Cobbled streets and cave exploration in San Cristobal de las Casas

Don't you love it when a 4 hour bus ride turns into a surprise 9 hour bus ride? No. No one does.

But that was what happened between Palenque and San Cristobal. It turns out that the direct road between Palenque and San Cristobal is fraught with challenges. Often, anti-government protesters close the road, either by picketing, or by using bamboo spikes and nails. Stories circulate about 'tolls' being exacted from passing cars to use the road, or even just straight out armed robberies. With all that going on, it's no surprise that the bus company goes the long way round. Except it was a surprise to us...

So when we climbed off the bus at 7pm instead of 2pm, we were pretty hungry. We hadn't prepared with enough snacks for a long bus ride, so we'd missed lunch, and the situation was getting desperate. We quickly found our hotel, luckily located a short walk from the bus station, and barely dropped our things before going out for food. Our host had recommended a nearby place, but the line was out the door, so we filed it away for a less dire time, and popped into a small place just down the road.

Comedor Humo en los Ojos (Smoke in the Eyes Cafe) was very much like eating dinner in someone's house! The food was great, and plentiful, and it wasn't long until our hard day of travel was all but forgotten. Back at the hotel, we had time to take in our lovely room, with a truly enormous bed, and a shower so hot and powerful it kinda hurt. We were in heaven. Adding to the delight was the fact that San Cristobal was cold. At 2200m, the increased altitude meant the temperature was very pleasant - we even wore pants for the first time in Mexico!

Wandering the city

After a decent sleep in, we headed out for breakfast. We didn't have to go far before we came across a beautiful little pedestrian mall with coloured banners decorating it, filled to the brim with cafes. We picked one, and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and some people watching.

With breakfast ticked off the list, we set out to see what the city had on offer. Our first stop was the main square, with Catedral de San Cristobal on its edge. The cathedral seemed to be under renovation, but even the fences surrounding it were covered in bright and beautiful street art. The square was bustling and filled with people.

We continued down the narrow streets, packed with shops selling all sorts of cool local art, clothing and produce, and ended up at Cathedral Santa Domingo. The entrance way was filled to the brim with stalls selling even more local crafts, but eventually we navigated the labyrinth and found the attached museum. The ground floor contained some religious artifacts and traditional art, and the first floor contained the Centro de Textiles del Mundo Maya, a museum dedicated to traditional Mayan textiles. Sadly the actual cathedral had some recent bad luck - an earthquake in September 2017 caused the roof to collapse, so although some of the interior was accessible, it was also under repair when we went in.

From there, we headed to the Museo del Cacao and Chocolateria Cultural. Sadly, this place was a bit of a letdown. The 'museum' was really just an upper balcony filled with random stuff and very little information. Cabinets were filled with cocoa tins and hot chocolate makers, and there wasn't much information about the farming of cacao or the production of chocolate. We did however find out how many cacao beans a duck was worth, so that's probably good knowledge to have in the memory banks, should you ever find yourself short of a duck (or cacao beans). We tried to get some chocolates on the way out the door, but the staff were a little reluctant to serve us. Instead, we stopped at a cafe on the way back to the accommodation for a takeaway frappe.

Torrential rain and small worlds

Just as we walked in the door, the heavens opened. The rain was absolutely torrential, and luckily we managed to miss it. We spent a couple of hours hanging out in the accommodation, waiting for the worst of it to pass, before hunger drove us back out. By that time, the worst of the rain seemed to have passed, and I was certain I wouldn't need a raincoat since the cafe was only 5 minutes away. I made it relatively unscathed.

Not long after we ordered lunch at Te Quiero Verde, the Spanish couple we'd met playing frisbee in Merida walked in. In our excitement to say hello, I managed to smash a vase... We moved tables, and they joined us for a delicious vegetarian lunch, and we all struggled to communicate in broken English and Spanish! We got there in the end though, with the boys holding up most of the conversation - they were each the more bilingual half of the couples! 

As lunch wore on, the rain picked up again. Once we'd well and truly overstayed our welcome in the cafe, we knew we had to make a break for it. Zev had cleverly brought his raincoat, but I was still confident I could make it back in one piece. As we got closer and closer to the accommodation, the rain grew heavier and heavier. By the time I threw open the door to the hotel, where the host and her entire family were gathered in the lobby, I was SOAKED. Everyone had a good laugh at me (as I would have if I was in their position), and I squelched upstairs to dry myself off.

Frisbee disappointment

We'd been in touch with a local frisbee team, and they'd told us they were training that evening at a nearby field. Since the rain had eased, we decided to go and check it out (I wore my raincoat this time). The directions were a little vague: "We play at Sedem on the last natural grass field." We figured that this would make itself clear when we arrived.

We walked through the main gate, and the complex was pretty big. All we could see though were artificial turf fields. We walked around the entire park, looking for a grass field... Finally, we found a single grass field. Surely this was where he meant! We sat in the stadium seating overlooking the field, but no one turned up. 10 minutes passed, then 15... No one was there. Frisbee players are notoriously late, but for not a single person to be on time for a training? That's a little weird. We figured we were in the wrong place. I messaged the guy we'd been in contact with, but didn't hear back, so we thought they must be playing somewhere else. Zev consulted google maps, and we saw what looked like sports fields nearby, so we gave it a shot.

We walked about 10 minutes down the road, and discovered that the 'fields' on google maps were actual fields. As in pasture. So nope, they weren't playing there. The only thing we could think of was that the terrible weather had meant that the training had been cancelled, and they'd forgotten to tell us. So we headed home, frisbee-less.. Of course as soon as we walked in the doors to the hotel, I got as reply from the guy. We'd been at the right field the first time, they were all just late... Bloody frisbee players...

All that walking made us hungry again, so we decided to try our luck at the restaurant with the line out the door the night before. El Meson del Taco was incredible. I mean, all tacos in Mexico are good, but these were by far the best we'd had so far. The pork was all cooked on a massive rotisserie, and it was melt in your mouth good. We both ate until we felt sick, which is how you know the meal is done.

El Arcotete

The next day, we caught taxi a short ride to El Arcotete, a park near the edge of San Cristobal that Zev had read about online. We paid a small entry fee, and headed down a hill, not really sure what to expect.

We were pleasantly surprised to find a cool limestone cave over a river. As we got closer to the bottom, some people (with two really cute dogs) started rock climbing, which looked fun, but terrifying.

We crossed a small swing bridge, and headed down river to see what we could see. Zev had read that you could follow a trail back into town, and we thought that might be it. We got a fair way down before we reached a point that looked a bit tricky, but it looked promising, so we thought we'd come back later to check it out.

We headed back to the cave, and climbed up a hill to try to get into the viewing platforms at the top of the caves. The signage was all in Spanish, and we didn't recognise many of the words (only 'toilets' and 'exit', neither of which we were looking for), but after fumbling around for about 20 minutes, we found ourselves at the bottom of the staircase up into the roof of the cave.

We paid our extra entry fee (of course) and climbed up into the cave. Parts of it were a bit of a squeeze, but for the most part it was just the two of us up there, so we climbed around and explored. The stalagmites and stalactites made some pretty cool formations, which were creatively signposted as mermaids, aliens, and Spiderman, and the view out over the park were great. After 20 minutes or so of constant head hitting, we made our way back down the stairs, across the swing bridge, and attempted to hike back to town.

We ummed and ahhhed about asking some of the workers there for directions to make sure we were on the right path, but when they'd tried to give us directions to the cave, it was... difficult. They only spoke Spanish, and they spoke it very quickly... Instead, we decided to give it a go, and hope for the best.

Within five minutes, we were at a dead end. The riverbank had ended, and we were scrambling along incredibly slippery rocks in a filthy river. We did NOT want to fall in. We called it a day, and headed back to the carpark to get a taxi back into town.

As luck (or our specific request) would have it, our taxi dropped us off right outside an incredible burger joint. Although the waitress was a little... friendly (she joined us for our meal and we now know her whole life story), the burgers at La Brasiliero were incredible.

With full stomachs and a spring in our step, we headed to the bus station to book our bus tickets to Puerto Escondido the following day. We knew the bus ride was going to be hell - about 13 hours of it. Our choices were whether to leave at 11am, spend the entire day on the bus and arrive at midnight, or to leave at 7pm, and spend all night on the bus, arriving at 8am. In the end we decided a daytime bus ride was preferable, so we could arrive late but just pass out in bed when we got there.

Later in the evening, we headed out for a final dinner in San Cristobal. We picked a winner in El Punto Pizzeria. A delicious thin crust pizza, washed down with a seriously boozy tiramisu - a perfect way to top off our time in San Cristobal de las Casas!

Lots of love,
S & Z
xxx