the falls was called Velo de Novia or The Bride’s Veil in English. Afterwards we speed walked back to find a spot to swim before needing to meet back at the tour van. We met up with three other girls in our tour group and decided on a place to swim and after sticking a foot in the water I was rapidly rethinking my decision. But the day was hot so I wanted to cool down and this meant into the water I needed to go. The water was quite fresh to say the least but lovely and refreshing after feeling sweaty so we stayed in for half an hour or so. When it was time to head back to the van we walked back in togs to try dry off as much as possible.
Next stop was for lunch and it wasn’t included in the tour. After enquiring about the prices we swiftly left the restaurant as 150 peso for a menu del dia was a rip off. A family of three Mexican women on our tour befriended us and generously shared their (copious supply) pre-packed lunch. This was a ham and bean torta and some salad which we were very grateful of. The day of this tour actually ended up being Tom’s birthday so it was nice that we were doing and seeing something interesting. Even if his birthday lunch was served with a not so subtle hint from our lunch hosts that we were old and should have settled down with a ring and babies by now.
After everyone had finished their expensive lunches we continued on to our next stops which were various lookouts over the Lagos de Montebello. These were very pretty and from one we could actually see into Guatemala, not that there was any obvious sign of the border. After four different lakes the day had trickled by and we were back on our way to San Cristobal. When we arrived back in centro it was around 9pm and the day trip had worn us out. Unfortunately we didn’t get to go out for a nice meal to celebrate Tom’s birthday as it was late so he chose to get some tacos on our walk back to our casa. Although we were tired the tacos hit the spot and we crashed into bed soon after.
The following day was a chance to recoup, clean up, pack and organise ourselves for the next part of our trip. We had booked another tour which would see us start in San Cristobal and end up in Palenque, this tour was a three day, two night, expensive and crazy expedition from the heart of Chiapas to the border of Guatemala and back to Palenque. It would be a tiring and full on three days and it would start with a pick up time of 4 am in the morning. Needless to say we were looking forward to the sights we would see but not the early wake up call required. So after getting our packs organised we settled in for an early night with a very early morning ahead.
To find out how our tour went, where we went and what we saw stay tuned for my next post on Palenque. I promise it won’t be far away (it’s already written) so after adding photos I just need my ‘editor’ to look over both posts (easier said than done as he is prone to distraction).