A beautiful colonial city in the leafy highlands of Mexico's Chiapas State, San Cristobal de las Casas is a fascinating place to see elements of indigenous cultures that can no longer be found in other locales—although the recent influx of visitors has had a pronounced influence on the city's character.
San Cristobal is a fascinating place to wander for hours, exploring cobblestoned streets and tiny churches. The market is the best place for people-watching, especially to see Mayan women dressed in traditional garb—embroidered blouses, tunics and long dark skirts. (Always ask permission before photographing them.) Also visit the many villages nearby with their multitude of traditions, festivals and dialects.
Those with a strong interest in Mayan culture will want to visit the Na Bolom Institute, founded by an authority on and advocate for the Lacandon people. It offers a guesthouse, restaurant, museum and research center. The town also has intriguing colonial architecture and baroque churches, and some of the best traditions of brocading and weaving in the country. It's also the best place to buy amber in Mexico: Chiapas is one of a few places in the world that mines this precious resin. The city's two Spanish-language schools are well-regarded.
Side trips to such fascinating Indian villages as San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan are possible. This is also the base for adventure tourism in Chiapas, with lots of hiking, mountain biking and rafting opportunities nearby.
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