San Cristobal de las Casas is not your typical Mexican resort or quaint tourist development: this is a high altitude, high attitude, intact colonial city dating from its founding in 1528. The city proper is set in a lush green valley amid the sometimes fog-shrouded mountains of Chiapas state, at 7,000-plus feet. Come winter, the corn fields are cemeteries of brown and barren stalks, and planted wherever a space exists or can be created. What would be a meadow or pasture anywhere else in the world is given over to maize, the staple crop of the people.
This is a city in love with color and tradition, music and art. The occasional overcast skies due to the mountainous setting are offset by walls of scarlet, indigo, and titanium yellow. The Mayan ladies wear incandescent shawls and the traffic lights, half-sized, well placed and visible, flash in ruby-red letters.
Highlights of summer include week-long jazz festivals, featuring international groups. Symphony orchestras play here in the winter and itinerant lecturers are constantly passing through town. Ticket prices? Less than a box of popcorn in Phoenix. The hotels? Stay in a 16th-century one-story mansion for the price of a night at the Holiday Inn. The colors? Beyond any artist’s palette and probably inspired by the Mayans.
An excellent close-in posada is US$25 a night. Rates go up in August to snag the Europeans, but, if you feel like bargaining, cash speaks loudly. Expect a comfortable bed for two, a nice bath with hot water, no phone but a television. You’ll find a bar and a restaurant a few steps away.
The city has several medical offices and the rates are low: US$2.50 for a quick check-up, double that for a night house call. There aren’t many lawyer’s offices. A local real estate broker explained: “We don’t have a need for many lawyers here.”
Even in the historical district, prices are reasonable—in both sales and rentals. To give you some idea, a three-bedroom home (unfurnished), with two and a half baths, a two-car garage, and views rents for US$450 a month.
A rancho, outside of town, on acreage, with three bedrooms and two baths, rents for US$500 a month. Commercial buildings in town rent for US$500 a month. Meanwhile, colonial-style homes in town start at around US$64,000 (with two bedrooms and two baths).