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San Cristóbal de las Casas

 

 

There is a vivid and otherworldly quality to San Cristóbal de Las Casas, a city with a rich colonial legacy, strikingly positioned in the highlands of Chiapas province in southern Mexico. Clean, clear light spills across this city, where colonial mansions rise up between rows of brightly coloured houses. Rich in indigenous culture and history, San Cristóbal de las Casas is an anthropologist’s dream.

 

San Cristóbal’s principal authority on Maya culture is the Na Bolom Museum. Na Bolom means “house of the jaguar” in Tzotzil. An essential stop for anyone wanting to learn more about this mysterious culture, the museum attractions include an excellent library and an astonishing photo gallery. Among its acquisitions is a Maya clock, which has no mechanical parts and resembles a hanging mobile. It is purportedly extremely accurate, although few people know how to read it anymore.

 

Nearby, the Centro de Desarollo de la Medicina Maya explores Mayan healing techniques still in use and founded on ancient shamanic practices. Mayan medicine forms an integral part of a complex “cosmo-vision” where extraordinary spiritual realms co-exist with mundane reality. Practically speaking, there are three main branches: herbalism, pulse-reading, and midwifery. The museum contains some excellent exhibits, a medicinal herb garden and a Temazcal steam bath. It also has a list of over 900 healers who are all available for consultation.

 

Nearby San Juan Chamula is particularly renowned for its adherence to ancient traditions. Here the old gods are worshipped as much as the new, and the locally practised brand of Catholicism assumes a vibrant, evocative and thoroughly pagan flavour. Inside Chamula’s church, immersed in a fog of incense, shamans engage themselves in strange rituals, sacrificing live chickens before crowds of onlookers. The villages around San Cristóbal are also good places to pick up local handicrafts. Maya textiles are of particularly high quality. Many tours of the area include a trip to a weaver’s house, where you are able to buy goods directly and at a discount. This can make your purchases more personal and satisfying and you will also be able to ask specific questions about the pieces you buy. Maya textiles are often laden with symbolic motifs, and their makers are happy to explain their meaning.

 

Located just 3.5 km outside of San Cristóbal, the Huitepec Ecological Reserve provides an easy excursion into natural surroundings. The reserve is made up of two distinct zones which cover the slope of a dormant volcano. Oak forests dominate the low-lying areas, which as one ascends, slowly transforms into cloud forest. At its heights, the vegetation spills over with lush exuberance—thick green carpets of moss, ferns, bromeliads and spidery extrusions.

 

Surrounded by green mountains, the mythical dwelling place of ancient spirits, San Cristóbal de las Casas is one of Mexico’s most profound and memorable locales. Mystical, indigenous and ethereal San Cristóbal: A visit here is sure to enchant and fascinate.



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