The town of San Juan Chamula, situated 10 km northeast of San Cristobal de Las Casas, is the home of about 2,000 inhabitants of direct Mayan descent, proud of their heritage.

To understand the essence of San Juan Chamula a good local guide is a "must". The town is a fascinating mixture of old Mayan culture and Christianity, and only a local with insight knowledge will make the difference between just "strange" to "overwhelming". There are some excellent guides to be found daily in San Cristóbal at 9:30 am in the plaza of the cathedral (next to the zócolo) by the big Mayan cross. One does not need to make advance reservations, the charge is 150 pesos per person and if one shows up by then there is a guaranteed tour in many languages. They will find you. They are known as Raul and Alex.

The town is little – a market square surrounded by a few single storey buildings, the famous church and the cemetery.

The Church

The Church

The colorful façade of the church resembles many others in Mexico but once you step inside  a unique experience awaits. This church has had no priest of its own since 1968, the last time a traditional mass was heard here.

The floor is covered with green pine boughs. There are no benches so little groups of people sit on the floor, each group separated from the other, with candles around them, carrying with them soft drinks, food and sometimes a chicken and/or eggs. The light in the church is very soft and the air thick with smoke from burning resin incense (copal). Sounds of whispering and chanting are heard, created by the native healers (curanderos) and their patients performing their traditional ceremonies aimed at curing illnesses. There is no hospital or medical clinic in the area – the people seem to prefer their "curanderos" over western medicine.

Alongside the walls stand wooden statues of saints in full costume, with mirrors attached to their clothes. Some say the mirrors deflect away evil others – that the believers feel closer to the saints by seeing their own images reflected back .

Visitors are required to buy entrance tickets. Photographs in the church are absolutely forbidden, neither are they allowed outside during traditional parades or ceremonies. As a matter of fact the locals do not appreciate their photos being taken and may protest.

The Market

A colorful square, surrounded by a few single storey buildings.

The Market

Local crafts are sold and it is a good opportunity to look at the local costumes – men wearing tunics and the women colorful blouses with woolen skirts and a scarf on the head.

A typical sight is groups of 2 or 3 green crosses together. Some say that the crosses indicate old sacred Mayan sites.

The Crosses

 The Cemetery

A green peaceful field, near the old church that burned down many years before. Simple graves with crosses; black for the old people, white for the young and blue for all others.

The cemetery