Usually referred to as just Chamula, this is the closest indigenous village to San Cristóbal (10km), as well as the most frequently visited. It has a population of fifteen thousand or so, and more than ninety thousand in the surrounding municipality – despite the fact that thousands of residents have been cast out in recent decades for converting to Protestant faiths (these so-called expulsados create many of the crafts sold in San Cristóbal proper).

Chamula and the surrounding indigenous communities are essentially self-governing, and have their own schools, police force, and a small prison with two cells that are semi-open so as to expose the criminals to “public shame”. Over the centuries, the village has been far more resistant to change than neighbouring Zinacantán, putting up fierce resistance to the Spaniards from 1524 to 1528, then acting as the centre of a rebellion described as the second “Caste War” from 1867 to 1870, inspired by the uprising in the Yucatán.

On the north side of the plaza, the two hundred-year-old Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, painted a festive turquoise, is the epicentre of Tzotzil Maya religion in the area, and one of the most intensely sacred spots in all of Mexico. A visit can be a humbling and moving experience. The interior is glorious, the floor covered with pine needles and the light of a thousand candles casts an eerie glow. Lining the walls are statues of the saints adorned with offerings of clothes, food and mirrors (thought to aid communication with the laity), while above the altar, San Juan, patron saint of the village, takes pride of place. The customs practised inside the church incorporate aspects of Christian and Maya beliefs – each villager prays by clearing an area of pine needles and arranging a “message” in candles, and rituals frequently involve tearful chanting, singing, an array of fizzy drinks – locals believe expelling gas through burping helps to release evil spirits – and posh, a sugar-cane alcohol. Eggs, bones and live chickens – which are sacrificed in the church and later eaten or buried – are also used in these ceremonies. There are no priests, masses or marriages here, only baptisms, and the church is open 24 hours (though tourists are welcome only during daylight). It plays a central role in healing ceremonies.

In keeping with Chamula’s very traditional atmosphere, photography is generally not appreciated, and it is explicitly banned inside the church.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Mexico features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The world's quirkiest food festivals

The world's quirkiest food festivals

Tomato-drenched crowds wading through a lake of passata at Valencia’s La Tomatina festival might be a familiar image, but such passionate and eccentric cele…

22 Dec 2017 • Lucy Cowie insert_drive_file Article
Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

That ever-growing travel wish list might be putting some pressure on your pocket – but there are plenty of destinations where you'll get more bang for your b…

11 Oct 2017 • Emma Gibbs camera_alt Gallery
The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

There's nothing like an amazing view to inspire you to book your next trip, whether you're drawn by rolling countryside, isolated islands or soaring mountain …

30 Aug 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs