If you’re looking for “indigenous” as a main ingredient of your learning Spanish in Mexico, look no further than San Cristobal de las Casas, population about 250,000, nestled in a highland valley of Chiapas. Indeed, many indigenous Chiapanecos’ native language isn’t Spanish either (although most do speak it).
The color of San Cristobal comes, then, not only from the bright façades of the picturesque colonial buildings topped with red-tiled roofs lining the cobblestone streets, but also from the intricate hand-loomed textiles, woven, sold and worn by these Mayan descendents (mostly Tzotzil and Tzeltal).
Study up on that Spanish vocab, then head out from your language school to the crafts market next to Santo Domingo to bargain for an embroidered huipil, a jade mask, or a chunk of that famous Chiapas amber.
San Cristobal de las Casas is a mouthful, both in Spanish and literally: The mid-sized city boasts one of the largest varieties of restaurants per capita in all of Mexico. Even vegetarians will feel right at home here.
After comida, you’ll want to visit the Na Bolom (“Jaguar House”), amber or Mayan-medicine museums, or get your second wind with a cup of that world-famous Chiapan joe at the coffee museum (and café) before you climb one of the cerros (hills) to take in the entire city from above.
And on a free day or weekend, let your Spanish language school arrange for you to visit one or more of these regional jewels:
- Tzotzil villages San Juan Chamula and San Lorenzo Zinacantán
- Natural wonder of the falling waters at Agua Azul and Misol-Ha, El Chichonal volcano, and the Colón lakes
- Exquisite Mayan ruins of Toniná, whose people conquered well-known Palenque
- Quaint nearby towns of Boca del Cielo and Comitán
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