Why not read our Retirement Reviews.
For a detailed breakdown of Holiday and Retirement Costs, read about San Cristobal GRANDPAcking Costs.
I made my way from Antigua, Guatemala to San Cristobal, Mexico by Shuttle Bus.
The journey took 11 hours.
ANTIGUA – GUATEMALA:
I booked 3 nights in the Casa De Leon.
For a more detailed look at hotel prices, read my Antigua – Information post.
We got the room at a discounted rate of GTQ128 / night (US$17.50) including a free Breakfast for 2.
The ‘wardrobe’ was really just shelves with nowhere to hang your clothes. The fan was so noisy that we had to switch it off at night.
The shower had hot water.
You often had to wait to get into the bathroom (especially in the mornings and early evenings – when everyone was getting up or getting ready to go out for dinner).
The Casa De Leon provided free water.
It was time to move on to San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico …
ANTIGUA TO SAN CRISTOBAL (SAN CRIS):
There are many Tour Agents scattered around Antigua.
For more detail about the trip read here.
ABOUT SAN CRISTOBAL:
San Cris is a town and municipality located in the Central Highlands region of the Mexican state of Chiapas. It was the capital of the state until 1892, and is still considered the cultural capital of Chiapas.
The municipality is mostly made up of mountainous terrain, but the city sits in a small valley surrounded by hills. The city’s center maintains its Spanish colonial layout and much of its architecture, with red tile roofs, cobblestone streets, and wrought iron flowered balconies. Most of the city’s economy is based on commerce, services and tourism.
Although the political capital of Chiapas was moved to Tuxtla, San Cristóbal is considered to be the “cultural capital” of the state. Designated a “Pueblo Mágico” (Magical Village) in 2003, it was further recognized as “The most magical of the Pueblos Mágicos” by President Felipe Calderón in 2010.
A number of travellers have made San Cris their permanent home. This has had an impact on the local culture, especially in the historic center. Many foreign residents have opened up restaurants. The central ‘pedestrian’ streets, especially, offer partying well into the early hours of the morning (every night).
I already had the AT&T SIMcard that I purchased in Playa Del Carmen a few months before. An AT&T (IUSCELL) SIMcard remains ‘active’ even if it has no credit and remains inactive for several months.
Even though mine had been unused for the month that I was in Guatemala, it was still active when I arrived in San Cris.
I found an OXXO Store in San Cris and tried to load it with MXP300 credit. They couldn’t find AT&T on their system … in many locations around Mexico, the locals don’t know about AT&T … they know it under its old name IUSCELL (the company that AT&T took over).
I walked a short distance further down the road and found a small shop that advertised that it recharged all phones. I loaded mine with MXP300. With that, I purchased a 1 month Mobile Plan that included 200 Talk minutes, Texting, 1GB of Data, and 3GB of ‘social media’ data (including Facebook).
In San Cris you get good AT&T wifi coverage but, my general experience in Mexico is that you are better off buying a TELCEL SIMcard (you get wider coverage).
You should get free wifi in your hotel and many restaurants and bars.
WHERE TO STAY:
This is what you find if you do a search 2-3 weeks in advance of your arrival.
HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):
PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You may have to add up to 18-22% to the displayed price to get the final price.
Many of the cheap places listed, above, have Shared Bathrooms that DO NOT MEET GRANDPAcking Standard.
VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):
If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.
Holiday Rentals are usually rented for a minimum of 3 days and, more typically, by the week. Often, you get the best price renting from Sunday to Sunday.
A comparable search reveals the following … please note that these prices are in US$s …
Vacation Rentals are, usually, displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any Security Deposit (if required). BUT, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of ‘Weekly Discounts’ (which can deduct as much as 10%) and the host site’s ‘Service Fees’ (which can add as much as 16%).
In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, in Mexico they are definitely worth a look.
You can stay anywhere within walking distance of the Main Square. There are many properties to choose from.
Staying east of the Old Town center will put you closer to the ‘best rated’ restaurants and bars.
There are many accommodation options within our GRANDPAcking Budget of up to MXP440 (US$25) / night.
If you ‘walk in off the street’ (rather than book online), you may be able to negotiate better prices.
You should be able to find something to GRANDPAcking standard for US$15 / night for a 1 month rental.
For the dates that we were looking at (1 week before arrival), the price was about US$17 / night for a basic, small Double Room with Private Bathroom.
For only US$2 more, we could get a small apartment through AirBnB only 400 meters from the Old Town. We decided to book at the Albufera Apartment.
In Mexico, don’t bother about a TV. Unless you speak fluent Spanish it is useless. You will be lucky to get 1-2 English speaking Movie, Sport, and News channels.
You are much better off getting good wifi that allows you to stream your own movies / entertainment.
The Albufera says that their apartments come ‘fully equipped’. Ours did not. The remote for the main TV was missing, there was no kettle, there were no cleaning products, and it lacked other minor items that you would expect (like a bottle opener) … we had to ask for clean towels and linen half way through our stay.
You cannot flush anything down the toilets. Dirty toilet paper goes in a small bin in the bathroom. You don’t really want this to be sitting around for 7 days! We had to ask for our bins to be emptied … management seemed a bit ‘put out’ by this request. In the end, we had to clean up ourselves and leave the ‘rubbish’ outside in plastic bags for them to find and clean up.
Have a look yourself:
You can walk everywhere around the Old Town.
If you want to catch public transport, see my Rules Of Thumb for how much you should pay.
In and around the Old Town, you pay premium prices … and, there are plenty of places to choose from.
GRANDPAckers will need to get away from the Old Town Center to get the better prices that they need. The good news is that you won’t have to walk far!
We chose an Apartment to not only have more comfort but, also, to help keep food prices down.
The US$2 / day premium that we paid for the apartment (compared to a hotel room) more than paid for itself in daily Food & Drink costs.
Here, we stocked up on everything that we needed for a nice Breakfast each morning … and enough luxuries to spend a couple of nights in with a bottle of wine (and a movie).
A typical Breakfast with coffee / tea in a ‘local’ cafe (away from the Old Town center) will cost MXP50-70.
A typical Lunch in a ‘local’ cafe (away from the Old Town center) will cost MXP40-50. Add more for a drink.
You will be hard-pushed to get a decent Dinner around the Old Town for under MXP80. Add more for a drink.
A ‘Comida Del Dia’ Lunch in a little ‘local’ Comida in the back streets will cost MXP40-50. For this, you will get something simple like Chicken, Rice, Salad, and Tacos.
There are hardly any Street Stalls around San Cris.
Expect to pay MXP60 for a cheap Breakfast with coffee. Expect to pay MXP60 for a cheap Lunch with Fruit Drink. Expect to pay MXP100 for a cheap Dinner with Fruit Juice.
The standard price for a 350ml bottle of local beer (like Indio) is MXP30-35. The cheapest glass of house Red Wine will cost MXP45 … alas, White Wine is more expensive – expect to pay MXP60-70.
There aren’t many ‘Happy Hours’ around town … but, they can be found.
Revolucion: This bar is usually rocking with their nightly live music that tends to start around 9:00pm and continues on into the early hours of the morning.
El Catrina: Has live music from late through to 3am with up to 3 different bands playing.
There are plenty more bars to choose from.
YOUR HEALTH & SAFETY:
There is no reason to feel unsafe here. But, as always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.
San Cris is the worst place for ‘hawkers’ that I’ve come across in Mexico / Central America so far. You are approached constantly by women selling local crafts, shoe-shine boys, and beggars. If you sit in a street cafe, you can expect to be approached regularly – if not every 5 minutes. Some do not take ‘no’ for an answer. Some of the youngsters can get a bit nasty if they don’t get their own way … watch out for them agreeing a price up-front but, then, upping the price by as much as 500% half way through.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
- Pedestrian Streets
- Mercado Jose Castillo Tielemans
- Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya
- Templo de Santo Domingo
- Catedral de San Cristobal de Las Casas
- Na Bolom Cultural Centre
- Museo del Ambar
- Orquideas Moxviquil
- Foro Cultural Kinoki
- Iglesia de Guadelupe
- Iglesia de San Cristobal
TOURS / EXCURSIONS:
San Cris is a great place to base yourself for countless adventures throughout Chiapas.
- Cycling / Mountain-Biking
- Horseback Riding
- Sumidero Canyon
- El Chiflon Waterfalls
- Lagunas de Montebello National Park
- El Arcotete River
- Huitepec Ecological Reserve
- Grutas de Rancho Nuevo Caving
- Misol-Ha Cascades
There are many interesting villages nearby to visit. All are easily accessible by Colectivo. Examples include:
- Chiapa de Corzo
Get to Mercado Jose Castillo Tielemans (the main market about 10 blocks north of the Main Square).
From the main market square, walk about 100 meters north past the street stalls. Start asking for a Colectivo to Chamula. There are several … one should be easy to find.
The Colectivo costs MXP18 each way and takes 20 minutes.
Tourists are charged MXP25 to enter the church … but it is worth it. You buy your ticket at a small booth on the left of the church building.
You are not allowed to take photos inside the church.
Inside you will find about 45 statues of saints in glass-front cabinets around the walls. In front of each saint you will find a table covered in lit candles.
The floor is sprinkled with a blanket of pine needles.
Local families clear the pine needles to make a space for themselves. In that space, they set up their own candle alters and sit around to pray. There can be as many as 10 family alters set up on the floor around the church. Each alter can be up to 100 candles.
The locals pray and chant at their own alters. They bring coke and refresco drink to offer to God … sprinkling their offerings over their candles. After offering refreshment to God, they share their offerings around their family sipping in small, shared glasses.
At the end of the ceremony, some sacrifice live chickens … others smash eggs. Usually the chickens get their necks broken but, occasionally, the throat is cut to make a blood offering.
This is a unique experience. Plan to spend up to 60 minutes inside the church.
To get home, just walk back to the main road junction and flag down the next Colectivo going back to San Cris. They will drop you back at the market.
If you want to see the Cemetary, you will find it up near the main road junction.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
There are many tourist shops around the Old Town.
The main market is large, well priced, and offers all of the goods that you would expect from Fresh Vegetables to Backpacks.
There are plenty of ATMs around town. They dispense different maximums at different ‘transaction’ prices.
I advise you to get your MXP at an HSBC ATM. You can withdraw up to MXP10,000 in a single transaction and you only pay a fee of MXP33.35.
There are 3 Supermarkets on the outskirts of town. The nearest is the Chandrai (see above) which is within easy walking distance. Typical prices:
- Cheap Wine: 750ml bottle MXP60
- Cheap Tequilla: 750ml bottle MXP55
- Bread: Multigrain MXP30
- Yogurt: 1kg MXP30
- Cheese: From MXP70 / kg
- Bread: Multigrain MXP30
Tiendas (small local shops) / Other:
- Water: 5 Gallons MXP20 (plus MXP60 deposit on the bottle)
- Laundry: MXP12 / Kg
WHEN TO GO:
You will need to trade-off warmer temperatures for rain.
April is the best month (and the busiest / most expensive).
From San Cris we head for El Panchan, Palenque.
There are no direct Shuttle Buses. Tour Agents only offer day tours returning to San Cris. We were offered a one-way 4am Shuttle to Palenque via Agua Azul and some Waterfalls for MXP870 … we declined.
You can make your way from San Cris to Ocosingo by chicken bus (2 hours MXP70) and, from there, another chicken bus to Palenque (3 hours MXP75).
ADO have buses leavng at 6am, 10am, noon, and 4pm for MXP340. The bus takes 8 hours and goes via Villahermosa to avid the mountain roads. We chose the comfort of an ADO bus even though it takes 3 hours longer than chicken buses. We booked in advance at the ADO Office and got our discounted tickets for MXP176. We leave at 6am on Monday. The ADO Office is near the main square. The ADO Bus Terminal is 6 blocks south of the main square.
I will tell you more about that in a future post.
San Cris is relatively expensive for GRANDPAckers … especially if you want to spend a lot of time where the ‘action / vibe’ is around the pedestrian streets.
Expect to be harassed by hawkers in these streets and around the main square.
Outside of the pedestrian streets, San Cris quickly loses its ‘charm’.
San Cris has a small expat community. Many are middle-aged and here for the all-night partying. Most GRANDPAckers would get bored with this scene very quickly.
Most ‘westerners’ should get a free 180 day Tourist Visa on entry into Mexico. You cannot renew this Visa whilst in Mexico … you MUST leave the country and come back in again. The good side is that you only have to do a Visa Run twice each year … and Guatemala (and San Pedro La Laguna) is not far away. Belize is also very close. One cost that you will need to take into account is that, if you stay in Mexico for more than 7 days, you will have to pay MXP500 each to exit the country.
Is San Cris somewhere to stay for several months as you alternate between home and / or other Retirement Location(s)? NO.
Can a retired couple with no assets live easily, comfortably, and happily here with their only source of income being a standard NZ Married Couple’s State Pension? YES. Although Mexico is cheaper than Belize and places like Antigua (Guatemala), San Cris is one of the most expensive places that I’ve visited in Mexico. Your budget will be ‘tight’ if you want to ‘participate’ in what San Cris has to offer. If you don’t ‘participate’, San Cris has little else to offer.
San Cris does NOT make it into my Retirement Reviews.