My first visit to Chiapas, Mexico started with a wet adventure but then the time in San Cristobal was bliss.
Unfortunately I was hob-nobbing with delegates at the Adventure Travel World Summit most of the time and didn’t get to explore the city as much as I would like. Also, the mayor apparently made a strange decision to “clean up” the city before we arrived and all the street markets were banned from their usual spots. So we got a sanitized view of the city, coupled with double the number of women and children trying to sell things out of a bag to passersby on the sidewalks.
I need to go back.
This is a city that serves up lots of strange, sometimes disconcerting pairs of images. It has a large indigenous population, many of these people still wearing traditional garb. But it is also a bit of a gentrified, hippy-dippy traveler hangout, so you’ve got lots of restaurants and bars in the center that only tourists can afford. (See my review of the awesome Tierra y Cielo restaurant.)
There are little Zapatista revolutionary dolls for sale with masks and guns, plus tables of literature prodding people to rise up and demand more from the government. At the same time, anyone who bought property or opened a business after the revolution petered out wants nothing to do with all that—-life has gotten 10X better than it used to be.
This is the yin and yang of progress we often see when a no-go zone becomes a tourist hot-spot in a decade or less. There’s probably no right answer on how to deal with this really. Some people prosper from the new influx, some hate it and wish there was a more fair distribution of wealth. All we can do as travelers is try to make sure what we’re spending locally is spread around a bit and is helping to improve local lives.
Fortunately, there are almost no chain hotels or foreign chain restaurants in San Cristobal de las Casas and many of the vendors are no more than one step removed from the handicraft makers. The city and state pumped a lot of money into building upgrades and other public works before this conference, which supplied a lot of jobs. The arrival of 800 tourism professionals certainly helped the cause last week, some of the tour operators probably making plans to bring visitors here in the future.
There’s one luxury hotel in town, Parador San Juan del Dios, and we’ll be posting a review of it in November. Meanwhile, enjoy the images here. I must confess half of them were taken by my wife while I was holed up in a conference room or theater. Next time, more time to wander!
For more information on this beautiful spot in the mountains of southern Mexico (the state borders Guatemala), see the Chiapas Tourism site or the San Cristobal de las Casas section.