San Juan Chamula is a great excursion you’ll can do from the beautiful city of San Cristobal de Las Casas. This part of Mexico is as poor as it is fascinating and San Juan Chamula is a village that will really leave you with many question marks. For me it’s a village absolutely to visit during a road trip to Mexico.
To visit this village near San Cristobal means to get in touch with the indigenous people. It means to immerse oneself in the Chiapas, little inflated from the tourist point of view, apart from some isolated cases.
I reached San Juan Chamula with my trusty rental car. I must admit that the first impact was strong.
Remember that to visit such particular places it is better to read my article on Mexico travel tips: safety and 15 things to remember.
How to visit San Juan Chamula village
It was a particularly rainy Sunday in mid-August. On this important day of the week the local market is held where the Mayan tzotzil communities gather to sell their goods. Most of them are fruit, vegetables, handicrafts, in short, the product of their daily hard work. I have seen the city in an even more particular situation compared to other days. That is why I recommend that you plan this trip Sunday, you will experience a more vibrant and particular city.
The only attraction of this village located at 2200 meters above sea level is the famous church with blue and water green decorations. The rest of the houses are ruined. The population is poor and I would say that is also “below average” compared to the nearby San Cristobal.
The little church of San Juan Chamula stands out in the square and is the center point for the Mayan community. Besides being very characteristic on the outside, the interior is even more incredible.
By paying 50 pesos in the structure next to it you will get the chance to enter.
The particular church of San Juan Chamula
The church is dark, there are no benches and the floor is covered with pine needles. The only lighting is provided by the countless lighted candles. On the sides, in dark showcases there are depictions of several saints important for the Chamula population. There are few people present, tourists are just a few.
Behind, or on the sides, you can watch (with discretion) the prayers of the devotees who repeat the same phrases over and over again while the candles consume while wax fills the floor. A helper lights new candles and extinguishes others.
In front of the prayers are placed at equal distance of the half-liter bottles of coca cola mixed with aguardiente. This mixture helps to burp and thus expel the evil one during these shamanic rites.
I stopped for several minutes to look at people in prayer. The sensation I feel is a mixture of curiosity and anguish and, not being a lover of the unconscious. I prefer to focus on what I see and not delve deeper.
Tips and important advices
It is definitely an excursion to make from San Cristobal. Like the Sumidero Canyon excursion you will be in contact with the true Chiapas. In the case of San Juan Chamula you’ll come into full contact with a reality that tourism has not yet changed and I hope it will never do so.
I would like to give you one last very important piece of advice: pay attention to the photographs both in the village of San Juan Chamula and in the church.
It is absolutely forbidden to take any photographs in the church. Once inside, forget about your smartphone and your camera. Don’t try to take pictures secretly. If you get caught, you could get into serious trouble. In the country, as in all of Chiapas, be careful not to take pictures of people unless they are willing to do so. Among the indigenous people, there is a belief that photographs steal the soul.
Last tip: visiting San Juan Chamula is definitely one of the things to do if you visit Mexico, I recommend you read my article about the 15 best things to do in Mexico