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.
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.
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.
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.
The city has several medical offices and the rates are low: US$7.50 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.”
The most expensive part of San Cristobel is the historical district. However 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$500 a month.
A rancho, outside of town, on acreage, with three bedrooms and two baths, rents for US$590 a month. Commercial buildings in town rent for US$550 a month. Meanwhile, colonial-style homes in town start at around US$74,000 (with two bedrooms and two baths).
The weather here is more moderate than in other parts of Mexico. The average daily highs stay between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year. December, January and February are colder during the night though. Temperatures can fall into the low 40s during this part of the year.
The rainy season is between June and September. During these months you can expect a tropical downpour most days. This normally doesn’t last long though and you can see plenty of sunshine in the morning and again in the late afternoon. The shoulder seasons of May and October can also see some rainy days.
The dry season is between December and March. During these months it’s not uncommon to go for weeks on end with no rain. April is more variable usually has far more sunny days than rainy days.
The only thing that has kept San Cristobel de las Casas from being a major tourist and expat town is the lack of transport options. The closest airport is over an hour’s drive away and it doesn’t have international flights.
The roads in and out of San Cristobel are safe and well-maintained. This is important, because the winding mountain roads have some sheer drops at points. You will find road signs in advance warning you of any dangerous spots though.
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