San Cristobal de las Casas sits like a secret in the highlands of southern Mexico, blanketed in a mist that smells like sage. Low-rise colonial buildings flank cobblestone streets, while backpackers in ponchos eat at organic cafes serving huevos a la Mexicana alongside vegan burritos.
A canary yellow cathedral stands boldly facing the valley below, with a massive cross out front acting as a shield against outside evil, while Tzotzil Mayan women parade their dyed skirts on the plaza. I’m not one to believe in magic, but there is something about this place that feels like there’s more going on behind the scenes than we realize.
I first visited San Cristobal de las Casas on a solo backpacking journey across Mexico. I arrived by bus from Palenque, one of the most impressive ancient Mayan cities, buried deep in the steamy jungles of Chiapas.
The temperature plummeted as the bus climbed up to more than 7,000 feet above sea level. I shivered in a cold drizzle as I checked into my hostel, which looked more like a ski chalet than a Mexican hostel. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my time, but I had a short list of things I wanted to see and do. Anything related to mysticism was not on my list. Like I said, I don’t believe in magic.
Little did I know that this three-day visit to a backpacker town in the mountains of Mexico would lead to some major life lessons — and a reminder about why we should always travel with an open mind.