Thoughts about San Cristóbal de las Casas

It’s a magical place.

It’s one of those places that at first sight is simply beautiful but not that extra-ordinary. Yeah, sure, pretty European-style cobbled streets, cute colourful houses and a great international food scene. But there’s something more special about it than that, something that floats in the air and sticks to you like cockleburs to your woolly sweater, and you just can’t shake it off.

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When I come to think about it, I was never planning to come to this charming colonial town in the first place. As it often happens to me on my travels, what led me there was a recommendation from a friend which I followed blindly, guided by my intuition to trust her judgement about the places I’d love. My gut feeling never lets me down and this time was no exception either.

From the first time I walked down its one-way streets and breathed in the mountain air, I knew this was a place where I’d feel happy. From the moment I arrived at Puerta Vieja hostel where I was going to volunteer, I knew this would feel like home, I knew I’d call them family.

I think what makes San Cristóbal such an inviting place is the ease of being here. It’s effortless. The easy-going atmosphere, the sense of no rushing, the comfort of real French bakeries and organic food markets that remind you of Europe, the never-ending nightlife and the company of a melting-pot international crowd is not just welcoming, it almost makes you forget you’re in Mexico and it almost makes you forget you’re traveling.

You don’t have to be doing anything much in particular here but the days pass so quickly without even noticing. A morning spent in the hostel’s garden soaking in the sun, an afternoon sipping coffee and munching on a pepito pastry, dinner round the campfire and a fun night of hip-shaking to the sound of salsa to end the day. And more than anything, what makes these care-free days special are the people – San Cristóbal tends to attract a certain type of traveler and I have met some of the most interesting and wonderful people there.

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I spent a fantastic six weeks in the town and it broke my heart to leave – I’m not done with the place, I feel like I still have unfinished business there.

Now you see, wasting your days away with not a care in the world, enjoying delicious food, great company and a relaxed vibe is one thing. But this town has so much more to offer if you really look – it has opportunities. Anyone who has the drive, passion and initiative to share or create something, to give and to grow, will find what they need here. No wonder so many foreigners (as well as Mexicans from other parts of the country) have settled down here for good, sharing the best they can offer with the world, whether it be food, music, art or natural medicine. And to me San Cristóbal represents a fabulous challenge. In a place where it’s so easy to just go about your day enjoying life, it’s a wonderful test of creativity and determination to bring something new, to make the most of what the town has to offer and put your energy into something that leaves a mark. And that’s precisely why I need to go back.

Since the day I left to explore some other parts of Mexico, I have been waking up every morning with new ideas and a bubbling energy to create and contribute to something meaningful over there and use my time productively. I am craving a new challenge, something further out of my comfort zone – I want to get involved in something that will have an impact on others, however small, and I feel that San Cris is the perfect place to push myself in that direction. So watch this space!

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