In the mountains surrounding San Cristóbal de Las Casas are some fascinating Maya villages that can be visited easily in a half-day excursion from San Cristobal. Here villagers practise many ancient traditions and incorporate them into their everyday life.

San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán are the most well-known highland Maya villages, but there are other equally as vibrant and interesting villages that receive very little tourism.

The best time to visit the highland Maya communities are during their festivals and market days when the villages really come alive. If you are lucky enough to be in the area during a Maya fiesta, it is not to be missed! Important celebrations include Carnaval (the week before Lent), Holy Week, Day of the Dead (Nov 1-2) and Día de Guadalupe (Dec 12).

SAN JUAN CHAMULA (10km from San Cristóbal): Sunday is market day, though there is a smaller daily market. Chamula holds some stunning religious festivals including Día de San Juan (June 24), in honor of their patron saint. (Note: During Lent, the 40-day period before Easter, market day is moved to Friday.)

SAN ANDRÉS LARRÁINZAR (33km from San Cristóbal): Tzotzil Maya village famous for its beautiful textiles. It holds its colorful, traditional market on Sunday. Important fiestas include the Festival of San Andrés (Nov 28-30).

TENEJAPA (28km from San Cristóbal): Tzeltal village with one of the most vibrant markets in the highlands of Chiapas. Main market day is on Thursday, though there is a smaller one on Sunday. Celebrations include Fiesta de San Ildefonso (Jan 23), in honor of their patron saint.

SAN PEDRO CHENALHÓ (34km from San Cristóbal): Tzotzil village with a large and colorful Saturday market. Holds some incredible religious festivals including Día de San Pedro (June 29).

All of the tour agencies in San Cristobal de Las Casas offer half-day tours to the villages of Chamula and Zinacantán. If you are interested, however, in exploring some of the more remote villages, visit the website of Cielo y Tierra Tours for further information. This is a small tour company specializing in cultural excursions through the Maya highlands of Chiapas. Their website also includes a good month-by-month guide to the Maya festivals.