Festivals and Events
San Cristóbal is a colorful city year-round, but it really comes to life during festivals and holidays. Travelers are always welcome to join the celebrations, if you’re lucky enough (or have the requisite planning skills!) to be here on those days. The brilliant colors and effusive celebrations are a photographer’s dream, and taking pictures in town is generally okay.
However, indigenous people tend to be circumspect about having their picture taken, and in most outlying villages taking photos of religious processions and celebrants is strictly forbidden. Be respectful, and don’t attempt it. No matter what the holiday, expect firecrackers, paper streamers, marimba music, and lots of street food.
You may think of Carnaval as a Caribbean and South American obsession, but it’s celebrated with unbridled vigor in Chiapanecan indigenous villages, especially San Juan Chamula. (Carnaval roughly coincides with the five “lost days” of the ancient Maya calendar, when chaos and evil spirits reign.)
Festivities last nearly a week, culminating on Fat Tuesday (before Ash Wednesday) when tens of thousands turn out to watch processions marching around the main plaza, and village leaders perform a ceremony that includes dashing back and forth across a long carpet of burning straw. Don’t bother bringing a camera—photos are banned during Carnaval.
Semana Santa (Holy Week, leading up to Easter) is not only an important religious holiday but a big travel and vacation week for all Mexicans, and San Cristóbal gets packed with indigenous faithful, local merchants, and visitors from Mexico City, Veracruz, and elsewhere. On Good Friday, head to Barrio Los Mexicanos, where a live reenactment of the 12 stations of the cross proceeds through the streets and culminates at the barrio’s namesake church.
Feria de la Primavera y de la Paz
Easter Sunday kicks off the weeklong Spring and Peace Fair, sometimes called La Feria Grande (the Big Fair). Parades, carnival games, mechanical rides, music concerts, art exhibits, sporting events, even bullfights, are held throughout the city. Stop by the tourist office for a schedule of events.
Festival Internacional Cervantino Barroco
Celebrated in mid-October or early November, the Festival Internacional Cervantino Barroco is a weeklong cultural celebration where artists from around the world come to dance, act, give concerts, and display their works of art. The closing ceremony, typically a big ticket number, is held in front of La Catedral de San Cristóbal.
Día de Todos Santos
Día de Todos Santos (All Saints Day, November 1) and Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead, November 2) are celebrated throughout Latin America, and San Cristóbal is no exception. Families gather at local cemeteries to honor loved ones who have died; in town, November 2 tends to be the main day, while many indigenous communities, especially Chamula, celebrate on November 1.
Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe
December 12th is Saint’s Day for the Virgin of Guadalupe, which is celebrated with peregrinaciones (pilgrimages)—groups of churchgoers who run or walk for several days from surrounding towns to San Cristóbal’s hilltop Church of Guadalupe. Though the Virgen is celebrated citywide, the road leading up to the church is the focal point of the partying.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition