How to Get There?
San Juan Chamula is about 20 minutes outside of San Cristobal de la Casas. You could get there by car, you could get there by collective taxi. It’s really easy to get to.
There are many safe taxis that will go there. They’re not expensive, maybe like $20 each way for multiple people, not per person. So I definitely recommend doing that. It is an incredible day trip, half day trip when you are staying in San Cristobal de las Casas.
San Juan Chamula
San Juan Chamula is a tiny little town with true Mayan traditions. Mainly, people go there for two reasons. One is the church. Actually, that is the number one reason why anybody really knows of San Juan Chamula is that this village still kept its traditions in the church. But on a whole other level, you cannot take pictures once you enter the church. So that’s why there’s none that are anywhere.
However, what it is known for is that for two things, mainly for the animal sacrifice, mainly chickens that you can literally see either them killing the chickens in front of you, breaking their necks, you name it. It’s part of the ritual. It’s like sacrificing. And the second odd one is to drink Coca Cola to burp out your demons. So even though you would think that this is kind of like a cliche thing and it’s not really done, it’s done.
The San Juan Chamula Church
The church is open from seven in the morning till 09:00 p.m… 365 days out of the year. It doesn’t close at all. And maybe there are sermons, although I’m not really sure. We just came in at a random time on a random weekday and there were quite a lot of people, especially indigenous that were there. I would say out of all the indigenous that were there praying, lighting candles, all of them had Coca Cola or Pepsi or some gaseous version of that.
For a while, they are praying and burp. The 50%, easily 50%, if not more, had chickens. And they literally killed the chickens right there in front of us. It sounds interesting when you’re reading about it, but when you’re seeing it, I just was not into it.
It was not my thing. I’m sure they’re going to use all the parts of the chicken. I just don’t understand that part of the ritual. Again, I’m not there to judge it, but it was quite odd. The other fascinating thing that I noticed about the church, first, you have to pay 30 pesos to get in, which is like $1.50 to get in. There’s somebody at the door taking the tickets.
As I said earlier, you are not permitted to take any photos, any video, nothing at all. You do get fined pretty hefty fines, but it’s just disrespectful. The San Juan Chamula church itself is pretty much this one huge room. It’s very interesting because it is full of every possible Catholic saint that you could think of.
Hall of Fame of Saints
And there’s just like the wall of, I called it the Hall of Fame of Saints. I mean, it was just nothing but saints all along. And there are thousands of candles lit everywhere, and people are just lighting their own candles and praying and whatnot. So the church still holds that Mayan tradition with the Catholic, I would say presence, but obviously, influence is very strong. But what’s interesting, what I found to be the most interesting part, and my husband, who is Guatemalan, has seen quite a lot of Mayan rituals, says that this is very common, is that the majority of the people that were there were women with little kids.
I would say out of all the people that were there praying, obviously not like the spectators we were, 80% were women with kids and the others there were a couple of men that were praying as well, but the majority, and when we finally left, when we went outside, you would say the majority of the people around were women with kids.
The other most popular thing to do in San Juan Chamula is the open market. The open market, which is literally the plaza right in front of the cathedral, is mainly on Sundays. That’s the big market day. But we went, as I said before, on a regular afternoon. It was not on a Sunday. And there were a lot of vendors already, mainly food selling. It wasn’t really the artisanal stuff, which is what you would find more on Sundays, the more of the local stuff, the fabrics, the jewelry. But you could find that pretty much anywhere.
But if you’re staying in San Cristobal de las Casas, visit the Mercado Viejo. I have an entire podcast about that. That is a pretty incredible market.
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