7,200 feet up in Chiapas’ pine covered mountains is a jewel of a city that’s both a cosmopolitan cultural hub and an ancient settlement with strong indigenous roots. One of the oldest post-Columbian cities in the Americas, San Cristobal de las Casas was founded in 1528. In 1974, the city was named a national historical monument. Over the past fifteen years, since the Zapatista uprising began in 1994, a number of factors have contributed to the city’s cultural resurgence, not the least of which are a renewed pride in the diversity of local culture and the attention of the international non-profits.
Miguel Angel Corzo Macall, General Manager of DMC Chiapas, and a native of the colonial city, recommends that groups think of San Crisobal as a unified venue in a campus setting, with streets as passageways connecting the many boutique hotels and meeting spaces. Two such streets, Andador Eclesiastico and Real de Guadalupe are home to many of the most popular shops and restaurants. Both are closed to vehicular traffic.
As one of Mexico’s most important cultural destinations, San Cristobal is a perfect choice for incentive trips, executive retreats, weddings, and special interest travel related to culture and nature. The city has hosted notable events such as a Hershey’s Corporation executive retreat in 2010 (Chiapas is a leading producer of cocoa) and the 2011 Adventure Travel World Summit.
SAN CRISTOBAL HOTELS
There are many hotel options in San Cristobal de las Casas. The largest hotel in the destination is the Holiday Inn San Cristobal Espanol with 80 guest rooms.
Two notable choices for lodging are the Casa del Alma Hotel Boutique & Spa and the Hotel Bo San Cristobal. Both are located in the historical center, perfect for guests who want to explore the city walking. Hotel Bo even offers bikes to guests who feel like pedaling colonial streets.
The Casa del Alma has 27 well-appointed guest rooms. Their standard room is larger than the average hotel room, making it easy for guests a chance to settle in and relax. Coffee machines, well-designed bathrooms, top-quality amenities, and very comfortable king-sized beds add to the sense of luxury. The hotel restaurant serves an excellent breakfast and the staff is attentive and friendly. A fast Wi-Fi connection is available in each room. The onsite meeting room can accommodate groups of up to 60 people. Business travelers to San Cristobal would be hard pressed to do better than the Casa del Alma.
The Hotel Bo’s décor is an expert fusion of San Cristobal’s local craftsmanship and international jet-set style. The hotel is a rich visual feast, with wide open indoor spaces that blend seamlessly into the hotels courtyard and gardens. The hotel’s designers have taken traditional crafts from the local markets and jazzed them up: huge fabric lampshades dangle whimsically from the ceiling. Wool textiles in natural greys and browns are stitched together with pink thread and laid out on the floor as asymmetrical rugs. Shallow pools of water in the restaaurant area reflect the azure skies above, and a riotous flowering garden full of birds is a treat for the senses. Hotel Bo feels like an eccentric but very chic country lodge. The rooms are large, spacious and quiet, excellent havens for recuperating after a day of meetings. Hotel Bo’s restaurant is one of the city’s best, its menu created by award-winning Mexican chef Ricardo Munoz. Hotel Bo even offers bikes to guests who feel like pedaling colonial streets.
Both Casa del Alma and Hotel Bo are ideal for incentive travelers, executives, or exclusive wedding parties. Each is also works well for larger groups thinking of employing the “Colonial Campus” concept.
The Na Bolom Cultural Center is a special event venue worth mentioning. This sprawling hacienda, with 15 sleeping rooms, a museum and restaurant, was the home of Danish archeologist Frans Blom and his Swiss wife, photographer Gertrude Duby Blom. The Bloms, early explorers of the Chiapas region, began inviting scholars and travelers into their home more than half a century ago. Na Bolom continues the Blom’s work through its focus on the people and culture of Chiapas’ Lacandon jungle and attracts people from around the world. The restaurant has a long communal table where visitors can share stories and experiences, ask questions, and get to know one another. After dinner, guest can continue their conversations in the library, which boast one of the world’s most extensive collections of texts, maps and monographs relating to the cultural and natural history of Chiapas. Casa Na Bolom is an excellent choice for educational or academic groups seeking to learn more about the culture and history of the region.
WHAT TO DO IN SAN CRISTOBAL
San Cristobal is a shopper’s paradise. The city itself is replete with both chic boutiques and traditional open air markets. The indigenous towns of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan, with their abundant markets, are each just a ten-minute drive from downtown.
Markets:The city’s large artisan’s market is open daily, in the center adjacent to the Santo Domingo church. Shoppers will find a wide variety of (mostly) locally produced textiles, leather goods, and jewelry. Prices are very accessible, and some bargaining is possible with sellers. The city’s main market is located just a few blocks from the crafts market. Artisans sell here as well, though this market is principally the place where locals, including chefs and restaurateurs, shop for vegetables, meat and other products. Adventurous shoppers will want to check out the stalls of unusual products such as raw cocoa beans or stalls selling herbs and medicinal plants arranged by ailment.
Boutiques.There are lots of boutiques in San Cristobal. Some is vision and variety of designs. Three of the latter include, Eklektik, toward the north end of the Andador Eclesiastico, which offers a selection of high-quality crafts from Chiapas and the neighboring state of Oaxaca. On Avenida Insurgentes, just a few blocks south of the central plaza look for El Camino de Los Altos, a shop that has been organized as a cooperative. Local indigenous women employ traditional weaving techniques to create scarves, shawls, pillow cases, bed spreads and more based on original patterns made by French designers. In a similar vein, at Maya Kotan, local women produce stylishly-designed limited-edition shawls, scarves, and table cloths on their back strap looms.
Local towns. The most visited nearby towns are San Juan Chamula, known for its church that combines Catholic saints and traditions with pre-Hispanic traditions, and Zinacantan, a matriarchal society where the local women are expert textile designers. Both are well worth a visit. Going with a guide is recommended.