A very queer and very vibrant art scene is thriving across Mexico
Unlike Puerto Vallarta, Chiapas is a less familiar state among tourists travelling to Mexico but San Cristóbal de las Casas is the perfect location to discover Chiapa’s natural beauty, vegetarian Mexican food and a thriving LGBT+ arts scene.
Nature every LGBT+ traveller needs to see in Mexico: El Cañón del Sumidero.
This colonial town has a cooler climate due to it being 2000 metres above sea level and surrounded by mountains. It’s also slightly off the beaten path so hasn’t yet become too touristy.
From an immense canyon home to monkeys and crocodiles, to the beautiful Lagos de Montebello surpassing the Mexican-Guatemalan border, there is no lack of natural beauty and the town is a great location to take day tours.
I recommend taking a day trip to El Cañón del Sumidero, which includes a boat trip along the water that plummets up to 200 metres deep, where you’ll see vultures and many of its resident crocodiles. Trips cost around M$400 but make sure you pick a tour that includes the miradores so that you can take in the dizzying views of the river below.
There’s also plenty to discover in San Cristóbal de las Casas itself – including a gay-friendly arts scene, laid-back atmosphere, and a strong queer-led, feminist movement.
Just walking around the town, we came across a queer pro-abortion protest. And while San Cristóbal doesn’t have any gay-specific bars, we didn’t once feel uncomfortable holding hands as a lesbian couple.
Your first activity upon arriving in San Cristóbal should without a doubt be the Free Walking Tour, which begins in Plaza de la Paz at 10am every day in English.
Carlos is a tour guide like no other and will fill you in on Chiapan culture from traditional healing practices to the LGBT+ community and Zapatista activism.
Best Mexican vegetarian places to eat in San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Chiapas tends to be less influenced by the US than many of Mexico’s northern states, where it’s tough to find tacos or pozolo without meat. San Cristóbal, however, has a plethora of vegetarian-friendly and even vegan-only restaurants and cafes.
Bek Semilla de Vida is a real treat if you’re keen to try Mexican dishes the vegan way – they even do lentil ceviche. On the same street, you’ll also find a pocket of independent shops with eco-friendly souvenirs such as homemade shampoos and locally produced coffee.
While you’re here, don’t miss the chance to try Pox – an alcoholic spirit made from corn that has Mayan roots even deeper than tequila and mezcal. Poxna Artesanal does free tasting – including a delicious cacao pox you’ll want to take home – and it’s located in a gorgeous garden that it shares with several other cafes. Round the corner is also gay-friendly vegetarian cafe Kukulpan where you can get tasty organic coffee and fresh bread.
For dinner, head to laidback restaurant and bar Cocoliche where you’ll find a mix of veggie options, including Thai curry, and cocktails you can design from scratch. It’s lesbian friendly, has live music in the evenings and all its staff are women.
Discovering the LGBT+ creative scene in Mexico.
From women’s weaving co-operatives to a clothes shop with a great gay history, San Cristóbal de las Casas is a glorious hub for creative arts and crafts.
Mexico is known for its colourful textiles and Chiapas is no exception – there’s an abundance of boutique shops in San Cristóbal, often selling hand-woven crafts made by indigenous women’s co-operatives in neighbouring towns. It’s also possible to visit one of these yourself on a tour to Zinacantán but take note of community rules on photography and respecting privacy.
Back in San Cristóbal, be sure to visit the Aula P’ejel shop, which opened just over a year ago and has a wonderful story behind it. Set up by a man who was rejected by his family for being gay, it now employs women artists, giving many of them an opportunity to escape abusive relationships. It’s in a shared space where you can try arts workshops, meet local artists and even have lunch.
Also check out fair trade shop Nemi Zapata on Avenida Diego Dugelay for excellent postcards by Beatriz Aurora that will give you an insight to feminist perspectives on indigenous communities’ fight for independence.
Where to stay for an LGBT+ traveller in Mexico?
If you’re tempted by Mexico’s creative trades, you’ll find Sereno Art Hotel a delight. Just off the main zocalo square, this award-winning hotel prides itself on platforming a variety of young artists – including Chiapan painter Jesús Amaya, who turns Rembrandt-style portraits into Lucha Libre wrestlers.
It just celebrated its fourth year and recently opened a restaurant in its courtyard. El Jardin Secreto – as well as their Sereno Moreno cocktail bar – is open to the public and serves traditional Chiapan dishes with many vegetarian options. I recommend starting your day with a traditional cup of cafe de olla and their excellent vegetarian chilaquiles rojos.
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Extend your trip to Palenque.
Mexico has so many Mayan ruins to visit but Palenque is known for being particularly outstanding. The site is around 10 hours by bus from San Cristóbal de las Casas, or can be visited on a day tour from the town. It’s an early start so I recommend finishing the tour in Palenque to rest up for a night then seeing the ruins the following day. The town also has a small airport with bi-weekly flights direct to Mexico City.
Break up the journey by staying at Mayan-inspired Boutique Hotel Quinta Chanabnal. Surrounded by nature, the hotel is home to a family of howler monkeys – no mean feat considering the land was an empty field when owner Rafael founded it. The first thing he did upon arriving, he says, was plant tropical trees and now the hotel is set in a slice of Chiapan jungle.
The staff at this unique hotel are incredibly hospitable, and you’ll love sitting out on its lake watching the iguanas climb above you.