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Seeing the sights in San Cristobal de las Casas

Nestled deep inside the wild, rich green mountains, aromatic pine woodlands and seductive rainforest in the state of Chiapas, situated on the South West cusp of Mexico lies the notorious City of San Cristobal De Las Casas.

The ghost of its Colonial Heritage has left cobbled streets, rustic red tile roofs, beautiful Churches, Cathedrals and Arched Gateways in its wake. Mixed with a deep rooted Mayan population who use traditional culture and customs in their daily lives, conversing in one of the 20 dialects and wearing traditional thick black wool with bare feet. Add a splash of eccentric Bohemian Travellers equals an enchanting, unique City to visit.

For thousands of years the Mayan civilization has lived in and around the City. In 1528 the Spanish Conquistor Diego De Mazariego seized and established a base there appointing it the Capital of Chiapas. The City’s name, as well as its leaders underwent constant changes and in affect has been baptized a total of 10 times but was known to many across Mexico as ‘The Evil City’ for the mighty oppression it inflicted on the indigenous people. After witnessing years of slavery in 1545 Battolome De La Casas arrived and worked tirelessly against the Spanish exploitation and mistreatment of the natives to abolish slavery, the final name San Cristobal De Las Casas being in his honor. Current day saviours are known as Zapatista Army of National Revelation a peaceful movement invoking a non- violent war against the Government for more rights and freedom for the indigenous people.

Set in the Highlands at 2’100 meters, the days are warm mid 20, and sunny with cooler mornings and evenings. The Church bells ring through the streets as the cowboyed hat man pushes his cart full of oranges and a metal presser to extract juice. Boys as young as 5 strap a box of confectionary and cigarettes to sell, or grip, not their mothers hand but a homemade wooden box they hunch over polishing shoes. Two long black plaits falling down her back with thick woolen skirts clinched high, secured with belts and an embroidered blouse tucked in, the women endure an incredible weight of shawls and ponchos carried around all day tied across their foreheads trying to sell, most with a baby wrapped against their back.

Parque Zocalo is the heart of the town where old timers sell newspapers, couples sit entwined on the benches, families are entertained by street performers and 80’s English songs among other quirky rhythms sound from the squares speakers.

Ramble along any of the pedestrianised streets stemming from here will acquaint you with many wonderful delights. One of many Museums worth visiting is Na Boom once a home to an archeologist and anthropologist who’s study of Ancient Mayan sites and Chiapas Environment has been presented. Museo De Lo Medicina Mayan, an award winning Museum focusing on the traditional Mayan Medicine and its uses. Stroll along to Centro El Cultural Carmen where the Arch Gateway to the City still stands alongside tranquil gardens that are occasionally hosts to visual exhibits.

Eat at a local restaurant, 100% Natural is divine, incorporating a delicious fusion of natural and Mexican cuisine. Have a Marquisita from the street for pudding which is like a hard crêpe rolled around the popular Cajeta spread, a condensed caramelized goat’s milk and for good measure ingest the roasted aroma of local coffee at Café La Selva.

Over the years travellers have settled here adding a touch of spice to the town with a variety of subtle International influences. Tastefully blended into its surroundings you can sit cross legged and eat a curry at a simple Indian and Thai restaurant, or lounge on the cushions and sample an Austrian menu, dip breads and treat your body to Organic produce from one of many Vegetarian eateries or visit a Retro Clothing Shop, partake in Yoga on the rooftops and don’t forget the scrumptious French Patisseries. With over 14 dazzling churches, in the centre alone, splendidly decorated and adorned with flags you are spoilt for choice. So walk off the croissant by braving the long flight of steep steps to the pinnacle churches, Iglesia De San Cristobal, Templo De Guadalupe or Cerro De San Cristobal positioned at each corner of the City and be rewarded with a great view.

The spectacular Market spread over the steps of the equally spectacular Santa Domingo Church is not to be missed. The stalls host an abundance of colorful locally hand made Arts and Crafts. Mayan influenced textiles that are painstakingly made on a back-strapped loom, with tiny women using their whole body weight to pull through every thread, eventually produce yards of beautiful material and embroidery. The smell of leather bags, belts and sandals fills your nostrils and your eyes are enticed by the glimmer of Amber jewelry and other preciously carved stones. Skilled in dyeing, embellishing and knitting, woven fetching bags, purses, and clothes are hung up for sale.

But perhaps even better is walking beyond the tourist market to the local market Jose Castillo Tielem. The streets are a bustling craze of people in a maze of hidden indoor and outdoor stalls. With flies and dirty dogs take a deep breath as this is a good dose to inject of local character. Weave your way around the women sat on the ground with neatly stacked piles of fruit and vegetables, the tortilla makers, the chickens running around trying to escape, the barber or the tailor completely re- stitching a pair of trousers for 50p. Dried fish, bloodied meat, bags of chili and sacks of dried beans. Jars of honey, wild flowers, sugared bread and pigs ears are among the fascinating finds.

After a long day wondering around, relax with a home made beer at Iskra Bar or at a local Mexican Botanero, where for every beer you buy they bring food too! Watch a Theatre performance or boogie to a live band at Bar Revolution and finally rest your head on a pillow at numerous accommodation for all tastes and budgets. Hotel Posada El Parasio, cozy and rustic set in the heart of town full of plants in terracotta pots spilling over from the courtyard. Hotel Molino De La Alborada, another great place only a 5 minute drive outside the City and you’ll be greeted with cabins in the mountains, each warmed by a roaring open fire.

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