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CHIAPAS

Exploring San Cristóbal
by Ron Mader

CHIAPAS WIKI

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One of the favorite stops for travelers visiting Chiapas is San Cristóbal de las Casas (elevation: 2,100 meters). Founded in 1528, the city has a strong indigenous presence and many of its buildings are colonial gems. Located south of state capital Tuxtla Gutiérrez, San Cristóbal was the original state capital until 1892.

The town takes its name from Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, the first Episcopal Chair. He was also one of the first and greatest defenders of the indigenous population. The town serves as the commercial hub for nearby villages.

HUITEPEC RESERVE

The Huitepec Ecological Reserve is located just 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) from the center of town on the road toward Chamula. Managed by the local environmental group Pronatura Chiapas, the reserve is located on the eastern side of the Muktevitz volcano (inactive and nearly 10 million hears old).

This is one of the highest peaks (2,700 meters) in the central Chiapas mountain range.

The 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) interpretive trail ascends 250 meters above sea level and winds through a pine-oak forest. Allow yourself 2-3 hours for the hike through the 135-hectare (333-acre) nature reserve. The area boasts 60 local species of birds and 40 migratory species that nest here during the winter. Established in 1986, the Huitepec Reserve is the first such private conservation initiative in Mexico.

MARKET

Tianguis Sana y Cercana is the local and mostly organic market and is held Saturdays from 10am to 2pm, at Casa de la Luna Creciente on Calle Comitan #41 (Avenida Diego Dugelay).

ARTESANIA

For those interested in local crafts, a must-visit workshop is open to the public and shows how paper can be recycled. Taller Leñateros, located at Flavio Paniagua #54, is run by Maya artisans who have produced handmade paper, books and block prints for than 20 years. The paper makers use flowers, lichen, banana fronds along with recycled newspaper and rags.

NA BOLOM

Another recommended visit is Na Bolom, which means 'house of the jaguar' in the language of the Tzotzil, an indigenous group from the Chiapas highlands. For more than a half century, this research center has been committed to the protection and reforestation of the Lacandón forest.

Located at Guerrero #33 on the corner of Chiapa de Corzo, in the northwest section of town, the center is housed in a 19th-century colonial building that was the residence of founders Franz and Gertrude Blom. Franz was a Danish-born archaeologist who came to Mexico in 1919 to work for a Veracruz oil company. In 1943 he met Gertrude Duby, a Swiss journalist. They married in 1950 and began to convert their house into an institute for scientific studies. At first, the Bloms' extensive work with the Lacandones was anthropological. But as the deforestation of the Lacandón forest accelerated, their focus shifted to conservation.

Since 1975, the center has supported a nursery that gives away about 35,000 trees each year. In 1978, Blom and other conservationists urged the government to create the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve to protect the Lacandón rain forest. Those wishing to support this work can do by visiting the museum, or better yet, by staying the night. This is one of the town's first places to open its doors to travelers.


VISITING?

LOCATION -- San Cristóbal is 85 kilometers (50 miles) south of Tuxtla Gutiérrez.

Travel!

TRANSPORTATION -- The Cristóbal Colon bus station is located at the corner of Insurgentes and the Pan American Highway on the south end of town. There is frequent service to Tuxtla Gutiérrez as well as Palenque and Comitán. Travel to Oaxaca City takes 12 hours via the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Tickets can be purchased at the bus station or at the Ticketbus office on Belisario Dominguez #8.

INFORMATION -- Tour information is available from the state and city tourism offices downtown.

FESTIVALS - The Celebration of San Cristóbal Martir takes place on July 16 and honors the city's patron saint.


AUTHOR

Ron Mader is the responsible travel correspondent for Transitions Abroad and host of the award-winning Planeta.com website.


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